Sunday, January 24, 2010

Indira Gandhi? A Reformer?

T.T. Ram Mohan makes the case, but it's hardly convincing. [link via this post in Ram Mohan's blog].

He focuses entirely on the 1969 nationalization of banks, which he ties to (what are now perceived as) good things that happened later -- growth in the number of branches and savings. He also ties it to the spurt in economic growth rate to 5.5 percent in the 1980s.

But, how much of that policy was driven by a firm grasp of "the full potential of bank nationalization"? Ram Mohan's answer is that "we shall never know." How much of it was driven by a sheer desire to spite her political opponents? Ram Mohan says:

At the time, Mrs Gandhi faced a challenge from the old guard in the Congress . She also believed that the private owners of banks were in cahoots with the Swatantra Party. By nationalising banks and sacking Morarji Desai as finance minister, Mrs Gandhi felt she could upstage her opponents within and outside the Congress, bolster her slogan of garibi hatao and gain the votes of the nation’s poor. She succeeded admirably.

Given these unholy, politically motivated reasons behind that nationalization policy, how does Ram Mohan justify placing the reform crown on Indira Gandhi? This is how:

Reforms are not the items on some list prepared in Washington. Reforms are what reforms do. If government ownership in banking delivers higher and more stable growth, then putting that to creative use is also reformist. Judged by this yardstick, Indira Gandhi can justly lay claim to being the original reformer.

When people are willing to blame Nehru (and Gandhi and the British and the Mughals and the Vedic people) for the bad things that we have now, I guess it's okay to go the other way and praise someone for the good things -- like the strong public sector banks we have now. But, as arguments go, both kinds fail to convince.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Thanks for not titling it "Idiotic Ram Mohan " or something like that. You are getting better.