Jennifer Burns reports that Ayn Rand has developed quite a following on the other side of the world:
Not only do Indians perform more Google searches for Rand than citizens of any country in the world except the United States, but Penguin Books India has sold an impressive number of copies — as many as 50,000 of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead each since 2005, a number comparable to sales there by global best-seller John Grisham. And that’s not counting the ubiquitous pirated copies of her works that are hawked at rickety street stalls, sidewalk piles, and bus stations — an honor that Rand, a fierce defender of intellectual property rights, probably would not have appreciated.
As modern India continues to undergo seismic economic and cultural shifts, not to mention the current global recession, Rand is emerging as a touchstone for a new generation. For many Indians, she is a tonic of modernization, helping to inspire a break with India’s collectivist, socialist past. Rand’s mixture of capitalist boosterism and self-empowerment is an irresistible combination for a range of Indians, from think-tankers to corporate barons to pop stars.
Rand’s celebration of independence and personal autonomy has proven to be powerfully subversive in a culture that places great emphasis on conforming to the dictates of family, religion, and tradition. Gargi Rawat, a correspondent and news anchor for top tv channel ndtv and a former Rand admirer, says Rand’s theory of the supremacy of reason and the virtue of selfishness adds up to “the antithesis” of Indian culture, which explains the attraction for Rawat in her youth and for many rebellious Indian teens today.
Barun Mitra is the founder and director of the Liberty Institute, which hopes to be India’s equivalent of the United States’ libertarian Cato Institute and has recently received a grant from an American foundation to launch a Web initiative promoting “Ayn Rand in India.” He has been a Rand devotee since the early 1980s and even met his wife through a Rand discussion group.
To Mitra, Rand offers a blueprint for India to develop as a democratic and capitalist society at the same time. He hopes that Rand and her libertarian doctrines can enable India to provide a counterexample to the so-called “Asian model” of economic development, which holds that a certain level of authoritarian government and stifled liberty is a prerequisite for a surging economy. If India can achieve double-digit growth while remaining democratic, Mitra thinks, it could become a model for the rest of the world. Rand’s philosophy, Mitra says, can help Indians “moor ourselves to fundamental economic and moral principles.”
And if they do that, they would provide a powerful counter-example to the authoritarian route that China is following.