India's Reform Journey Revisited: Amit Varma, The Seen and the Unseen

India's Reform Journey Revisited - Amit Varma, The Seen and the Unseen

What is one reform that was overlooked in 1991?

What I feel really bad about is that agriculture got left out. That is shocking to me because more than 60% of the country was engaged in agriculture. That was a sector that desperately needed to be freed up, and that wasn't done. When people speak of, say, inequitable growth, I feel that's because of inequitable reforms that the 91 reforms were incredible. They lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, but leaving out agriculture meant that a large section of society missed out on the freedom that elites and air-conditioned chambers gave themselves.

I feel horrible about that, and given vast swath of people, and of course, like I said, hundreds of millions of people lifted out of poverty, but agriculture was left out. That should have happened, and that didn't happen and that's truly tragic.

What is one reform that India needs today?

I'd again say agriculture, and I think we came close to it last year, it didn't happen because of political reasons. That makes me a little bit despondent, that fundamental reforms that are needed at one level almost seem impossible because at one time, for maybe a period of 20 years, there was a political consensus among the different parties on the direction we needed to take, which was towards more freedom. That consensus doesn't seem to be there. Today's political opposition, for the sake of opposition, and therefore I worry that the fundamental reforms, the odds against them just went down.

Apart from agriculture, I would also say we need labor reforms, we need land reforms. There are still vast areas of the economy which are still unfree, and we should not get carried away by the remarkable reforms of 1991, which were so good for us and had a massive humanitarian benefit. They were incomplete in a utopian sense, obviously, in that particular circumstance Manmohan Singh, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, all of those people, did all that they could, but there's a lot more to be done and we should not have taken our foot off the pedal.