The Spoils of Indian Democracy | The Nation


The Spoils of Indian Democracy

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In any case, the frictionless capitalism in India reveals its sharp edges if you rub it long enough. When Luce visits the Art of Living Foundation near Bangalore to visit Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a guru equally popular in Bangalore's boardrooms and in Manhattan penthouses, he finds:

About the Author

Siddhartha Deb
Siddhartha Deb, who teaches at the New School, is the author of The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New...

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On the pillars that supported the dome around the central stage were the symbols of the world's main religions: the Islamic Crescent, the Star of David, and the Cross of Jesus. In the center, much larger than the other representations, was a depiction of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth.

Despite the ecumenical distribution of religious symbols, the guru turns out to have "a close attachment to the RSS," the right-wing Hindu organization that drew inspiration from Hitler and Mussolini and whose history of violence ranges from the assassination of Gandhi to more recent massacres of Muslim and Christian minorities. Luce's book is especially good on Hindu fundamentalism, reporting superbly on the strange convergence of science, business, paranoia and fascism that characterizes the right in India. It is not an accident that the "biofuturologist" Luce meets should be spouting nonsense about the "software" of human development intrinsic to India (naturally) and the "hardware" of the West, nor that he was encountered at the residence of a "prosperous industrialist."

There is, of course, much more to India than the corrupt state, right-wing Hinduism and unctuous businessmen. In fact, what is surprising is the number of Indians skeptical of the direction the country has been taken by its comprador elites, although their voices tend to go unrecorded by media obsessed with telling the most obvious story. The experience of these other Indians who dwell outside boardrooms can be depicted, but this can be done only by books that address what it means to be human in a time and place of great change. It requires writing that takes its own possibilities seriously, eschewing the language of the press release and the annual corporate report, choosing a form true to experience, whether this be the novel or the work of social reportage.

There are already books that show how it can be done, from the sharp, pungent essay collections put out by Arundhati Roy to Temptations of the West by Pankaj Mishra and Maximum City by Suketu Mehta. And if the subterranean murmurs are anything to go by, it seems that there are still other writers willing to examine the experience of India critically and with empathy, who take their inspiration not from Friedman but from Barbara Ehrenreich in how to bring a hidden world to light. Because otherwise, there is only the glib promise of capitalism, no different from what the Red Queen says to Alice: "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

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