Daily Notes on Literature, Pop Culture & Media, and Academia

American Media and India’s Success Story

Posted by litdaily on February 3, 2011

Anand Giridharadas was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last week, promoting his book India Calling, which we had blogged about here. His optimistic narrative asserts that the capitalistic American dream is alive and well…in India:

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Although people usually mention India and China in the same breath as “rising powers,” American media has been much more willing to celebrate the story of India’s success while portraying an economically powerful China as a threat. Giridharadas’s story of India as a land of oppression for his parents that has now transformed itself into a successful capitalist economy fits the narrative that American media might be more comfortable pushing. You can contrast Stewart’s reaction to Giridharadas’s book with his coverage of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s recent visit to the U.S.:  satire stirred with fear of manipulated exchange rates and trade deficits.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


You might argue that the difference in coverage of India’s and China’s economic success can be attributed to real differences between the two, such as India’s democracy or the Indian state’s sense of fair play. In a NYT op-ed that appeared a few months ago, Pankaj Mishra precisely dismantles the argument that India’s economic success has been infinitely better for its people and the world than China’s:

It has helped our self-image, too, that Indians have many democratic institutions that are missing in most non-Western countries. Thus the major narrative that has developed internationally about democratic India in recent years assumes it to be more “stable” than authoritarian China. Yet Beijing faces no political problems as severe as the many insurgencies in central India and Kashmir, or tragedies as great as the waves of suicides of tens of thousands of overburdened farmers over the last two decades.

Certainly, the narrative of India as vibrant democracy and booming economy suppresses more than it reveals. Business-lounge elites around the world revel in statistics about economic growth and Indians rising up Forbes’s rankings of billionaires. At the same time, they simply ignore the alarmingly deep and growing inequalities of income and resources in India.


In the article, Mishra also draws a parallel between Indian and Chinese states’ violence against their own poor in order to service the needs of global capital. Mishra, thus, provides an important counterpoint to Anand Giridharadas’s portrayal of India, but it is a story that American media does not want to hear.


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