The Spoils of Indian Democracy

Siddhartha Deb in The Nation:

When one talks to the displaced peasants, slum dwellers and small entrepreneurs there, they express both frustration at their marginalization by the new economy and a healthy skepticism about the benefits it promises. Unlike most members of the English-speaking elite, who dismiss references to the colonial past as a hang-up of the left, for unprivileged and often uneducated Indians the point of comparison for multinational corporations remains the East India Company.

Some of this complexity of the Indian experience was captured well in an article written two years ago by Financial Times journalist Edward Luce. Oxford-educated and a former speechwriter to Lawrence Summers during the latter’s term as Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary–as the jacket informs us–Luce nevertheless demonstrated a remarkably firm grasp of the contradictions of India’s rise as a superpower. Reporting from Gurgaon, the Delhi suburb that has gone from farmland to elite enclave in a decade, Luce described an encounter with a former army colonel who manages the suburb’s first shopping mall:

I ask him why everything in Gurgaon has a Californian name. The apartment high-rises are called Beverly Hills, Belvedere Towers, Silver Oaks, Windsor Court and West End Heights. The office blocks are called Royalton Towers, Icon Pinnacle, Plaza Tower and Gateway Tower. And the malls are prefixed by Metropolis, or Mega or Super or City. Which way is it to India? I joke.

“We offer a total experience for the full family entertainment,” says Bhutani, as we sip our cafe lattes. “It is a total all-round experience. You don’t have to haggle in the retail outlets, the prices are fixed. You don’t have to watch rats scurry across the floor in the cinema or worry the power supply will go. And afterwards you can eat in a restaurant with a clean kitchen and guaranteed quality.”

The colonel’s automaton speech is a revealing example of the Newspeak that passes for public discourse among India’s elite, far more representative than the gnomic pronouncements of [Thomas] Friedman’s zippies…

More here.