on 1 November 2011
If you may believe most economic publications, it is a certainty that India will become in the 21st century one of the economic superpowers. Mark Tully, who has been for years the reporter for the BBC in India and lives now in Delhi, discards this naïve optimism: according to Tully India still will have to confront some important problems which it will have to tackle head-on, `muddling through' as this country has mostly done in the past will not do.
As a broadcaster he is used to write short reports and Tully is well aware that writing a coherent book requires a specific approach. 'India. The Road Ahead' consists of ten chapters, which de facto are short self-contained texts, each focusing on one specific current issue which will also be relevant in the future.
These chapters follow a similar pattern: Tully first describes the issue (e.g. the Naxalites, the situation of the lower castes...) sometimes giving some historical background, whereby he demonstrates his great knowledge of Indian society (it is quite indicative that the book has only a very short `select' biography), subsequently elaborates on this subject with conversations or personal experiences and on basis of this finally draws some conclusions and makes some personal suggestions.
Over the last decades Tully has earned himself an excellent reputation in India (he was knighted in 2005 and gained also important Indian distinctions) and he has built an extensive network. When he wants to look into how Indian private enterprises see the challenges of the future, he spends two days in Bombay House, the headquarters of the reputedly discrete Tata conglomerate and discusses with several executives. For conversations on democracy and caste-voting, he visits a friend, a former Chief Minister of Bihar... However Tully does not only focus on the mighty, as the plight of the tribal people, the Dalits, the Muslims is also one of his concerns. His knowledge of Hindi enables him to discuss matters with ordinary people, who often say very wise and profound words.
Tully knows and obviously loves the country and its people and never lapses into caricature.
One can criticize of course this approach whereby far-reaching conclusions are drawn on basis of limited personal or anecdotal experience. Some of the conclusions border on cliché: the `success' of the Naxalites which demonstrates the failure of the Indian democracy and a lack of governance, some very important issues are not mentioned...
However this book is clearly not a grand attempt by an overambitious writer who aims to explain and solve the numerous difficulties with which India is confronted. Tully is in his seventies and apparently only wants to give his personal view on some matters he judges important.
I did like the originality of some of the topics: One chapter questions the impact of the pre-eminence of the English language on the `other' Indian languages (interesting point: a Dalit-campaigner sees the `un-Indian' language English as a way to get rid of the caste-system, which he considers as imbued in the native Indian languages). I appreciated very much the chapter `A Forgotten Land' in which Tully wonders about the consequences of development on the tribal life-style in Arunachal Pradesh, a state well... mostly forgotten.
I learned some interesting facts as well, for instance that the state of Uttar Pradesh runs an opium factory...
Despite the fact that this book confronts hard issues, it has an overall positive and hopeful tone. For instance in conversations with the Dalits it turns out that they do consider that their situation in Indian society has improved substantially over the last decades.
on 4 April 2014
I’ve always enjoyed reading Mark Tully’s political commentary on India and I think his books provide a balanced and honest insight into the changing political and social landscape of the country. ‘India: The Road Ahead’, is his latest book on the subject and what follows is my review of some of its chapters.
The first chapter provides some useful insights into the Maoist insurgency that continues to threaten India’s civil society and internal security apparatus. Tully’s approach to the problem is nuanced, identifying as it does, a range of issues that underlie the Maoist problem. More specifically, his own journey to Chhattisgarh, a particular hotbed of political violence and instability, proves how resistant the Maoist problem is to simple analysis.
