At a time when the public discourse is all about the falling GDP growth rate and India’s economic troubles, Professors Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze shake you up with their latest book, An Uncertain Glory — India and Its Contradictions. It is not the slowdown that is a worry — indeed, growth will return presently. The bigger concern for India today should be the continuing deep disparities in society that are only widening with every percentage point growth in GDP.
India’s democracy, say the authors, has failed to rise to the challenges the country faces in the economic and social fields; and worse, it has been compromised by the extent and form of social inequality. Whether it is education, health care, female literacy, sanitation, or nutrition, India fares only marginally better than countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Bangladesh in the Mirror: An Outsider Perspective on a Struggling Democracy. A. T. Rafiqur Rahman. Dhaka: The University Press Limited, 2006 (Tk 550.00); 383 pp. ISBN 984 05 1771 6
Bangladesh has just gone through one of the most traumatic phases of its history. For most of 2006 and the first ten days of 2007, normal life in the country was completely disrupted as the ruling coalition, consisting of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-i-Islam, confronted a coalition of opposition parties led by the Awami League, mainly over the way in which the next elections were to be held. Bangladesh, it must be remembered, had switched to a form of democracy in 1996 where the ruling party would hand over power to a “caretaker government” for a period not exceeding three months so that free and fair elections could be ensured. The system had worked well that year and had eventually brought the Awami League into power at the expense of the BNP. In 2001, too, there was a reasonably smooth transition because of the caretaker system. This time it was the Awami League which had to hand over power