Book Review: The Lost Decade by Puja Mehra
I enjoy reading books that describe the arc of events and developments over a time frame. It may span centuries, like Peter Frankopan’s “The Silk Roads” (see my review here). Or shorter periods that are more intense and eventful… like Puja Mehra’s “The Lost Decade 2008-2018 – How India’s Growth Story Devolved Into Growth Without A Story“.
In a politically charged climate, and especially around election time, books like ‘The Lost Decade‘ run the risk of being called biased or partisan – and then dismissed for that reason alone.
But doing that would be a shame. This is a brilliant, balanced account of the pros and cons of fiscal policy decisions made by successive Indian governments over the last ten years which have brought us to where we are today.
Since I’m no ardent fan of either political dispensation referenced in the book, I could read it from the perspective of a student of recent events – and find it instructive, insightful and informative.
The story of any temporal situation is often rooted in events leading up to it. So to understand the foundation of today’s economic scenario in India, it’s necessary to go back some years and review a series of decisions and their consequences that led up to it.
In fact, I think this would make a brilliant sequel to Gurcharan Das’ popular “India Unbound“, which was about how far-sighted economic reforms from some 20 years earlier took the brakes off the Indian economy, thrusting the country into the throes of a modern, liberal, market-driven ecosystem.
Anyone who has lived through those halcyon days is surely struggling to understand how we could lose such momentum, and crash to being among the ‘Fragile Five’ global economies in the metaphorical blink of an eye.
‘The Lost Decade’ explains the reasons for this decline very nicely, beginning with a scathing indictment of Pranab Mukherjee’s decisions as Finance Minister between 2009 and 2012 that were the result of his being rooted in a Nehruvian socialist model… that went out of vogue in the 1980s.
The inevitable outcome of those choices was to bring an unfettered growth spurt to a screeching halt – a scenario compounded by a further series of unforced errors by the Ministers and governments succeeding him.
I found ‘The Lost Decade’ helpful in connecting dots that were contemporaneous news stories I had followed from day to day, but hadn’t fit into an overarching pattern that narrates a continuous story of how our nation’s economy evolved and grew, stumbled and then stalled.
If you have more than a passing interest in understanding the trajectory of India’s economy over the past 10 years, pick up Puja Mehra’s book for a detailed and readable account of the policies & performance behind an aborted growth story.
But if your eyes glaze over at acronyms like WPI, CPI and GDP, or you can’t stand the sight of figures and FY data more than thrice in a paragraph, you might give the book a miss, and read this article which introduced me to it instead.
Either option is a good one. And both will give you a bird’s eye overview of India’s economic landscape from 2008 to 2018… with some basis to appreciate what lies in store for the years ahead.
Long story short: Without reforms and rigorous discipline, it ain’t gonna be pretty!