Wednesday, January 30, 2013

India through unmeasured Strides!

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Accidental India by Shankar Aiyar, Aleph, 352 pp; Rs695 (Hardback)
“Accidental India” analyses major turning points in India’s history after attaining its freedom at midnight in 1947. Shankar Aiyar, a journalist known for expressing fresh views on the interface of politics and economics, brings alive here a relevant debate through his refreshingly original book. Why unmeasured action and programme catalysed major impacts on the political economy of nation, thoroughly have been planned but under the mismanaged political aims and antics?

The truth appears as-politics has always given ‘at large’ status to enjoy wining over the logical craving from the economic side, which disturbed the macro vision to usher the economy to a desired optimum scale! But still there are many success stories have surfaced though accidentally in India’s recent past, which mattered for the dynamics and size of the national economy. It’s astonishing, the inadvertently shaped enterprises done remarkably well in India than the hyped and planned programmes under the patronage of government and heavy industrial capital.

Among those, Aiyar looks on India’s walking on the rope through seven game changing events- the economic liberalization of 1991, the Green Revolution of the sixties, the nationalization of banks in 1969, Operation Flood in the seventies, the mid-day meal scheme of 1982, the software revolution of the nineties, and the passing of the Right to Information Act is 2005. The book examines the genesis of each of these changes with the position that the key decisions made in the country since independence have not arisen from planed moves but came like the accidental results of crises.

The seven gamechangers made the “idea of India”, more a living story than the past notion, usually born out of idealism and dies midway with incompetence. However, the timing of these seven epochmaking events have not configured on the ideal ground of time, so they came with advantages but not in entirety. Not denying, the nation benefitted from the new success in the blocks of ‘selected enterprise and policy’ but had not they came hesitatingly or those all would have not entered latterly, we could have an India, not made in accidental ways and much more firm for developmental aims.

Aiyar puts forth his views in good taste over the missed capacities-“It’s not as if India has not been blessed with iconic political leadership. Whatever their failings, it is indisputable that our leaders were forces for lasting and beneficial change. Yet, India falters. It often teeters on the brink of catastrophe. Why do Indian leaders not anticipate adversity and act before being engulfed by catastrophe? What prevents them from operating with foresight — the exigencies of their term; the mind-set of their peers or perhaps even their subjects; the compromises of politics?”

As a Journalist, author of this book had scooped the news of India pledging its gold reserves to the Bank of England during its worst managed economic crisis since Independence in early nineties. His exposé of the dangerously silent operation unraveled to Indians, and the world, the magnitude of India’s slapped adversities. Two decades after that vicious phase, India continues its overtures with the different kinds of crisis that makes the liberalisation programme ambiguous and short on promises, once made at grim moments of 1991.

Governance is being superseded to conflicting populist compulsions. Despite knowing this crude fact that in long run, such temptation will lead India to a strange territory, where the modernist elements of Indian democracy will be permanently appear in confrontation with the popular political dimensions. Such reckoning is not new, and those who handle the government’s portfolios also have sense for the oddities lying ahead but in their core belief, they appear adamant to not approach an issue till it becomes a crisis. As Aiyar’s points out lucidly with this case-“the list is long. Yet recurring failure on many fronts has not changed the way governments think and act. Just one example: every hour 200 children die of malnutrition. Governments have been pretending to address this national shame for a quarter of a century.”

Unlike the late and wrongly implemented policies of the government, Shankar Aiyar has written this prolific book on right time of his career (after thirty years of extensive journalism)-he knows inner India through close angels and his previous book is based on the experiences he compiled on the hundred districts. Not to forget, he also knows the functioning patterns of Lytyens’ Zone-so for knowing India, in terms of ‘what it is’, this book opens wide opportunities. Beautifully written, meticulously researched (barring few surpassable exceptions and one noticeable- the name of Bihar’s chief-minister, which should have Binodanand Jha in place of M.B Jha-on page-97), this book will make India, more than accidentally successful, if slumbering politicians will get time to read it!
Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kashmir Monitor on January6,2012)

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