Gurcharan Das makes a case against growing without the State

Writer and thinker Gurcharan Das’ latest book India Grows at Night: A Liberal Case for a Strong State was launched in the Capital recently. Calling India “a tale of private success and public failure”, the book makes a case for a revitalisation of the State. Gurcharan has previously authored The Difficulty of Being Good and India Unbound.

The launch was followed by a conversation between the author and Arvind Kejriwal, activist and member of Team Anna. It was moderated by T.N. Ninan, President, Editor’s Guild of India. Gurcharan revealed that the title of the book derives from the saying ‘India grows at night while the government sleeps’, which suggests that the growth witnessed by India over the previous decade happened despite the government, and not because of it. “To rise without the State is a brave thing, but only up to a certain point,” he said.

Illustrating his thesis with the example of Gurgaon, he said in the 1970s it was “a sleepy village with rocky soil and pitiable agriculture. It had no local government, no railway link to speak of, and no industry. Compared to Faridabad, Gurgaon was wilderness.”

But Gurgaon’s disadvantage turned out to be its advantage. Having been ignored by the State Government, Gurgaon’s self reliant citizens took it upon themselves to make the city habitable, he said.

Without essential services, however, Gurgaon’s rise is not sustainable. Claiming that “modern India is Gurgaon writ large”, Gurcharan repeated, “While economic prosperity is a good thing, it is not sufficient. India needs a strong State.”

While the expression “strong State” conjures images of Stalinist USSR and Nazi Germany, Gurcharan clarified that his idea of such a State harks back to the vision of the founding fathers of India and America, which combined strength with efficiency and enabling tendencies. Such a State would have independent regulators who are tough on corruption and ensure that no one is above the law; be efficient by enforcing — with fairness and forcefulness — the rule of law; and enable the delivery of services honestly to all citizens.

But the move towards such a State will not be easy, as India has “historically had a weak state and a strong society,” he argued.

In the book, Gurcharan has also advocated the formation of a new political party. This party would be on the lines of Swatantra Party and emphasise not just economic reforms but also institutional reforms. At this point, Kejriwal also narrated Team Anna’s tryst with the idea of floating a political party that will contest elections. “When we started protesting, politicians said these matters are best left to parliamentarians. Now that we are deciding to contest elections, they are saying we are hungry for power.”

Gurcharan also expressed hope that the Jan Lokpal Bill will be passed soon and praised Team Anna for being “able to tap into a moral core”.

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