The Regional Roots of Development Politics in India: A Divided Leviathan
By Aseema Sinha
Indiana University Press, 2005, 328 pp.
With the arrival of India's independence, Indian intellectuals optimistically assumed that their country would be the economic and political pacesetter for the developing world. After decades of disappointment, success finally seems at hand. The useful eleventh volume of the Asia Society's India Briefing series, edited by Ayres and Oldenburg, provides backing for India's newfound, and cautious, optimism. The contributors provide an excellent update on the shifting coalitions in India's party politics and solid analysis of India's economic reforms, which, like the Chinese post-Mao reforms, involve the downplaying of state planning and the welcoming of foreign investment. Other chapters offer a look at the lively growth of Bombay's "Bollywood" film industry, an insightful analysis of Indian nationalism, and a balanced appraisal of India's international role.
Sinha, in her book, helps explain India's economic successes and failures by comparing and contrasting the performances of different state governments and their relationships with the central government. She focuses on three states: West Bengal, which received favorable attention during the British era and also during the early post-independence phase of central planning; Gujarat, which has been a leader in attracting private investment; and Tamil Nadu, which has a mixed record of state and private investments. By focusing attention on the regional actors, Sinha brings out the complex interplay of critically important political leaders, which is necessary, she convincingly argues, for understanding the dynamics of national development. To make her case, Sinha compares India with China, Brazil, today's Russia, and the Soviet Union. Sinha has loaded more into this single book than it can gracefully carry, and the result is a dense and at times confusing study -- but one that India specialists will find useful.