We all know that India is a land of contradictions. While we have sprawling complexes with luxurious amenities and the latest gadgets at our doorsteps, the level of poverty is still abysmal. Yet the country ticks, and there is some invisible hand that keeps it going. There are, however, fissures that need to be cemented with urgency, as there are serious reasons for their emergence that can be distortionary, if not checked.
Sumantra Bose in his book, Transforming India, looks at a different aspect of the country, which is contrary to what McKinsey had done in Reimagining India, which was more of corporate Indias views on new India. The latter focused more on economy, technology and social issues, with a bit of political commentary. It was based on personal impressions. But in Transforming India, Bose looks at the worlds largest democracy in a dispassionate manner. A large part of it is factual and historical, with no judgments being overtly passed. Therefore, if Indira Gandhi ruled with an iron hand and used the Emergency to thwart democracy, it has been narrated without emotion.
The first part of the book takes us through the political route, elaborating on political parties and their performance. The year 1989 was probably the turning point when the first government with alliances came in and there was a change in the style of governance. The Congress was dominant otherwise and while the communist parties ruled since the 1960s and 1970s in Bengal, and the DMK parties dominated in Tamil Nadu, the first sign of regionalism in the architecture of politics in India came when NT Rama Rao and his Telugu Desam Party assumed power. Today, several regional parties dominate in Jammu and Kashmir, UP, Bihar, Maharashtra and so on. This makes governments less stable, but there are counter-checks all along the way. The only Achilles heel for our democracy has been J&K, where there is still alienation to a large extent. To this, we can also add the north-eastern states, which have faced similar distance due to negligence. But, fortunately, while there have been insurgencies in some states, it has not reached the same proportions as in Kashmir.
The author traces the history of Kashmir and how conditions deteriorated mainly due to the machinations of Indira Gandhi, who wanted to oust Sheikh Abdullah. In fact, Bose does analyse the way in which the Congress functioned, and, in a way,