The Cambridge economist Joan Robinson would often say that “whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true”. For a long time India was seen as poor and spiritual in the West even as the IITS and IIMS disgorged thousands of aspiring tycoons into Europe and America. The worldwide corporate hunt for new sources of profit has now created another one-dimensional image: India, we are now told, is rich and materialistic, briskly flattening the world, in Thomas Friedman’s indelible phrase.
Never mind that more desperately poor people—421 million—live in India today than in all of sub-Saharan Africa. The new western accounts of India speak of the magnates of Mumbai and Bangalore; they hail an India rising, finally, to the consumer capitalism that is apparently the summit of human civilisation, if not the terminus of history. India becomes in this 2.0 version a vibrantly democratic country full of confident tycoons, adventurous entrepreneurs and friendly English-speakers, which might even counterbalance China while assisting the economic recovery of the West.