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LITERATURE

India's Long Road

 

THE DAYS OF ENDLESS WAIT
VIJAY JOSHI | Issue Dated: November 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : India's Long Road | Vijay Joshi |
 

THE DAYS OF ENDLESS WAIT

India's Long Road
Author: Vijay Joshi
Penguin Random House India

Edition: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780670086825
Pages: 421
Price: Rs 699

Ahead of the 2014 General Elections the prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, campaigned on the twin themes of 'vikas' (development) and ‘achche din’ (good days). The campaign paid off as it came at a time Indian voters were fed up of administrative paralysis and a spate of scandals and scams from the UPA II government. Two years later, people wonder whether Modi and his government have been able to live up to those promises.

Ordinary mortals may jump to quick conclusions.

Significantly, India and its economy have been subjects of extravagant predictions among global forecasters and economists since 2003.

However, distinguished economist Vijay Joshi, emeritus fellow of Merton College, Oxford, in his latest book, India's Long Road: The Search for Prosperity, peels every layer of the Indian landscape. He first defines ‘prosperity’, and then lays down a penetrating analysis of India's political economy. Finally, he charts the course the country should follow to achieve prosperity. In the process, he raises questions, answers them and in certain cases even gives his verdict — which would not be too pleasant for Modi and his supporters.

So, India's Long Road is the first bare-all commentary on Modi's two years in office — what he has been able to achieve and what is yet to be attempted.  Divided into five parts and spread over ten chapters, the author focuses on growth, stability, political economy and the assessment of the current government. 

Joshi begins by describing what prosperity is and how it would impact the country. He states that if India were to maintain per capita growth of 7 per cent a year, until 2040, its annual per capita income at purchasing power parity would rise from its current level of about $ 5600 to five times, that is, to about $ 28,000.

After this opening statement, Joshi who has served as a special advisor to the Reserve Bank of India and the Finance Ministry at different points of time, examines whether India can achieve the challenging goal of rapid high-quality per capita growth over the next two or three decades. Citing Lant Pritchett and Lawrence Summers’ analysis that only three countries—China, South Korea and Taiwan had super-fast growth—Joshi observes that this is like running a marathon at the speed of a sprint.

Yet, he does not doubt that India will eventually become a prosperous country. But questions that many Indians and India observers tend to ask is, ‘how long will this take’?  India’s ambition, according to Joshi, is being endangered by economic reforms that began a quarter of a century back and are now 'running out of steam'.

He goes to suggest seven radical reform agendas — macroeconomic stability; investment climate, deep fiscal adjustment and a universal basic income; markets, ownership and regulations; external economic engagements; social protection and enablement; and reform of the state.

India’s Long Road is full of reforms and suggestions. These reforms have to be initiated and implemented by the government at different level. Discovering the manner in which the Indian state is constrained by several factors, Joshi has examined how this threatens to set back the economic progress of the nation.

 His assessment of the Modi Government’s performance is quite critical when he questions — “Has it done enough to promote rapid, sustainable and inclusive growth in the long term? Large-scale institutional change is lacking… The Modi Government has announced many targets and timelines, set up many missions and started many projects,” he writes adding that it still has two years before electioneering begins at the national level.

 Joshi, who was part of the team headed by Finance Minister Manmohan Singh that unleashed economic reforms in the 1990s, wonders whether India’s democracy still retains its liberal character.

 He goes on to list several disturbing recent happenings — Ghar Wapsi, Love Jihad and the lynching of a Muslim man by a Hindu mob. “Unfortunately, the government’s initial response to this tragedy was complete silence, followed by anodyne homilies. There have been many recent incidents, which have led to a widespread perception that freedom of expression is under threat”, he writes.

 In the next few pages the attack on the Prime Minister is more direct and scathing. Joshi asks him to rise to the occasion.  “He (Modi) needs to become a true statesman, rise above the concerns of the RSS, and maintain India’s liberal and secular traditions,” and quickly adds, “As of now, it is uncertain whether he will.”

Many of the events, process and even data may be familiar to Indian readers.  But Joshi, who has authored two books on India’s economy earlier, has added exhaustive footnotes spread over 70 pages at the tail end of the book, for every chapter explaining the concepts and contexts as well.

To sum up, India cannot count on any tailwind from the global economy to achieve prosperity. It has no options but to kick off radical reforms. Otherwise, it will indeed be a long road for India.

 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017