The Accidental Politician: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh

Critics of Manmohan Singh tend to believe he is a neo-liberal economist, but this is, of course, nonsense. The term ‘neo-liberal’ is often an epithet hurled by their anti-capitalistic critics at the proponents of the market economy in India. I have never read a free-market economist who used the term ‘neo-liberal’ to describe his position. As Sanjaya Baru observes in his memoir, like many economists of his age and times, Singh is a Keynesian.

However, like most reasonable economists, Singh did not share the suspicion Indian politicians and policy makers had toward free trade. When Baru interviewed him in 1991, Singh

p.m. Manmohan Singh

had said he was always an opponent of Indian policy makers’ opposition to free trade. He had then recently visited South Korea and felt there was a lot India could learn from South Korea’s economy.  Many of his contemporaries would not have fully understood what this meant. When India gained Independence, both India and South Korea were impoverished nations. South Korea’s per capita income was higher than that of that of India. But, in many ways, South Korea did not have the advantages India had, like the infrastructure and the institutions the British had built. India was rich in natural resources when South Korea was not.

However, when India opened up the economy in 1991, South Korea’s per capita income had risen up several times. India was desperately poor. If Indian public and policy makers had understood the virtues of free trade in 1947, India would not have faced a crisis in 1991. India would have been a rich country, like South Korea is, today.

Read my piece on The Accidental Politician: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh in DNA.

Cash-Registers for hearts?

Many believe that Indian businessmen have cash registers for hearts. Their philanthropic contributions are believed to be insignificant in comparison to their wealth. According to the 2012 Forbes list, the wealth of the 100 wealthiest Indians is around $250 billion—13.89 per cent of India’s GDP. But, according to the estimates of a 2010 report of Bain Company, the charitable donations of Indians is only 0.6 per cent to 1 per cent of the GDP, when the charitable contribution of Americans is around 2.2 per cent of the GDP.

But, before one jumps to a conclusion, there is the other side of the story as well. On a program aired on the CNN recently, Ratan Tata, former chairman of Tata Sons, said that of 60-65 per cent of the Industrial proceedings of goes into programmes for education, medical, rural development or eradication of poverty. Only two per cent of the industrial proceedings go to the family.

Read my piece, Cash-Registers For Hearts

Learning From The Inflationary Mistakes Of The Past

“As usual, inflation targeting began in the United States. In 1971, the US cut the link between the dollar and the Gold. Soon other countries followed suit. Inflation started rising to unprecedented levels in the US and the other industrial nations. Like in today’s India, the inflation of the 70’s was blamed on the rising oil prices, and various external factors.

Like in today’s India, many economists had believed that with rising inflation unemployment would fall. Low growth was also associated with high inflation. But, in the 70s, with high inflation, growth fell and unemployment rose.

Economists now generally agree that inflation has no beneficial effects.”

Read my piece, Learning from the inflationary mistakes of the past in Business Standard

Interview With Cyn-Young Park

Read my interview with economist Cyn-Young Park

Cyn-Young Park is assistant chief economist of the  She has written widely on the economies and the financial markets of Asia. She was a speaker at a satellite event held in IIFT Delhi, as a part of the recently concluded  In a conversation with Shanu Athiparambath, she spoke on the importance of macroeconomic policy in shielding the economy from economic crises.

Q. If the public sector has to spend money, it has to be taken from the private sector. It has to be taxed. If the private sector does not have enough funds to make the necessary investment, where does the money come from?

A. In a way, the governments can take a long-term view when compared to the private sector. How much can the government actually spend? It depends on the country’s medium term fiscal sustainability. Unlike the private sector, the public sector can think of tomorrow, and spend today. But, that spending should not be wasted. That will be bad governance. You have to actually have a very strong governance system. The public should be able to ensure good governance.

Merchants Of Policy

When I decided to give the job a shot, I had little idea what was in store for me. I had believed that think-tanks engage in research and policy advocacy. But it was not easy to miss that my colleagues were incapable of giving the world anything more than their mindless labour. I remember two new recruits wondering what a ‘think-tank’ was, struggling to spell the word. It took a while for them to come to grips with the various nuances of Google search. A young girl had a difficult time telling ‘international economics’ from ‘environmental science’. Another girl had a Master’s degree in mass communication, but did not know what the word ‘molestation’ meant. They badly wanted to improve their writing skills, but even the tycoons of mass market fiction were beyond them. The think-tank head spent much of his time flying across the world. And my modest salary cheque often arrived months later.

Read The Merchants Of Policy .in Open Magazine.

Meet Dr. Priyamvada Gopal

Priyamvada Gopal, a lady who teaches English at Cambridge, feels traumatized by a porter at King’s College who didn’t call her Dr. Gopal. She isn’t Priyamvada. She isn’t even Dr. Priyamvada Gopal. She’s Dr. Gopal. Ah, the constant racist profiling and aggression of privileged, white male porters. With deep regret, sadness and 17 years of hard thought, Dr. Gopal decided not to supervise any student at King’s College, on behalf of herself and other colored people. She says most professors feel traumatized by white, male porters and door keepers. Cutie.

There are way too many dim Indian women with humanities PhDs. They take to teaching, writing and activism because they can’t make it elsewhere. They don’t have any respect for themselves. So they want others to defer to them. They think that’ll give them the self-respect they never had.

It’s surprising that a 50 year old lady can’t see that it’s petty to expect others to be deferential. It seems 50 years isn’t enough. Many professors in the UK say on Twitter that isn’t the norm. I can’t tell for sure. But even if that’s the norm, that’s pathetic. She ought to hate that norm, and not the porter who defies the norm.

If the porter refuses to call her Dr. Gopal to make a “racist” point, then, of course, that’s wrong. It’s all about intentions. But it never seemed to me that social justice warrior target intentions.

This is common in India. In my first job, I heard many professors won’t read a book on climate change if the mail doesn’t address them as Dr. Commitment to climate science, it seems. An old gentleman once yelled at me when I called him by name. I didn’t even know who he was. But the old dog seemed appalled my parents didn’t teach me how to address seniors. This sort of people don’t even know that they want others to defer to them because they are insecure. Even if you point this out, they won’t get it.

Priyamvada Gopal says she’s against racial profiling and stereotyping. But if that’s what she really wants, she should stop behaving like a status conscious old Indian lady. And what about the poor porter who probably isn’t even on social media? He probably doesn’t know what this harridan is doing to put him out of his job for not knowing what an unhappy Diva she is.


The folks on Twitter are trying to ram some sense into her. But like everybody who thinks she’s wrong, she claims they’re trolls. And Dr. Gopal is a civil lady who doesn’t feed trolls.