India in Slow Motion By Mark Tully, Viking, Rs 450
“Corruption from top to tail” is one of the 10 essays in this book, but it may well describe not just this book, but the entire administrative system in India — its “neta-babu raj”, as Mark Tully, a former BBC correspondent in south Asia, calls it.
India may be like the proverbial slow and steady tortoise, but it can hardly afford to amble along in this age of speed and technology, burdened by a deep-rooted corruption that is not just holding it back, but is also eroding its very foundation. What meaning can progress have in India when its politicians, the very people who are supposed to help the poor and needy are the ones depriving them of their rights and paying no heed to their woes.
Take the farmers in Karnataka, driven to suicide by not being able to pay back money borrowed from moneylenders, because the Gramin banks take very long to process their request for loans, and the government’s refusal to buy their produce. Or, the paradise lost in Kashmir because of a half-century-old turf war with Pakistan, or the carnage that took place in Gujarat while the government, the police and civil administration looked the other way, or even the tehelka scandal, in which the journalists who exposed the pol- iticians are being prosecuted while the latter, caught on film accepting bribes, happily continue in office.
Just a few examples of the deep-seated systemic rot in India. A problem that is often compounded by the judiciary’s inordinately playing into the hands of the guilty, leaving the common citizenry without anyone to turn to. Thankfully, for every corrupt individual, there is an Aruna Roy, helping the villagers in Rajasthan fight for their rights, and a Hemant Kumar Panchal, living and working with the farmers in Karnataka, and the dedicated IT workers who are transforming Hyderabad into Cyberabad.
India in Slow Motion reveals the country in all its diversities. Mildly judgmental, descriptive, and always honest. Be it a peek into the lives of the Tablighis, a Muslim sect, or the qawwali singers of old Delhi. Then there is the analysis of child labour in the carpet trade — comprehensive and clear, yet poignant. The chapter on the panchayat of Rajsamdhiyala village is a study in the principles of good organization and the rule of law.
India has a lot of potential, in terms of resources and manpower. But much of it remains mired in corruption. The forces within the country are the ones responsible for holding it down. Sadly, there is no evidence of the situation changing for the better in the near future.