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The central idea of the book is that the Indian state has unwillingly accepted the inevitability of adopting private solutions to mitigate the various social-economic problems that India continues to face.
Mind you, the Indian state has always wanted to and was in the driver’s seat of national development for most of our independent history.
But 72 years later, millions upon millions of Indians still lack basic access to health, education, security and water. The failures are far too many to ignore any longer.
Suffice to say that, the Indian brand of socialism has failed its citizens. Apathy, incompetence and inefficiency continue to plague the public sector and a sense of despondency and fatalism has taken over the minds of those who man the system.
The author states that since the Indian state has failed miserably in many of its core functions, there is a vacuum in the delivery of essential services to citizens. This is increasingly being filled by the private sector. In many places, the writer also remarks that the services provided by the private players are in fact better than those provided by the state.
But the writer is not happy with this situation. He is not comfortable with the idea of the state losing its preeminence to the private sector. So the writer wants the state to take back control but get more effective and efficient.
However, one is tempted to ask why the inevitability of the private sector’s dominant role is not ideal.
Considering India’s many complexities and systemic issues, it’s not unthinkable that the state should not have performed these functions in the first place. Or at least, once the problems became apparent, the state should’ve willingly and proactively outsourced most, if not all developmental functions liked health, education etc to the private sector. It should’ve just retained the regulatory functions. Perhaps then we would have had better governance outcomes.
I’m not saying this would’ve been the best approach. All I’m pointing out is that the author has a pre-decided conclusion and then fits the facts to support it.
The writer also adopts a contradictory approach when it comes to comparing India’s public policy failures with the successes of other developing countries in the same areas. The author does acknowledge that India’s socio-economic problems are exacerbated by its size, incredible diversity, federal structure and lack of resources. However, he then goes on to cite examples of countries like South Korea, Finland, Singapore, Japan etc which do not share any of the problems listed above with India. Korea, Singapore and Japan are unitary states where the provinces have little to no control; they have mostly homogenous population and also, their size is less than many of India’s biggest states.
So though the writer has done commendable research into the historical origin of problems and their present magnitude, his conclusions have a left socialist-bias and the comparisons with other countries are lazy at best
The book addresses diverse problems in present India which are there since British Raj (at least). It tells us why aren't we the India we wish to be. From (non)availability of water and power to (un)affordability of education and healthcare. Everyone who lives under illusion that India can be a next manufacturing hub or can do economy wonder must read this book. How billion of dollars can be wasted to get abysmal results and how policy making by ministers and implementation by babus can fail functioning things.
But the author also gives some hope with small examples but it"s long way to go. We call changes as reforms but in actual they are just correction of our past policies and decisions.