Book Review: Non-fiction/Rogue Elephant: Harnessing the Power of India’s Unruly Democracy by Simon Denyer, Bloomsbury, 440pp; Rs599 (Paperback)
Denyer captures our nation’s inverted spiral from a rapidly aspiring country to a land of dejected sentiments
The common and uncontested perception is that the foreign correspondents stay in merry state with privileged dining, wining and roving spree into their assigned territories and usually write predictably crappy pieces, mostly passable.
However, there are exceptions and Simon Denyer has been proving it ever since his stint in India as the bureau chief of Washington Post—through his reports, public speaking sessions and avidly watching this truly wonderful and complex democracy.
Not in distant memory, his Washington Post piece on the weak show of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went viral and that was not an exaggerated phenomenon.
This book under review is the extension of Denyer’s keenly watched downward trajectory of India—from a rapidly aspiring nation to a land of dejected sentiments.
As the book recounts, India has travelled a long way in the last decade. But that exciting boom time is on wane now with slew of deformities haunting the core of system—corruption, populist politics, indecisiveness, policy paralysis are but few of them, counted time and again.
Rogue Elephant: Harnessing the Power of India’s Unruly Democracy is an outcome of extensive field research and Denyer’s interest in knowing about the changing India, which is infact a quite challenging task to accomplish.
But he does it successfully, as his book is written in conformity with the mass sentiment and never appears like an out of touch commentary.
From rising economic story of the last decade, to a survivor of global economic meltdown to being in self-defeating mode—the book sees India in natural continuance and without slapping any negative tag that would make the readers believe in any ‘fallen from grace story’.
The book is what India is today. There is not much to argue as we all know the politics in India has seen in recent years: a shady bonhomie amongst cronies with commercial interests.
It is continuing or perhaps growing: so various chapters of the book tend to justify their compartmentalised existence. Crony capitalism, dynasty politics, fall and fall of institutions, and, above all, the question mark put on the functioning of the prime minister’s office, which resulted in the easy passage of scams and tainted dignitaries – all these have changed the India story.
In its underbelly lie the forgotten issues like poverty, alarming shortage of employment, recklessness of policy maneuvering and immediately punishable corporate plundering of resources.
These result in sagging sentiments—and with the general elections in progress, voters still have no choice to opt for a party with different and better policy inclinations.
Rather, they would be voting based on frivolous opinion or opium of badly maligned birth identities. The end result would not be ven remotely progressive. This element has vanished long back from our political turf, with politicians enjoying contradictory existence.
This book has covered the mass outrage of people following the brutal gang rape and murder of Nirbhaya and also the movements against corruption.
Denyer puts that in proper context: how the suffering masses with lack of basic facilities and unwavering scams mobilise to register an unprecedented protest against the ruling authority in Delhi. Later as Aam Aadmi Party comes into existence with brief but noticeable success in Delhi, hope floats, briefly.
Sadly, this reactionary party born out of people’s desperation at existing political functioning hasn’t been able to forward coherent views about its own role or politics at large. Its ‘failure’ might result to greater desperation for citizens and Indian democracy.
In patches, this book showcases how initial good works by the two-term UPA government lost its sheen in last few years, with dramatic rise in scams coming to light and failure of governance to cure those maladies.
Indian democracy in peril is really not different from a rogue elephant—who has impressive size but no command over itself. That is an unsustainable condition, which should not be allowed to go on.
Unlike the recent books written with a ‘betrayal or sycophancy syndrome’, Denyer’s departs from those easy alternatives. The readers would judge it by the pages, where a passionate account of India by a restless journalist exudes maturity and sense of purpose.
This should be an essential read for all, who believe both in the idea of India and its countless weaknesses as well.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in Millennium Post on April27,2014)