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Correcting ‘deep seated maladies’

The book recommends ideas and priorities that the country needs to shape public policies to face the challenges before it.

books Updated: Oct 10, 2015 12:45 IST
KumKum Dasgupta
Water, the authors write, should not be treated as private property but as a national property to be managed by the state.
Water, the authors write, should not be treated as private property but as a national property to be managed by the state.(AFP)

Don’t judge a book by its cover. That’s what children are told when they are initiated into the world of reading. It’s a precious piece of advice, but at times you end up doing that sacrilege because the cover/title leaves nothing to imagination. The title of Ramgopal Agarwala, Rajiv Kumar, Rajesh Shah’s book — Resurgent India: Ideas and Priorities — gives a fair idea upfront of what readers should expect in its 158 pages: A road map to help India come out of the “major trough that the economy is in due to 60 years of elitist Nehruvian misrule”.

The term resurgent, of course, indicates a revival is underway/about to take place under the current political dispensation at the Centre. Suresh Prabhu, minister of railways, sets the tone of the book in his opening message: “There is an imperative need to think of out of the box solutions for the varied and complex problems faced by the nation so that all impediments towards march to progress and development can be removed”.

In its 22 chapters, there are several recommendations — the authors call them “bold” — which can help the government to make India one of the top-ranking economies in the world by 2050, the centenary year of this grand, old and madly chaotic Republic (the chaos has its own charm, though). In the introductory chapter, the authors write: “The remedial measures for correcting such deep-seated maladies will be of course multi-faceted…. Such basic transformation cannot, of course, be done overnight. We believe that this will require a 10-year horizon and we hope the public will give the new government this mandate, provided it lives to up to the expectations over the next 5 years.”

The recommendations are not the authors’ own but collated and distilled from suggestions (“collective wisdom”) received by them from thousands of “concerned Indians” and are backed by the “vast collective experience of the authors”. The involvement of the people in public policy making is a novel idea but then there is no mention of the process or participants in the book.

The book is neatly divided into three parts: Macroeconomic issues (growth rate, full employment, inflation etc); sectoral issues (agriculture, manufacturing, education, health) and key cross-cutting issues (business environment; Centre-State relations etc).

Unsurprisingly, many of the sectoral recommendations are exactly the same as what the NDA government is pushing for. Take for example, the chapter on water. The 10-year-plan envisaged by the authors proposes a “paradigm shift” in the policy.

Water, the authors write, should not be treated as private property but as a national property to be managed by the State in the national interest. Water will thus be an “economic good, like mineral resources”; and that water policy will vary across regions to suit local conditions.

The inspiration for privatisation of water is from Israel. But privatisation of the important resource is a touchy subject in India, even though the government has started laying the groundwork for it in urban India. In the same list, the authors talk of another controversial subject: The river-linking project, which again is a pet project of the government.

There are several such sectoral ‘solutions’ in the book that already have a government stamp. There is inherently nothing wrong in this approach but

the authors could have included the ‘other’ views on issues, which they must have got during their public interaction. Here’s what the book is good for: An accounting of the ‘challenges’ the country faces; their present status, and a 21st century plan on how to reach those goals.

Read it — devour it — if you want to know the shape public policy is going to take in the future. The book’s language and tenor is almost like the ‘vision agenda’ the party releases before every election.