Book Review : India – Priorities For The Future By Bimal Jalan

Published September 10, 2017 by vishalvkale

India – Priorities For The Future is a book that can be best described as being at the cross-roads of politics and Economics, which makes it quite unique. It is a very thought provoking and deep analysis of this intersection of these two vital aspects of our nation, concerning itself with the Economy of the country, its performance through the years in numbers as well as Macro Factors; and the political aspects of this, that is – the decisions, involved decision makers, systemic weaknesses and plus points as they exist and what needs to be done.
Bimal Jalan


As can be seen from the short preamble above, this is quite wide a scope, and seems daunting. The best part is that the entire scope has been dealt with remarkable aplomb and sufficient depth, while at the same time not exceeding too many pages. This is a very short, {well – relatively short anyways, considering the topic and the scope – 180-odd pages} book, and all the arguments are presented in a superbly logical and yet delightfully succinct manner.
The book is divided into two logical sections – “India Then”, reflecting the period from 1980 – 2000; and “India Now”, reflecting the period from 2000 onwards till 2015. The first section highlights the initiation of the reform process that started in the 1980s, and the second section looks at the situation and strategies taken up from the 2000, till almost the present time, 2015. While looking at the economic side, the book also consistently looks at the political side as well, taking pains to analyse the impact of the political situation and the political aspect of economic decisions.
This approach is what sets the book apart, and elevates this into the realm of one of the finest books to be written on the Indian Economy, as it creates a complete picture in broad strokes of where we are, where our weaknesses lie, and where we need to go in order to develop and take the nation forward. In fact, in more ways than one, it highlights the politico-bureaucratic bottlenecks and problems, and looks at how these can be overcome. That is the main thrust; the arguments, however, are economic and developmental in nature rather than political.
THE FIRST SECTION- The 1980s onwards
It is the general impression that the Indian Economy was reformed from 1991; this book puts paid to that impression, and takes one into the reality: the reforms process which started in the 1980s, the reforms taken then with steps like loosening of direct controls especially in Industrial Licencing. Several committees were set up on trade policy, PSU Policy, and shift from physical to financial control. Several of their recommendations were implemented. The result was industrial growth averaged 8% from 1985-1990 as an example.
Despite all of this, by 1991, the situation was dire, and the Economy was in doldrums. This is where the book acquires a life of its own, so to speak – and does a hard-hitting fact based politico-economic analysis of the fall of the Indian Economy’s reasons in three hard hitting chapters. The stunning aspect is that this fall happened when the Agricultural production was at its peak, and Industrial production was showing good growth.  The fact that the Economy despite that is a wonder, and needs explanation – I recommend you read the book for that.
Also in this section is a superb analysis of the Economic Strategy of the 1950s onwards, with solid reasoning, proving how no other approach was feasible given the overall conditions then in presence. This is a welcome correction, given the public misapprehension regarding this. As it moves into the late 1980s, we run into the paradox of good Industrial and Manufacturing, good Agriculture, in the run-up to the crisis. Here, the impact of the Gulf War, Oil Shocks, BoP situation. Collapse of the USSR, combined with our export scenario and unstable internal political environment In 1989-1991 – and how these carried into the crisis is a lesson in MacroEconomics for all readers.
THE SECOND SECTION – 2000 Onwards…
In my opening remarks, I had noted that this book is right at the intersection of Economics and Politics; the second part is where this book comes alive to transform into one of the most pertinent blunt and factual take-downs of our approach it has ever been my fortune to read. The author has gone deep into the Indian Economic-Political scenario, pulling out problems that we all  knew existed – but no one wanted to talk about… until now. The first section was a build-up, analyzing how we got where we are today, and what has been done. The second one takes off from there, building a classic case for some hard reform, and tackling the issues head-on.
As early as in the 3rd chapter of the first section, the author has identified lack of exportable products, the systemic problems plaguing us and the problems in the Public sector as contributory causes. Che goes much deeper in the second section, building the case for strong systemic reform, outlined in the magnificent last chapter of the book. The erosion of quality in the Public Sector has been discussed at some length again, pointing out the inability of the Public Sector to generate surpluses for investment over the past. Also noted are the growing Private-Public debate.
The most significant part of the book is the longest chapter, the 6th one – Politics and Governance, which forms the meat of the analysis in the book. It goes deep into the system of governance- looking at the Judiciary and its relationship with the Executive, and Legislature; the erosion of the values {or conduct to be specific} of the political class, accountability of the Cabinet – the myth versus the reality, noting with candid clarity that the Parliament and the Legislatures generally do what the Government wants them to do, rather than the other way around. He identifies the 3 key impediments – Deadweight of the past, power of distributional coalitions and growing disjuncture between Economics and Politics; concluding with a stunning observation on Pg 112-113 : Alleviation of Poverty is not an important criterion in determining electoral outcomes!
The next chapter – the 7th – is the shortest; but deals with the most fundamental aspect – the myth of the separation of powers, and once again in typical candid and dispassionate form. This looks at Centre-Judiciary Relations, Collective Responsibility,  Lack of accountability, Problems in Parliament and its functioning, and the Politicization of Administration. As can be seen, each and every one is a deep, systemic and fundamental issue where we need to introspect… The last chapter – well, I recommend you read it for yourself.
CONCLUSION

In conclusion – this isn’t a book on Economics, or on the Indian Economy per se. The title says India – Priorities for the Future; and that is precisely what this book is all about. As the books notes candidly in our development record as on date, our performance has many deep seated issues. These issues – the most important ones – are on the intersection of Economics and Politics; or rather – squarely in the Political Zone. Economics enters into it as we measure growth in Economic terms. Administrative reforms, Decriminalisation of Politics, Federation, Subsidy Rationalisation, Ministerial responsibility – if made more efficient, can have a defined impact on our nation and its Economy… 
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: