AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
On Monday, Narendra Modi will be sworn in as India's prime minister. Modi is a Hindu nationalist who was seen as an outsider to the country's political establishment. He won in a landslide. To put his election in context, we're turning to literature. Here's author Akash Kapur with a recommendation of a book he says captures India's political and emotional climate.
AKASH KAPUR: Something is happening in Indian politics: a shedding of barriers; a shift to a more upwardly mobile society. To understand it, I'm revisiting a book I first read decades ago. It's V.S. Naipaul's "India: A Million Mutinies Now." Naipaul traveled through India in the late '80s. He wrote before the economic reforms of the '90s, before the changes of the new millennium. Naipaul was prescient. He captured a sense of hope and ambition. He wrote portraits of businessmen, politicians, women breaking free from oppressive traditions, ordinary people.
Naipaul described them finding a new voice. He wrote that they were discovering the idea of freedom. Here's why I'm thinking about this book right now. That new sense of self-confidence Naipaul wrote about, that's what shaped the recent elections. It's what an outside like Modi to be voted to power. Modi's success signals to millions of Indians that their aspirations are attainable. He gives them license to dream.
But the changes Naipaul captured in his book weren't always benign. He also saw rage and violence, disturbances and new tensions. He wrote of resurgent religious and caste identities. He worried the nation could be torn apart. India, he wrote, was a nation of a million little mutinies.
Modi's success also has two faces. His victory might inspire, but a lot of people are worried about a new Hindu nationalism and about relations between Hindus and Muslims. Many won't forget that Modi was chief minister in the state of Gujarat in 2002, when some of India's worst religious riots took place.
Revolutions are never simple affairs. As Naipaul noted, they can both emancipate and oppress. They can inspire, but they also threaten. The question going forward is whether India under Modi can find the change, the revolution it desperately needs, without the upheavals and disruptions that so often follow.
CORNISH: The book is "India: A Million Mutinies Now" by V.S. Naipaul. It was recommended by Akash Kapur. His latest book is called "India Becoming: A Portrait of Life in Modern India."