Remembering Abid Hussain

Updated on: Jun 22, 2012
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The passing away in London on Thursday of Dr Abid Hussain — a brilliant bureaucrat and an accomplished diplomat during his brief tenure of two years in the US in 1990-92 — fills one with an irreparable sense of loss. His bearing was marked by a remarkable candour and ease of manner.

As a correspondent of a news agency in the late 1980s, when Abid Hussain was a Member, Planning Commission, covering his functions day in and day out on various platforms was an educative experience. This was also the time when India was headed by a young Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and the stirrings of reforms were very much in the air, preparing us for the resounding changes in 1991.

Shaping trade policy

During one of my routine assignments, I bumped into Hussain in the lift of FICCI in 1985, a year after he had submitted the report of the Committee on trade policy reforms. Encouraged by his amiability, I asked him whether he could spare a copy of his trade policy report.

Not a bureaucrat to glare and walk away as if he had not heard you, he opened his pouch the moment we came out of the lift and took out the report. Before I could gather my sense to react, he sat down on a sofa in the lawn and signed in the first page: “You may read the full report but at least like a part of it!”

The essence of the Abid Hussain report was the stress on growth-led exports, rather than export-led growth. At a time when the “tiger economies” of South-East-Asia were seen benefiting from export-led growth, Abid Hussain had the gumption to lay stress on the overwhelming need to harmonise foreign trade policies with domestic policies. He, rather prophetically, said that in a labour-surplus country domestic growth was more important and conditions would have to be nurtured to make reforms of the domestic economy bear fruit. Then, such growth could generate exports in areas where the country enjoyed comparative advantage. Abid Hussain was also a visionary for suggesting a foreign trade policy (FTP) for the long term.

Indo-US ties

His views on trade policies were vindicated when, in July 1991, the then Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao announced trade and industrial policy reforms incorporating most of Abid Hussain’s proposals, making domestic industry competitive on an incremental basis. When he was named envoy to the US in 1990, I approached him for an interview for a news agency and he readily responded, highlighting how he proposed to put Indo-US relations on a firmer footing — which he did through meaningful engagements on several fronts.

He always maintained his aplomb amid multifarious engagements and greeted everyone with his characteristic charm and disarming smile. For journalists seeking his take on issues, he seldom failed to give crisp and sharp nuggets of news. It was a delight to interact with him as he was always in the loop, as it were. India has lost a fine and suave bureaucrat, who was a humane person to the end.

> geeyes@thehindu.co.in

Published on June 22, 2012

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