Event ReportsPublished on Jun 11, 2014
How the country and its political establishment need to factor in exigencies and work efficiently and cohesively towards rejuvenating the prospects for India, was the focal point of the panel discussion on the occasion of the launch of the book 'Getting India Back on Track: An Action Agenda on Reform'.
Launch of 'Getting India Back on Track: An Action Agenda on Reform'
How the country and its political establishment need to factor in exigencies and work efficiently and cohesively towards rejuvenating the prospects for India, was the focal point of the panel discussion on the occasion of the launch of the book ’Getting India Back on Track: An Action Agenda on Reform’. The event was jointly organized by Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on 11 June 2014.

The session began with the welcome address delivered by Mr. Ashok Dhar, Director, ORF Kolkata who spoke about the primacy of Kolkata in the regional context and the progress made so far by the chapter. This was followed by an address by Ms. Jessica Mathews, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who traced the genesis of the book and said that it brings together about 22 of India’s top scholars on issues ranging from macroeconomic policy, agriculture, land reform, the environment, energy to foreign and security policy, focusing on the most important steps to be taken in the short run. . Her address was followed by book release by the Hon’ble Governor of West Bengal, Mr. M.K. Narayanan.

In his keynote address, Mr. Narayanan began by saying that he was very pleased that Kolkata was chosen as one of the cities for the release of the book because despite its many inadequacies, Kolkata is truly the intellectual capital of the country. In keeping with the foreword to the book written by Mr. Ratan N. Tata, Shri Narayanan said that the book comes not a moment too soon because despite its immense potential the country seems to have lost its way. If the concerns are not addressed, then it would short-circuit India’s ambitions both at home and abroad. About the introduction to the book by Mr. Ashley J. Tellis, the Governor echoed the latter’s acknowledgement of the many successes of the country such as preservation of national integrity, keeping intact political autonomy, and the emphasis placed on protecting the dignity of the human person.

He agreed with Mr. Bibek Debroy’s surmise that an excess of political interference both in the choice of bureaucrats and in restricting their independence and autonomy has been the bane of civil service system in the country. In his informed comments, Mr. Narayanan expressed his views in detail on most chapters of the book.. He maintained that unlike the opinion aired by Dr. Raja Mohan in his chapter, mending relations with Pakistan should not be the ’summum bonum’ of India’s foreign policy; there being several other countries in India’s neighborhood with whom India needs to maintain equally important relations. Securing our neighborhood cannot come at a cost that the nation is not ready to accept and ground realities on both sides cannot be ignored. In his opinion our country’s leaders have to be guided by ground realities rather than by popular beliefs.

On China, the Governor said that leaders from both countries have had to deal with a lot of history, some written and some unwritten which make the task of maintaining dialogue difficult. However, the broad objective of maintaining peace and tranquility has been achieved and that is the success of prolonged talks held with China. He said that while non-alignment was no longer a key driver of India’s foreign policy, care must be taken so that we are not identified too closely with any particular country. In conclusion he said that in dealing with our neighbours, we need to manage relations better between Delhi and the states that border many of these countries and also that India should be more cautious given the limits of our power and the ability to shape the future of Asia.

Governor’address was followed by a panel discussion by Mr. Ahley J. Tellis Senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Dr. Bibek Debroy, Professor at Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi and Mr. Sunjoy Joshi, Director, Observer Research Foundation. The panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Sreeradha Dutta, Director, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute for Asian Studies (MAKAIAS).

Remarking that in many ways the book is an atypical one, ning seventeen diverse subjects, Mr. Tellis held that a summary discussion would fail to do justice to the detail and complexity of the contributions. He highlighted four themes articulated in the book. First is the fact that India’s success will hinge on high and sustained growth, given that aspirations and demands of the people are quite high. Second, India is now at a stage where the success of the political experiment will depend on its ability to cope efficiently with issues at hand. Third, the success of the growth story will inevitably intersect with Indian federalism. And fourth, there needs to be an improved capacity for decision making at the political level and also efficient regulation of the policies on the ground.

Mr. Bibek Debroy observed that for most people, ’growth’ is meaningless unless it directly impacts their lives, namely, in the creation of jobs, reduction of poverty and so on. Therefore people respond to growth only when it is inclusive. He said that people are poor because they lack access to what he called ’inputs’, or in other words, physical infrastructure, communication, law and order and social infrastructure. In the provision of these inputs, the government need not necessarily be involved unless there is an express need. He maintained that government regulation should not be confused with control and that resources need to be freed up and competent use of inputs needs to be generated.

The final panelist, Mr. Sunjoy Joshi’s remarks focused on the ’four walls’ that India will need to face in the wake of increasing demand for energy. The first wall is the fiscal wall, where there is a colossal imbalance and a huge current account deficit that needs to be addressed; the second is resource wall which is related to the use of coal and rising costs that would be incurred with increased use of coal. The third is a climate wall where Mr. Joshi stressed that India needs to move away from coal and diversify its sources for obtaining energy and gradually move toward nuclear energy. China has made great progress in securing its own energy needs and has already secured most of the carbon space that it requires. If India does not act quickly and diversify, then it is going to be excluded by a far more aggressive votary for climate change across the Atlantic. The fourth and most popular is the ’great wall’ of China with whom the story is mostly about competition and which we will inevitably face. He said that for securing the requirements for energy, there needs to be effective utilization of resources because resources which are not used efficiently have a negative value. Additionally there needs to be healthy competition for resources and prices have to be set by the market.

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