Thursday, November 20, 2014
Arun Shourie on Lessons learnt from Reforms
From the time of mid-1960s when those who argued for liberalisation were traduced as “agents of capitalists” as “World Bank-IMF men”, India has come a long way but there is still lots to be done as per many experts including Arun Shourie, the noted winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism in 1982.
Shri Arun Shourie’s Book “We Must Have No Price” can be purchased from Amazon – click here and Flipkart – click here.
According to Shourie, India only changed its stand towards “socialism” when the Soviet Union itself broke, in a word, as the Marxist Quran got disowned in its own Mecca. As yet Shourie says that the correctives were not set in motion until there was a complete breakdown in India’s external account to furnish the weak and imprisoned political class the excuse to do the obvious things.
The major issue he says with Reforms in India has been that “Reforms of the more basic sort have been implemented only during two phases: during 1991-1993, the first half of the Prime Ministership of PV Narasimha Rao, and during 1997-2004, the Prime Ministership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. As against these, Reforms in China have been more or less a continuous pursuit.”
He mentions in the book, “We Must Have No Price” that just as our leaders were for “Socialism for the masses”, many of our entrepreneurs are for “Liberalisation in all sectors except mine”. This he says is an unexpected obstacle that reforms have to face. As per Shourie, one well-known problem in executing Reforms is that “Those who are liable to benefit from them are diffuse and scattered, and the benefits that are liable to accrue to them lie in the indefinite future; on the other hand, the dislocations that Reforms are liable to cause are here and now; the ones Reforms are liable to dislocate are concentrated in industries, in tight geographical areas; they are liable to be organised.”
Also several characteristics of the media propel it to be an obstacle to Reforms as per Shourie. He says for media, everything comes to have two sides. At the least, national resolve is dissipated: people are dissuaded in advance from putting up with any dislocation for the change. The difficulty is compounded by what has come to be the very nature of “news”. Shourie says that
“The media will be full of stories of inefficiencies of the way things are. But the moment you change them, journalists will rush to the person opposing the changes, to the workers who have opted for the Retirement package, to allies of the Government who are opposing the reform.”
Just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always advocated the role of States in bringing about Reforms and not just leave it to the Central Government, so advocates Shourie. He says, “It is a fashion today to say that Reforms should be “inclusive”. But, in our Constitution, each of the sectors that would ensure immediate benefits to the rural areas, to the poor are in the States’ or the concurrent list.”
These sectors include Agriculture; Irrigation; Health; Education; Rural infrastructure, in particular rural roads; Drinking water; Electricity; Housing. When you implement Reforms but there is no improvement in these, the people are easily led to believe, “They are only worried about the industrialists.” The Left as well as the activists get the ammunition to shout, “Reforms are elitist.”
“One of the principal steps that can be taken today to push Reforms is to reshape allocations among States so as to hugely reward the ones that carry through the changes that the country needs.”
Shourie, however, sadly concludes that even when there is a pressing need for them, just don’t get done. A succession of Finance Ministers have announced plans to reform the Public Distribution System; to bring down government equity in banks; to open up sectors like insurance more aggressively; to overhaul the pension system, but none has been able to make any headway on any of them.