“The Republic of India is the most reckless political experiment in human history.”

That is the first line of a TNR review of new books by C. A. Bayly and André Béteille.

Never before was a single nation constructed out of so many diverse and disparate parts. Partitioned at birth on the basis of religion, India now has almost as many Muslims as the Muslim homeland of Pakistan. It has more Christians than Australia, more Buddhists than Tibet, more Sikhs, Jains, and Parsis than any country in the world. The Hindus, nominally the religious “majority,” are divided into tens of thousands of endogamous castes and sects.

…This is an unnatural nation, as well as an unlikely democracy. Never before was a population so poor and so illiterate asked to vote freely to choose who would govern it. Unlike in the West, where the franchise was granted in stages, the Indian constitution immediately gave the vote to every adult regardless of caste, class, education, or gender.

The books and the review take too much of an uncritical Great Man view of history for my taste, in spite of the fact I take the view more seriously than many social scientists. The review is incoherent at times, but nonetheless an interesting read. I would like to hear what Acemoglu and Robinson would say about the books and India in general.

26 thoughts on ““The Republic of India is the most reckless political experiment in human history.”

  1. You had me going there — I thought you were quoting Bayly, and I was going to ask just when Bayly lost his mind, because he seemed sensible enough when I was reading him back in grad school. (Guha, on the other hand, I know nothing about.)

  2. “India inspires–in this citizen at any rate–pride and embarrassment in equal measure”. I just returned to the US after 2 years working in Chennai and I found this sentiment commonplace. The consistently venal character of the politicians standing for office at virtually every level of government evoke resignation among most Indians. There seems little reason to hope for improvement in the political class.

  3. in a similar vein, wud u say, ur body comprises of millions of groups of cells completely different from each other, and therefore, u cannot function as one entity?

    The life that animates ur body, in the case of Bharat is dharmik consciousness nurtured by Samskrti

  4. I’d also be fascinated to hear what A&R would say about India – they don’t mention it once in their book. As I recall, Boix speculates that democracy emerged and consolidated in India because land inequality was relatively low there compared to other countries. But that’s pretty hard to square with what we know from Banerjee and Iyer about the subnational divergence between landlord and non-landlord areas, as well as the major struggles over land reform post-independence…

  5. Honestly? India’s quite culturally coherent, despite all that diversity, and so is China, despite similar levels of multually incomprehensible languages. Contrast the Soviet Union (!!!!), or pretty much any of the colonial nightmare states in Africa, most of which have terrible borders.