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Apr 09, 2013 at 03:27pm IST

India's transformation is not orderly but accidental: Shankkar Aiyar

In 'Accidental India: A History of the Nation's Passage through Crisis and Change', noted journalist-analyst, Shankkar Aiyar, examines India's ascent through the paradigm of seven game changers: the economic liberalization of 1991, the Green Revolution of the sixties, the nationalization of banks in 1969, Operation Flood in the seventies, the mid-day meal scheme of 1982, the software revolution of the nineties, and the passing of the Right to Information Act in 2005. He argues that these turning points in the country's history were not the result of foresight or careful planning but were rather the accidental consequences of major crises that had to be resolved at any cost.

The author, Shankkar Aiyar, joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on his book 'Accidental India: A History of the Nation's Passage through Crisis and Change'.

India's transformation is not orderly but accidental: Shankkar Aiyar

Author Shankkar Aiyar, joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on his book 'Accidental India'.

Q. Why did you choose to name the book 'Accidental India: A History of the Nation's Passage through Crisis and Change'? Asked by: Madhu

A. Change in India is governed by Newton's law where governments and governance remain in a state of inertia unless impacted by an external force. That force is normally what we call a "crisis". Whether it was the Green Revolution or the 1991 reforms. Even 2012-13. The sudden surge in announcements and the urge to reform follows threats of downgrade by rating agencies. The economy and the party would have been junk rated. So we see some motion, though not much movement. Every major change in India has come in the wake of crisis and decades of sloth. The transformation therefore is not orderly or ordained but accidental and serendipitous. Ergo Accidental India.

Q. What inspired you to write this book? Asked by: JK

A. A question that popped up when I broke the story of India pledging its gold reserves to the Bank of England in 1991 to avoid defaulting to lenders and to get a bail out from IMF. I wondered is this the best India can do - await a crisis and act? My investigations into the history of change prove that governments have always found it convenient to wait for a crisis.

Q. What is your writing schedule like and do you write everyday? Asked by: Anu

A. No. I read everyday and read all that interests me -- and that could range from cricket statistics to history to debates of the Constituent Assembly in India. I don't read fiction but read lots of research papers, reports, essays. I write to deadlines. When I was writing the book I set myself a schedule 11 am to 8 pm with a break.

Q. How long did it take for you to put down everything in order? Asked by: Deepak

A. I would say about 13 months end-to-end from the first word to the release of the book. The writing itself was five months - which included research/reading/meetings.

Q. Do you think democracy hinders the implementation of reforms? Asked by: Kamya

A. That democracy is a hindrance is an excuse, an alibi for weak leaderships. The problem is in India we are over-invested in promises and under-invested in performance. There is often not enough discourse in India -- on where we are and how we can get out of the trough. There are some abstract ideas but not enough specifics. We need to create pressure so that political leaders are forced to lay out their ideas and specifics on their plan for India. The contest must be about ideas, ability and not just slogans.

Q. Your views on corruption? Asked by: laxman

A. People often tend to look at corruption in one dimension - the crime. It is multidimensional. Unless government is pushed back to the bare minimum from the lives of people there will be corruption. Unless discretion is curbed there will be corruption. Technology can be a great enabler -- it can help deal with scale, complexity and provide transparency. But dismantling of the discretion raj is not on the political agenda. Not yet. In 1991 we dismantled licence raj. But permission raj thrives. Two decades after liberalisation India continues to be at the bottom of the table on economic freedom. This is because the political class earns its rent from the permission raj. Corruption has a supply side -- those who want to fix things. There is also a demand side -- political parties depend in it for funding their business model.

Q. What writers, books, or ideas have most influenced you? Asked by: Anuj

A. A host of books and writers have helped me, taught me to learn. My favourite books are mostly non fiction, biographies and arguments interest me a lot. I read anybody who has a new idea/thought/argument -- Nassim Taleb, Amy Chua, Karl Popper, Malcolm Gladwell, Kennichi Ohmae, Francis Fukuyama, Suroweicki.

Q. What is going through your mind when you writing a book? Asked by: Himanshu

A. Churn. A big churn of thoughts, ideas, words. And many questions which I strip down and answer through research.

Q. Who should read this book? Asked by: sri

A. It is a book for all those invested in the idea of India, an India that deserves better. It is an investigation into the ancestry and process of change and should interest political leaders, CEOs, students and policy makers.

Q. Are there any other books in the pipeline? Asked by: Anu

A. I am still touring, talking to audiences on Accidental India. It is difficult to say when and what the next book will be.

Q. Hello Sir, I read your book. I want to be a writer too. Can you give some tips? Asked by: Gunjan

A. The one big suggestion would be: read, and read a lot.

Q. What according to you are the ideas or measures that politicians should proactively pursue to implement pro-market and institutional reforms in India instead to waiting for a crisis to happen? Asked by: Bhumish Khudkhudia

A. India has suffered by subscribing to the cult of individualism. We tend to individualise success. We don't celebrate institutional success. We need leaders who will build institutions -institutions that will adopt and promote outcome based planning, process and implementation. Much of what is a mess is known. We need leadership that has the gumption to face up to the mess, that can engage with the people on the possible solutions and present a time-bound plan. Voters too need to do their bit, participate more actively in the process beyond voting and must reward doers.

Q. Your book reminds me of India Unbound by Gurucharan Das. Do you practice caution while expressing on subjects which may offend Politicians or you write what you feel is right. As far as India Unbound it was all safe writing and I believe a writer should be free from fear of unreasonable persecution Asked by: Abdul Rub

A. I write on the basis of my research and evidence. I don't think there is such a thing as safe writing.

Q. I am reading your book right now ( done with the 1990 economic crisis and the green revolution). It is amazing to see how seemingly inconsequential steps have contributed to situations that has overhauled India's fortunes. Do you foresee a similar crisis like scenario now? (and a part 2 for your book) :) Asked by: Naveen Kumar J

A. I think we are in a crisis - political and economic - as in the late eighties. In sheer economic terms you can see the deficits - fiscal, current account et al. Yet the political will to tackle the mess is not visible. The construct of trust between the people and those they elect is badly dented. Fact is India has been let down very badly by its political leadership. The story is yet unraveling... picture abhi baaki hai.

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