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The Man Of People

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When the Reserve Bank of India and the Finance Ministry locked horns in the inflation vs growth debate recently, most of the media missed the crux of the debate and did only a superficial job of it. Only a few tried to go into the larger questions arising from the debate. It is in times such as these that one misses Dinanath Kashinath Rangnekar and his lucid, in-your-face analysis of the economy. Public policy must attach the highest priority to curbing the rate of inflation, he wrote in Business Standard, a newspaper he edited, in August 1981.

Rangnekar died in 1984, much before India’s economy underwent liberalisation and the subsequent transformation, and reading The Politics Of Poverty, a collection of essays by Rangnekar, one realises why it is important to have people like him in the media today. Had he been alive, Rangnekar would have been very unhappy with the way the government is dealing with important economic issues, and how policies today lack the much-needed humane element. Or maybe, like many of his tribe today, he would have become a Kafkaesque clone of his old self. But going by his writing, that seems unlikely.
Born in 1936, Rangnekar studied at the Bombay University, and then moved to Cambridge and the London School of Economics. In spite of his immense scholarship in economics, Rangnekar decided to become a journalist: his first job was in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). He joined The Economic Times in India in the early 1960s and edited the paper for over a decade until his exit in 1979. He went on to edit Business Standard subsequently. He was a socialist and held radical views on subjects such as the state’s role in the political economy and the need to accord top priority to the poor in policymaking. He believed that planning had become a “bad joke to the public and an unwanted legacy”, and wanted that the models, programmes and targets have an “intimate relationship to the complexities of our real life, including the extremes of poverty and wealth”. The book is full of such strong comments and prophetic inferences. Rangnekar wrote for the layman, and that explains the simplicity of his arguments. He made economics, often called the dismal science, cheerful and refreshing.

The book has four parts. While the first discusses the social crisis of development in India in seven essays, the second has four pieces devoted to economic cooperation and trade. The third, and the most important, — aptly titled, ‘Rope Tricks’ — analyses India’s planning scenario. The final part consisting of five essays deals with policies, mainly monetary and industrial. There is an interesting foreword by T.N. Ninan, and an equally fascinating introduction by Pratap Bhanu Mehta. Neatly edited and indexed, the book succeeds in unravelling the genius of D.N. Rangnekar. It should be read by everyone interested in Indian economy, especially business journalists. 

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(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 04-02-2013)