From Growth Story Towards Becoming Museum: India`s recent trajectory

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By Amar Yumnam

India’s pretentions in the political sphere and the huge prices the country have to pay are now the talk of the town around the world. The pretensions have reached such a stage that all the institutional heads have come out openly against the political masters asking the latter to behave. There is a point in what Professor Meghnad Desai has just written: “Poverty and corruption are the twin pillars of Indian democracy. They are sacrosanct. If thanks to them the economy collapses, tough luck.”

The way things are getting unfolded in this country are such that reading the latest book (presented to me by a good friend in last May) of two economists, Acemoglu and Robinson, titled Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty causes mental jittery. I have read and re-read this book for every time any negative news about India emerges in the newspapers; negative news unfortunately has now become a norm in this country rather than an exception. All the adverse factors that had made earlier civilisations and all the features that make modern nations incapable of growing as discussed so wonderfully in this book sound like as if we are reading about the current lapses and failures in India. Reading Montesquieu’s book on the decline of the Roman empire while I was a student in Mumbai University in the early 1980s, I could not help feeling that I was reading an explanation of the collapse of the society and economy of Manipur. But today, I do feel as if I am reading the causes and decline of the Indian polity and ultimately the economy. No, this country is definitely not moving forward.

Never in the history of India since 1947 there has been a messy scenario and unresponsive and irresponsible polity as India experiences today. The governance collapse has never before been so complete in India. Further this decline has been so cumulatively fast. In the beginning when some heads of non-political institutional heads raised the issue of governance, we thought it could as well be politicisation as claimed by the ruling political coalesce. But now increasing becoming clear the ruling political elite has been just unmindful of the deteriorating governance quality and functioning.

The Supreme Court of the country have been expressing dissatisfaction with practise of justice by the political governance wing of the country. Since the earlier few instances did not have the expected positive impact and responsive re-orientations in the behaviour of political elite, the court have been forced to increasingly adopt harsh languages and harsher judgements.  Initially we also thought of these as the practice of balance in the democratic system of the country, but it has turned out to be a collapse of the quality in the ruling political sphere of the country. This experience with the adverse observations of the courts about the quality of political governance in this country was soon followed up by the empirical establishment of official wrong-doings by the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of the country. The various exposures coming out of the reports of this office were initially countered by the ruling politicians as crossing the brief by the CAG of the country.  This controversy has not died down, and then came the comments of the top of army of the country.  Now comes the latest bombshell. The outgoing Governor of the Reserve Bank of India has attacked the Indian economic policy making and implementation during the last five years in no uncertain terms. The Nani Palkhivala lecture of the Governor completes the proof of the collapse of political governance in this country. In the last few years, every head of every important statutory body of the country has said the government of the country has failed to govern.

Earlier it was only these insiders who saw the crumbling of the governing political class of the country. Today the chaos has spread to every direction. As Meghnad Desai writes: “The market sees farther than the politicians. The market has seen that the fundamental problem of the Indian economy is politics. The economy is in a profound crisis. It has been drifting for the past two years and more. No urgency has been felt by the political leadership to tackle the crisis. It`s busy with its own agenda that ignores economics.” If the present trend continues, we must recall that from a flourishing centre of  civilisation Venice became a museum.

Now India has only one route to follow for a sure recovery from this current malaise. The country today needs revival of the spirit of the freedom movement and the accompanying zeal for service to the cause of the country. It would be too gigantic a task to think of a single macro approach for the revolution to occur. One size would not fit every part of the country. Now every province of the country has to initiate the necessary changes and nurture the culture imperative to reverse the Venice-like transformation becoming a reality. Instead of a common approach, the country should now be adopting development interventions alive to the evidence in every provincial context. A singular approach in an otherwise highly pluralistic country in every significant dimension has created conditions when the powerful kings could utilise the army to pursue personal causes rather than national ones. But these ultimately led to the collapse of nations. India has today make a hard choice as to what exactly it wants to adopt as a framework for policy making and the principles of policy formulation.

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