Named a 2023 Best Summer Book, sponsored by the Financial Times.
A provocative new account of how India moved relentlessly from its hope-filled founding in 1947 to the dramatic economic and democratic breakdowns of today.
When Indian leaders first took control of their government in 1947, they proclaimed the ideals of national unity and secular democracy. Through the first half century of nation-building, leaders could point to uneven but measurable progress on key goals, and after the mid-1980s, dire poverty declined for a few decades, inspiring declarations of victory. But today, a vast majority of Indians live in a state of underemployment and are one crisis away from despair. Public goods—health, education, cities, air and water, and the judiciary—are in woeful condition. And good jobs will remain scarce as long as that is the case. The lack of jobs will further undermine democracy, which will further undermine job creation. India is Broken provides the most persuasive account available of this economic catch-22.
Challenging prevailing narratives, Mody contends that successive post-independence leaders, starting with its first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, failed to confront India's true economic problems, seeking easy solutions instead. As a popular frustration grew, and corruption in politics became pervasive, India's economic growth relied increasingly on unregulated finance and environmentally destructive construction. The rise of a violent Hindutva has buried all prior norms in civic life and public accountability.
Combining statistical data with creative media, such as literature and cinema, to create strong, accessible, people-driven narratives, this book is a meditation on the interplay between democracy and economic progress, with lessons extending far beyond India. Mody proposes a path forward that is fraught with its own peril, but which nevertheless offers something resembling hope.
About the author
Ashoka Mody is an economic historian at Princeton's School of Public and International Affairs. Formerly, he worked at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He is the author of EuroTragedy: A Drama in Nine Acts (2018), and his writing appears often in outlets such as Financial Times, Project Syndicate, and Bloomberg View.
"This book is the most sustained, accessible, and trenchantly argued alternative account of India's political economy and democratic crisis that I have seen in many years. Engaging and well written, it tells a striking and disturbing story. A major achievement."
—Thomas Blom Hansen, Stanford University
"A compellingly readable history of Indian politics and economics since independence: Nehru's early mistakes—especially his tragic lack of attention to health, education, and jobs—multiplied into performative and destructive politics in the hands of his heirs. This is a profound account of how any democracy, even the world's largest, can be destroyed from within. Great storytelling. Hard to put down!"
—Angus Deaton, Nobel Laureate in Economics
"Combining statistical data with creative media, such as literature and cinema, to create strong, accessible, people-driven narrative, this book is a meditation on the interplay between democracy and economic progress, with lessons extending far beyond India. Mody proposes a path forward that is fraught with its own peril, but which nevertheless offers something resembling hope."
—Discovery: Research at Princeton
"India is Broken is a masterful, wonderfully readable but searing indictment of the failures of Indian economic policy since Independence. Brilliantly weaving into his account a history of the key political events of the era, Mody chronicles how a dismal catalogue of flawed economic strategies and a dysfunctional political system have led to a country that is unable to produce enough jobs, where religious divisions keep growing, and inequality is relentlessly rising. An indispensable book for anyone trying to understand this complicated country."
—Liaquat Ahamed, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Lords of Finance
"A magisterial political and economic history of post-colonial India, written with extraordinary eloquence and passion. Mody argues that successive leaders have failed the country's hundreds of millions of poor and borderline poor on its path from nascent democracy to mature authoritarian state. All too often the IMF, the World Bank, and other donors were willing to sign off on economic policies that had little chance of success. India is Broken will be a touchstone in policy debates for years to come."
—Kenneth Rogoff, Harvard University, and coauthor of This Time is Different
"A detailed and richly researched study of India's economy from independence to the present day, India Is Broken delves into many of the critical yet overlooked aspects of India's political and economic history. While I cannot endorse everything he writes, Mody's highly-readable account lays bare the deception and failure of the last several years, while maintaining a focus on the important details of economic policy."
—Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament and author of The Struggle for India's Soul
"This is a well-documented readable history of the major economic and social policy strategies of Indian governments, from Nehru to Modi.... [Mody] makes a powerful case to the effect that education outcomes cannot be separated from politics."
—John Richards, International Journal of Educational Development
"Fundamentally, Mody's claim is right. India is broken. It offers a poor deal to its working-age population, few good jobs and little welfare. A humanitarian crisis for migrant workers shortly after COVID-19 broke out was a brutal reminder of the condition. The book's message is stark and demands attention. That it is a highly readable account of India's development enhances the appeal."
—Tirthankar Roy, The Developing Economies
"This book asks a straightforward question: has Indian democracy, as practiced since independence in 1947, improved the lives of people in general? The answer, contends Mody, is no. To substantiate this distressing yet sobering response, Mody conducts an expansive analysis of leaders and policy making in modern India.... Recommended."
—A. A. Batabyal, CHOICE
"India is Broken is a highly readable book. Mody is deeply knowledgable, and can write as fluently and thoughtfully about the 1950's as he can about the last decade. I found his discussion of the Nehru period especially fascinating."
—Anand Swamy, Journal of Economic Literature
"India Is Broken is a brave book, flying in the face of both the chest-thumping nationalist narrative of a rising India and the collective wisdom of various finance bros, investment gurus, CEOs, and talking heads."
—Dinyar Patel, Los Angeles Review of Books