‘The Bombay Plan — Blueprint for Economic Resurgence’ review: The plan that failed

Before Independence, a group of prominent industrialists and technocrats drew up a Plan for free India. The Bombay Plan, published in two parts in 1944 and the following year, was scripted by J.R.D. Tata, G.D. Birla, Purushottamdas Thakurdas, Kasturbhai Lalbhai, Ardeshir Dalal, Lala Sri Ram, John Mathai and A.D. Shroff. The document remained at the centre of news and public interest for more than a year, before being forgotten. This book is an attempt to study the genesis of the Plan, its contents and relevance and the circumstances leading to its inglorious fall.

The editors draw “attention to a document that was not only prescient in its approach to development but was also influential in shaping economic planning and public policy in the first decade of India’s Independence.” As former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh explained while inaugurating the centenary celebrations of J.R.D. Tata, the Plan had a profound impact on him and offered a framework for India’s economic transition in the early years after Independence.

The strength of this book is the manner in which the authors capture the elements of the Plan, areas of focus, the broad sectoral linkages, financial allocation and sources of finance. To understand why it still failed, we have to study the undercurrents of political economy and sociology. There were indeed some earlier studies by Medha Kudaisya, David Lockwood, Catharina Hänsel and Amal Sanyal, who has contributed a long chapter to this book. The broad conclusion among scholars is that, unlike in some other countries in Asia, e.g. Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the commercial class in India (so called bourgeoisie) could not align itself with the ruling class.

As Kudaisya observes, it was the first time business classes unhesitatingly aligned themselves with nationalist aspirations. But the optimism faded with the rising ideology of socialism within the Congress Party. The intellectual osmosis between the Central Planning Committee of the Congress and the Bombay group evaporated. Nehru who was the only link was jailed for two years and ties with the Bombay group was lost.

Unlike other Asian countries, in India there was (and is) an innate prejudice about the business class as a profiteering group. Therefore, aligning with them became politically questionable. The Communist Party attacked the Plan as a “capitalist plot”. Also, the Plan didn’t have the acceptance of all business groups. Sanyal says the “Bombay Plan was forgotten not because it was worthless or faulty or lacked vision. It dropped out of memory for strategic reasons.”

Sanyal, along with others, argues that it is a relevant document worth studying; another group of experts have doubts on this count. Though The Bombay Plan is dated, this book is an interesting study on our economic historiography.

The Bombay Plan: Blueprint for Economic Resurgence; Edited by Sanjaya Baru and Meghnad Desai, Rupa, ₹500.

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 1:00:31 AM |

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