Reform Nation: From the Constraints of Narasimha Rao to the Convictions of Narendra Modi.Book Review
Reform Nation: From the constraints of P.V. Narasimha Rao to the convictions of Narendra Modi
Author: Gautam Chikermane
Published by HarperCollins
Genre: Public Policy
Pp: 374 (264 Pages in text, Rest in Citations, Notes and Index)
MRP: Rs. 799/-
Thank you HarperCollins India for a media copy of the book.
Let us breakdown the title of the book first, shall we? Reform Nation. The post-colonial India is a nation that has been build upon reforms. Of course it takes reforms to build something that lasts. The subtitle, ‘From the constraints of P.V. Narasimha Rao to the convictions of Narendra Modi’ talks about the constraints that the PV Narsimha Rao led administration had to face by the socialisim focused successive governments had till then to the convictions that the Narendra Modi led administration has.
The author calls himself and others like him who started their jobs in the early 90’s as the, ‘children of liberalization’. He witnesses India’s economic reforms and has tons to talk about them. The author has followed the effects of economic changes as the Indian economy has grown. The economy has changed from being constrained by laws, rules, and regulations to one where we now witness far more economic freedom includes more than just diminishing government control. Even with the tons of data showing the economic growth of the nation, there are many people who, as the author puts it, are ‘data atheists’. The author calls the book a saga of of Independent India, viewed through economic policies. The book's narrative style, which is only to be expected from a renowned journalist like Gautam ji, brings the pages to life. Particularly important for people who entered adulthood after the 1990s are the details and viewpoint. The author's claim that Reform Nation will serve as a reference on India's economic history since independence is kept true to the letter.
The book continues by discussing how India was forced into a system of wealth-shunning economic policy after falling victim to political narratives of ideological entrapment. This is a sad and depressing tale of missed possibilities and wasted time, of watching the rest of the world advance, of millions of women and men living in poverty-stricken hutments, of stifled dreams, and of an India doomed to squalor. It just baffles me how much we lost from these Left-dominated politics.
To quote the author from the preface, ‘The economic decline of India can be traced back to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, whose first economic policy vehicle, Resolution 1948 (See Chapter 6), I argue, laid the policy foundations for the next forty-three years of keeping India poor. The lack of a strong opposition, both politically and individually, gave him even more confidence to abuse the system. He then further choked the economy, depriving it of jobs, wealth and economic freedom through the Industrial Policy Resolution 1956 (See Chapter 7). While part of the moral base of these policies was the intellectual direction of the Bombay Plan (See Chapter 4), picking the worst ideas from it was Nehru’s doing’.
The book is divided into three parts.
2. From Repressions to Reforms
3. The Journey of Reforms
And ends with a conclusion.
In the Introduction the author talks about the protests that the historic 1992 economic reforms faced, and juxtapositions those with the protests faced by the could-have-been-historic farmer laws. The historic reforms of the 90’s were the reason India is the fifth largest economy today and the farmer laws would have had a similar impact .
And to answer the question that the some of you are having, no the author is not just favoring one political party, namely the BJP, here. In fact he even criticizes them, when they were acting as the opposition during the ’92 reforms. To quote,’ though protectionism was part of the swadeshi politics of the largest Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the number of seats were not enough to stall reforms. The BJP had 120 seats, against the INC’s 244. By tying up with smaller parties, the INC formed the government, with P.V. Narasimha Rao as prime minister.’
In comparison to the protests against the 1991 industrial reforms, those against the 2021 agricultural reforms were an inversion—this time the economic arguments against reforms were weak but the force of politics was strong. Such is the illiteracy about these laws and there are so many fake narratives crafted around the vacuum of facts that several of those commenting on the laws are unable to articulate what’s wrong with them, or worse, even name the three laws. The protests seem only political. Modi is one of India's most effective political communicators. It's difficult to believe that he couldn't explain the benefits of the three laws to farmers. It appears that wealthy farmers collaborated with the Opposition and allied media to create and disseminate false narratives (such as the removal of the minimum support price).
The author concludes the first chapter by saying that Economic reforms in India have been, are, and will continue to be accompanied by protests from incumbents for reasons that baffle the mind, regardless of the party in power or the ideology in vogue. Managing them will be a critical skill for reformist leaders in twenty-first-century India—the country cannot be held hostage indefinitely to the personal gain of a few.
If you want to read the detailed paperwork about the farmer laws, they have been discussed very thoroughly in the book.
FROM REPRESSION TO REFORMS
According to the author, there were eight major attempts to change the direction of the Indian economy in the run-up to and since independence. While most scholars examined the Big 5 until the Statement on Industrial Policy of 1980, few examined the Statement on Industrial Policy of 1990. Apart from government policies, there was one audacious, and perhaps the only, statement from private visionaries, popularly known as the Bombay Plan of 1944 and 1945, parts of which have infused intellectual vigor into India's economic discourse. In Prelude 1, the author discusses several things as to why the rich industrialists, who authored the policy, sought socialism as an option, as opposed to capitalism and other forms of administration, among other things. Other Preludes include Industrial Policy 1945, Industrial Policy 1973, etc.
THE JOURNEY OF REFORMS
While the reforms were explored from a broader perspective in the previous section, this section explores reforms from a micro pov. Sixty-nine reforms are explored (with a page given to each, give or take a paragraph). From the Abolishment of the License Raj to Demonetisation & GST to the modern Payments System, many reforms are discussed of various administrations. While I don’t agree with some of the things the author has written, I will suggest you give them a read and form your own opinion.
The author makes his point very convincingly and clearly, and no questions can be raised easily, as the book has more than 100 pages of just citations, so everything said is backed. The author mentions that while doing the research for the book, he did try and contact the Office of the previous Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, but got no response, that’s a shame as I would have loved to have read about his thoughts on all of this. As mentioned earlier , the author brings the pages to life, and I will recommend this book not only to the students of Indian economic policy making but to anyone in general who is interested in learned about our country’s economic history since independence. I generally don’t give out ratings to non-fiction books, but five out of five stars.
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