Sunday, April 13, 2014

The "ELITE" citizens of India- Ones who can shape India

(This is a review of a book "Revolution From Above" by Dipankar Gupta. Enjoyed the arguments. Thought provoking and if India and its politicians give you angst, READ this book. Ideally, BEFORE YOU VOTE.


Prof Dipankar Gupta spent over thirty years, teaching sociology and anthropology at JNU till 2009. He continues to be engaged with academics and has authored / edited nearly fifteen books. This book is a welcome and a very timely addition. There is a real dearth of high quality analyses of people who shaped or did not shape India from its independence to now. This book is a must read for those who want to figure out as to why India is stumbling and is clueless about the future.

Prof Gupta talks about revolution in a democracy. His convincingly argued view is that changes can be brought about only by ‘Citizen Elites’.

India of today is a result of shape given to it by very few ‘influencers’. Unfortunately, the positive impact stops with Gandhi and Nehru. After that, no one has taken charge of the destiny of India.

Prof Gupta takes the three ingredients of democracy- Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. India has somewhat succeeded in the first two, but Fraternity is totally absent or missing. This is a key point being made in this book. Essentially, Indians have never grouped together as one. There is a divide caused by religion, caste, language etc which has been exploited by the politicians to further their own cause. There are enough examples that give substance to this argument. Whether it is our old scriptures or the modern day politician, this divide has led to an economic divide also. So much that we all have a tendency to flock within a ‘peer’ group and create a differential opinion of others. For example, Prof Gupta validly says that a calamity that involves a high profile person is far more important than a tragedy that could be several times bigger, if it happens to an unknown Indian. Our media also has a role in this. No other democracy has so much of lack of ‘fraternity”. Prof Gupta strikes a chord with his arguments and sets us thinking. What will change this? This change has to come from an ‘elite’ leader. It was ‘elite’ leaders like Gandhi or Nehru that helped eradicate ‘untouchability’ or promote gender equality. These elite leaders were people who had no vested interest in what they helped achieve. They believed that bringing about this equality was important. Prof Gupta exposes how the politicians have used these ethnic divides to further drive a wedge between Indians and use divisiveness as a political weapon. Equality is brought about by making barriers vanish and not by creating fresh ones through reservations.

Alas, since the two mentioned leaders, there have been no ‘elite’ leaders thrown up in India. Prof Gupta has done a highly logical analysis of subsequent leaders, including the present PM, Manmohan Singh. Prof Gupta does not pull his punches. He is scathing of things mundane like the present PM, the uselessness of the Planning Commission (probably the best analyses of the Planning Commission has been done by Prof Gupta- For this alone, the book is a must read). The followers of Ayn Rand’s capitalistic ideals may have a different point of view when it comes to the issue of fraternity. But let us leave it aside as ‘utopian’ and that which ignores the facts.

Prof Gupta narrows down the focus areas to Healthcare and Education. He points out how Nehru let us down on both counts, in spite of setting up some stellar institutions like AIIMS or the IITs. For those who want to have a different perspective of Gandhi, Prof Gupta provides ample instances.

There are discussions on urbanisation, the contributions of the migrants to an urban city There is so much packed in to this small tome that the book deserves to be on one’s shelves at all times. There is also a debate on the importance and size of the ‘informal” sector that is such a large contributor to the GDP of India.

This book will surely make you think. There may not be anything new in terms of behaviour of the politicians, but the reasons for India being a lopsided democracy emerge. For a foreigner who wants to know India, I would include this book as a ‘must read’. And for the young and ‘elite’ Indian this book may provide the inspiration and help bring change. Get this book. A must have.

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