- Reading India's Transformation, From the Outside In
Sumit Ganguly may be the most prolific political scientist working on India today. In just the past five years, his name has appeared on no fewer than a dozen books covering topics in India's foreign policy, international relations, and security. In India Since 1980 Ganguly teams up with Rahul Mukherji, a leading scholar in his own right who specializes in India's political economy, to produce a concise but comprehensive introduction to the world's largest democracy.
The book offer readers a rigorous account of India as a rising power. Its equally wide-ranging yet compact discussion of internal state-and-society dynamics is especially impressive, and perhaps because I was relatively less familiar with their perspectives in these areas, I found these discussions to be the book's most engaging. However, the chapters on each of the "four revolutions" underway since 1980—in foreign policy, economic development, democratic mobilization, and secularism—are all skillfully executed. Below, I will briefly comment on the authors' treatment of each.
But first, the book's periodization deserves particular consideration. As a publisher's note explains, this book is part of the Cambridge University Press series "The World Since 1980," which includes titles on other important countries and regions. In any case, 1980 works well as a meaningful (if approximate) marker for several crucial turning points in India's politics and international relations. As a teacher at a liberal arts institution, I tried both to read this book as my students might read it and to think about what distinguishes this volume from other generalist works that might be used in an advanced undergraduate course. I can almost envision using India Since 1980 as a stand-alone text, which is nothing short of remarkable given its mere 200 pages. And although I might supplement it with other material on the earlier decades or on specific topics, this does not mean that the book's historical demarcation is a shortcoming. On the contrary, as post-independence India arrives at the ripe young age of 65, it makes perfect sense to approach its political history in roughly two halves.
The first period—a backstory that the authors recount judiciously when necessary—begins with independence in 1947 and runs to the late 1970s or early 1980s. This period encompasses the Nehruvian era of state-building, central planning for economic development, and pursuit of a nonaligned foreign policy. [End Page 118] Crucially, it also subsumes the initial dominance and later deterioration of the Congress Party, and culminates with the Janata Party coalition leading India's first non-Congress central government from 1977 to 1980, the period after the national trauma of the 1975-77 Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. For all its turbulence, this period is relatively straightforward—even romantic—political history: there are the formidable, if highly contrasting, father-daughter figures of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, the story arc of the Congress Party, and the international backdrop of the Cold War.
But in the post-1980 period, a coherent narrative breaks down: India's story becomes "a million mutinies now," as V.S. Naipaul called his acclaimed 1990 travelogue. Here history-as-biography gives way to more intricate analyses of structural changes. The challenge is that these changes "have not moved in tandem but have overlapped with one another," as Ganguly and Mukherji observe (p. 1). The contemporary era requires a framework for understanding the causal relationships linking the Indian state to global market forces, subaltern social change, and the evolving regional and international milieus.
A book as concise as India Since 1980 cannot definitively capture all of these interconnections, but it does render each of the four revolutions comprehensible on their own terms. And in doing so, the book invites a new generation of scholars to pose their own questions about the complex relationships among foreign policy, economic transformation, political mobilization, and secularism. Ultimately, Ganguly and Mukherji conclude, "India has attempted a bold experiment in democracy and development" (p. 167)—no less so after 1980 than during the Nehruvian era. But while democracy and political mobilization "have empowered hitherto marginalized communities," they...