The place and treatment of Dalits or former ‘untouchables’ in the Indian social fabric forms the subject of the second chapter. Again, Tully’s approach here is nuanced, resisting as he does, the temptation to view the issue solely in terms of a conflict between caste-conscious Hindus and Dalits. India’s Constitution officially prohibits caste discrimination, but as Tully in this chapter demonstrates, India’s continued [mis]treatment of Dalits leaves much to be desired. The chapter reveals the potency of education as a powerful force for change in Indian society; the growing number of Dalits enrolling in educational institutions serves to empower the community, granting them an important voice in the political and social realm. There is also, as the chapter aptly illustrates, growing evidence to suggest that the Dalit community are now ‘fighting back’, at least in the sense of resisting mistreatment and fighting for the rights that the constitution guarantees for them. National icons and leading figures often play prominent roles in the betterment of oppressed minorities and tend to exert indelible influence in the self-consciousness of an oppressed group. Tully’s second chapter demonstrates that the Dalits are no exception to this trend; Dr. Ambedkar, for instance (one of the leading architects of India’s constitution) serves as a moral guide, preceptor, role model and even god for the entire Dalit community of India. The growing influence and prominence of Dalit politicians is also empowering the community politically and has finally given them their long-lost right to political expression. India’s government does seem to be taking the issue of caste discrimination seriously and it appears as if change is, slowly but surely, arriving.
Tully’s fourth chapter deals with the politically contentious issue of India’s secularism. Secularism lies at the heart of India’s constitution and has indelibly affected the trajectory of Indian politics post-Independence. The intense diversity of India’s religious landscape, in effect, means that secularism was India’s only realistic option; any alternative (such as a Hindu India) would invite social and political alienation (of India’s religious minorities) and generate communal tension and disharmony. India’s secular credentials, however, leave a lot to be desired. On the one hand, those parties that parade themselves around as custodians of India’s sacred secularism (read the Congress Party!) have, rather ironically, done more to damage the secularist ideal than any of their ideological opponents. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar, for their part, have also contributed, no doubt, to the occasional dismantling of India’s secular fabric by communalizing societal tensions through exploiting Hindu sympathies. Interestingly, Tully’s third chapter demonstrates, quite incisively, how the nature of India’s ‘vote bank’ politics problematizes its attempt to secularize political and social discourse. India’s political discourse must move beyond the basic and misleading dichotomy, popularized by many in the Congress ranks, between a Congress-backed secularism and a BJP-backed communalism; it impoverishes the intellectuality of the political realm and hinders progression on the societal front. The Congress Party, in particular, must strengthen their commitment to secularism by introducing a degree of consistency in the way they apply the ideal; a secularism that recedes to the background when it comes to issues relating to minority groups is a pseudo-secularism at best. The BJP, for their part, have little choice but to reconsider their alignment with the Hindutva movement if they are serious about broadening their political support base for the upcoming general elections.
India’s exciting progression towards economic super-power status is the result of a favourable combination of a number of important factors including; congenial demographics, a functioning democracy and a strong and stable civil society. If, however, I were asked to identify one factor, without which India’s economic growth would be seriously hindered, I would have to select the nation’s proficiency in English. In this increasingly globalized world, literacy in English bestows a wealth of opportunities, both commercial and personal, without which growth on the global stage would simply be unobtainable. India’s growth story is often compared to that of China’s; this comparison is misleading for a number of reasons, not least because, any attempt to compare both countries inevitably ignores the great political, cultural and demographic differences that separate both countries. Having said that, as things stand, China’s economic growth appears to be accelerating at a higher pace than that of India’s and at least for the foreseeable future, there is little reason to expect any alteration to this status quo. There is, however, one yardstick on which India does fare better than China; that is, of course, in its proficiency in English. India’s attraction to English heightened as a result of the emergence of India’s outsourcing industry; suddenly there was a greater recognition among Indians that English was the language of upward mobility and interestingly enough, this aspiration for English is now cutting across income classes all over India. Remarkably then, in such a short period of time, English in India has gone from being perceived as a ‘colonial relic’ to a language of international business and a powerful key in opening up geographical borders and gaining access to markets.
However, the breadth and depth of India’s English-language capability may turn out to be a mixed blessing. It would be imprudent to deny the fact that this capability has conferred on India, advantages and benefits that have been indispensible to its sustained and impressive growth over the last decade or so. The issue, as Tully writes in his seventh chapter of the book, is that India’s greed for English may come at a cost to the nation’s existing repertoire of languages, which could soon be wiped away if steps are not taken to ensure their preservation. The chapter is interesting since it demonstrates the crucial role that language plays in the cultural identity and self-consciousness of a region.