Volume 46 Number 180,
January - March 2015

Kumar, Arun (2013), Indian Economy since Independence. Persisting Colonial Disruption, Vision Books, India.

India is one of the most complex countries in the world. It is the largest democracy on the globe and yet, paradoxically, the country with the highest number of poor people. Arun Kumar, a renowned Indian academic, has written a book and accepted the challenge of explaining to us the Indian economy and society in all of its complexity. It would seem an impossible task. However, through thorough research conducted over the course of 30 years and rather successful efforts at synthesis, Professor Kumar has managed to give us the basic keys to understanding contemporary India. Kumar's work is conceptually rich and systematic, and would be a good model for other authors seeking to explain equally complex countries, such as Mexico.

The book is written from a multidisciplinary perspective. His explanation of how the Indian economy works constantly veers away from the tight confines of orthodox economists, dabbling in the social fabric, politics and the values system. If the reality to explain is complex, the author tells us, the method to analyze it must be equally so. The approach of the book is historical, as its title implies. This choice is coherent with the complexity of its reality. Understanding how the structure of the Indian economy and society came about is one way to understand its current intricacies. The author tells us that analyses of the Indian economy frequently begin with its neoliberal economic reforms, ignoring everything that came before. This partial analysis, also common in Mexico and Latin America, leads to mistaken explanations.

The secondary title of the book refers to "persisting colonial disruption," that is, the aftermath of colonization in Indian society. This is a central concept in the book, but how does the author define it? It is the disturbance of a country's evolution, brought about by the incursion of a colonial power that seeks to satisfy its needs to the detriment of the majority of the native population and, above all, the reproduction of that pattern in a now independent society, perpetuated by a local minority political class increasingly divorced from the interests of the majority. This breakdown of the previous social structure and its reformation in favor of the Indian political elite is manifest in: the emergence of a political elite in India, steeped in the values of the metropolis and hanging on to a colonial mentality, the lack of a long-term vision for how the country should evolve, the loss of the importance of the value of ideas in Indian society, the feudal behavior of the ruling classes, inherited from their colonial patrons, excessive extraction of the economic surplus of the working classes and the lack of investment in productive activities, not to mention the lack of vigor in the Indian economy, the result of this turmoil that perpetuates massive poverty.

The book spends a good deal of time addressing poverty and argues that it must be understood not only as a phenomenon that deprives the majority of the population of goods and services, but also as a complex historical process that has led to the existence of poverty and that involves the entire fabric of society, as well as its values and philosophy, including the fact that the ruling classes and even the government rationalize and accept this poverty.

The author criticizes Jawaharlal Nehru, the most influential politician of the first stage of independent India, who, with little protest, adhered to Western patterns and set his country on an industry-based path of economic growth, even though the majority of the Indian population lived off of agriculture in impoverished rural environments. He references the debate between Nehru and Gandhi on the course that Indian society should take at the dawn of its independence. Gandhi proposed an approach based on revitalizing the economies of Indian agricultural communities, where the majority of the population worked, and defining policies from the bottom up, in keeping with native ideas and social creativity that responded to the reality of the country.

However, in the end, the imported vision was imposed and everything was gambled on economic growth, with little regard for the inequality of income and wealth distribution. It was thought that economic growth and the market would produce the famous trickle-down effect that would gradually reduce poverty. But little mind was paid to the fact that the markets cannot by themselves eradicate poverty if poverty is not first corrected with other types of measures. The result has been the continuous marginalization of the Indian population. This is just another example of the colonial turmoil the nation has suffered.

Readers interested in economic development and the structural transformation implied therein will find this book full of interesting ideas. The author provides a critical analysis of the economic policies implemented in various stages of the evolution of the Indian economy and explains why they have failed. He points out that the main reason that Indian economic growth began to take off in the 1980s was that branches of the economy that had grown more slowly, such as the agricultural sector, became relatively less important, and were replaced with faster-growing sectors, such as the tertiary sector. The main reason for this economic growth is therefore not liberalization and the opening of the economy, but rather structural change. As a result, the Indian economy has transformed from having a dominant agricultural sector to a dominant tertiary sector, although the trumpeted industrial growth has not turned into the motor of the economy, an example of the failure of this imported vision.

To bring this already long review to a close, I refer to the conclusion of the author that any alternative to the problems of contemporary India must be holistic, with a long-term view of problems and solutions based on modernization indigenous to the country that takes into account its true reality. Arun Kumar concludes that social movements that challenge the status quo and raise citizen awareness are both necessary and welcome.

Fernando Rello
Faculty of Economics – unam

Published in Mexico, 2012-2017 © D.R. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 48, Number 191, October-December 2017 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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