Biswas: A pick of good reads

File picture of a four-year-old girl suffering from malnutrition in India Malnutrition is a 'scourge of India'

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Why do the vast majority of Indians live in hunger? Why is Indian cricket at a crossroads? Is Gujarat's controversial chief minister Narendra Modi an authoritarian leader who has become bigger than his party?

Some of the more interesting reads I have come across recently try to answer these questions. I am not endorsing any views contained in the pieces.


Why are most Indians, especially those who live in villages, suspended in a sort of "nutritional purgatory"? They eat enough to survive, but not enough to stay healthy, argues Mehul Srivastava, in Businessweek magazine

In a well-researched piece combining detail with empathy, Mr Srivastava returns the village in where his father grew up, some 800km (500 miles) south-east of the capital, Delhi, in Uttar Pradesh state. Auar is in the district of Pratapgarh, among the poorest 200 districts in the country.

More than five decades ago when his father was growing up in the village, India was running short of food and the US was shipping grain to the country. Things have vastly changed since then: fewer Indians go without food or die of starvation today.

But, as Mr Srivastava discovers, malnutrition continues to stalk the land and in many ways, Auar has both changed for the better and remained stranded in a difficult time. Residents use mobile phones and there is intermittent electricity. But residents defecate in the open, infants and teenagers carry tell-tale signs of of undernourishment and many elders have tuberculosis.

Mr Srivastava tracks down Ghanshyam, the son of a labourer, who had worked on a farm owned by his family. He's landless, afflicted with tuberculosis and struggles for work to feed a family of four.

"It had been a year, at least, since Ghanshyam last ate meat, eight months since he was able to catch fish in the village river, and six since he had an egg, he told me", writes the reporter.


India "A" cricketers Irfan Pathan (L), Suresh Raina (R) and Yuvraj Singh celebrate the wicket of England batsman Kevin Pietersen during the second day of a three day practice match between India "A" and England at The Cricket Club of India (CCI) grounds in Mumbai on October 31, 2012 Indian cricket is at a crossroads

Don't get carried away by the promise of a feast of competitive Test cricket - the genuine article - in India this winter.

As Harsha Bhogle writes in a article in ESPN cricinfo, Indian cricket is at a crucial crossroads. India will be definitely looking to erase the memories of last year's nightmarish outings in England and Australia, where they lost eight Tests in a row.

But things are not going to be easy. "Established players are looking vulnerable, outstanding players are experiencing dusk and the new generation will have graduated from the school of shorter cricket," he writes.

Mr Bhogle is right. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have retired. The invincible Sachin Tendulkar appears to be slowing down. Outside the ageing Zaheer Khan, the pace bowling bench appears thin. Outside the dazzling Virat Kohli, the younger batting talent has been worryingly inconsistent.

Mr Bhogle flags up some pertinent questions for the selectors, who have been found wanting so far in managing the transition and available talent.

Does India need to have a rethink about their redoubtable opening pair, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, who seem to have lost their magic? What about life after Tendulkar - and Zaheer Khan, their finest pace bowler? (The fact that India has to persist with Ishant Sharma (133 wickets from 45 Tests at 37.87) "tells you how grim the situation is"). Also, is it time to rest captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni from the unrelenting pressures of the Twenty20 game?

"If India have to become No 1 again, they need to start looking at bowlers who can bowl fast and batsmen who are unafraid of bowlers who can bowl fast. The key people in that search are not so much the coach and the captain as the selectors, and the earlier they start taking hard decisions, the better off everyone will be," writes Bhogle. Are the selectors listening? They must remember that a thriving global cricket economy depends on a thriving Indian team.


Narendra Modi Mr Modi will face elections in December

Is Gujarat's controversial chief minister Narendra Modi perpetuating a personality cult?

Harish Khare, a veteran analyst of Indian politics and a former media advisor to the prime minister, believes so.

In a scathing article in The Hindu newspaper that will surely raise the hackles of Mr Modi's numerous admirers, Mr Khare writes that the naming of a TV channel after him is the latest example of a growing personality cult which flies against his party's avowed principles.

Most believe that Mr Modi, who belongs to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, is poised to win a record fourth term in power in state elections which are due in December. He is also a divisive figure, loved and reviled in equal measure. His supporters believe he runs an efficient administration, and his critics accuse him of inaction in controlling the horrific anti-Muslim riots in the state in 2002. Mr Modi has always denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Khare writes that Mr Modi has made Gujarat his "'pocket-borough' ... he brooks no challenge to his leadership".

"Essentially Mr Modi and his authoritarian model of leadership are first and foremost a threat to the BJP ... The harsh reality is that the chief minister has garnered sufficient electoral, monetary, political and administrative clout to declare a kind of functional independence from the national leadership and its legitimate control; rather, important central leaders are dependent on him to get into the national legislature."

Analyst Swapan Dasgupta offers an equally provocative counterview in an article in the same newspaper this week.

He writes that Mr Modi does indeed pose a "threat" and not merely a challenge to many in the BJP.

But that is because Mr Modi "threatens the cosy somnolence of bipartisan deal-making involving the main political parties", alluding to allegations of corruption against BJP chief Nitin Gadkari and Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress party chief, Sonia Gandhi. Both Mr Gadkari and Mr Vadra have denied the allegations.

