Sunday, 28 September 2008

REAL FREEDOM


REAL FREEDOM

“Our generation is essentially a post-socialist one that is different from our forefathers who were affected by war, frustrating economy and a sense of despair,” Rhodes scholar-writer and Deutsche Bank’s chief economist Sanjeev Sanyal begins with a clear distinction as we begin to chat about his recently-published book The Indian Renaissance – India’s Rise After a Thousand Years of Decline.

Growing up in ‘pre-economic liberalisation’ India, Sanyal has seen how things can be under stringent government control. In his book he has contended this liberalisation will change India in every sphere. “It happened in Europe, for example. Through the centuries Europe was like a stagnant pond. Then suddenly over a period of 50 years there was a spurt of talents; the thought process of people changed, they began to ask questions.”

Talking about his nine-month long effort to get the work together, Sanyal says, the idea has been floating for a long time. “I wanted to write about the aspirations of the post-liberalisation generation – what we want India to become. None of the books on India’s economic liberalisation written so far are based on the perspective of our generation,” Sanyal says. Moreover, he wanted to analyse the reasons for India’s gradual decline from being the most civilised and innovative land to a poor country. “It’s not that India became poor with the British occupation. Our decline started much earlier.” To buttress his point, he has described India’s economic history in the book.

Banking on his extensive research into the histories of other civilisations that went through turbulent times, he argues it is the societal closed mind that brings about regression in any land. “Why can’t Bengal produce such towering personalities like Ram Mohan Roy and Rabindranath anymore?” he asks. And then he provides the answer: “Lack of openness and intolerance to criticism in that State is at the root of it.” In the same context, however, he ascribes the impasse in Singur to “institutional failure rather than otherwise closed minds.” It’s lack of mechanism to address grievances that is to be blamed, he adds.

After Independence, the socialism that India adopted just perpetuated the trouble that our economy was already into, Sanyal states. “In this book I have argued that the State should not have got into running business like the airlines. Rather, the State should act as the regulator to see that there’s freedom to take entrepreneurial risk,” he affirms.

He goes back in time when Maruti car was launched in India. “That was the first sign of real freedom. But, it had the Japanese touch. The liberalisation of 1991 was much more satisfying being an Indian initiative.”

But won’t liberalisation increase corruption? Sanyal once again stresses on the need for fast and effective judicial mechanism to address such issues. “Corruption has been a problem right from Day one after Independence,” he says and refers to the Mundhra Scandal of 1957 that brought fore the inappropriate dealings by State-owned insurance company.

India, according to the writer, has a golden future. “Now is the time to change for good.” Quoting from his book we ask him how 90 per cent literacy in India will actually help when the educational infrastructure is poor. “Literacy will at least enable a large chunk poor citizens to read and write. This in turn will let them to get into non-agricultural occupations. This is the starting point. I am not saying that the farmers will earn PhDs overnight,” Sanyal reiterates his argument. In this context he compares the situation in today’s India with that in China of 1980s and 1990s.
In his work the scholar has opposed waiver of farm loans. “Get those hapless farmers in Vidharva out of the agriculture. They are fabulous human resources who can be deployed in manufacturing and infrastructure-building. The loan waiver keeps them stuck in that vicious circle of lenders, poor crops and poverty,” Sanyal explains.