Reading South Asia

SPAN magazine, a publication of the U.S. Embassy in India, has now published my recommendations for the best books written in 2014 on international politics within South Asia. In addition to this list, which can be read here, I would highlight one other book that has a focus on India’s internal dynamics.

Implosion: India’s Tryst with Reality by John Elliot is a timely reminder of the many obstacles that confront those who want to modernize the country.  Foremost among them is the concept of “jugaad” according to Elliott, a well-respected British journalist with long experience in India.  A few years ago, jugaad was hailed as a framework for frugal innovation worthy of emulation by Western corporations (see here, here and here for examples).  But Elliott sees the idea of the culture of muddling through and hoping for the best as detrimental to national progress.  “It is not enough for a country in India’s state of development,” he writes, “because it deters efficiency and innovation and destroys institutional structures.”  The book’s short, readable chapters are filled with skepticism about the country’s future and offer an engaging counterpoint to the wave of confidence prevailing in India since Mr. Modi’s election.  Readers will also profit from Mr. Elliott’s blog about India, Riding the Elephant (http://ridingtheelephant.wordpress.com/).

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India is Shackled by its Neighborhood

Self-inflicted wounds – whether in the form of poor domestic governance, decrepit infrastructure, a hostile business climate, and the absence of a unified national market – continue to hobble India’s ambitions in Asia and on the larger world stage.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s forthcoming budget offers a good chance to make some progress here.  But New Delhi is also held back by its tumultuous neighborhood and, as recent events demonstrate, the prospects for headway on this front are far less promising.  This, in turn, creates a striking paradox: India yearns for a place in the first ranks of world power – Mr. Modi proclaims that he wants “to make the 21st century India’s century” – and yet it remains unable to purposefully shape events in its immediate environs. Continue reading