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Review: Accidental India

books Updated: Nov 19, 2012 16:40 IST
Gaurav Choudhury
Gaurav Choudhury
Hindustan Times
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Accidental India
Shankar Aiyar
Rs. 695 pp 314

In a nation's life, a year is just a speck in a long history. In the summer of 1991 India flew out 47 tonnes of gold to Europe to get $400 million dollars to tide over a dire import payment crisis. Twenty years later, it is said it was ready to help Europe crawl out of a debt crisis. The symbolism is inescapable. Journalist-analyst Shankar Aiyar's Accidental India: A History of the Nation's Passage Through Crisis and Change, provides an insightful perspective on modern India's economic history.

Economic development in pre-1991 India, it is said, was akin to the hour hand of a clock that you rarely see moving. Aiyar, who scooped the news of India pledging its gold reserves in 1991, in a narrative peppered with anecdotes, details the events that triggered major policy changes in post-Independent India, notably, the structural reforms of 1991, the bank nationalisation of 1969 and the mid-day meal scheme. All these were prompted by a continuum of events in the nation's history. The big game changers, as Aiyar points out, "arrived in India not amidst the stability of the majority rule but despite volatility and political instability. This is true of the 1991 liberalisation, the Green Revolution, bank nationalisation and the enactment of the Right to Information Act." What India needs is intelligent design of policy as nothing is going to guarantee that one is not going to run into a pitfall. In the final analysis, profit maximisation, policy reforms and politics should cease to be mutually exclusive objectives. Or as Aiyar puts it aptly: "In every crisis…the common thread is the inability of successive governments to think imaginatively and act decisively. India deserves better."