Which means that, in his analysis of the country’s potential, The Economist’s former India bureau chief has to burrow beneath the bombast.
With the crunch year of 2022 approaching, when the nation is expected to overtake China and become the most populous in the world, it’s a worrying time in many ways – liberals fear PM Nerendra Modi’s exploitation of religious divisions; the continuing societal preference for male children remains a threat to stability (and it’s been estimated that India’s economy would be 60 per cent larger if women were in the paid workforce); instances of gang rape are so frequent it’s become a matter of international concern; and environmental standards are lax enough that there are open sewers feeding into the Ganges. Corruption remains a deep-rooted problem, and Roberts supplies scores of examples, from fraudulent corporations to entire cricket teams to the politician who, ‘pointing to boxes full of cash stacked in his office, [said]: “There is an election coming.”’
And yet efficiencies can thrive: the town of Surat, in Gujarat, has transformed in recent decades from being ‘the filthiest city in India’ – open sewers and decaying animal carcasses in the streets leading to fears of pneumonic plague – to a model city, with proper sewerage, reliable water systems and a power surplus: all thanks to a local government crackdown on corrupt practices. Roberts’ long experience of life in the country allows him to add anecdotal colour to his acute observations, and anyone needing a primer on, potentially, the next global superpower need look no further.