An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions

From The Telegraph:

How apt that the English word “juggernaut” is borrowed from Sanskrit. The India that emerges from this illuminating and powerfully argued book by the economists Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen has the look of one. India’s shining cupola is perched on a dilapidated chassis, crushing those who fall under its wheels. From one angle, it appears to be conquering the world. From another, it is rolling steadily towards the edge of a cliff.

The travel writing cliché about India being a “land of contrasts” persists because it is true. Its shockingly unequal patterns of development, say Drèze and Sen, are “making the country look more and more like islands of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa”. Despite a massive number of Indians prospering – well over 100 million of them, “a larger group than the population of most countries in the world” – so many of India’s 1.27 billion people remain disadvantaged that overall social indicators have hardly improved. In some cases, they seem to be in reverse: “The history of world development offers few other examples, if any, of an economy growing so fast for so long with such limited results in terms of reducing human deprivations.” Nearly half (43 per cent) of Indian children under five are underweight, compared with four per cent in China and two per cent in Brazil. India’s central government spends four times more on petroleum and fertiliser subsidies than on health care. When investigators visited schools in 1996 and 2006, half of them had no teaching activity at all. None of the world’s top 200 universities is in India. Ninety per cent of the country’s labour force works in the “informal sector” – under the official radar.

More here.