So jugaad defines India's economics too?
Reviewed by Abhishek Joshi


Accidental India: A History of the Nation's Passage Through Crisis and Change
By Shankkar Aiyar
Aleph. Pages 352. Rs 695

Shankkar Aiyar's Accidental India is a cogent analysis of how a series of game-changers in the country's history were, in fact, rooted in crisis situations. Examining seven turning points since Independence: The economic liberalisation of 1991, the Green Revolution of the 1960s, nationalisation of banks in 1969, Operation Flood in the 1970s, the mid-day meal scheme of 1982, the software revolution of the 1990s and passing of the Right To Information Act in 2005, he contends these turning points were not the result of foresight or careful planning but were rather accidental consequences of major crises that had to be resolved at any cost.

Aiyar traces the genesis of the book to 1991, when the country had secretly pledged 47 tonnes gold to the Bank of England to borrow $400 million to pay its creditors. As a reporter, the author broke the news of the emergency lift-off, which brought home the enormity of the economic crisis.

In the chapter on the Green Revolution, Aiyar says the gory consequences of war and the spectre of famine ensured revival of agriculture. After the bumper harvest of 1967, India went from strength to strength, harvesting over 100 milion tonnes in 1971. By the beginning of the 1980s, however, the momentum had died down.

The author gives an insightful account of the political drama and turmoil that played out before nationalisation of banks came through in 1969.

The country has been wracked by scams in every decade since independence. In the 1940s, the purchase of jeeps for the Army was tainted by scandal. The Jeep Scandal set the template on how the post-scam scenario would play out. An inquiry committee would be appointed, their censure would be ignored, and the government and everyone else would blithely go about their business.

"National security, it would seem, is a priority only in the immediate aftermath of an event when the party in power finds its political existence threatened and when the Opposition senses an opportunity to score points," reflects Aiyar.

Success in space and nuclear programmes cannot obscure the nationís failure to provide the most basic amenities to a large mass of its populace. What are conveniently ignored today as future shocks ó water, energy, poverty, corruption, national security and relations between the Centre and the states ó are already the silent crises of today.

A perceptive wake-up call. Is anyone listening?

Plan to fail?

The Planning Commission prepares a Five-Year Plan which is cleared by the Cabinet but has no connection to the tenure of the government which passed it. This means that no leaderís or partyís reputation is at stake. There is no ownership of targets and no accountability.

Mid-day meal scheme

Talking of the mid-day meal scheme in schools, the author says in 1982, it cost the Government of Tamil Nadu barely 45 paise per child per day. Studies by the World Bank and UNICEF have established that it costs barely $10 per child, per year. The mid-day meal scheme had a track record of success in various states. Yet, it needed a crisis, and pressure in the public domain, to spur the political class and policymakers into action.





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