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India's Administrative System: An Unresponsive Frontier

Atul K Thakur, Senior Associate Editor, INCLUSION

Book Review, Politics Trumps Economics: The Interface of Economics and Politics in Contemporary India by Bimal Jalan and Pulapre Balakrishnan (edited), Rainlight/ Rupa, 2014; pp 211, Rs 500

It was felt and highlighted that the ‘policy paralysis’ and lack of reform impetus in macroeconomic policies led to the downward spiral in the business and mass sentiments, eventually led  to an alarming level of deceleration in economic growth. The UPA-II regime was  blamed for that, which was justified to an extent too, but somewhere there is a need is to see  the real stumbling blocks.

Foremostly, it has to be admitted that India’s administrative system has become largely non-functional and unresponsive to the interest of the masses. The book under review precisely focuses on this crux of the problem through twelve essays from some of India’s leading policy practitioners. Moreover, the central mandate of the anthology exudes at patches and in full, the well-meaning vision of its editors.

Bimal Jalan in his different administrative capacities has seen the administrative structure of this country from close quarters, and Balakrishnan – with long affiliations with policy matters is equally capable to comment on what ails the delivery mechanism through the administrative routes and where the two other arms, ‘legislature’ and ‘judiciary’ are faltering.

As the purview of governance is no longer limited with the government alone, the essays in the book put forth a deserved emphasis on ‘corporate governance’ and infer that various practices in big business are in urgent need of correction too.

T.T Ram Mohan’s piece Corporate Governance: Issues and Challenges is one that gives topical insights on the theme. He writes, “A certaincynicism has crept into the debate on corporate governance. There is a sense that, as with corruption, it is something that people will keep talking about without anything substantive happening on the ground” – this captures the views of an average citizen vis-à-vis the interventions of the government. Seemingly, it is harrowing.

The “Overview” in the beginning of the book by Bimal Jalan brings to the fore his suggestions for ‘political reforms’, besides economic and administrative reforms – to reduce corruption, the power of small parties to destabilise multi-party coalitions and attractiveness of politics as a career for persons with questionable antecedents. Indeed, without a reformed culture of politics, it is naïve dreaming for the fruits of economic reforms and that too with equity.

Pulapre Balakrishnan’s Governing for an Inclusive Growth is about addressing the challenges of delivering social justice in India today and it rightly argues for governing policies towards that end.

The other essays by Meghnad Desai, Dipankar Gupta, Poonam Gupta, Ashima Goel, Samuel Paul, Ravi Kanbur, Sunil Mani, M. Govinda Rao and Deepak Mohanty – though with varied level of interpretations, fit enough to be catogarised into three broader sections of the book: politics, governance and policy.

Their focus is on the interface between politics and economics in India, which actually determines the path of progress for the country. This book should be of interest for anyone, who has enthusiasm for the policy matters and knowing about the fast changing form of politics, governance and economic processes in India.

The flurry of activities on the land is unprecedented and hence intriguing too, with keeping the challenges upfront for the policymakers and those who are getting governed to reach a consensus. Albeit that part is tough and probably difficult to come in terms with – this book certainly makes our understanding better on the whole issue.

The essays more than modestly also offer impressionable solutions to end the menace of corruption and for achieving inclusive growth – this comes while discussing among others, the pressing issues related to the coalition government, the rise of new politics (through civic activism), the growing inequality, alienation, the contradiction between identity politics and development.

There is so much happening in India on the policy front, and a single book can have only restricted overtures with those churnings. Given this backdrop, Politics Trumps Economics is a valuable addition to the policy studies and has comprehensive prescriptions for the general readers, who are equally in need of knowing their country’s ongoing tryst with destiny.

(Atul K Thakur can be reached at atul@skoch.in)


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