Aye for 'Waking-up' Indian Economy

Atul K Thakur, Senior Associate Editor, INCLUSION

 Book Review: Non-fiction/Restart: The Last Chance for Indian Economy by Mihir Sharma, Random House India, 362pp,Rs599 (Hardback)

Most often, Mihir Sharma speaks his mind in his columns in Business Standard (earlier in Indian Express) – this is good trait actually of him being a journalist. In fact, his maiden book Restart: The Last Chance for Indian Economy is a good read in parts where he retains his natural expression. However, it also makes his work, more an extension of journalistic writings rather than wearing the actual seriousness, required to delve with the issues of economic policies and pure economics.

Mihir, a trained economist from St. Stephens and Harvard, was in position to supply more fundamental truths and analysis, concerning the Indian economy’s longing with ‘bubbles & bursts’, since its journey of economic reforms started way back in 1991. Although, here he has chosen to rely more vigorously upon the anecdotal accounts, which otherwise are interesting enough to pull the readers’ – not showing similar effect here.

The book basically argues that both government and industry have need to reshape the policies, so the ways of administration and mass attitude could restart or reignite the creativity of a billion hopeful Indians. In Restart, Mihir unleashes the set of contradictions, which are marring the true potential of Indian economy.

In great deal, he highlights: “Farms, not factories. When industry is the path to prosperity. Ancient, archaic laws when the majority of Indians are less than 25 years old. Armies of unemployed. When companies are hunting for skilled workers. Half-built highways, when its people dream of speed. India’s problems can seem overwhelming, but solutions exist.” Thus, he sums up at hopeful note – and in doing so, he appears judicious.

“India has a passion for under-capacity as enduring and inexplicable as its love for cricket”, in forwarding this telling narrative on escapist tendency – the book delineates the cases and their mishandlings, which finally kept the pulse of Indian economy, at striking low. The demand and supply side mismatch is just too ubiquitous in India, and this stays the book’s ‘heart of matter’.

The starkness of unemployment, disguised-employment and under-employment is rarely given proper heed in the growth obsessed policy regimes in new India. Albeit, it is unsustainable, when the level of mismatch stands at sky high. Besides the services, small and medium businesses too face the flak of inaction or flawed-action, in terms of regulatory and financial supports of the government.

The best, this book delivers while taking on the predatory nature of Indian industry, and how it at times, it enters in abnormal closeness or distracted with the government.

On the poverty question, Mihir articulates his views at some length – and opines that the flagship programmes like NREGA, is not really going to be helpful in reducing poverty of the scores of masses. He sites the obvious shortcomings of this programme – and other issues related to its targeting and deliverance.

His views will not meet with the counter-argument so easily from most of the quarters, in the case, there is silent consensus that the ‘aims and deliverance’ do not easily find compatibility on this land.

If the first decade of economic reforms was under the empress of reluctance, the next one-and-half decade proved to be heavily gripped through ‘cronyism’.

The cases of Kingfisher and IPL have found mentions here, for not just crushing the basic business and ethical sense – but also for maligning the positive spirit of economic reforms. After all, such ‘success stories’ were unheard and unseen before the economic policies shifted to be liberal at unprecedented pace.

With hindsight, the book does well in recalling what went wrong during the last years of UPA rule – and why the initiatives taken by it for improving infrastructure and livelihood couldn’t reach to the end-level – it was supposed to accomplish. Rest, the history been made on those wrong underlyings!

Mihir skips to be stereotypical by taking in view the roles of government, as well as of industry. He doesn’t make the ‘government’, a lone entity under the trial – he makes the balance, by highlighting the shrewdness and incompetency of Indian corporates at large. This is a breather in the time, when shunning the government and its welfare programmes is almost become trends.

The economic reforms and welfare programmes have to walk side-by-side, the world’s largest democracy cannot manage to do well without keeping this arrangement at place. With rational intent, Restart: The Last Chance for Indian Economymakes an informed commentary on ‘India’s tryst with economic reforms’ – and the transition for future that is around the corner. It deserves to be widely read rather surpassed.

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

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