Book Review_ India is Broken

India is Broken – A People Betrayed, 1947 to Today, is a masterfully woven political and economic history of postcolonial India. The author, Ashoka Mody critically reviews the policies of successive leaders from Jawahar Lal Nehru to Modi. He argues that no government since independence has put the people at the core of their policies, especially the economically poor of the country. The book is a deeply researched study of how successive governments failed to generate employment and establish a strong health and education infrastructure.

Nehru, the author says, focused on building heavy industries, big dams, and institutes of higher education and ignored primary education and the health system completely. He called these heavy industries and dams the “temples of modern India”. However, the author argues that too much attention and money was spent on developing these heavy industries and less attention was paid to public goods.

The author rejects the public notion that India was/is a socialist state. He argues that the widely accepted notion that the socialist policies of Nehru and later Indira Gandhi’s government stunted economic growth is a myth. As per the author, India was never a socialist country. It was and is like Western capitalist economies.

Socialism means the creation of equal opportunity for all. In this sense, India never implemented socialist policies. A common mistake is to identify central planning or big government as socialism, but these are tools of economic policy, not socialism.

Human development goals were not priorities for Mrs. Gandhi. Asked why Indian literacy rates remained so low, she answered: “I don’t know how important literacy is. What has it done for the West? Are people happier or more alive to problems? On the contrary, I think they have become more superficial.” Mrs. Gandhi had remained consistent in her neglect of human capital.

In one of the chapters towards the end of the book, titled “Modi Breaks India’s Fractured Democracy”, the author talks about the present state of the country. As per the author, a common thread that runs through successive governments post-independence is the neglect of human resources. This neglect, as per the author is the main reason why India is at the bottom of many socio-economic indicators. More concerning than fairing poor in these indicators is the denial of the present government. And this denial of reality could be the only reason the author says, India is Broken and why it is hard to fix.

A compelling, engaging, and well-written book taking the readers on a journey of India’s history of politics and economics since independence. It is a well-argued critique of successive Indian governments and their failure to focus on and improve the human capital of India, resulting in poor socio-economic conditions for most Indians.

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