It is not so often that one comes across a book that reinforces the potential of presenting facts and situations to capture the interest of a reader in a way that the book becomes both educative and a page turner. INDIA IN SLOW MOTION by Mark Tully does just that. With his immaculately diverse set of ten typically Indian real life stories, he has successfully brought about the fundamental flaws in the system that is governing this country. I first interacted with Mark Tully at IIT Bombay during their fest and was impressed by his knowledge and observations. And after reading India in Slow Motion, my respect and admiration for him has grown ten fold.
Most of the book is not as much about exposing the familiar problems plaguing India, as it is about revealing the intricacies, significance and true extent of the same. Topics such as the Ayodhya issue, corruption, droughts, farmer suicides, Kashmir, the IT revolution are not unfamiliar. But the treatment that Tully has meted out to these topics inevitably makes us rethink our own estimation of the nature and significance of the problem. Be it the thrilling, detailed first hand account of the entire Tehelka sting operation which got the Defence Minister to resign, the true tale of Kashmir and why it is in its present state or a little known village in Gujarat that has declared independence from the rest of the country, Tully describes an India which exhibits a common foundation running through all of them-the NETA-BABU Raj-which he finds to be the single most important factor why India is still a country in Slow Motion.
The book starts off by describing a small but largely representative incident in a remote village in Madhya Pradesh, where a Cyber Cafe built by an NGO is being brought down on the orders issued by a bureaucrat of the region for not possessing a particular “Internet Service Provider License -II”. This incident is small because it never made to the papers and representative because it shows how the Indian bureaucracy is working to defeat it’s own purpose. Other stories in the book deal with many cultural and religious aspects including a first hand account of the Babri Masjid demolition and the subsequent efforts to build a Ram Temple in the same site along with detailed descriptions about the rise and present state of Christianity in Goa and also an informative chapter on Sufism and the stance taken by different Muslim leaders in India.
But the crux of the book lies in the revelation of a large number of small facts that goes a long way in choosing the correct frame of reference to look and judge this country’s state of affairs. A large many assumptions developed over years of exposure to the Indian media is convincingly set right by simply reflecting on these hard facts plaguing the country and of which, the majority of us are blissfully unaware. Sample this: In a chapter dealing solely with the farmer suicides in Karnataka, Tully describes the procedure for a farmer to obtain a low interest loan from a Nationalized Bank as per a Govt scheme. In the words of the Bank Manager:
“Before any farmer can ask for a loan, he has to produce, one-land records, two- records of rights, three-no dues from the government, four-records of all land revenue paid, five-land valuation certificates, six-no dues from agricultural societies, seven-permission from court if applicant is a minor and eighth(and here is the best part!)- NO DUES CERTIFICATES FROM ALL THE OTHER 9 BANKS IN THE AREA!!!!!!”
And to procure the no dues certificate from all the other banks, a farmer has to approach each and every bank individually and get a certificate from each of them!
Another equally glaring fact concerns the structure and the working of the Police force in India. Tully quotes directly from a report submitted by a Senior retired Police Officer who says:
“..the 1861 Act passed by the British Raj still governs the organization, structure, philosophyand working of our police forces at the end of the twentieth century, never mind the phenomenal changes in our social, political, scientific, economic, and cultural spheres over the decades. The pattern adopted by the 1861 Act was based on the Irish Constabulary because Ireland was a colony at that time.”
Another Senior Police Officer says:
“..for the bureaucracy, control over the police has become an intoxicant they are addicted to and are just not willing to give up. And so the act of 1861 continues to be on the statute book even after nearly one hunderd and forty years-a millstone round the police neck”
Here is another concerning the corruption in the Indian Military:
“An Arms dealer has to bribe a Major General around Rs. 10 lakhs just so the dealer can obtain the list of equipment that the Indian Army is looking to test and purchase!”
Simple but revealing facts like these are in abundance in the book largely due to Tully’s first hand investigation into every topic he has written about. One of the best chapters in the book, I found, was the one on corruption which included a detailed first hand account of the entire TEHELKA sting operation by the very man who performed the sting with the hidden camera! The thrilling encounters with the top politicians and military leaders coupled with the glaring and inexcusable stupidity on part of the Generals for believing everything makes the chapter both humorous and thought provoking. The chapter on the Farmer suicides in Karnataka during the drought on the turn of the millenium is also very well documented with facts revealing such a lack of basic common sense among the officials, that one feels there is no hope for the Indian farmer. Like a farmer says,”A farmer in India is born in debt, lives in debt, dies in debt and is reborn in debt!” Another truly memorable quote that perfectly epitomizes the life of a farmer comes from a farmer who is asked why he is not investing in long term gains and stability by sending his children to school. He says: “Sir, we farmers are not concerned about what happens 10-15 years from now. All we care about is being able to live through today…everyday”
The stories in India in Slow Motion do little to portray India the way political campaigns (like India Shining) do. But at the same time, the stories do not aim to bring out the harsh realities prevailing in the country such as poverty. What it does aim, however, is to give first hand information on issues that every Indian is familiar with. Though a few stories form an exception to the familiarity aspect, the underlying objective of giving the readers first hand information on the ground reality successfully weaves through these stories as well. Throughout the book, Tully never makes the slightest effort to force his opinion on the reader. In fact, his completely objective portrayal of ground reality obviates the need for the reader to frame an opinion about India’s prospects. And so, instead, his astute observations compel the reader to develop both the positive and negative outlooks about India.
Tully’s inferences always tend to tell a tale of a car trying to move forward with its brakes on. In spite of describing stories that show the blatant inefficiency and flaws in the governance system, Tully still displays an optimism that stems from recent and not so recent history when India did make the effort to liberate the economy, thereby easing a little off the brakes on its path to development. But the question of how long or what it takes for these changes to come about, though raised, is left deliberately unanswered. This book is a must read before anyone decides to have a say about any aspect of the present state of affairs in India.