But for a couple of Chapters on Kashmir where Dreze’s views are tainted by biased nuances, illusory notions and misdirected vindications, “Sense and Solidarity….” (“The Book”) is an indispensable read for every one who is interested in the economic, social and cultural progress of India. A development economist with impeccable credentials, Jean Dreze has been involved in both aiding policy making as well as conducting hard core research spanning various spheres of the economy ranging from Public Distribution Systems (“PDS”) to the provision of mid-day meal schemes. The Book is a collection of pieces penned by the author over a period of years covering topical issues that both enhance as well as imperil the prospects of India as a progressive economy.
Dreze also underpins in no lesser detail, the need for and the positive results that are the outcome of an action based research. Instead of conducting cloistered theoretical research (with a singular eye on confirming to various norms laid down with rigidity by a plethora of Universities), Dreze encourages economists to broaden their research perspective by undertaking field surveys and practical investigations/analysis. A change at the grassroots level has both the potency and the reach to percolate upwards thereby being more inclusive.
Dreze’s meticulous research is reflected in the various Chapters that adorn the book. Writing with a genuine passion and candid intent, Dreze demonstrates how small and incremental efforts undertaken towards improving the quality of life go a long way in ushering in a prosperity and peace. A classic example is that of the mid-day meal scheme. Conceptualised in a few States as a pilot programme, the mid-day meal scheme is now a universal measure across the country that fosters not only adequate nutrition, but also improves class attendance and generating employment. Similarly streamlining the PDS distribution set up ensures that the poor and needy get their staples on time and in quantities that are adequate.
But Dreze reserves his scathing views for the bullet train project which is proposed to be implemented in collaboration with Japan. Priced at a colossal cost of Rs.60,000 crores per train, Dreze in a witty but serious fashion lays bare the travails that are currently plaguing the Indian Railways. When a common man finds it a Herculean task to even find himself a berth in an unreserved compartment, where is there a need to embark on a ultra sophisticated project of this nature?
All in all Sense and Solidarity is a book that makes one introspect and even take positive action.