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Liberalisation’s children

The story of liberalisation found many a personal voice at a book launch in the city on Monday.

The Liberals (HarperCollins, Rs 350), Hindol Sengupta’s take on growing up in liberalised India, was launched at The Park by Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar and the chief editor of the ABP Group, Aveek Sarkar.

“Liberalisation is often seen through the eyes of economists and politicians. I wanted to tell the story I had lived through. Every job that I have had is because of liberalisation. Without it, there would not even be this flourishing media industry,” said Sengupta, a senior editor at Fortune India, an ABP Group publication, back at his birthplace for the launch. His two other books are on the fashion industry — Indian Fashion (2005) and Ramp Up (2008).

Aiyar delved deep into The Liberals in his keynote address on the “children of liberalisation”. “He (Sengupta) moves quickly from each character to the next and each of them gets sketched and etched in the minds of the readers. I think it is a rattling good tale. From being a very uncertain teenager to becoming an assured young man... if his parents are here in the audience then my congratulations to them for bringing up such a difficult child,” said Aiyar.

“Having talked about the last 20 years, let’s move on to what can be expected in the next 20,” said Sengupta, starting off the second part of the event, a panel discussion on “ideas for the next 20 years”, featuring industrialists Sanjiv Goenka and Harsh Neotia and Rudrangshu Mukherjee and Aritra Sarkar from the ABP Group.

“In the next 20 years, there is a lot of hope, aspiration and expectation. But most importantly, what we need is a reformation of the mind. From a mindset of opposing for the sake of opposing to one of either constructively supporting or constructively opposing. We have to move from a mindset of regulation to a mindset of facilitation; from micro control to macro management. It is about becoming a lot more broad-minded, tolerant and clear,” said Goenka, the chairman of the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group.

Neotia spoke about changes that have happened since liberalisation and the growing resentment among those who have not benefited from the progress. “The idea should be more about how to make the reforms more inclusive. So it should be more about what we can do now rather than what we have been able to do so far,” said the chairman and CEO of the Bengal Ambuja group.

Aritra Sarkar said: “For the next 20 years, we probably need to focus on the principles of the market to deliver better outcome in governance and provide the basics to the masses so that the divide between the haves and have-nots vanishes.” He focussed on removing socio-cultural blocks in the path of better governance.

“One of the fundamental problems in the next 20 years is going to be what do we do with the state? The state is going to dominate our lives through measures of security, through ways of economy. It will intrude into our daily lives in ways that we can’t even imagine. I think in the next 20 years we might actually see the death of the liberals and liberalism. I am one of the people who do not subscribe to the idea of hope,” said Mukherjee.

Sengupta, a “rational optimist”, believes there is a “war coming” in the next 20 years. “The internal frictions of India are building up to such a height that unless the middle class is able to force the higher classes to give up more, which can trickle down to the lower classes, there will be war. If we don’t solve these fundamental problems of 400 million people, there’s going to be blood on the streets,” he said.

The writer is already at work on his fourth book. “The working title is Ideas from India for Those Who Believe That the India Story Is Over. What I am saying is do not generalise about the country’s condition: there are quite a few magnificent projects in India that if you put money in and follow through, there will be success,” said Sengupta.