Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change is journalist Shankkar Aiyar’s fascinating new book which examines the chronicle of India’s history through “seven turning points” in the country’s history. In the book, Aiyar argues that changes in the country since independence have not arisen through conscious decision making or planning, but have been accidental results of crises affecting the nation.
In the preface, Aiyar recounts how he scooped the news of how, in 1991, the country had only enough foreign exchange to pay for seven days of imports and had pledged 47 tons of gold to the Bank of England to borrow $400 million to pay its creditors. Working on this news report made Aiyar question
Why did we wait for a crisis to act?
This, apparently, seems to be India’s modus-operandi. According to Aiyar, “every major change in India has come about in the wake of a crisis”.
The book offers adequate proof. From the economic liberalisation of 1991, to the nationalisation of the banks,to the Green Revolution, to mid-day meal scheme and the software revolution of the 1990s, the book covers it all in carefully crafted chapters.
For the people, change is often a good thing; for the country’s rulers, change is often the threat.
Aiyar makes many such insightful statements in his book. Recent events continue to show us how India’s politicians will dodge new law-making proposals if they are affected negatively. What do you do when law-makers are law-breakers and have no reason to hurt their own interests by passing laws that might, contrarily, be for the country’s benefit?
Each chapter has a witty title – ‘The Hunger Games’ (The Green Revolution), ‘Das Kapital’ (The nationalisation of banks), ‘The Milky Way’ (Operation Flood), ‘The Da Vinci Code’ (The Right to Information 2005). Aiyar’s research is pretty thorough and impressive. The sequence of events is laid out in a lucid and engaging manner; some journalists might do well to study the chapters to see why it works so well.
In the Epilogue, Aiyar says, “What India lacks is the kind of political leadership that entertains risk and takes decision”. We continue to see this lack of indecision every day as the economy flounders and the spirit of India cracks open a little more. The image of India Shining wears off pretty soon when you read of an unabating stream of farmer suicides, malnourished children (one million children die every year before they are one month old), and a quarter of the population has no access to electricity.
The Epilogue offers a summary of solutions available to tackle India’s problems. Perhaps having them all condensed in a book might make it easier for our decision-makers to take another look at them.
Governance in India, in 2012, is a sham and a shame.
I found it fascinating to read a condensed version of Independent India’s history in this light. From the machinations of politics and politicians, to the inner scheming of bureaucrats, to a detailed glimpse into how the country is run, the book has its moments of suspense and intrigue. Written with journalistic fervour and peppered with great drama, this is not a book to speed-read or read over-night. I needed to take my time understanding the flow of events, ponder over the numbers, mull over these events in history. If you do that, you will enjoy Accidental India.
India deserves better.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in the country’s history and how past events continue to influence the present day mess.