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Jairam Ramesh’s ‘ To the brink and back – India’s 1991 Story ‘

, September 24, 2015, 0 Comments

to-the-brink-and-back-marketexpress-inNobody was better placed than Jairam Ramesh during that crucial period in 1991 to write about the story of India’s Economic Reforms. He was right there in the PMO at that time as a key aide to Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao. He was a key figure advising the PM about reforms and had all the knowledge of what economic reforms can do to the country.

The author has written about those months giving documentary evidence and providing a large number of annexures to the book which are documents and statements relevant to the process of economic reforms that was going on. The book coming from an individual having direct access to the Prime Minister and Finance Minister of the day makes it a sort of goldmine.

Narasimha Rao took office as PM at a time when the economic condition of the country was precarious and he needed the support of a strong Finance Minister to guide him on the path to recovery. The Prime Minister in his wisdom chose a distinguished economist for the post. The choice of Dr Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister was a master stroke not only because he had a rich administrative experience but also because he was known for his honesty and simplicity.

In his book Jairam Ramesh writes, “One of his closest aides later recalled to me that even as a cabinet minister, Rao always felt that a prime minister should always have one source of senior, substantive and non-political advice, especially in those areas where the prime minister is weak”.

The Rao-Singh duo was destined to perform a miraculous feat which not only liberated the country from the economic crisis it was facing but also laid down the path for the future economic progress of the nation. It is the economic reforms ushered in by Rao and Singh that later on laid the foundation for rapid economic growth of the country and positioned India as a major economic player in the comity of nations.

Narasimha Rao cannot be counted as being one of our charismatic leaders and Manmohan Singh, though he later on became the Prime Minister of the nation, suffered a defeat in the only political election he fought. They were not leaders who led by virtue of their charisma. But what produced results was their down-to-earth approach and practical wisdom which became India’s saving grace at a time of acute necessity.

Narasimha Rao had no economic brilliance and no plan of action of his own. But he showed the wisdom and foresight to entrust full confidence on his illustrious Finance Minister and provided him the full political support he required to go ahead with his agenda of economic reform. Jairam Ramesh watched this interaction between the PM and FM from close quarters contributing his own little bit with policy papers and advice.

It is mentioned in the book, “The personality of the finance minister has much to do with the degree to which economic reforms seem palatable in the initial months and years. Manmohan Singh made the years of liberalization appear acceptable, largely because he defied ideological labels, and could, if anything, only be called moderately left-of-center.”

During its earlier period, since independence the Indian economy had deviated on the socialistic path of economic development which proved right for the country in the initial years of independence but had outlived its utility and called for reform. While the socialist model proved useful for spearheading industrialization during the initial years, ignoring of market forces and the system of regulation and controls that embraced the system cried for reforms. The task of introducing these reforms was performed remarkably well by the Rao-Singh combination.

On Chidambaram, the book says, “His choice of P. Chidambaram as commerce minister….ensured that far-reaching trade policy reforms got executed very quickly. Although Chidambaram had not served in a main stream economic ministry earlier, he took to the Commerce Ministry instantly and provided a bold thrust. More importantly, the finance minister found in him a very articulate ally to champion the cause of economic reform both at home and abroad”.

Jairam Ramesh has made a significant contribution to India’s contemporary political and economic history by writing this book on one of the most significant periods of Indian political and economic life. Here he describes how two individuals transformed the economic destiny of the country, transforming a crisis-ridden economy to a vibrant and progressive one. The fruits of that period of economic reforms are still evident when a new BJP government promising to introduce further reforms finds itself on a strong wicket thanks to the market-oriented reforms that were introduced in 1991.

Book Review:
Jairam Ramesh’s ‘ To The Brink and Back – India’s 1991 Story ’
Rupa Publications, New Delhi.
Image Credits: U.S. Department of State

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of MarketExpress – India’s first Global Analysis & Sharing Platform or the organization(s) that the author represents in his personal capacity.