Posted February 12, 2022
Updated February 12, 2022
Deciphering a confusing country that simultaneously combines characteristics of underdevelopment and great power is what two books that have just appeared attempt, with varying success: India in 100 questions by Gilles Boquerat (Tallandier) and India against winds and tides by Claude Blanchemaison (Temporis Editions).
What should we remember from India? That new technologies reign there or that entire regions have levels of human development comparable to those of sub-Saharan Africa? That it is one of the great economic powers of the planet or that it remains largely on the sidelines of commercial and financial flows? That it is « the greatest democracy in the world », according to the established expression, or that the Hindu majority there more and more openly flouts the rights of minorities? Understanding India today, in a country like France which has no strong historical ties with it, is not easy. Two recently published books aim to provide elements of understanding to French readers.
Answering the many questions that can be asked about the country is precisely the ambition of India today in 100 questions by Gilles Boquérat, researcher specializing in South Asia. As the title suggests, the book is structured in one hundred short chapters, each centered on a question. A wide range of topics are covered, from history and geopolitics to religion, politics, economics, society and culture. Each topic is covered concisely in two or three pages.
In such an approach, the title of the questions chosen is obviously crucial. In this respect, it is surprising that some of the questions that the general public most readily asks are missing, such as “Is India still the largest democracy in the world? » or “Are castes still so present in society? » These essential themes are well covered, but sometimes you have to search a little for the corresponding question. The limits to the functioning of Indian democracy, for example, appear in the question “How is the vote of 900 million voters organized? »
This observation aside, Gilles Boquérat’s book is full of lessons. The reader can recall historical events that he would have forgotten a little, such as the circumstances of Independence or the origins of the conflict in Kashmir. The main religious communities are reviewed, with an evocation of the discriminations that strike Muslims. The high number of issues covered makes it possible to talk about the country’s federal structure as well as malnutrition, linguistic diversity as well as the pollution of the Ganges, cricket and Bollywood. All in the form of short and very factual texts. The book thus offers a simple and effective means of learning about the many issues concerning India.
The same cannot be said, unfortunately, of the second book recently dedicated to the country. India against winds and tides is the work of Claude Blanchemaison who was French Ambassador to Delhi from 1996 to 2000. To write this analysis of India’s strengths and weaknesses, the author drew on his memories of the end of the last century and supplemented them by what looks like a compilation of press clippings and official statements. Multitudes of specific facts are listed. For example, an entire page lists the details of the meetings of Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian during his official visit in April 2021. But the author almost never takes the height to put into perspective and analyze. An accumulation of raw facts interspersed with memories more than twenty years old does not make an analysis of the situation in India today. Not to mention some surprising choices to say the least: the sub-chapter entitled “The status of women in India” includes two pages on billionaire women and a page where arranged marriages, dowry, selective abortions and rapes are piled up…
Gilles Boquerat, India today in 100 questions, 366 pages, Tallandier.
Claude Blanchemaison, India against winds and tides, 314 pages, Temporis Editions.
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