Former Reserve Bank of India Governor Bimal Jalan’s latest book India Reckoning - Rewards and Discontents of Democracy is a bold and honest critique of the current situation of the country and future prospects in terms of the economy, politics and governance.
With his experience in policymaking, Jalan delves deep into issues that are critical to the country and not only raises questions but also brings forth suggestions on the way ahead and how to overcome these challenges to harness the country’s potential so that it can become a superpower.
It also comes at a crucial time when the economy has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic for two full years and the social and economic divide has become wider. Forthcoming State elections also bring forth issues for voters and this book throws up some interesting topics to deliberate upon.
Just 162 pages long (excluding the index), the book is divided into nine chapters, each of which take up a separate issue such as democracy, effect of corruption, state of the financial sector and lastly, priorities for the future.
Threats to democracy
“No wonder then that by and large, the ordinary people of India are disenchanted by the working of the political system. They still have the political power to vote or not vote, but what their vote does for them is not evident,” Jalan notes in the first chapter, which delves into the evolution of India’s democracy since Independence and problems across the bureaucracy and judiciary.
The next chapter follows up on it and talks about the relationship between growth and democracy and threats to democracy that have emerged in recent times.
Of particular interest, are the two chapters on the banking industry — ‘The State of the Financial Sector’ and ‘Towards a More Vibrant Banking Industry’, in which the former central banker traces the issues emanating from the East Asian Crisis of the late 1990s and gradually moves on to the Indian experience and the current set of problems besetting the banking sector.
The chapter on a more vibrant banking system walks us through a variety of issues ranging from non-performing assets of banks, human resource problems as well as technological developments in the BFSI sector in an in-depth manner.
While highlighting the challenges in each of these areas, it also ends up painting an optimistic future for the banking sector and notes the many advantages that India has.
“Taking the banking industry to the heights of international excellence will require a combination of new technologies, better processes of credit and risk appraisal, treasury management, product diversification, internal control and external regulations and, not the least, human resources. Fortunately, India has a comparative advantage in almost all these areas,” the chapter sums up.
The last chapter, which lays out priorities for the future, highlights India’s economic growth potential and “opportunities to completely alleviate poverty and to become one of the strongest democratic global powers”. It highlights the many reforms taken by the current government and also the future policy options and also explains India’s policies with respect to the global economy.
The book is written in a very objective and almost dispassionate way, allowing readers to trace and understand issues, without taking up a bias or prejudice. It is comprehensive yet succinct in the way it deals with issues, reflective of the style of the author.
The simple yet engaging manner of writing is conducive for students who may want to get a deeper grasp on any of these issues, as well as for older readers who wish to do some serious reading on current realities and future possibilities. Jalan takes pains to explain every issue that he takes up at length and also traces it to its start, which enables readers to comprehend them in their totality.
While this book is only for serious readers, who want to update themselves on issues at hand, it provides rich commentary on India’s present and past. More importantly, it makes us question issues that we may often choose to take as part and parcel of normal politics and administration and throws up solutions for many of the problems.
However, the book (last chapter) ends on a positive note, rightly highlighting that the country’s destiny is in the hands of its people and the fact that the economy has the potential to become one of the strongest in the world.