Author: Erik Parker, Torch Staff
Washington Bureau Chief for the Financial Times Edward Luce spoke to an audience of 40 students and teachers about his new book, In Spite of the Gods: The (Strange) Rise of Modern India on October 4. The talk took place in Johnson 200 at 12:30 p.m. and was the first Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA) Brown Bag Talk of the school year.
A native of Great Britain, Luce lived in New Delhi, India, from 2001 to 2006 as the Financial Times’ South Asia Bureau Chief. Director of Global Affairs Derek Shearer introduced Luce. “Oxy has not been paying enough attention to India, ” Shearer said.
Luce began by explaining how he tries to look at India. “Brits are usually fairly nostalgic about India,” he said. “But I look at India through an American, even Washingtonian, prism.”
Luce said that in the 1990s, “India was seen as the most dangerous nuclear flashpoint” because of its relations with Pakistan over the Kashmir region. “Now, there has been a profound change in mindset,” he said, because India-China relations are becoming increasingly important.
“India is the key swing state of the 21st century,” he said. “It will dominate the geopolitics of the first few decades of this century.”
Luce went on to address some key points of his book, In Spite of the Gods. One topic the book details is India’s economic transformation. Luce explained the increase of income growth in India in the past five years and how many families were saving more money than ever before. “There is an ejection of optimism and energy that was simply lacking before,” Luce said.
Luce wasn’t completely optimistic, though. There is a “widening economic gap” in India, he said, with 42 percent of children under the age of five suffering from chronic malnourishment, which is worse than the 26 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. “The poverty reduction of only one percent a year is a reflection of the inefficiency of the Indian state,” he said.
The next topic Luce addressed was India and “its growing alliance, or close relations, with the United States.” The United States and India have “a burgeoning military relationship,” Luce said, and the two countries participate in joint military exercises that “go relatively unnoticed by the Western world.”
Although he believes the United States and India have interesting relations, Luce returned to an earlier point about the China-India connection. “It is critically important for people to pay attention to [them],” he said. “It is a much, much more important phenomenon.”
The final component of Luce’s book that he addressed was India’s “extraordinary” political transformation. “India has the most diverse democracy in the world,” he said. “It has remained a democracy against expectations. India has been able to belie [ . . .] condescending expectations.”
Luce also praised India’s thriving free press, despite the country’s struggles to establish a “hard infrastructure.” He described the stability of the government as “underappreciated,” and repeated that the country’s main flaw is its inefficiency.
The Brown Bag Talk ended with a brief question-and-answer session in which students asked about issues such as India’s cultural influence, global climate change and India’s role in the information technology industry. Student concerns varied from the rise in “cultural influence from India” to what kind of role the country would take in addressing global climate change.
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