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The Indian Mosaic

The view of India and Indians that persists abroad is narrow and
stereotypical. It is derived from an amalgam of the writings of
Rudyard Kipling, the mimicry of Peter Sellers and the heart-tugging
advertisements of such charitable organisations as World Vision and
Oxfam. Personal contacts with the proprietor and family of the
neighbourhood dairy store may be leavened with the romanticism of
films and television productions like Heat and Dust, The Far Pavilions,
The Jewel in the Crown and Gandhi. The resulting picture that most
Westerners have of India is an odd and contradictory mix of
falsehoods, half-truths and fantasies:

• India is a poor country with few resources;


• India has little manufacturing and industrial capacity;
• India's overpopulation causes starvation and hunger on a large
scale;
• India is a land of handsome, charming and rich princes and
maharajas;
• Indians are heirs to an ancient civilisation that emphasises self-
sacrificing asceticism, spiritualism and a stable family life;
• India is full of beggars, child-brides, bride-burners, corrupt
officials and self-serving politicians;
• India is chaotic and disordered;
• India's nationhood is fatally flawed by divisions of religion, caste
and ethnicity;
• India's defence forces are large in manpower but neither
modernised nor well-equipped;
• India is a nuclear power;
• India is a regional bully;
• India has little real influence in world affairs.

R. Thakur, The Government and Politics of India


© Ramesh Thakur 1995
2 The Government and Politics of India

As with all cliches and stereotypes, there is of course some truth in


most of these images. For example, India's population has doubled in
the last generation (Figure 1.1). And not one state of India has so far
escaped the poverty trap (Table l.l). Perhaps a railway journey is
not an inappropriate simile of India today. When an express train
pulls into the station of a major city, there is a tremendous
hullabaloo, confusion reigns supreme as those wishing to detrain
jostle noisily with those wishing to entrain, vendors hawk their wares
lustily and foreigners can usually be identified by their general air of
bewilderment. Yet amidst the chaos there is an underlying order.
People do manage to find their allotted seats. They have reliable
expectations of arriving safely at their destinations. India's major
cities are linked in a vast 62 000 km rail network whose formal rules
and informal conventions are reasonably well understood and
followed all over the country. And there are regional variations in
the 'ground' reality of train travel: computerised seat reservations in
Bombay and Delhi give way to the joys of ticketless travel in Bihar.
India's political leaders have taken good care to insulate themselves
from the rigours of ordinary train travel. Special VIP quotas are set
aside for them. This is but a minor illustration of the misfit between
the rhetoric of India's 'socialist' or 'social democratic' people's
representatives and the reality of the rarefied existence of the
parliamentarians in New Delhi. The MPs are all committed to
Gandhian austerity. But they live in magnificent houses in the

FIGURE 1.1
India's population growth, 1961-91

1961

lu 1971
~
rJl
~
rJl
cQ) 1981
()

1991

0 100 200 300 4 00 500


Population (million)