While visiting my friend Yoga in Sunnyvale, I came across Atanu Dey's "Transforming India - Big Ideas for a Developed Nation". Atanu has been blogging for a while at "Atanu Dey on India's Development". He is a curious animal - a practising economist with degrees in computer science and mechanical engineering. His thesis rests on the assumption that the root cause for India's poverty has been India's government which he calls as "British Raj 2.0". The implication is that the government of today is no different from the predatory, colonial, pre-independence British rule.
Atanu rightly argues that the key component for economic development is freedom. This is not just political freedom which India gained in 1947 but also personal and economic freedom. In the post-independent socialist milieu, the government decided what people should produce, buy and consume. While we have liberalized our economic landscape, much needs to be done as the government still controls large swathes of the economy such as education, transportation and telecommunications. Indians' personal freedoms continue to be curtailed in the name of national security. Websites and books are periodically banned. The irony is that the government thinks that the people are smart enough to vote them in but not smart enough to decide what to read.
Most of the ideas in the book are familiar territory - privatizing education and railways, promoting urbanization, favoring railways over roadways and airlines and solar energy over fossil fuels. Since he is an economist, Atanu tries to analyze the problem using a systems approach by identifying the feedback loops and the linkages. However his book is almost two years late with Nandan Nilekani's "Imagining India" having beaten him to the finish line. Nilekani deals with mostly the same ideas and in much greater depth.
This book does have some interesting nuggets though - the idea that liberalization leads to a reduction in corruption and United Voters of India (UVI), an urban pressure group to improve governance. Since elections in India are often won on wafer thin majorities, a coordinated group of voters can enjoy a disproportionate power in determining the outcomes. UVI is envisaged as a collection of enlightened urban voters who will vote en bloc for a candidate endorsed by the organization. The theory is that UVI will only vote for politicians with good policies thereby slowly cleaning up the political system. This is similar to the strategies adopted by pressure groups such as Sierra Club and Green Peace. Have they turned politicians into bleeding heart environmentalists? - not really!.. but they indeed have been instrumental in energizing the green movements in developed countries.
However I can think of atleast one major flaw with the UVI idea. The decisions of the UVI are selected democratically. Since UVI is based on hijacking the democratic process, it in turn is susceptible to hijacking in the same fashion. So a political party can infiltrate its agents within the UVI forcing it to take decisions that are in its favor.
My views about India's governments are not as virulent or pessimistic as Atanu's. The founding fathers were mostly ignorant on policy matters and did not go out of their way to oppress their fellow citizens. We did have a stroke of misfortune though - in our hatred for Britain, we ran into the arms of the Soviet Union and in turn embraced their disastrous ideas and policies. The Godfather was right - "Never hate your enemies, it clouds your judgement".