Seshan, the catalyst for industrial reforms of 1991

T.N Seshan, who passed away on Sunday, left an indelible impression on India in the 1990s on account of an eventful stint as chief election commissioner.

It was during his tenure that the model code of conduct was enforced strictly and photo identity cards were issued to voters.

Seshan’s contribution to enhancing the integrity of the electoral process has been widely praised. There is another area where Seshan played the role of a catalyst but his contribution has received scant attention.

Rakesh Mohan, who was deputy governor of Reserve Bank of India, has written that Seshan triggered the first step in a journey which led to revamping the industrial policy in 1991 where a wave liberalization was unleashed.

In a book, ‘India Transformed,’ which contained essays from people who assessed the first 25 years after the economic reforms of 1991, Rakesh Mohan wrote about Seshan’s role in industrial policy.

In 1988, the Rajiv Gandhi government had lost the initiative to carry out economic reforms on the heels of the controversy over the acquisition of the Bofors guns. Around that time, Mohan was an economic adviser in the ministry of industry. Seshan was appointed cabinet secretary during the same period.

One of the things Seshan ordered was that all major departments present a plan on what they did and where they proposed to go.

For the ministry of industry, this order translated into a simple question: What is India’s industrial policy?

The answer was that whatever the policy was, the only thing that appeared certain was that it was a mess.

According to Rakesh Mohan, trying to answer the question on industrial policy meant collecting information which would eventually turn out to be the first step in the journey which culminated in the  industrial reforms of 1991.

If Seshan was a reformer by intent in the Election Commission, he was an inadvertent instrument in the reform of India’s industrial policy.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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