ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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India's Democracy: Illusion of Inclusion

Interrogating Inclusive Growth: Poverty and Inequality in India by K P Kannan, New Delhi: Routledge, 2014; pp xx + 310, Rs 795.

Persistence of Poverty in India edited by Nandini Gooptu and Jonathan Parry, Delhi: Social Science Press, 2014; pp xiv + 432, Rs 745.

On a trip to Delhi, Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Managing Director, told college students, “In this cloudy global horizon, India is a bright spot.” Marking a stark contrast to a European climate of sluggish growth and economies falling into recession, the story of Indian growth has been lauded since the 1990s. Earlier this year, India’s output growth accelerated to 7.5%, sweeping past China as the world’s fastest growing large economy. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, riding the wave of the GDP figures, marked his first anniversary in power with further promises of dazzling economic growth, strengthening his central policies to attract foreign investment and ensure ease of doing and expanding business in the country. Following the direction for privatisation and liberalisation laid out by Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya’s (2013) Why Growth Matters, of dismantling India’s labyrinthic labour laws, Modi has proposed labour reforms to aid business interests in hiring and firing labour and make it tougher for workers to form unions. He continues a paradigm of “inclusive growth” applauded by the World Bank and its associates that puts economic growth and strong, deregulated markets at the centre of poverty reduction; it will lead to a trickle down effect that will reach the poor.1

Despite their international backing, such neo-liberal reforms have met fierce opposition from scholars and activists. Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze’s (2013) An Uncertain Glory argued that growth, though important, was not enough to improve the living conditions of the poor, let alone undermine caste and gender hierarchies or create employment. Just as Sen and Drèze challenged Bhagwati and Panagariya in writing, Modi’s proposed labour reforms have been attacked on the ground. Eleven trade unions—the biggest of which is linked to Modi’s ruling party—conducted a nationwide strike against them on 2 September.

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