India a Democracy or a Monarchy? Heading towards a Hereditary Monarch and Indian Princelings
India: A Portrait by Patrick French – review
Patrick French's affectionate portrait of modern India hymns the tiger economy but ignores the country's contradictions and complexities
French retells the story of Ramanujan, the brilliant young Tamil mathematician who died in England before he could fulfil his promise. The suggestion is that the talents of 1.2 billion Ramanujans – all of them tremendously multicultural and supremely talented – are on the verge of exploding. The leading historian of modern India, Ramachandra Guha, chose to end his magisterial work, India After Gandhi, on a more sombre note: his countrymen, he pointed out, could be legitimately proud of their democracy but they had to remember that the task of lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty still lay ahead of them.
Patrick French offered this startling revelation about the Indian Parliament:
"Every MP in the Lok Sabha under the age of 30 had in effect inherited a seat, and more than two-thirds of the 66 MPs aged 40 or under were HMPS [Hereditary Members of Parliament]. In addition, this new wave of Indian lawmakers would have a decade’s advantage in politics over their peers, since the average MP who had benefited from family politics was almost 10 years younger than those who had arrived with ‘No Significant Family Background’. In the Congress, the situation was yet more extreme: every Congress MP under the age of 35 was an HMP. If the trend continued, it was possible that most members of the Indian Parliament would be there by heredity alone, and the nation would be back to where it had started before the freedom struggle, with rule by a hereditary monarch and assorted Indian princelings."
He has divided his book into three parts: Rashtra (nation), Lakshmi (wealth), and Samaj (society). While that's a neat division, a multi-everything nation like India can be sub-divided in many different ways. The deeper question is: does it hold together and form a coherent narrative? That depends on the reader's expectations.
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