Review by Chitra Sudarshan in India Link, March 2009
This book makes a case for the unleashing of Indian potential through the undiluted adoption of western capitalism in India. It is essentially a polemic work, and makes no bones about what free India’s enemy really is: Socialism. Sabhlok equates ‘freedom’ with capitalism, believes that Adam Smith had all the right answers, and that laissez faire is not only economically sound, but morally superior. Indeed so strident is this book against the very nomenclature of socialism that it riles against it for the most part, heaping scorn and abuse on anything remotely to do with the idea. For the author, Nehru’s Socialism was the bane of India, the reason that the Indian economy was caged and bound for almost 60 years, and that the answer to untie Indian potential is to give capitalism a free rein. And he is not quite happy with the steps taken in the last 18 years – he believes India has far to go in the free market path yet.
In the chapter ‘Overview of a free society’, Sabhlok pours scorn over many of the progressive steps taken by the Indian government over the first 60 years of its existence, including land ceiling laws, reservations and public sector investments, as he sees them as fetters on a free society, holding back economic growth and development. Sabhlok does not seem to be aware of studies that show otherwise: that land ceiling laws can actually facilitate industrial development and growth as they did in Japan and Taiwan. This is just one instance of how misplaced his criticisms are of certain progressive steps that the Indian government took in the early years – leave alone the moral arguments in its favour. It must be said in Sabhlok’s favour though, that his heart is in the right place, and he desires human dignity and freedom for everyone in India, overall prosperity, equality of opportunity for all, and an end to corruption in all places. Although his intentions are good, one is not sure how good the remedy is.
The chapter that follows catalogues the things wrong with the Indian Constitution, followed by one on the examination of political corruption in India. By far his analysis of the Bureaucracy and the reasons for its ineptitude, and the recommendations he makes for its reform in the next chapter, are the most interesting and thought provoking as Sabhlok speaks from experience and first hand knowledge. Sabhlok was in the IAS and his last stint in the service was as the Secretary in the government of Meghalaya. He resigned in the late 1990s and went on to do a PhD in Economics from the US, and is working in the Regulatory Policy and enforcement field in Australia.
Perhaps the timing of the book is rather inopportune – when the whole world is reeling under a financial crisis; and everyone from Gordon Brown to Kevin Rudd is lamenting the fallout of unbridled capitalism, and State control and regulation are back in vogue[indeed one Australian economist on ABC Radio National even cited the Indian programme of rural employment creation programme in India as a model to be emulated by this country!], Sabhlok’s holding up of the US, the UK and Australia as perfect capitalist examples for India to follow is naive at best. He goes beyond the idea of even conservative capitalists to argue in favour of the moral superiority of capitalism.
This is a book for those who love India and want to see it assume its rightful place in the world; even if one may not agree with everything the author says, one cannot doubt his sincerity and passion that shine through every page of the book.