Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India
by Sujatha Gidla
Sujatha Gidla’s Ants Among Elephants, which records the life of a Dalit family in the central Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and spans nearly a century, significantly enriches the new Dalit literature in English. Gidla grew up in India and now works as a conductor on the New York City subway. She knew firsthand the poverty and discrimination that several generations of her family had suffered. Defiant in the face of endless cruelty and misery, and tender with its victims, she seems determined to render the truth of a historical experience in all its dimensions, complexity, and nuance. The result is a book that combines many different genres—memoir, history, ethnography, and literature—and is outstanding in the intensity and scale of its revelations.
Why Growth Matters: How Economic Growth in India Reduced Poverty and the Lessons for Other Developing Countries
by Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya
Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya claim that India has been transformed “from a basket case into a powerful engine of growth.” They are convinced that faster growth and freer markets remain the best remedy for poverty, inequality, pollution, and ill-health. A contrasting view—that “there is something defective in India’s ‘path to development’”—and a very different list of priorities appear in Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze’s An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions.
“Let some people get rich first,” the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping proclaimed a generation ago, inaugurating a strange new phase in his country’s—and the world’s—history. It now seems clear that nowhere has capitalism’s promise to create wealth been affirmed more forcefully than in post–World War II Asia. Three new novels examine the deeper perils and fantasies of an economic system that Asians themselves deem mandatory across the continent.
Donald Trump’s election last year exposed an insidious politics of celebrity, one in which a redemptive personality is projected high above the slow toil of political parties and movements. As his latest tweets about Muslims confirm, this post-political figure seeks, above all, to commune with his entranced white nationalist supporters. Periodically offering them emotional catharsis, a powerful medium of self-expression at the White House, Trump makes sure that his fan base survives his multiple political and economic failures. This may be hard to admit but the path to such a presidency of spectacle and vicarious participation was paved by the previous occupant of the White House.
Growing up in India in the 1970s and 80s, I often heard people in upper-caste middle class circles say that parliamentary democracy was ill-suited to the country. Recoiling from populist politicians who pandered to the poor, many Indians solemnly invoked the example of Singapore’s leader Lee Kuan Yew. Here was a suitably enlightened autocrat whose success in transforming a city-state into a major economic power was apparent to all: clean, shiny, efficient, and prosperous Singapore, the very antithesis of squalor-prone India. Such yearnings for technocratic utopia may seem to have little in common with the middle class protests against “corruption” that recently gained much attention before abruptly losing steam at the end of the year. In fact, all along, there was little about Anna Hazare and his conspicuously middle class followers that suggested support for greater democracy.
Is Asia about to enter a new cold war? Accusing the United States of undervaluing the dollar, China has, after its mainly “peaceful” rise, recently assumed an aggressive posture toward its neighbors. In recent visits both to longstanding American allies (Korea, Japan) and to erstwhile enemies (Vietnam, Cambodia), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has proposed the US as a counterpoint to China. Seeking to match the Bush administration’s landmark nuclear agreement with India in 2005, Barack Obama is also supporting India’s case for permanent membership on the UN Security Council.
The columnist Thomas Friedman interprets such moves as “containment-lite,” invoking George Kennan’s proposal in 1947 that Soviet expansionism “be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points.” Apparently, such counter-force against China is already being applied. An Indonesian political scientist told the New York Times last week that his government feels the US is putting “too much pressure” on Indonesia and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “to choose sides.”
In New Delhi last week the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan met for the first time since the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008; the official talks concluded with both sides arguing over what they should talk about. India demanded that Islamabad prosecute the Pakistani militants responsible for the Mumbai attacks more vigorously. Pakistan insisted that the core issue between the two countries remains the India-held Muslim majority valley of Kashmir, where, out of a population of some 7.6 million people, more than 80,000 people have died since an insurgency supported by Pakistan began in 1989.