Arvind Adiga (hereafter Adiga-bhau), ‘winner of the £50,000 Man Booker prize’ makes a complete hash in a lengthy book review. Reading Arvind Adiga for the first time, I am surprised at the man’s obtuseness. Adiga writes,
Post-British Raj India had a difficult choice - which political system to choose! (Cartoon by RK Laxman; courtesy - timesofindia.com). Click for larger image.
French gives us vivid sketches of the peculiar, gifted men and women of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty – India’s Julio-Claudians – who governed the country until the 1990s, managing simultaneously to keep India democratic and united, while running its economy into the ground.
French follows the political sketches with portraits of the Indian businessmen who struggled to survive in the socialist economy that their politicians made for them – and who then burst free, with entrepreneurial vigour, when these controls were eased in the 1990s.
To keep falling for this promise, election after election, millions of Indian voters must be utter morons – and not the smart budding world-conquerors that French describes them as. (via India: A Portrait by Patrick French – book review | Books | The Observer).
British Raj – The Golden Age
If the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty were responsible for ‘running its economy into the ground’ is Adiga-bhau implying that the dynasty started with a prosperous and well-run Indian economy – which the dynasty ruined.
I wonder which history book Adiga-bhau reads? Which school taught Adiga-bhau this history? And if it just bad English, who decided to give him that Rs.30 lakh award?
From an India, which was a ship-to-mouth basket case, in 1950, to an emerging power, in 2010, seems to be have been a facile and an easy experience – and little credit is given to Indian political leadership for managing the post-colonial Indian system.
In this case, is it because Adiga-bhau forgets the state of Indian economy in 1950-1980?
At least in the 60s and the 70s, India was long on promise and short on performance. To imply now that the British Raj was better? Cartoon by RK Laxman. Click for larger image.
Indian businessman. Patriotic …?
Coming to Adiga-bhau’s other point of ‘businessmen who struggled to survive in the socialist economy’ makes me hoot. As in laughter and cackle.
May be Adiga-bhau should keep his computer shut. After all, why take pains to prove himself to be an ignoramus?
Did anyone tell him about the Bombay Plan of 1944? India’s leading industrialists of the time proposed the Bombay Plan, which suggested a major role for the Indian State in independent India. Remember, way back in 1944,
the plan was put together by the who’s who of Indian industry (JRD Tata, GD Birla, Kasturbhai Lalbhai, Purshottamdas Thakurdas and Shri Ram) as well as top technocrats such as John Matthai, Ardeshir Dalal and AD Shroff (Matthai, who drafted the document, later became India’s Finance Minister). It was, in fact, half a Tata team. All three technocrats were working with the Tatas. Thirdly, and most importantly, what made everyone sit up and take notice of the Bombay Plan was its approach. Believe it or not, this capitalist-heavy team advocated government intervention and regulation. Words such as control, licenses and allotment were used in a manner no Indian capitalist has used ever since. Part II came a year later.
Left parties, politicians on the Right, Gandhians – all found fault with the Bombay Plan. But, India’s official planning documents that came out 4 years later in 1948, were very similar to the Bombay Plan.
So, much for business which struggled, Adiga-bhau!
A British War poster of 1939. British war poster of 1939. Just 8 years before independence. British racism and attitude towards 'Brown' Indians was discriminatory. Like this poster displays. Click for larger image.
Soon after WWII
From 1950, Britain still a major economy and a super-power, a victor of WWII, sent its best economists to advise the Indian Government.
They came from the leading Cambridge School, led by the redoubtable Joan Robinson, the keeper of Keynes’ ideological flame – and the group became famous as the Cambridge School. Apart from Cambridge School economists, other leading economists from all over the world came to India.
Long list, Big names
Among them was Harold Laski, of the London School of Economics, and Nicholas Kaldor and John Strachey from Britain. Not a few, but many American economists were sent to India, including Oskar Lange and Michael Kalecki (technically from Poland, but associated with US universities). Prominent among the American group were Neil Jacoby and Milton Friedman.
