When you pick up a book on 'the story of the Indian economy, and the political drama behind it', the foreword of which has been written by Bibek Debroy, Chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, and the epilogue by Amitabh Kant, CEO of the government think tank NITI Aayog, you expect it to be the usual criticism of Nehruvian Socialism and a glorification of the economic approach adopted by the Narendra Modi-led NDA. But Awakening, penned by Amit Kapoor, an academic and the Honorary Chairman of the Institute for Competitiveness, and Chirag Yadav, a Senior Researcher at the institute, turns out to be neither.
It chronicles the politico-economic development since Independence and is a largely unbiased account of the economic strategies adopted by different governments. The authors have tried to gauge the overall impact of such policies but avoided being too critical. They have explained the rationale (mostly driven by political compulsions), but given Nehru the benefit of the doubt regarding the outcome of hurtling India on to the path of Socialism. They, however, take a sterner view of Indira Gandhi and the UPA government under Manmohan Singh for the economic mess they created.
The book is as much about politics and geopolitics (of the time) as it is about economics. And that gives it the flavour of a political thriller. Part of the book is so gripping and fast-paced that it becomes a real page-turner. Most of the chapters on Indira Gandhi - her elevation as Prime Minister, the Indo-Pak war and the run-up to Emergency - will keep readers spellbound.
The language is crisp and the use of data and statistics minimal for easy comprehension. It is also well-researched, digging out little-known facts and anecdotes. For example, while on a visit to the US (for seeking financial aid), Indira Gandhi agreed to most of the terms and conditions but refused to comply with then U.S. President Lyndon Johnson's request to join him on the dance floor. Gandhi said her countrymen would not approve of it.
However, Awakening has not delved into a lot of issues. The problem with this genre is that it can (often unwittingly) give an overly simplistic view of very complex issues related to polity, diplomacy and economics. But it is more of a problem with the format rather than the intent of the authors.