Review: India Grows At Night

Gurcharan Das’s latest work offers a prescription for a strong liberal Indian state, writes Dipankar Bhattacharyya.
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Updated on Oct 26, 2012 11:08 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByDipankar Bhattacharyya

Book: India Grows At Night
Authour: Gurcharan Das
Publisher: Penguin
Price: Rs. 599 pp 307

The way India governs itself has been a source of consternation. It does some things so right, yet there is so much we do wrong. Gurcharan Das’s hypothesis is that most of it can be explained if you look at India as a strong society bound by a weak state.

India Grows At Night fits this thesis into the current public discourse. Das’s premise is straightforward. Hindu law prescribes a set of laws for society, including the state. Any deviation from dharma – by the king or the commoner – has to be curbed by society and not the state.

Thus China had an empire with a wall around it and India had petty kings who could claim a job well done if they kept the neighbouring army away from their harvests. The Mughals and the British built a state around this Hindu code but its institutions were bound to decay once their reign was over.

Now to test the hypothesis on the past year’s headlines: pervasive corruption, lethargic governance, dynastic politics, lopsided economic opportunities, and the feeble middle-class revolt against all of the above. The hope lies in how fast the middle class, representing society in the Hindu view, acquires the critical mass to impose dharma on those straying from the herd.

The author traces each of his subjects to its genesis in modern, medieval or ancient India. The eclectic mixture of mythology, history, sociology and economics is overwhelming, but the reader can’t disagree with Das’s prescription of a strong liberal Indian state.

The de rigueur “What is to be done” chapter is, well, titled “What is to be done” and suggests reform of the bureaucracy, judiciary, police and Parliament. Anything that needs to be fixed, must be fixed. Here, as in other parts of the book, the Mahabharata pops up.

Goes to prove the Gita contains everything a card-carrying Hindu needs to get through this life and the next few million incarnations. The opinions in India Grows at Night are defended with erudition but Das doesn’t take you much beyond the need for a strong state. Since this is a truism, you might wonder what India Grows at Night was about? Still, it’s a good read.

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