Debut author Richards brings five decades of close involvement with India to this efficient, perceptive exploration of the teeming country.
When it comes to India, manufactured tropes for easy consumption are readily available: it’s the world’s largest democracy and a land of mysticism and offshore call centers. To his credit, Richards is emphatically against discussing the “idea of India,” focusing instead on understanding not just the country itself, but also its citizens. Although India’s inclusion as one of the BRIC economies comes with an attendant descriptor as one of the world’s growing middle-class consumer markets, the author laudably focuses on the entire country’s demographics, not just a select segment. The book’s central thesis is that India’s operating system, built on the vestiges of what the British left behind in 1947, creaks along to uneven standards and could use a tune-up. This “Continuing Raj,” Richards argues, comprises “mastodons” (progress-blocking models featuring tired and divisive thinking from the “hoary past”) and “elephants” (more progressive prescriptions that the author argues the country needs). This comparison is a useful tool; when it comes to physical infrastructure, for example, the book deems the preoccupation with transportation a “mastodon” and provision of electricity to all as an “elephant.” The book’s arguments continue to hold weight even after the 2014 elections that swept the controversial Narendra Modi into power as prime minister, especially because, as Richards states, the country’s rate of social evolution is largely independent of government programs. Fundamental reforms are also fairly unlikely; Modi, Richards points out, is both “the master and the prisoner of the Continuing Raj.” Systematically dissecting practically every aspect of Indian society, from class and religion to national security and education, this volume commendably recognizes uniquely Indian quirks such as the ubiquitous Indian advice to “Do one thing”: “an urgent plea Indians make to emphasize their own priorities and what they hope to instill as top of mind in another person.” Even if it sometimes appears that Richards may have bitten off more than he can chew, this book is still an easily digestible treatise about an immensely complex country.
A recommended primer for professionals looking to conduct business with India and for interested laypeople.