by P N Balji
I am a sucker for books written by journalists. Partly because the language is racy and to the point; mainly because the journalists-authors are storytellers spinning stuff they won’t or can’t narrate in their newspaper articles.
From these vantage points, Ravi Velloor’s book, India Rising, doesn’t disappoint. He packs many stories neatly into 350 pages that range from wife swapping to India’s ability and new-found desire to play a strategic role in the world.
The book is also a guide to present-day journalists on how to cultivate sources, both in government and outside, and use the views collected to spin a coherent yarn of a subject or country they are reporting on.
Velloor describes his work as a diary of an Indian decade that saw the rise and fall of Congress PM Manmohan Singh and the rise of BJP PM Narendra Modi. Three chapters stand out. Singapore Sling records how the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement in 2005 started the ball rolling for both countries to get together again.
Velloor’s insight into how the inscrutable Manmohan Singh “used a bit of subterfuge” to sneak the deal under the nose of the boss of the Communist Party Marxist, Prakash Karat, serves as
a very good example of the author’s cultivation of his sources.
India In A Strategic Sweet Spot builds a compulsive story of how India has found itself in a happy point where it is courted by every major power. India is in a unique position of being so big that it cannot be ignored but at the same time not so powerful to be seen as a threat. Velloor argues that India’s economic rise as China’s seems to be faltering and the South Asian giant’s image as a strong
and reliable partner to be a security guarantor for Asia augur well for a peaceful world.
On top of these is India’s ability to deal with the destructive technologies that are emerging. I would say that that is India’s trump card as many other countries are fighting issues of a dearth of talent and inertia to leapfrog their way into the new economic order.
I was hoping to read a detailed analysis of the author’s take on Modi’s reticence towards his party’s militant wing and its outward display of violence against the Muslims. The only criticism – if you can call it that — I can find in the book is this line: “Modi himself has done little to promote such insecurity, but neither has he acted decisively to stem it, perhaps because he feels it is better to let the lunatic fringe vent itself than to stamp them and create a backlash.”
That is being too nice to the then Chief Minister whose strange silence when Gujarat burned as Hindus launched revenge attacks against Muslims in 2002 sits like a heavy hangover over his reputation. But Velloor has a possible explanation that I have not read or heard before. Modi might just decide to strike out on his own and leave BJP’s militant wing without the popular umbrella that the PM provides.
I hope the author is right because India the elephant has been in a deep slumber for too long.
P N Balji is a veteran Singapore journalist.