cover image The Age of Aspiration: Power, Wealth, and Conflict in Globalizing India

The Age of Aspiration: Power, Wealth, and Conflict in Globalizing India

Dilip Hiro. New Press (Perseus, dist.), $28.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-62097-130-7

Hiro (The Longest August) develops a dense, intriguing analysis of India's complex sociopolitical climate since 1991, when the country launched extensive neoliberal reforms. The book reveals the gap between astonishing technological developments and the worsening status of the poor. While appreciative of the information technology education that gives Indian students a competitive edge throughout the world, Hiro points out that "the benefits of the boom have gone to those at the top and the middle, leaving the bottom stagnating." In chronicling the contest between the once-dominant Indian National Congress and the upstart Bharatiya Janata Party, Hiro gives specific instances of corruption on both sides. As he shows, the divide between rich and poor is also evident in agriculture: rich landowners are exempt from most taxes, while tenant farmers suffer from dwindling water resources and poor soil. The chapter on West Bengal's Maoist Naxalite guerillas deftly shows how violent radical movements can win support from locals who feel abandoned by the government. The author's anger at ruling-class greed is evident throughout, but he's willing to acknowledge positive changes: intermittent electricity in villages, more access to information, some improvements in health care. Still, he makes clear these are but "short-term palliatives." In an epilogue on the rise of xenophobia and religious bigotry during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration, Hiro expresses little hope for change. (Oct.)