Book review: Getting India Back on Track: An Action Agenda for Reform

  • Sujoy Gupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 04, 2014 15:55 IST

Getting India Back on Track: An Action Agenda for Reform
Editors: Bibek Debroy, Ashley J Tellis and Reece Trevor
Publisher: Random House India
Price: Rs 499
Page: 333

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, sponsor of this volume has successfully roped in an international triumvirate of editors — not an easy thing to achieve. However, learned scholars are not necessarily famous. Keeping this marketplace truth in mind, the publisher probably decided to check risk and take the unusual step of placing on the dust jacket cover and the title page, the name of the writer of the foreword.

The name happens to be Ratan N Tata. In fame, Tata outruns Debroy, Tellis and Trevor. Moreover, Tata fits in rather nicely because he is Trustee of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having written oneand-a-half pages, Tata is nevertheless placed on the same pedestal as the three editors who burnt the midnight oil piecing 333 pages together. So be it!

This volume is editor driven in the true sense in as much as of its 18 chapters only two are actually authored by the editors. Ashley Tellis has written the first essay titled Completing Unfinished Business: From The Long View To The Short, while Bibek Debroy wrote the sixteenth chapter titled Correcting the Administrative Deficit.

It is not the editors’ fault that the book, though brilliantly conceived, has been born with three inevitable shortcomings. In terms of conception, it has successfully accomplished the task of being the right book at the right time. It hits the appropriate note on page 1 itself when Tellis mentions the General Elections 2014. He almost magically predicts that “the electorate at large — both in urban and rural areas — seems seized by the imperative of returning the country to a path of high growth."

Tellis adds: “There is a widespread conviction in the body politic that the national leadership has failed to steer the nation in a productive direction economically. That leads inexorably to the question of what must be done to recover momentum when the new government takes office.”

Clearly, if the book sees itself finding answers to this inexorable question then it is walking on the political terrain and ceases to be an apolitical academic volume. This is the first of its three shortcomings. Next, the descriptions of the three editors’ credentials are euphemisms. One is a “senior associate”, another a “research assistant” and while Debroy does indeed have a degree from Trinity College, Cambridge, it is an MSc.

Credentials are not measured by overtly tough yardsticks. This is the second shortcoming. The third and last shortcoming is not the fault of either the editors or the 16 distinguished contributors. Each had fewer than 20 pages to cover huge swathes of Indian macro-economics like Revamping Agriculture, Land Management, Water Management, Pricing and so on.

With amazing dexterity of expressing knowledge in compact prose, the experts did their job well. Thanks to their competence, all shortcomings were overcome and a value-added volume was born. In his Foreword, Ratan Tata hails the book as “worthwhile reading” and he is right. Sujoy Gupta is a corporate historian and biographer.

Sujoy Gupta is a corporate historian and biographer.

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