I Want Everybody To Be Able To Enter The Market

Updated: Jul 28 2004, 05:20am hrs
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen speaks to SHEKHAR GUPTA of The Indian Express on globalisation, reforms with a human face a term he doesnt like and the Lefts role. Excerpts from the interview telecast on NDTV 24X7s Walk the Talk:

This place where we are meeting, Shantiniketan, its a very special place. You make it a point to make it here, you mentioned it in your banquet speech at the Nobel ceremony...
I dont remember, but I might have done that...Its a place I am very attached to...Because I was born here, I got educated here too. It has a very strong presence in my life.

And theres something special about this place.
Yes, you can see people holding classes outside, that itself is special...But its also a very exceptional school, one of the progressive schools, co-educational a long time ago.... I think the special feature that Shantiniketan had is that it had great pride in the Indian tradition, Indian identity, and yet it had a very strong awareness of the world.

What we would today call globalisation.
Its a globalisation in itself, not so much economic globalisation but a cultural one. And one in which the globalised world wasnt just as what was quite standard thenmainly India and Britainbut also other countries, like China and Japan and the Far East and Africa, other European countries, America, all these were very present in our lives.

In the Nobel speech, you also referred to three qualities that you quoted from Tagoreuniversalist, tolerant, rationalist. In some ways, these are also the qualities of what should be globalisation with a human face.
Yes, thats right. I think globalisation has two features, one is the globalisation of idea, not being parochial, not being what in Sanskrit they would say koopamanduk, that is, being a frog in the well....Thats one thing. Some of the debate about globalisation today is not about that, of course, because lots of the supporters of open ideas happen to be rather critical of the economic opening-up. So thats a separate issue. But in a broad sense youre right. Its a globalisation of ideas rather than of comment.

In fact, that is the debate in India right now, globalisation with a human face. In fact, more than that, reforms with a human face. You think we lost out on something
Well, I think we have made considerable progress, but in some respects, theres much more to be done. You know, one of the big things to recognise is that the success of a global entry into a global economy depends to a great extent also on what we do within the nation. And if you look at those countries which have been very successful, the latest of these will be China, earlier Japan in the 19th century, it was immense effort domestically in expanding basic education. You know Japan, even though it was one of the poorer countries in the world, by the turn of the century, it was moving rapidly. By the 1900s, they were moving rapidly towards universal literacy, and by 1910, it was universally literate, and by 1913, Japan, though a poor country, was producing more books than any other country.... So its kind of doing things together...

So what is the Amartya Sen definition of reforms with a human face in India of 2004
Well, I dont like that wordreforms with a human faceso much. Because, the human face indicates as if there is a kind of facelifting, as if there is something cosmetic about it. No I think its a question of what all economic planning should be about, mainly how to improve the lives and freedoms of people in the country and others with whom we are in contact. And in that context, the natural thing would be to say who are the people who benefit from the economic transactions. There are big benefits to be made by implementing global economy. Its a question also of how fairly the benefits are distributed.

Of spreading, of percolating these benefits
Yes, and that depends to a great extent on domestic condition. I mean if China, through its high economic growth, succeeded in reducing poverty, it wasnt only because of high economic process but also because of their high level of literacy, which allowed much more participation in economic expansion.

So if you look at Indias reforms, say, starting 1991, which aspect of it do you think lacks the human face...
I dont like that word. Youre making me use that...I think what happened is that at the time, under Narasimha Raos prime ministership and Manmohan Singh being the finance minister with him...there were basically two things that were dramatically wrong. One was the state was very inactive in some areas like basic education, basic healthcare, land reforms had stalled, mirco-credit movements were very little developed. So there were more things to be done, and it needed a lot of radicalism to be there, and there was also the need for changing the over-extensive nature of government control, the red-tape, the licence raj and so on.

In a sense, what happened is that Manmohan rightly concentrated on the second, but I personally would have said that he would have had an argument for concentrating on the first. He and I had debates on that, hes an old friend, I admire him greatly. I think he felt that given enough time, thats what they would have done actually. In one of the interviews he gave, I think in a film that was made about me, he said well, Amartya should remember that Rome wasnt built in a day, and we were out of office too quickly....

So you think that, if you know him well enough as you do, he would pick up the thread from there
Already this government has begun with a much greater focus on education and healthcare, at least in terms of what they have announced. We have to see to what extent its carried out. But the rhetoric of 1992, which was really basically reforms and withdrawing the governments overextended arms, is no longer the main rhetoric, the rhetoric is also extending...

To basic education, basic healthcare...
Basic education, basic healthcare, and it has come up strongly. And you know, we have had support coming. In the sense, with the passage of time, thereve also been more public movements, strong movement about right to food, the strong movement of gender. I think womens role in economic development has always been great in India, its absolutely critical. They have developed. And we have also had allies in the Supreme Court, for example, which have taken a very proactive position on many of these...

One of the things you have said about this election, you said this was against divisiveness of all kinds, particularly economic and political.
Well, I did think the electoral results indicated that...There are a thousand factors that affect voting but the big story I think was a kind of real dislike of divisiveness, which the Indian electorate had often shown in the past too. And the divisiveness was both economic divisiveness, of a kind when it looked as if the country was making big progress at some level and the India Shining slogan brought this up in a big way and yet, a lot of people were left behind. So, in that context, India Shining seemed like rubbing salt in the wound. On the other hand, there was also a divisiveness which I think the Indian electorate reacted against. Which took the form of the particular agenda of Hindutva, which had very fundamental flaws....

But theres also the Left, which interprets this to mean that this was a vote against reforms, because reforms accentuated divisiveness.
Well, I dont think thats what this is about. But theres an economic aspect to the divisiveness certainly. Namely, that in order for the Indian economy to flourish in the global economy, in a way that benefits every section, what you need is a comprehensive programme, much more radicalism than they actually had.