Apart from the Who’s Who of the world of economics many other big names like Paul N. Rosenstein-Rodan, Arnold Harberger, Richard Eckhaus, Alan Manne, James Mirlees, Ian Little, Charles Bettelheim, Brian Reddaway, Ragner Frisch, Richard Goodwin, Wassily Leontief and Jan Tinbergen – all came to India. Quite a few of these visits were financed by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations.
Many of these economists were neededto ‘sell’ the Indian point of view to the Western institutions like World Bank and IMF. And later the Aid India Consortium.
More than 30 years after this cartoon, solar power is still not competitive. The West controlled technology, financial markets and raw material sources. Plus they had the killing machines like CIA, Mosssad. Just in case you stepped out of line. (Cartoon by Mike Peters; cartoon from the book-cover of SolarGas by David Hoye, published in 1979. Image courtesy - http://jimsbikeblog.wordpress.com) Click for larger image.
Apart from the Cambridge School economists, the other big name was the leader of the Chicago School. Milton Friedman.
Unhappy at the reception to his proposals, Milton Friedman went for greener climes. Specifically, Chile.
Chile’s descent into the hands of a military junta, the human rights abuses, the political assassinations are the stuff of a Le Carre novels – except it was all real. And they happened under Milton Friedman’s very nose.
Sad and real, Adiga-bhau!
Neil Jacoby became advisor to another dictatorship – Taiwan.
The summer of hunger and poverty
Joan Robinson, it is claimed, used to say, “The frustrating thing about India is that whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true.” Joan Robinson felt that in India the ‘problem is so formidable, that the mind boggles at it’.
Was it surprising that ‘more than half the world’s planning models were probably about India.’ And economists remembered Joan Robinson appearing dressed in a saree, at a conference in Europe.
British propaganda poster, promoting the 'special relationship' among Anglo-Saxon Bloc members. Was it possible for Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to confront the Anglo-Saxon Bloc in the 1950s and 1960s. Image courtesy - http://bertc.com. Click for a larger image.
The Ugly American
Post-War Europe itself, went down the way of planned economies – with some hilarious implementations.
Academic disagreement was battened down by threats and violence. Nehru appeared in CIA assassination lists.
It is unclear if it was Stalin’s lukewarm response to Nehru’s overtures or the alleged CIA plot against Nehru in 1955, temporarily Nehru did get close to Eisenhower.
The subsequent killing of Patrice Lumumba, the assassination of Salvador Allende or the ongoing coup in Iran, managed by USA and UK made these assassination fears real. One must not forget, (if one knows), that the price for independence was (and still is) CIA assassination or a regime change by USA.
For instance, the Shah of Iran worked against his own nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq – to protect Western Oil interests. To turn public opinion,
declassified documents detailing the 1953 U.S. overthrow of Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq reveal that something actually called the “CIA Art Group” produced cartoons to turn public opinion against the democratically elected leader.
The CIA, led by Kermit Roosevelt Jr., and the British intelligence, launched Operation Ajax. Finally, in 1979, the Shah was replaced by the regressive regime of Ayatollah Khomeini, which has taken Iran out of the USA orbit.
The real story, Adiga-bhau!
The Stick … and the carrot
Western aid was tied to India following Western advice. This continued to happen – at least till 1991. For instance, MJ Akbar quotes how American influence was behind Manmohan Singh’s appointment in 1991.
India’s post-colonial choices were a mix of pragmatism, necessity and accepted wisdom of the times – and Western pressures and influences that are responsible for more than a fair share of guilt in these wrong choices.
This scene from Kolkatta in 1943. Just 4 years before independence. Millions died, like flies, on the streets of Kolkatta, and across Bengal. Is this the economy that the Nehru-Gandhi run into ground?
Insult – but was there injury
Western media and academia conveniently forgets that Western institutions like World Bank, IMF, stampeded India (and Nehru), into some of these bad choices – which the West now claims were India’s own choices in the first place.
For instance, one of the worst choices made by India, tied to World Bank, IMF and US aid, was to follow the infamous population control policy. Blaming Nehru-Gandhi has become an article of faith in modern India.
But is it justified?