Growing Concerns

Book: India Grows At Night

Author: Gurcharan Das

Publisher: Allen Lane/Penguin

Price: Rs 599

Pages: 320

Post the vitriolic eighties of the last century, liberalisation had produced a sense of quietude for a devilishly long spell. The social turbulence that usually follows a change of economic policies in most countries was conspicuous by its absence in India.

The upheaval which began in late 2010 is something we should have expected but didn't anticipate. The youth were beginning to find the confidence to speak out. The extraordinary change that has defined India for these young people was the urbanisation in progress around them. By 2010, nearly 50 per cent of the Indian population was living in places that were either urban, or proto-towns, or which made their living from a proximate town.

In less than a generation, India had been transformed into an urban society whose inhabitants derive their language, their aspirations and their frustrations from urban contexts. This is the trigger for the change operating at so many levels in Indian society. This is also the change which, despite its scale, political parties have not been able to address with clarity. The pace of change was fast and it is becoming faster. The movement was furious because it was making up for the stasis of earlier decades.

This is the paradigm which seems to escape Gurcharan Das in India Grows at Night. Instead, Das connects developments in the two tumultuous years since late 2010 to the failure of the Indian state to transform itself into a strong administrative hub. He connects the hubris that seems to have assailed India in 2012 with the failure of the state to establish the rule of law. A telling episode in chapter three recalls the infamous incident in the Tamil Nadu village of Vachathi, which was assaulted by 269 state officials in 1992. It let loose, the author says, a spiral of cynicism. This is an extension of the theme he has explored in his earlier books, too.

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