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FROM THE GREAT WALL

History makes prophets out of the unlikeliest of candidates. In the late 1960s, a man called Charu Majumdar flashed like a dangerous meteor across the Indian political firmament. Apart from leading thousands of young Bengalis to their untimely deaths, he also coined the somewhat risible slogan, “China’s chairman is our chairman”. This slogan was raised both as an adulation of Mao Zedong, the then chairman of the Communist Party of China, and as a signal that the Indian revolution would follow the path of the revolution in China. Majumdar and his slogan have both disappeared in the junk heap of history, but emulators of China, now on the long march to capitalism, have emerged from the political woodwork in India. The announcement from the Lal Qila, by none other than the prime minister, Narendra Modi, states that the Planning Commission stands abolished and is to be replaced by the National Development Reforms Commission. China abolished its planning commission and replaced it with the National Development and Reform Commission. Mr Modi has taken a papyrus out of China’s scroll.

The idea of planning and of a Planning Commission was inspired by what was happening in the Soviet Union from the 1930s onwards. The first avatar of the planning commission was created by Subhas Chandra Bose in 1938, and Jawaharlal Nehru was its first chairman. Both Bose and Nehru were admirers of Soviet planning and its ‘achievements’. In independent India, the Planning Commission continued to follow the Soviet model and served as the principal allocator of the State’s resources. It also served as the employer of a number of economists who left their academic pursuits to work out complicated input-output models, through which they believed the economic future of India would be made. The planning experiment in India proved to be a disaster just as Soviet planning proved to be an elaborate fraud on the people of Russia, who lived, thanks to planning, in an economy of permanent scarcity. China saw the light sooner and moved out of the Jurassic Park of planning.

There are other changes in administration and governance that China has put in place from which India can learn. For one, China has more persons with doctoral degrees in official positions than any other country. In other words, experts take decisions in China. The present government in India has one; the previous one had two. For another, India could follow China in dismantling ministries like the railways and making it part of the ministry of transport. It could also separate a ministry that owns assets from bodies that actually make rules and regulations. All these steps would move India towards a position where the State performs a minimal role in economic affairs. India could learn from China without the aid of absurd slogans.