Free Press Journal

The Raisina Model: Indian Democracy at 70 by Meghnad Desai- Review


Name of the book: The Raisina Model

Author: Meghnad Desai

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Price: Rs 499

Pages: 343

In the preface of the book the author writes, ‘This book celebrates seventy years of Indian Independence, but it is not a celebratory book.’ The author was being charitable while writing this. The book almost mourns the existence of India even after seventy years.

The book has seven chapters apart from preface and introduction. In the preface the author writes, ‘What explains the survival of India as a single entity….’ In the introduction he writes, ‘it is the greatest achievement of independent India that it is, even after seventy years, a single nation state’.

In the first chapter, Democracy he says, ‘since Independence India has been repeatedly threatened with disintegration.’ In the second chapter, he contributes to the breaking India forces and goes on to write ‘Assam does not even get a mention in the National Anthem nor does the Brahmaputra River.’

The fifth chapter is titled as ‘Dissensions.’ In the sixth chapter, ‘Dignity’ he writes about British throwing open education to all castes, class and communities. Nothing can be farther than truth. Dharmpal’s work based on British documents sourced from British library in Britain have in details – covered how education was available across India to everyone irrespective of gender, cast or class. It is surprising that Meghnad Desai, being the Lord of British government didn’t have access to such documents. On second thoughts, it has to be intentional; being a Lord (he was made Lord Desai of St Clement Danes in 1991) and an active member of the British Labour Party since 1971, he had to glorify the British. In the book he has absolved the British from looting India.

Finally, he ends the last chapter, Prospects; with the question “Will India Break Up?” he writes, ‘this is a forbidden question we must ask.’  I wonder if he has asked this question for ‘Britain’ or ‘the USA’?

Apart from talking about India’s disintegration and playing cast difference heavily, in different chapters attempt has been made to create difference between north and south of India.

The author says that Hindus have inferiority complex vis a vis Muslims. The author also says, British didn’t drain India. Clearly, the author comes from the school which think Muslims invaded India to teach Indians how to cook Biryani and British colonised India, so that they can teach Indians how to bake cakes. And yes, the author thinks that “only a train carriage was burnt at Godhra” and no human beings in 2002.

There is only one chapter in the book i.e. the third chapter, ‘The Economy: A Late Developer’ which makes some sense along with glorifying British colonialism of India. Meghnad Desai was born in Vadodara, went to US for his doctorate and then taught Economics from 1965 to 2003 at the London School of Economics.

This chapter also makes a point on the role of planning commission (which was dissolved by Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi). The book points out that ‘in fact the first calculations of the extent of poverty was not made by the planning commission or the ministry of finance, but by the two academics, V M Dandekar and  Nilakantha Rath, of the Gokhle Institute of Politics and Economics in Pune in 1971.’

Apart from the third chapter, the two interesting points in the books are as follows:

  • It was Nehru who chose the Ackan and Churidar of the Awadh as a national dress rather than Kurta and Dhoti.
  • Others on the left speculated, or rather hoped, that the Green Revolution would turn Red.

The author also says, ‘The President is called Rashtrapati, who is literally the nation’s husband’. By this logic, how will he define ex-President of India, Pratibha Patil? This kind of argument makes one believe that to the larger extent the book is based on ‘WhatsApp forwards’ and not on any ‘research.’  Only three page ‘notes’ is kind of support the WhatsApp argument.  Wonder how author will explain other Hindi words like ‘Chatrapati’, ‘Tirupati’, ‘Senapati’, ‘Vanaspati’, ‘Nashpati’ etc.

The books basic premise itself is wrong. The author in the introduction describes European Union as ‘united in diversity’ and calls India as ‘unity in diversity’. Anyone who has any understanding of India, knows well that India is not ‘unity in diversity’ but ‘diversity in unity’. If author would have got this, he would have understood why India stands one and will remain one.

The book doesn’t provide any insight on governance or life of India in past 70 years. If one is a regular reader of Indian newspapers, he or she doesn’t need to read this book. It is a classic example of a book which doesn’t add any value to the reader.