Almost 20 years ago, shortly after India’s protectionist economy was liberalized, I moved to Mashobra, a small village in the North Indian hill state of Himachal Pradesh. The rent on my cottage was low. Food was cheap; the climate, mostly good; and -- an unexpected bonus in India -- the air and water were clean.
In 1984, criticizing George Orwell for having advocated political quietism to writers, Salman Rushdie asserted that “we are all irradiated by history, we are radioactive with history and politics.” He added: “Politics and literature… do mix, are inextricably mixed, and that… mixture has consequences.”
In college during the late 1980s, in the north Indian city of Allahabad, I heard many stories about local toughs and criminals who were keen to get into politics. They came from Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) and Bihar, two of India’s poorest provinces that together contain nearly as many people as the U.S.
India, the Wall Street Journal claimed recently, is the Iranian mullahs’ “last best friend” for continuing to buy oil from, and trade with, Iran. Questioning why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “hasn’t already curtailed dealings with the Islamic Republic,” the Journal wondered if it has to do with the Indian fear of “pushy Westerners.” Accusing India of carrying some “mental baggage from the days of the Non- Aligned Movement,” the paper castigated the country for having failed to grow out of its “adolescent neurosis.”
A few years ago, one of India’s private airlines started operating a flight from Delhi to the Himalayan city of Shimla, a few miles from my village. The brisk descent in a small turboprop aircraft isn’t for those with a fear of flying. The runway on a table-top mountain seemed particularly short last week, when the plane, breaking free of the fog over Delhi, came down to a wintry Himalayan mist.
Twenty years ago, India faced a fiscal crisis caused by profligate public spending and rising oil prices after the first Persian Gulf War. There was a risk it would default on its international payments.