‘Accidental India’ – a book review

In recent months, I have read four books on India. In terms of depth,
Shankkar Aiyar’s ‘Accidental India’ stands tall.

It is a great read on how post-Independence India made policies. The first Bombay Plan and the Industrial Policy Resolutions were all greatly insightful to me.

Even though the book was about how good policy decisions and successes happen in India accidentally, it also turns out to be an inspirational book.

In a way, some of the folks who did noble work for the country – CS, Lal Bahadur Sastri, Varghese Kurien, John Mathai, L.P. Singh, the Home Secretary who visited the dairy plant in Gujarat, Mr. Tribhuvan Das Patel who was an admirable foil for Mr. Kurien, are all  inspirational figures.

John Mathai refusing to help his nephew sidestep his commitment to the government is no accident. That reflects his values.

Same thing goes for Vishnu Sahay, the agricultural secretary, who remembered the conversation he had with Kurien and nominated him for training programme in NZ and Australia. That was no accident.

Tribhuvandas Patel’s presence might be an accident. But, his knack for spotting Kurien, giving him an opportunity and then working with him admirably was not an accident.

The Home Secretary’s visit to Anand was an accident. But, Shri. L.P. Singh’s actions to prove that nothing useful happens in Delhi was no accident.

In some respects, they keep our hopes alive for the country. I am sure that there are folks like them still around.  In my view, perhaps, the problem with India is that we do not have such people in sufficient numbers and hence, these things happen relatively sporadically and, good initiatives take far too long simply because there are not enough good men (or, women) to push things along faster. The commitment is missing.

Interesting to note that Rajiv Gandhi inherited a good economy and left it in a mess. He set a precedent for Dr. Manmohan Singh.

To two Finance Ministers will go the honour of announcing farm loan waivers – Madhu Dandavate, a Socialist and P. Chidambaram, a smart Congressman.

When I read about the meeting that the former PM Chandrasekhar held in November 1990, I was reminded of the meeting that the current Prime Minister hosted at his residence in 7 Race Course Road on September 8, 2015. India’s corporate sector is a large part of the problem.

“Disrupting a system they had specialised in working around was not something they wanted. … When Chandrasekhar asked the assembled businessmen for solutions to the crisis, it was not change but survival that influenced their responses”

Except for a few, India’s businesses continue to be part of the problem of India’s mediocre economic performance.

It is a sign of Shankkar Aiyar’s objectivity that he credits Mrs. Indira Gandhi with creating the opening with the United States in 1981 that paved the way for the software and IT revolution that India went through.

Also, he credits Rajiv Gandhi with initiating creative disruption in the country. Both are good points, well made and worth remembering.

At the same time, it is fascinating to note that the Congress Party under Rajiv Gandhi pulled down the Chandrasekhar Government because he was turning out to be an uncomfortably successful Prime Minister.

Even as Mr. Chandrasekhar was all set to dismantle the ‘license-permit raj’ of the Congress in 1991 as PM, he had played no small role in the nationalisation of Indian banking industry in the Sixties from which India is still hurting. Of course, it is not that the private sector bankers were covering themselves with glory, based on what Shankkar had written.

How fascinating are human beings. If only the spiritual evolution quotient were a bit higher and the ego content a bit lower, could India have become a developed country by now?

I hear you loud and clear that it was not the Congress or the PM Manmohan Singh that brought India back from the brink in 1991. But, doubtless, they took India back to the brink from 2004 to 2014.

This book is a story of India hanging in and hanging together because of a few  individuals but let down by several, from realising its potential.

A fascinating book, rich content and beautifully narrated.

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