On 07 August 2020, The Takshashila Institution hosted its first #DeepWebinar, a thoughtfully curated conversation to push the possibilities of public discourse in the digital age. This edition included Puja Mehra, journalist, and author of The Lost Decade in conversation with Nitin Pai, Co-founder, and Director of The Takshashila Institution. The format also included 4 discussants from diverse backgrounds, Amol Agrawal (Assistant Professor, Ahmedabad University); Anika Gururaj (Student, University of Pennsylvania); Harsh Vora (Proprietary Trader and Investor); Subrat Mohanty (Group President, Manipal Education & Medical Group).
The conversation began with Puja Mehra stating that her reasons for writing the book were disappointment with the way the economy was being run and a belief that the promise of growth for individuals had been snatched away. The first of two polls conducted during the conversation indicated that nearly 70% of the audience agreed with the assertion that the years 2008-2018 represented a Lost Decade for India’s growth and development.
Based on these results, Nitin Pai then enquired if the politics prevent the right kind of economic policy from being put in place. “We do show promise for correction when there is a crisis,” said Puja Mehra referring to the economic crises in 1991 and 2008. However, she also asserted that the pattern of status-quoists getting their way has occurred across both regimes, with reforms being sidelined depending on the results of state elections.
The discussants raised questions about the need for electoral reform, which may be hampering long term policy formulation (Anika Gururaj); fiscal prudence being driven by necessity rather than policy (Harsh Vora); whether individuals mattered more than institutions (Subrat Mohanty); and how UPA-2 erred with economic policy despite a wealth of talent at its disposal (Amol Agrawal).
Puja Mehra contended that electoral reform is not required, rather it is for voters to signal the importance of economic policy and circumstances during polls. She also contrasted the differences in approach to fiscal deficit across different Finance Ministers across the last decade. On the question of individuals v/s institutions, she conceded that presently individuals do matter more than institutions that are being managed through appointments. About UPA-2’s economic policy she highlighted the chaotic nature of the then cabinet and the status-quoist agenda winning out over reforms.
The conversation concluded with a nearly evenly split poll on whether the audience expected India’s growth story to get back on track during 2020-2030.
The Takshashila Institution is an independent and non-partisan think tank and school of public policy. Takshashila offers 12-week certificate courses in Public Policy, Technology and Policy, and Defence and Foreign Affairs and a 48-week postgraduate program in Public Policy.
A video of the #DeepWebinar can be accessed on Takshashila’s YouTube channel.