On 28th January 2014, P Chidambaram had said, Modi’s knowledge of economics can be put on back of a postage stamp. This is when I was completing my book ModiNomics. Having interacted intensely with both Modi and Chidambaram and having the highest of regards for both of them, I wrote in the book:
‘…opinions (of Chidambaram and Modi) may be divergent, but economics is the same…’
ModiNomics for the first time gave insights into the economic thinking of Modi. This was followed by the book Defeating Poverty: Jan Dhan and Beyond and the third book in the ModiNomics trilogy, Modi’s Odyssey: Digital India, Developed India.
These three books together give deep insights into the unfolding demonetisation and digitalisation story and the impact it is likely to have on inclusive growth. I would say, with all humility, that these three books be a part of recommended reading for all politicians and all pro-poverty economists who have helped create deep chasms between the rich and the poor over the past seventy years.
I have often been found guilty of speaking bluntly. Last time, it was Arun Jaitley who called me blunt while releasing ModiNomics. India has changed just too significantly since 8th November 2016. As a reforms historian, I can authoritatively say that there have been other such significant moments in our history. Stock Exchange Computerisation post Harshad Mehta Scam; N Vittal’s dictat on bank computerisation when he was CVC; N Sehshan’s insistence on Voter ID, to name a few. To quote one of the momentous speeches documented in my book The Untold Story of Indian Reforms:
“There is no time to lose. Neither government nor the economy can live beyond its means year after year. The room for maneuver, to live on borrowed money or time, does not exist any more… There can be no adjustment without pain. The people must be prepared to make sacrifices to preserve our economic independence and restore the health of our economy,”
Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister, 24th July 1991
This was followed by the unfolding of Indian reforms that saw 200 million people come out of clutches of poverty. Such a time is upon us again - in his speech on 8th November 2016, Prime Minister Modi has started the second struggle for freedom, a clarion call that every Indian must respond to beyond the best of their abilities.
As the only Indian reforms historian, I have the advantage of hindsight and I believe that such an opportunity would never come again for India. There can be no perfect timing, the burden of the 400 million Indians who remain in abject poverty, cannot be tolerated anymore.
Digital inclusion, financial inclusion and social inclusion are three pillars of inclusive growth; digital and financial literacy are huge problems; decentralisation is a completely unfinished agenda of the Constitution of India; Common Services Centres (CSCs) should be made Business Correspondents; cyber security is a looming threat–I have said so since 2006 over and over again in 46 Summits, 18 books and crores worth of spend on advertorials to carry this message that has become newsworthy only now.
It was 1857, when the first War of Independence was waged. It was in 1947, that India attained independence. Getting rid of poverty and exclusions is even a bigger war than the War of Independence. This cannot be waged without making sacrifices that will last a long period of time. The ATM queues and cashless way of living being the least of the sacrifices. The country needs far more!
The first set of reforms catapulted me from being a poor boy from Pahar Ganj to Skoch Group Chairman and the current set of reforms gives every Indian the same fighting chance. There is no time to lose and no time for negativity.
(Sameer Kochhar can be reached at email@example.com)
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