With past imperfect and present tense, what can one hope for the future? Bimal Jalan’s book is provocatively titled ‘The Future of India’, but is, in fact, a discourse on our present, with some reflections on how we got here. Where India may be headed, as a result of our legacy and inheritance, is not spelt out, but Jalan’s warning is "mind the gap"!
Economists normally work on the basis of the overriding caveat of "ceteris paribus" that translates into simple English as "assuming all else is held constant". It is a convenient tool that enables economists to claim that their discipline is more science than art. Jalan’s simple message in this book is that in the real world one cannot really assume that all else is constant. Things change, and they influence the way other things change.
If you are lucky, that process can be benign and you get a virtuous cycle of growth and development. If unlucky, it goes the other way round. In one simple sentence Jalan sums up the essence of this book: "If there were no legal and administrative delays, and corruption had been...