Policymaker’s Journal: From New Delhi to Washington, D.C.

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The art of political speech is to say things that sound meaningful but are impossible to pin down. You hear such speech from master politicians in not just India but the United States, the United Kingdom, China (if we knew what they were saying) and just about everywhere … Irreverent and hilarious, wise and introspective, Kaushik Basu’s journal records the course of his career over seven years, first in India as the chief economic adviser to the Indian Government and after that as the chief economist at the World Bank in Washington. Encounters with expected and unexpected world leaders and influencers—Manmohan Singh, Narendra Modi, Barack Obama, Sheikh Hasina, Deepika Padukone and many, many others—pepper and liven this charming page-turner of a journal. The Indian years were a period of high inflation, growth challenges (as the global financial crisis arrived in India) and also a remarkable growth recovery story, with India moving past China’s GDP growth rate. There were corruption scandals causing widespread street protests, plenty of late-night decision-making which one knew would rock the stock market the next day and getting to know politicians who were outstanding as statesmen in the midst of all this, as well as many who were not. The World Bank years ranged from interacting with officials in tiny, remote countries like Samoa, to gigantic nations with considerable heft, such as China. It entailed sitting down with leading researchers to compute and announce global numbers on extreme poverty and rankings on how easy it is to do business in different countries (fully aware that there would be calls from irate finance ministers as soon as these were published), and assisting quarreling nations to communicate amicably and coordinate on policy. Basu narrates these momentous periods in his diplomatic career with a rare lightheartedness which not only informs by giving the readers a ringside view of Indian bureaucracy, but also makes this book the most compelling and enjoyable book on policymaking to come out of India in years.

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The art of political speech is to say things that sound meaningful but are impossible to pin down. You hear such speech from master politicians in not just India but the United States, the United Kingdom, China (if we knew what they were saying) and just about everywhere … Irreverent and hilarious, wise and introspective, Kaushik Basu’s journal records the course of his career over seven years, first in India as the chief economic adviser to the Indian Government and after that as the chief economist at the World Bank in Washington. Encounters with expected and unexpected world leaders and influencers—Manmohan Singh, Narendra Modi, Barack Obama, Sheikh Hasina, Deepika Padukone and many, many others—pepper and liven this charming page-turner of a journal. The Indian years were a period of high inflation, growth challenges (as the global financial crisis arrived in India) and also a remarkable growth recovery story, with India moving past China’s GDP growth rate. There were corruption scandals causing widespread street protests, plenty of late-night decision-making which one knew would rock the stock market the next day and getting to know politicians who were outstanding as statesmen in the midst of all this, as well as many who were not. The World Bank years ranged from interacting with officials in tiny, remote countries like Samoa, to gigantic nations with considerable heft, such as China. It entailed sitting down with leading researchers to compute and announce global numbers on extreme poverty and rankings on how easy it is to do business in different countries (fully aware that there would be calls from irate finance ministers as soon as these were published), and assisting quarreling nations to communicate amicably and coordinate on policy. Basu narrates these momentous periods in his diplomatic career with a rare lightheartedness which not only informs by giving the readers a ringside view of Indian bureaucracy, but also makes this book the most compelling and enjoyable book on policymaking to come out of India in years.

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