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The Rediff Interview/Edward Luce, journalist-author
'India's growth rate is not a flash in a pan'
September 18, 2006
Half of his tenure was spent traveling across India as a reporter, after which he took nine months off to write In Spite of The Gods - The Strange Rise of Modern India.
Educated at Oxford, Luce's impressive knowledge of contemporary India makes his book a fun read, possibly even because he is married to an Indian, Priya Basu, and understands the nuances of an unfolding India better than many 'spirituality struck' foreigners.
He says his wife is "in many ways a cause of this book."
The best part of the book is the fact that it deals with the India of today instead of looking at the past or the future. Luce's soft corner for India does not make this book any less professional in its perception as he goes far beyond New Delhi into the hinterland to cover the less talked about India as well.
When I looked back at those notebooks I knew so much was happening in India and there was so much interest in finding out what was happening here. If you don't write a book you must be stupid, there is just too much to say.
India is changing so rapidly and there is so much now happening in the East of the world than the West.
That taught me the experience of predicating and anticipating things in India and that how wrong you can be. It taught me to be quite careful, always to take notice of the caveat, always to pay attention to any doubts you might have because India is a very, very complex country.
My point is I didn't have a gut feeling about India. You can't write a book on a hunch. You have to travel, you have to meet people and you have to do a lot of reading and revising.
The intention was to play upon the major thematic issue of the political economy of India. Especially being a foreign journalist you have to immerse yourself and the more you immerse yourself, the more sophisticated the understanding of India becomes. The less simplistic you become, the more doubtful you are of your conclusions.
That's unusual and again, it is unusual that India took up the service sector and high-end manufacturing. Normally it is the industrial revolution that begins [first] and agricultural moves and manufacturing begins sequentially. India had democracy first before it got a middle class and that is unique.
In Spite of the Gods is a title I can live with it. It was my choice in order to prevent something worse. It is not particularly an informative title. It might be memorable. But it does not correspond with the underlying fact I have that I didn't want to write a book where exaggerated attention is given to religious pluralism and too much attention is given to spiritualism in the country, when foreigners talk about India, they talk too much about it.
Then, you will start getting bottlenecks which will slow down the growth. But at the moment -- in short to medium term -- you may be seeing 7 to 8 per cent growth and you are talking of doubling the economy in some seven, eight years. That is pretty rapid.
No one has any idea if the Chinese numbers are foolproof and whether the system is being checked or followed. There is a lot of exaggeration and a lot of politics in economic data. In India you have to wait for it but you do trust [it].
If you are asking me if numbers for growth are real, yes it is real. I don't think you could possibly exaggerate the importance of India finally achieving sustained economic growth.
It is grossly mistargeted. Most subsidies in pharmaceuticals, agriculture and fertilisers is going to the rich. Minimum support price favours Haryana and Punjab's Punjabi wheat growers but does not go to the people who need it.
Unfortunately in India the vested interest group is very, very savvy at capturing public resources.
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