Books Reviews

Reviewed by :
Hasan Suroor, The Hindu

A crash course on Indian economy

LONDON: There was a time when if a group of Indian talking heads got together you could be sure that they would be complaining about the proverbial "Hindu" rate of growth, the agonies of the permit-licence "raj" and the stifling red tape.

These days, however, they are more likely to complain that the reforms process is too slow, the current rate of growth is not good enough and that given India's "potential" it should be doing much better.

On Tuesday, a full house at the London School of Economics' Old Theatre was treated to a crash course on the Indian economy and where it is (or indeed ought to be) going. The occasion, telecast live to Indian audiences back home, was the high-profile launch of the civil servant-turned-politician N.K. Singh's book Not By Reason Alone: The Politics of Change, a collection of his newspaper columns on a range of political, economic and social issues.

A panel discussion that preceded the launch threw up the familiar "post-liberalisation" arguments: namely, that the Indian economy was on the right course but there was scope for the current growth rate to be accelerated though there were also cautionary voices that India should not rush into things in the name of globalisation.

Mr. Singh, who has been at the heart of the reforms process, said the big challenge was "how to bring about a convergence between good politics and good economics"-a theme that also runs through his book.

He agreed with his co-panellist, industrialist Mukesh Ambani, that the nine per cent growth rate though impressive was not good enough considering India's potential.

"It should be in double digits," he said.

In good health
However, Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, thought that an average seven per cent growth in the midst of an unprecedented global economic meltdown showed that the Indian economy was in good health and that "we're doing something right".

He rejected criticism that the reforms process was too slow or that the political leadership was not bold enough to push through big-ticket reforms. "Acknowledge the output and stop talking about what is missing," he retorted when the moderator Barkha Dutt pointed out that the UPA government in its second term appeared to be moving more slowly despite the fact that the Left which was often accused of "obstructing" the reforms was no longer there.

Others who spoke included the economist Lord Meghnad Desai who called for more radical land reforms, and Chris Patten, chancellor of Oxford University.