So is Mr Modi is a visionary outlier in the murky world of Indian politics or an "old fashioned authoritarian" - as Mr Khare calls him - who has usurped all credit for Gujarat's traditionally dynamic economy, powered by the Gujarati mercantile spirit? The truth possibly lies somewhere in between.

Soutik Biswas Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    @ GV (16).
    You are barking at the wrong tree! The reality is far worse than what Sautik or BBC told. Malnutrition, corruption, crony capitalism & 'success' of Indian industries (IT & biotech included) r closely connected.

    "Clinical trials claimed almost 1,600 lives in India"-

    Denial helps, but not in the long run!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    What India is facing all developing Country faces. Myammar, Bangladesh, Kenya and lot of Country in Sub- Saharan Africa. The trouble of poverty and Starvation? Nothing to worry. Since, i feel it is from Allah, Bhagwan, God if people believe it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Seriously, what has that photo got to do with Indian malnutrition? And, is there no embarassment in finishing the report with cliche's like 'The truth possibly lies somewhere in between.'?
    This is a web-site and not a printed newspaper where you need fillers. BBC will be better off without such sub-standard stuff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The success of cricket in india attributed to its available ingredients like plank of wood ,rubber ball and cross roads to play.The bowling on indian roads will turn out to be googly given its bumpy structure. Absolute power corrupts absolutely but at present people resort to corruption/misuse of power bcoz they want to maintain their power streak.I believe it might happen in case of N.Modi aswell

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    ...[continued from previous comment]... And Soutik / BBC never has a good thing to say about the oldest civilization on the planet. Its probably not Soutik, its his editors?
    Stop patronizing Indians

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Every year, BBC invests from their 'propaganda budget' to create condescending, hateful articles and documentary series on India. Get over it, BBC! The picture of the malnourished baby above is in bad taste. For a more balanced view on India and Indian news, see American, Russian media or Guardian ... [continued to next comment]...

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    May be soutik is not happy with the administration of gujarat, as there were no riots in 2009 as said above....

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I am waiting for Sautik to review the book "Swaraj" by Arvind Kejriwal.

    Corruption is a strange beast. When it works for elites, then it IS the system, we must follow. When public learn its way to deal the same, take laws in their hands & catch fishes in muddy water, all suddenly become "anarchist", "extremist".
    In a sense, people like Modi, Kejriwal, Naxals all are created by political elites.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Guys, We need some action takers (Doers) as our political heads. Please see the latest report on Gujarat published by IndiaToday which proves hard work of NaMO for poor and rich, hindu and muslim. People twist such good people with words like 'authoritarian' / 'personality cult'. Please READ "The Way Forward: Gujarat" on India Today. HELP BUILD INDIA by Supporting honest and Doer leaders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Does the below article by Soutik have any relevance to the Ground Reality or sense of proportion or a any direction??
    What does the India government reshuffle mean?
    Look at the Indian Media's article on the Graphic detail of how Cabinet Ministers are decided?
    Sorry I am Vegetable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Few days ago I was watching an interview on NBC with comedian Steven Colbert, who wrote several books, mainly on US politics. He was wondering why the host of the interview did not write any book, as he "too have so many talented writers to write scripts for your show. You can use them to write books on your behalf, as I do".
    Narendra Modi's book? May be!

    Election manifesto is also a book! Right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    If Soutik is not endorsing any views, it certainly appears he is distorting them. As pointed out by S N V below, anti-Muslim riots in the state happended in 2002 not 2009. Is this a deliberate attempt to dig dirt from 10 years back? Was it an oversight by the editorial team? I checked the article by Harish Khare on the online version of "The Hindu" and failed to see 2009 as the year of riots!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I was just watching a discussion on NDTV abt politically inspired ethnic cleansing, which our media & political class like to describe as "riots".
    It was abt anti-Sikh riot, started immediately after killing of Indira Gandhi. It's so clear that India still does not have any mechanism to address such genocides or deliver justice to families affected.
    This apathy is deliberate by ruling elites.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Pardon me, but your slip is showing. Narendra Modi is accused of not doing enough to protect minorities during riots. Those riots took place during 2002 and not 2009 as you claim.

    2nd slip is that you don't bother to mention of the 1000 dead in riot 200 were Hindus were killed in police firing to control the riots. Leftist media never bothers about accuracy & statistics. You repeat what they say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    What about the hottest news topic 'Congress is our Dukaan(Shop)?' phone tap
    The multi billion fraud of Mukhesh Ambani that British Petroleum bought into:

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Narendra Modi's book is (I think) the author’s first salvo in his war against corruption & complacence, dooming (in his view) the nation. I read that he plans many more books to follow (quick succession). He is anxious for new info, & is sufficiently brave to welcome to provide feedback on
    I like this pattern: Please read my book, but more so tell me what you think, need...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Just finished: Narendra Modi: "Yes he can: only he can save India from impending doom." - attempt to determine whether legatees of the venerable land, whose two millennia long caste reprehensibility was first compounded by six centuries of slavery, then overlaid by 2 centuries of imperialism, & finally, aggravated beyond imagination by 6 decades long corruption practiced in name of democracy.



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