Economics is the science of the possible made to look like the art of the impossibleâ€™ is a definition that would strike a chord with any finance minister of India who, every year, has to perform the great Indian hope trick. Otherwise known as the Budgetâ€”a careful balancing act between revenue and expenditure, tax rates and tax sops, growth and equity, reforms and the status quo. Within these constraints, however, there is much that a finance minister can actually accomplish, as P. Chidambaram, one of Indiaâ€™s most accomplished economists and commentators, shows in A View from the Outside, a collection of columns that assesses the promises and performance of the NDA government in the period 2002 to 2004.
The columns, originally published in the Indian Express and the Financial Express, reflect the views of Chidambaram, finance minister between 1996 and 1998 and again from 2004 onwards, on a range of issues that remain important regardless of the government in power. They also provide snapshots of the Indian economy in good times and bad. This collection covers subjects such as agriculture (important not only for food security but as the main source of employment), reforms, budgets, forex reserves (that were scarce not a long time ago but now posing a problem of plenty), economic growth and tax policies. It also offers perceptive political analyses and some telling comments on social issues. Far more than mere reactions to developments during that period, Chidambaram provides the reader with an extraordinarily clear understanding of the problems underlying the Indian economyâ€”and its politicsâ€”and ways of solving them. The issues are all the more important as they hold the key to sustaining the economic growth witnessed in the last few years. In addition, this collection can also be seen as notes from one FM to another when the two are on opposite sides of the fence.