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Whither India? An atlas of present faults and future courses (Book Review)
Title: India Now and in Transition; Editor: Atul Thakur;
Publisher: Niyogi Books: Pages: 448; Price: Rs 599
Stretching from icy mountains to the boundless oceans and from arid deserts to
tropical forests with more varied topography in between, India's geographical
diversity is well complemented by its political, religious and cultural
plurality, and a variety of issues, problems and contradictions, both generic
and specific, that have affected, and will continue to affect, the country's
A free nation for seven decades now, India still faces contests over its "idea"
of itself with the concept so far being challenged by a new dominant political
force. A country which has managed to reach the Red Planet is still riven on the
ground by social disparities and abuse. A nation which prides itself on a
universal and well-integrated diaspora still has sections who distrust
While Indians are making their name globally, there are still those -- including
ministers -- who would seek to confine them to primal, parochial identities that
arise from circumstances of birth rather than conscious choice.
Any one who seeks to make sense of the country or frame projections where it is
heading, or can head, have their work cut out for themselves -- but that doesn't
stop many from the ambitious but necessary venture. Like public policy
professional and writer Atul Thakur, who engages an eclectic ensemble of
experts, established and emerging, to examine the future in all aspects.
Here politicians, bureaucrats and academicians are also joined by authors and
journalists. For, as academician and author Sunil Khilnani observes in the
foreword, "Where journalism and the social sciences are developed, professional
fields designed above all to improve our judgment and choices, it behoves
practitioners in those fields to offer us some illumination along the way."
While some of the over three dozen essays included here have come out elsewhere
earlier, they remain relevant and Thakur supplements them with many especially
commissioned for this volume, the sequel to his "India Since 1947: Looking Back
at a Modern Nation" (2013).
But the present work is not intended to be a "prognosis (which is often confused
with prediction) but rather an inquiry into futures based on current
happenings", by maintaining a "causal linearity" to arrive at the "likeliest"
The essays, divided into five areas -- politics and governance, economics and
development, security and foreign policy, society and culture, and language and
literature -- not only go into the issues and problems of the topics they
discuss but also take the perceptions about them, which, as brought out, can be
as tough to tackle.
In the first section, Ramchandra Guha sets the pace with an illuminating
exposition on selecting the greatest Indians and Shashi Tharoor weighs in on Dr
Ambedkar's contribution. But compelling reading here is Singapore-based
academician Robin Jeffrey's penetrating pitch about the chequered course of land
reforms in India and its impact on the realty sector.
Two bureaucratic contributions also stand out. T.S.R. Subramanian, a
well-regarded Chief Secretary in Uttar Pradesh before he rose to become Cabinet
Secretary, gives a well-reasoned overview of corruption, and Wajahat Habibullah,
who served extensively in Jammu and Kashmir, writes about the troubled state's
future with insight and passion but is not too optimistic on the future.
One of the outstanding contributions is in the social and culture component,
where journalist Daipayan Halder brings out the "subaltern voice", of the Dalits
specifically, in a riveting piece that will challenge our perceptions of our
progress on the equality issue despite the Constitution's high ideals and the
pious protestations of politicians of all shades. Abhay Mohan Jha's view of
mofussil life and Abdullah Khan on identities in an ideal "Idea of India" also
make for thoughtful reading.
Other sections also have absorbing entries -- writer Manu Joseph on the issue of
genetically-modified crops, Samir Saran and Mahima Kaul's piece on India's
cybersecurity prospects, and Namrata Rathore Mahanta and Banibrata Mahanta's
views on the current and future of the Indian novel.
In all, it is a valuable compendium of well-reasoned, persuasive (but never
dogmatic) and jargon-free views on a host of major issues -- and this is
important. For these are not just the province of the government to be
confronted but also need discussion at the citizens' level. This is our
responsibility and books like these set the ball rolling.
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