Thats the one thing that intrigued me. You said your problem with Indian reforms is that it wasnt radical enough. How do you want it to be more radical
No, Im very much in favour of the Indian economy. Its playing a big part in the global economy, we are able to do it. We can produce competitively, we have the talents and the resources and the opportunity to expand our presence in the world in a big way, in the economy too. And yet, at the same time, what we have to do is make sure that its not just a small section who succeeds. And of course, we all take pride in the success of the Indian information technology and software industry and theyve done tremendously well and were proud of it. But thats a small group and even the leaders of this group will tell you that they are concerned that a lot of people in India are excluded.

So the radicalism is to create the opportunity for people to enter the market. You know my main complaint about the market economyIm one of those who think the market economy has many merits and I also take the market seriously enough to want everybody to be able to enter itbut in a situation where people are illiterate, where people suffer from tremendous health problems, no micro-credits, theres no way they can enter the market.

So what youre saying is dont roll back the reforms but expand them
Yes, and do many other things with it....

In areas where only the state can do something
Where the state can provide the major leadership, I couldnt say the only thing. I think the private sector has a role, in healthcare and education too. Its interesting to look at China from that point of view. The big success of China was the expansion of education and healthcare. That happened before the economic reforms...

But thats precisely what the Left would say. First hunker down, fix your health and education and land reforms and then well come to reforms.
Well, I dont know whether the Left said that, thats not what I am saying anyway. I would have said that what you have to do is to do these things simultaneously. So you dont really say hold on to that until you do the other. Its a question of doing the other immediately...Thats a very conservative position.... If you take a radical position, it is yes indeed enter the global economy and go straight in. But at the same time, make sure, in a radical, quick way, that you could change the tremendous source of backwardness in the country in terms of underdevelopment of social opportunity. And that can be changed. ....

Thats the problem with India...somehow we dont have a wide enough vision. The Congress party had five lost decades, isnt it
I think thats right. The direction, the understanding of what is needed for the Indian economy was very defective. And some people who critiqued it identified rightly one area of the fault, that they expected that the State can do a lot more in production, you know in industry and agriculture, oddly enough even in tourism, and so on. If theres any area in which the State enterprise has been a miserable failure, its certainly running hotels as such. And yet, at the same time, what the State had to do, had a major task in doing, expansion in education, expansion in healthcare, which figures so much in Nehrus speech Tryst with Destiny....

But the other extreme is the model of the Left. The Left greatly swears by the Kerala model on the one hand and West Bengal on the other. Kerala has health, education but it has produced no economic growth.
Well, exactly. The Kerala model is more complicated. First of all, I think the word Kerala model is a pernicious word...because the model has many meanings. And one of the meanings is that it can serve a kind of idea which it cannot. But there are major lessons from Kerala. The main lesson is that expand basic education, including womens education, and if you have corresponding to that healthcare expansion, you can transform the nature of society. Today if Indias life expectancy is 64 years, and Chinas 71, Keralas is already 74, by the late 90s, probably quite higher than that...

But no economic growth
Thats not quite true. The average rate of growth in Kerala over the last decade has been just the same as that of the Indian economy.

But thats not good enough if the social indicators, if the human indicator are...
I agree. And that is why I think the term Kerala model is a mistake. Because there are lots of things in economic policies in which Kerala can do better....

Thats what you say about the Chinese model. In fact, your larger lesson is dont pick up dogmas, pick up what is good and not what is bad.
In the case of China, I dont think we would pick up the fact that they dont have democracy, and I think thats a lacuna. And its beginning to cost China quite a lot, even in terms of their healthcare and educational expansion.... the lack of democratic engagement, public critique is a big factor.

Now, in comparison, if I describe West Benga as a large communist-run state in the world, how do you look at this
I come from the state, and I am proud of many things done here. I am also critical of certain other things...I think the West Bengal economy has to become much more open....

Before we conclude, two parting words. One, what is your one word of advice to your old friend Manmohan Singh. How should he run this government And what is your advice to the Left
To my friend Manmohan Singh, I think he has begun very well. His rhetoric this time is much broader than the rhetoric in 1991, when perhaps for many reasons, he thought he needed to be very focused on one thing. I think if he really pursues what hes saying now, I think we are on to a very good start.

On the Left side, I think there are two things. First of all, the Left is a part of the government, but Left is a part of democracy too. Quite often, the Left will have to make a critique. I sometimes appreciate their point was made even when I dont believe it was exactly right. Because that is the perspective that has to be aired. So I think if Left takes it as a player in the democratic game, they might wish to take a more anti-reform position than others, and that would be in my judgement right ultimately. And yet as a democrat, I would like that point of view to be expressed because who knows theres something that has to be pursued. So if you take democracy as dialectic, then I think Left has a role both in bringing in points which others are not making and at the same time really be supportive....

But how does the Left give space to this government Can it Or are the contradictions too deep
Well, I dont know...I dont really see why there should be. Because in terms of the Common Minimum Progra-mme, theres a considerable agreement that basically you have to do both the things that we have been discussing. The expansion of social opportunity, education, healthcare, micro-credit, and all those things, land reform, and at the same time, have a more productive presence in the economy within the country and in the economy in the world....

But we see on the other hand, the Left getting sort of very excited or angry about little things, about increasing the FDI..So maybe the advice to Dr Singh should be to be more of a politician this time, and to the Left, to be more of social democrats, sort of...
Possible. Because I read this mornings paper. It seems to me that Sitaram Yechury is saying that theyre opposed to FDI and yet they will not vote against that. That may well fit into what weve just been discussing.