The book tries to address some real issues that the Indian economy and society have been facing for a long period of time. It is claimed in the book that a categorical answer has been provided to the problems of absence of permanency to our economic growth. It is argued that even the fluctuating growth is powered by cheap labour and low domestic demand. Even if the issue of not percolating down the benefits of economic growth and under utilisation of our manpower for the phoenix to fly, the arguments and evidences seem to be so weak for a book to be published by international agencies. His advice is to learn from the development experiences of the USA and Europe. What to learn? What is the development history of the USA and UK? It is nothing but colonisation and fierce exploitation. It is widely accepted to a greater extent that it is not scientific and technological development, but the colonisation accelerated economic development of the West.
The first chapter itself reveals very clearly that the first generation leaders of Independent India were not satisfied with just economic sovereignty; they wanted intellectual and economic independence too. It is very clear that has not happened in India so far. Blaming the politicians as a class responsible for this is not an academic approach but it is a type of hiding from stating who are responsible (more or less, the party which governed India more than fifty years within sixty years of Independence or some others). A journalistic approach in this type of serious issues should not have been done.
The issue of low growth rate of agriculture compared to the growth rate of the economy and service sector for the last so many years has been highlighted very effectively. The situation of very poor human development, high dropout rate in India and it is even higher than Nepal and Bangladesh, the poor state of our school education, low governments spending on education, non-functioning schools and absentee teachers have been presented very convincingly. Another area he has made an attempt is poor government spending on public health and this puts India in the group of Myanmar, Guinea and Congo and it is attributed as one of the reasons for booming private hospitals. He states very rightly that this too adds to the power of the merchant capitalists.
Another issue mentioned in the book is the booming of informal sectors categorised as unorganised sectors in the government classifications. He has raised some issues like keeping dual records (wage-related) in the informal unorganised sectors led to severe exploitation of workers in Tamil Nadu. Another issue is dominance of contract-casual labourers in these sectors and they are unable to get access to provident fund and retirement benefits. Migrant workers and child labourers are employed in these sectors especially in the fast growing informal unorganised sectors located in Tirupur (Tamil Nadu), Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab and many another parts of India. All these he presents with his visits in these business organisations and discussions with the migrant labourers working in the informal unorganised sectors of the economy. So the growth story of these informal unorganised sectors is nothing but exploitation and migrant workers movement from their severe poverty in rural area, from being impoverished in the villages to being underpaid in the cities. But this issue existing in the informal unorganised sectors of the Indian economy has not been addressed seriously with sound statistics and logical arguments.
The stagnant agrarian economy and rural areas have been presented as a topic of discussion in the sixth chapter. The agrarian sector has been facing serious crisis and to a greater extent it is structural and institutional. The area under irrigation has been almost constant for the last several years, declining capital expenditure by the public sector in agriculture, lack of infrastructural facilities, declining institutional credit to agriculture etc all these burning issues of India’s farm sector have been presented well. In the seventh chapter titled ‘The Changing of Agriculture’ he has presented some realities that have become the order of the rural India like the declining contribution of agriculture to GDP, the doubling of rural people working in urban India between 1987-88 and 1993-94 with NSSO data, sharp decline of agriculture in value-added terms to GDP, increasing amenities in urban India and not much in rural India where more than 70 per cent of the population lives etc are some disturbing facts to those hold ‘Indian Economic Miracle’ theory.
Even if the author is so critical and fully informed about all the negative developments in Indian agriculture and rural India and the people who challenged Gandhi’s ideas on the village life and rural economy like Swami Sahajanand Saraswati but he tells nothing about the people who challenged the Gandhian concept of Gram Swaraj, self-sufficient village and rural economy in the post-Independent India. Mentioning about communal riots in Gujarat, the author is highly biased and doesn’t show the tall intellectual honesty he claims throughout the book.
The book raises some fundamental issues that the Indian economy has been facing and we should have a well-planned strategy to help the phoenix to fly. Otherwise the caged the phoenix may die.
(Penguin Books Inida Pvt Ltd, 11, community centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017)