Inventing India

Neel Mukherjee reviews recent books on India, including Adam Roberts’s Superfast. Roberts, he says, offers a serious book that exposes the appalling problems that India faces.

Not least is the current government’s penchant for authoritarian manipulations: “Modi, however, has a firm understanding of fake news and image manipulation. From 2012 he began to project 3D holograms of himself at several election rallies simultaneously. The images were simple optical tricks but they succeeded in wowing illiterate rural voters. A sure touch with the meaningless soundbite (‘less government, more governance’; ‘men, machines, and money must work together’) and an avid use of social media are, however, no substitutes for the real work that will actually bring about the change the population wanted when it voted him to power. Again, in Roberts’s own words, ‘Modi seemed to believe much would change in India if only perceptions of the country were different – missing the point that facts also had to change on the ground.'”

And, recently, violence, often spurred by the government: “When not actively instigating, aiding and abetting, the current government has dangerously fanned the flames of sectarian violence. There is a level-headed chapter on the carnage in Gujarat in 2002, when Modi was the Chief Minister of the state, the even tone only serving to emphasize Roberts’s condemnation and fears for the future. There are now deeply troubling instances, for example, of Hindu vigilante mobs lynching Muslims on false allegations of carrying beef. Chhattisgarh, one of India’s newer states, is worse than a police state, plagued by state-sanctioned criminal activity and violence, especially targeting journalists, rights activists and NGOs.”

 

Still, Roberts sees “glimmers” of hope. Mukherjee isn’t buying that: “The problems of India are so vast, and on such a vast scale, that some glimmers are not going to cut it. Roberts seems to be hamstrung by what I can only call a kind of politeness; he seems to understand that because of his nationality, historical forces stop him being openly scathing about India.”

 

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