Books

Nothing more than normative wisdom

N. S. Vageesh | Updated on May 18, 2012

Emerging India: Economics, Politics & ReformsBy Bimal JalanPublisher - Penguin BooksPages: 307Price: Rs 599



A senior colleague was recently trying to persuade one of the grey eminences of the monetary policy world to work on a ‘tell all' memoir.

It was firmly refused on the grounds that he did not want to fall into the trap of most such books — of portraying events as happening around oneself. Or, that one had played a central role in the way things unfolded. All the persuasion didn't work. Thankfully, there are others who make up for the modest reticence of some.

Bimal Jalan is one of them. He can claim to have been at the centre of many developments, having travelled the corridors of power in his career. As an economist, as Chief Economic Advisor, as a Member of the Planning Commission, as Reserve Bank of India Governor between 1997 and 2003 and as a Rajya Sabha member for six years thereafter, Jalan certainly played a pivotal role in the shaping of policy in India. Yet, this book is not in the tell-all genre. It is full of prescriptions and, one may add, even some sound advice.

Normative wisdom, there is plenty for the asking. But what one looks for in such books by people who occupied pivotal positions is what they did during their tenure to change the course of events. Who helped them? Who blocked them? The book carefully steers away from that course. This is really a book of speeches and papers he wrote in the last two decades.

The first part of the book is about political issues that require immediate attention. His Rajya Sabha stint probably gave him a vantage view about the unsavoury way politics is played in this country. In some chapters one did get the feeling of reading a civics book or a tome on public administration. The points that he repeatedly makes over these essays are two.

One — coalitions bring enormous pressures. Even the highest office can do nothing unless some basic reforms are done. State funding is one such reform.

Two, the tyranny of small parties will continue unless the anti-defection law is amended.

As it currently stands, it actually provides an incentive for smaller parties — since the breakaway gangs of bigger parties attract the provisions more easily. Given the results in the recent Assembly polls, the fractured polity with multi-party mandates in different states, we may have to brace for another prolonged spell of coalition rule at the Centre. Some of Jalan's suggestions will, therefore, be more relevant now.

One disturbing fact is that, barring the last three governments, the average tenure of coalition governments has been just 18 months. Short life-expectancy of coalitions is a definite incentive for corruption – especially among smaller parties.

There are other sections that deal with economic policy and matters relating to money, banking and finance – subjects that he dealt with at RBI – and, therefore, familiar ground for many readers. Take a look at this para, “The possibility of a recovery in the global economy has become highly uncertain, belying initial expectations of a V-shaped recovery as well as subsequent hopes of a U-shaped recovery. As of now, the consensus of forecasts settles around 2.3 per cent for the world GDP growth. World trade volume growth could slow down to around 1.3 per cent and net capital outflows from developing countries may now be larger than anticipated. Although the sharp spurt in international oil prices has abated, their future behaviour remains unclear. Macroeconomic weaknesses have also been associated with an erosion of business confidence.”

That, by the way, is not Jalan's comment on the latest situation. That is an excerpt from his address at an event a decade ago. Sounds eerily familiar, isn't it? The more things change, the more they remain the same!

Published on May 18, 2012

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