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

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Public Discourse around Reforms

India’s Liberalisation and Newspapers

The introduction of liberal reforms has been a slow process of debate and negotiation beginning from the early 1980s. The economic benefits of liberalisation were experienced after 2003 and yet, 1991 is popularly perceived as the year of liberalisation. This article charts the changing public discourse around reforms in national English-language newspapers and argues that they played a key role in popularising liberalisation for the elites.

Firmly embedded in the educated Indian’s mind is the year of liberalisation, 1991. It was the year that India broke away from the “licence permit quota raj” (Times of India, 1 December 1989), “socialist ideology” (Hindu, 2 April 1985), “corruption and inefficiency” (Hindu, 17 July 1991) and brought in “revolutionary changes to free the economy and make it outwards looking” (Times of India, 24 March 1985), and “increased the efficiency and international competitiveness of industrial production” (Hindu, 22 July 1991) and “imparted a new element of dynamism to growth processes in our economy” (Times of India, 24 July 1991). This narrative of transition and change is sharply dissonant with the process of liberalisation undergone by the Indian economy.

There were no references in English-language national newspapers in 1991 about the green revolution package being one of the first large-scale liberal reforms introduced in the economy in 1965–66; or that partial liberalisation measures had been introduced in the 1980s itself; or that the pace of liberalisation has been so slow and strongly debated, that even 25 years after liberalisation we continue to be one of the most insular high-growth countries. Moreover, the economy did not grow spectacularly in the 1990s as had been proclaimed. In fact, the 1980s was one of the highest economic growth periods experienced by the economy. The real take-off in growth, private investments, and exports happened after 2003, more than a decade after liberalisation. And yet the public imagination perceives 1991 as the turning point, dividing the old Indian economy from the new one.

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Updated On : 7th Jul, 2017

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