Reviews

Seven Decades of Independent India: Ideas and Reflections review: Not a critical assessment

An appraisal of India’s achievements and failures post-Independence

Last August, when India completed 70 years of Independence, there were celebrations at home and in the world. Many reports in major papers evaluated our achievements and failings over the years. Earlier, economists and historians from Amartya Sen to Sunil Khilnani and Ramachandra Guha have written about India's failures and successes.

This book is a compilation of essays by people with experience in their respective fields. The 25 chapters covering various subjects ranging from ‘Security challenges’, ‘India in a Globalized World’, ‘India’s Elections and Reforms’, down to the one on ‘Skill Development’ are standalone pillars; they are not integrated, nor grouped together in a meaningful way. Mostly, they are reflections and do not amount to an assessment of our past record.

The introductory chapter by the editors reflects on some general issues such as ‘Policy, Governance and Institutions.’ There is emphasis on good governance and need for good civil administration. On institutions, more attention has been paid to management of banks than to many other vital institutions such as the judiciary or legislature. There are observations on ‘waste management’ and ‘pollution control’ — and wholesome praise for the Goods and Services Tax.

Three essays deal with external affairs: one with external security, another with ‘India and ASEAN’ and the last with ‘India as an Asian Power.’ The first pleads for India engaging more with her neighbours in southern and Southeast Asia and a new approach to manage big power relations. It does not refer to the recent scenario in which India appears to be isolated from its neighbours. On India’s relations with the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), Tan Tai Yong is rather forthright. He feels that ASEAN is a pillar of India’s Act East policy, but “the efficacy of the policy remains hindered by the inability to translate policies into concrete actions and investments.”

The chapter on ‘Sustainable, productive Agriculture’ by Ashok Gulati and Gayatri Mohan is perhaps the best in the collection and offers original conclusions based on serious research. They take the view that Punjab is not the most suited state for rice cultivation and Maharashtra is not the one suited for sugarcane. Water availability and flows do not predicate longer term sustainability. They are the results of latter day reliance on profitable commercial crops. There is need for crop diversification. This, sadly, is easier said than done.

All the chapters are in the nature of ideas or reflections, not necessarily related to or having a direct bearing on evaluating India’s achievements, and that’s a miss.

Seven Decades of Independent India: Ideas and Reflections;

Edited by Vinod Rai and Amitendu Palit,

Penguin Random House India,

₹699.

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