Matters of money

AK Bhattacharya’s book, India’s Finance Minister’s: From Independence to Emergency was recently unveiled at the India International Centre
Matters of money

A history of the financial foundational years of India, through the eyes of those responsible for it– this is how A K Bhattacharya’s book, India’s Finance Ministers: From Independence to Emergency (1947-1977) has been described by supporters and critics. On Wednesday, Penguin Random House and the India International Centre, Delhi, organised a panel discussion about the book that was attended by several dignitaries associated with the economic organisations of the country.

T V Somanathan, the finance secretary, who was a surprise guest, initiated the discussion. “Finance ministers dread those who write about the inner workings of the ministry. But [this book] is as good as the history of Indian finance. It is neutral, objective – it neither suppresses nor pulls its punches,” he said. He emphasised that the importance of the book lay in the fact that it shed light on financial issues - like the degree of independence of the Reserve Bank of India and the status of the finance minister as an expert or a politician – which were matters of concern in early independent India and are still relevant today.

Not all panellists shared the same sentiment. While reiterating that the book is a ‘scholarly economic work’, Shankar N Acharya, former chief economic advisor of the central government, said the author had been ‘too kind to the finance ministers’. “Between the 1960s and 1980s, the financial growth was not acceptable, and the ministers shouldered some responsibility for it, which should have been mentioned,” he says.

However, all the panellists were unanimous in agreeing that the book delves into the key economic events that shaped the financial basis of the country. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, former deputy chairman of the planning commission, and Nitin Desai, former chief economic advisor and public policy expert, said the appeal of Bhattacharya’s writing lies in its style, narrative form, and making the subject matter interesting to all, rather than restricting it to experts and enthusiasts. When one member of the audience questioned whether it was required to focus on history that is long past rather than focusing on the future, Acharya simply replied, “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.”

(India’s Finance Ministers will be followed by two sequels. The second part of the trilogy will release in 2024)

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