India @70 Modi@3.5 Capturing India’s Transformation under Narendra Modi ; Edited by Bibek Debroy and Ashok Malik ; published by Wisdom Tree ; Pages 211 . Price Rs.590/-
The book under review has two Editors. Bibek Debroy is a Member of Niti Aayog, an economist who has worked in several research institutions and authored a number of books and articles. Ashok Malik wrote for a number of newspapers and authored a book on the Indian Private Sector. He is the President’s Press Secretary. This book brings together acclaimed economists, scholars and diplomats who critically analyse India’s growth story under the Modi regime.
The period before Narendra Mondi assumed power has been divided into three neat ‘Twenty Two Year’ phases. The first phase from 1947 to 1969 was dominated by the Congress Party and ended in a split of the Congress. The year 1969 witnessed the nationalisation of banks followed by a calculated throttling of the private enterprise.The twenty-two year period—1969-1991—were ‘ a lost age for the Indian economy’. India tread a lonely path of socialism, cronyism and Indira Gandhi thought—‘India is Indira…..Indira is India’. The third set of twenty-two years was a roller-coaster when India experienced high growth and dizzying optimism till the UPA Government squandered the hard-won gains and let down India.
Then came Narendra Modi as a response to a call for profound change and genuine governance. Upon Modi fell the responsibility to conceive and accelerate and manage the modernisation of the Indian society.The new Government sensed the potential and laid down plans and shaped policies for broader national transformation which has run parallel with day-to-day governance. The Modi government has taken a long view of several challenges it has set out to meet. It has crafted connectivity links and economic linkages with neighbouring countries—balancing it with terrorism concerns. The battle against food inflation has been waged alongside ensuring farmer productivity; market access are taken care of. Investment policies have been liberalised and this has been rewarded by robust FDI figures.
The book is an attempt to analyse the entire exercise of nation building. Eighteen essays furnish an answer to the question—‘What has the Modi government done in its three and a half years in office?’
Swapan Dasgupta in a masterly analysis of the politics of governance points out how Modi was viewed by voters differently. He was seen as a strong leader who would undo the policy paralysis and the sense of drift India experienced under UPA when Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister Some thought he would restore Hindu pride. Still others saw in him a Dalit leader—from a ‘Chaiwala’ to the occupant of 7RCR. Finally those who believed Modi would provide purposeful governance he had given in Gujarat. His slogan ‘Achche Din’“ captured the public imagination.
However, the slogan ‘Good Governance’ does not always translate into ‘Good Politics’. There were stunning defeats in Bihar and Delhi. Today there are some features of the Modi government. ‘Rapid transformation’. Modi is a man in a tearing hurry.
Popular Participation is on a massive scale---‘Jan Dhan Yojana’—‘Swacha Bharat’—‘Linking Cooking Gas with Bank Accounts’; ’Increased use of technology ‘; ‘Full Rural Electrification by 2019’; ‘Controlling corruption’ which has restored peoples’ trust. Modi has mobilised the Diaspora through his frequent trips abroad. People have started believing “Modi is not there to Manage India but to Change India”.
Among things done in a tearing hurry was ‘Demontisation’. On the night of November 8, Modi announced the withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs.1000 as a part of the moves to curb a grey economy. Modi was prepared to take a risk on account of his unwavering belief that demonetisation would win the approval of the electorate.
Bibek Debroy expatiates on how Modi has brought in elements of governance for the first time since 1947. For example,’ The Smart Cities Mission’, ‘Voluntary opting out of LPG subsidies’. Many of the changes introduced by Modi are institutional in nature. The pay-offs are not always in the short-term but they will make India a better governed economy.
Arvind Virmani has analysed thoroughly the tax reforms which have been ushered in by the Finance Minister and records that it is imperative to simplify tax laws, rules and procedures, eliminate deductions and exemptions and reduce marginal rates in a revenue neutral manner. This will improve voluntary compliance, reduce corruption and result in improvement of the economy.
Mukul Asher reviews the integrated and innovative approach to social protection which was treated as an integral part of India’s economic programme. Considerable progress has been made in laying solid foundations for a sustainable social protection system. India ranked in the Global Competitive Index 39 among 138 countries in 2016-17. It was 55 in the previous year.
Geo-political problems have also been covered. Sino-Indian relations have been under considerable strain. China and India both have strong decisive rulers who have articulated bold visions for their respective countries with economic development as centre-piece. Jayadevaa presents a refreshing review of this perplexing problem faced by two giants.
Other subjects covered in the book are Water sector, Transport infrastructure, Energy sector and Defence preparedness,
This is a very thought provoking book useful for laymen and experts. It captures the incremental changes combined with a sense of inherent hope and optimism that India is witnessing today—an essential reading to understand the working of the Modi government and the nation's unique growth story under this charismatic leader.