Before accusing Nehru (or Modi) of economic blunder, read this

Jaimini Bhagwati’s new book is a detailed and balanced history of Indian economy since independence

GN Bureau | September 23, 2019


#Narendra Modi   #Jawaharlal Nehru   #prime minister   #diplomacy   #foreign policy   #Economy  


The Promise of India: How Prime Ministers Nehru to Modi Shaped the Nation (1947-2019)
By Jaimini Bhagwati
Penguin Viking, 385+xxix pages, Rs 799


Is Nehru to be blamed for all the ills plaguing Indian economy, with his protectionism and five-year plans? Equally, is Modi just a show-man with no concrete economic achievements on the ground? In recent years, Indians have been more and more divided in their political views and when it comes to economy hot debates go on without getting the basic facts right.

For all of us, then, Jaimini Bhagwati’s new book will be hugely helpful. ‘The Promise of India: How Prime Ministers Nehru to Modi Shaped the Nation (1947-2019)’ (Penguin) is to economy and foreign policy what Ramachandra Guha’s ‘India After Gandhi’ was to politics: a sweeping, magisterial back story to our present times.

Divisions of chapters by prime ministers here, as mentioned in the subtitle, are no mere ruse of story-telling: In India the economic and foreign policy-making has largely been shaped by the prime minister, following a template set by the first PM. It is no coincidence either that each chapter while detailing the country’s economic progress under the leadership of the prime minister of the day also touches upon foreign policy development during that PM’s tenure. In the cold war times as well as in the globalizing world, domestic economy has remained tied to international currents.

In that case, Bhagwati turns out to be the ideal author to tackle the subject: the former IFS officer has been India’s high commissioner to the UK and ambassador to the EU, as well as an MIT-trained economist with the World Bank and ICRIER, among other institutions. In these highly divisive times, what is most noteworthy about this book is its non-partisan attitude, as the author lists out achievements as well as weaknesses of one PM after another.

The watershed event in India’s economic history was the launch of economic reforms in 1991. It has metamorphosed not just the economy but also society and culture dramatically. The reforms have been subject of innumerable book-length treatments, and also an insider’s view of the history in the making thanks to Jairam Ramesh’s ‘To the Brink and Back: India’s 1991 Story’ plus Sanjaya Baru’s ‘1991: How P.V. Narasimha Rao Made History”.

The scene after 2004 too has been a well-trodden path. If the two keywords of ‘economy’ and ‘prime minister’ are put together, one would first think of Manmohan Singh’s decade-long term, and Modi’s five-plus years so far. Though the developments of this period since 2004 are too recent and specifics of them have been better covered in detail in other works, ‘The Promise of India’ gives a balanced account of the economic performance under the two leaders.

The real value of the book, then, is in dealing with the pre-1991 period, about which few accounts exist for the non-specialist reader. The opening chapter on Nehru sets the tone of the volume: balanced, detailed, perceptive, and yet thrilling to read. Bhagwati painstakingly paints the picture of Nehru’s times: not only in terms of economic policy-making but the first PM’s full task of nation-building, especially the institutions of democracy, while also battling the legacies inherited from the British rulers. (Protectionism, by the way, was the obvious choice after a decade that witnessed the Second World War, Bengal Famine and Partition.)

For those who grew up after 1991, this single volume will be sufficient to get abreast with the back story to what the western press calls the India Story. For a quick summary, either the R.K. Laxman cartoons over the decades, chosen carefully in this book, or tables in the appendix will be a good help.

Comments

 

Other News

How much time do you spend talking on phone?

How much time do Indians spend talking on phone? It is on average 761 minutes per month, according to a new report from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). The telecom regulator released its report, titled ‘The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators: July-Septemb

“Developing public health infrastructure key to sustainable healthcare for all”

Renowned cardiologist Dr Ramakanta Panda has said that the pandemic has exposed the inadequacy of existing healthcare systems and it is wrong to draw comparisons with Korea, a country with the population equal to that of a single Indian state. While speaking to Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Gove

SC-appointed panel on farm laws holds first meet

The committee of experts appointed by the supreme court to deliberate with the stakeholders on the new farm laws held its first meeting here Tuesday, with one of its members saying that all stakeholders, including individual farmers, will be heard. Hearing a petition on the farm laws enacted

India’s glitch-free vaccination gathers pace

The nationwide vaccination campaign launched Saturday, the largest such exercise in the world, has started setting new benchmarks, with vaccines administered to 2,24,301 beneficiaries in the first two days. “India has vaccinated the highest number of persons on Day1 under its COVID19 v

Maharashtra to spend Rs 2,500 crore to augment, develop power infrastructure

The Maharashtra government has announced a spending of Rs 2,500 crore annually to develop infrastructure of state-owned distribution company Mahavitaran (MSEDCL).   Out of the total amount, Rs 1,500 crore will be spent on energisation of conventional agriculture pumps and Rs 1,000 crore

Launched: Largest vaccination drive in history

India on Saturday began the massive vaccination drive against Covid-19, as prime minister Narendra Modi paid tributes the ‘corona warriors’. “Such a vaccination drive at such a massive scale was never conducted in history. There are over 100 countries having less than 3 cro

Masterminds: Masterclass on World Affair with Sreeram Chaulia





Archives

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter