Book Review – An Uncertain Glory: India and its contradictions

Title: An Uncertain Glory: India and its contradictions

Authors: Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze

Publisher: Allen Lane (2013)

ISBN-13: 9781846147616

ISBN-10: 1846147611

Pages: 433

MSRP: Rs. 699.00

Reviewer: Abhimanyu J L

“A democratic country can hardly want to become part California and part Sub-Saharan Africa” – Sen & Dreze

In a remote corner of the book Jean Dreze & Amartya Sen ask: “How can we get more out of democracy, particularly in reducing injustice and huge disparities in the lives of citizens – more than Indian democracy has been able to achieve so far?” I consider this question as the encapsulating theme of this book. This theme bridges differences amongst experts who may disagree with the authors on various issues and provides for a holistic understanding of the challenges facing India. The relationship between growth and development, their differences as well as their complexity, are central to the theme of the book.

The authors cover in detail issues related to the Democratic Republic of India – its recent growth spurt, and the lag in development in areas such as Education, Poverty and Health care. The authors analyze these broad development indicators in microscopic detail and articulate their positions on these issues. The book may be considered controversial in its prescriptions to the problems the authors highlight, but, none can ignore the gravity of issues highlighted by the book. Paraphrasing Mr. Sen from his book launch at the Bombay Stock Exchange, it can be said that the authors are reasonably successful in highlighting issues central to the book because people who disagree with their prescriptions use the data assimilated in the book to do so.

That data assimilated for this book reveals a scholarly work and espouses standards from a ‘Noble’ intellect. The development indicators covered in this book go back to the pre-independence era, progresses through the early stages of a democratic nation and arrives at the current state of affairs. India’s triumphs and tribulations are well recorded for those who want to interpret. And, those who want to learn about the interpretations can read the book in detail. Data on development indicators are provided for a relative comparison between states, region (South Asia), continent (Asia) and the globe.

The triumphs and tribulations of democratic India are observed holistically. The authors do a good job of de-constructing some myths and provide for an even-keeled approach to analyzing the growth story of India and the lag in corresponding development indicators. Particularly, delivery mechanisms of government services, types of services that are considered public goods and problems associated with the current or proposed mechanisms are discussed in great detail. Although the authors recognize the constructive role of the market in creating the growth story of India, they are skeptical of the market’s ability to deliver public goods due to issues such as informational disadvantage, lack of buying power of the masses, lack of competition, and externalities.

The authors express the need for urgency in tackling these highlighted issues. Through varied examples of progress and paths to progress others in the world have pursued, the authors postulate, that for the country to grow in a sustainable manner: all areas of development have to be addressed.

In concluding, Dreze and Sen recommend a course for ‘Sustainable Economic Development’ where human capabilities are expanded and the issue of environmental sustenance is addressed- furthering the rate of growth in the economy. They argue for constructive uses of public resources generated by economic growth to enhance development- where human capabilities are enhanced to not only improve quality of life but also for higher productivity and further growth.


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