Saturday, Feb 16, 2019 | Last Update : 08:52 AM IST

Salute to Pradeep Mehta: ‘Authentic voice’ of South; civil society pioneer

THE ASIAN AGE. | PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA
Published : Dec 21, 2018, 1:43 am IST
Updated : Dec 21, 2018, 7:12 am IST

Among the contributors to this festschrift are international and Indian diplomats, policy wonks, corporate captains and journalists.

Pradeep Mehta at an Unctad meeting in Geneva
 Pradeep Mehta at an Unctad meeting in Geneva

There are a few non-government organisations incubated in India that have managed to establish a global footprint for themselves in barely three and a half decades, certainly none that have sought to focus attention on policies and programmes that impact consumers, trade and market competition. An exception is the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), set up by Pradeep Mehta in Jaipur with a chapter in Kolkata during the first half of the 1980s. Today, over and above establishments in New Delhi and Chittorgarh in Rajasthan, the CUTS group of NGOs has offices in Lusaka (Zambia), Nairobi (Kenya), Accra (Ghana), Hanoi (Vietnam), Geneva (Switzerland) and Washington DC (the United States).

This festschrift published on the occasion of Mr Mehta’s 70th birthday and 35 years of the existence of CUTS contains 45 essays from friends and well-wishers of the organisation’s founding father. All the contributors would be considered important and influential individuals. And predictably, all of them have high regard for the work that Mr Mehta has done. Quite a few of them are supporters of the current ruling regime, including, for instance, Jagdish N. Bhagwati, who has written the foreword to this collection of articles. The veteran professor of economics from Columbia University, New York, states that “…many policymakers worldwide regard Pradeep (Mehta) as an authentic developing-country voice that must be listened to by the rich countries” and goes on to heap fulsome praise on him by describing him using a Japanese phrase, as a “living treasure.”

In the category of supporters of the Narendra Modi government who have contributed to this volume are Rajiv Kumar, vice chairman of the NITI Aayog, the “policy thinktank” which replaced the Planning Commission; Rajeev Chandrasekhar, member of the Rajya Sabha from Bengaluru belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party; and Shakti Sinha, director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. Exuding optimism, Mr Kumar has argued — somewhat contentiously — that the country has achieved notable success in simultaneously undertaking a “triple transition” on its political, economic and social fronts and now needs to focus on “governance reforms.” Mr Chandrasekhar’s essay, titled “A Digital Magna Carta,” is on keeping the internet neutral to prevent access providers from cannibalising it, while Mr Sinha writes on green energy hoping that unlike the West, India will be able to achieve better environmental outcomes at its current levels of economic development.

The close acquaintances of the founder of CUTS who have written for the book are, however, not confined to those aligned with the current ruling dispensation. There are those who are opposed to the BJP, including Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor who has written on why and how global governance structures need to change to better reflect the aspirations of emerging nation-states at a time when the powers of countries that benefitted greatly from existing global structures that were set up after World War II, have waned.

Trinamul Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi states that Mr Mehta was not dissuaded from fighting for the causes he believes in, despite not making it to the post of chairman of the Competition Commission of India after a glowing recommendation from Chakravarthi Rangarajan, the then head of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council and former governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Rangarajan’s article in the book argues that while reforms are the “first important step” towards stepping up economic growth, reforms alone are insufficient unless the government is proactively focused on all-round development.

The book under review has been edited by Sanjaya Baru, political analyst and commentator who has served as secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, a body that represents the interests of private big business, together with Abhishek Kumar, director, CUTS International.

Among the contributors to this festschrift are international and Indian diplomats, policy wonks, corporate captains and journalists. They include Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, the sixth director general of the World Trade Organisation; Kenyan Mukhisa Kituyi, the seventh director general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; Kishore Mahbubani, who holds a number of notable positions in institutions in Singapore; Majyd Aziz, president of the Employers’ Federation of Pakistan and a strong proponent of enhanced trade between the two feuding neighbours; economists Isher Judge Ahluwalia, Mustafizur Rahman and the late Saman Kelegama from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka respectively; corporate bigwigs like Ashok Ganguly, former head of Hindustan Lever and Rajya Sabha MP and Sunil Munjal of the Hero group; politicians such as Union minister Suresh Prabhu and Sikkim MP P.D. Rai; senior journalists and columnists such as C. Raja Mohan, T.K. Arun, James Crabtree and Mythili Bhusnurmath, besides a host of retired or serving bureaucrats and academics among many others — the list is long.

A perusal of the illustrative list of writers given would convince anyone that Mr Mehta has excelled in getting the support of the high and the mighty in his endeavour to build his clutch of civil society organisations. Politically, he describes himself as a centrist. One could add “liberal” to that nomenclature. A more appropriate way to evoke his considerable skills would be to call Mr Mehta a successful networker. But that would be an understatement.

There are a few non-government organisations incubated in India that have managed to establish a global footprint for themselves in barely three and a half decades, certainly none that have sought to focus attention on policies and programmes that impact consumers, trade and market competition. An exception is the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), set up by Pradeep Mehta in Jaipur with a chapter in Kolkata during the first half of the 1980s. Today, over and above establishments in New Delhi and Chittorgarh in Rajasthan, the CUTS group of NGOs has offices in Lusaka (Zambia), Nairobi (Kenya), Accra (Ghana), Hanoi (Vietnam), Geneva (Switzerland) and Washington DC (the United States).

Putting Consumers First: Essays in Honour of Pradeep Mehta Edited by Sanjaya Baru & Abhishek Kumar CUTS International, pp 352; Rs 595Putting Consumers First: Essays in Honour of Pradeep Mehta Edited by Sanjaya Baru & Abhishek Kumar CUTS International, pp 352; Rs 595

This festschrift published on the occasion of Mr Mehta’s 70th birthday and 35 years of the existence of CUTS contains 45 essays from friends and well-wishers of the organisation’s founding father. All the contributors would be considered important and influential individuals. And predictably, all of them have high regard for the work that Mr Mehta has done. Quite a few of them are supporters of the current ruling regime, including, for instance, Jagdish N. Bhagwati, who has written the foreword to this collection of articles. The veteran professor of economics from Columbia University, New York, states that “…many policymakers worldwide regard Pradeep (Mehta) as an authentic developing-country voice that must be listened to by the rich countries” and goes on to heap fulsome praise on him by describing him using a Japanese phrase, as a “living treasure.”

In the category of supporters of the Narendra Modi government who have contributed to this volume are Rajiv Kumar, vice chairman of the NITI Aayog, the “policy thinktank” which replaced the Planning Commission; Rajeev Chandrasekhar, member of the Rajya Sabha from Bengaluru belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party; and Shakti Sinha, director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. Exuding optimism, Mr Kumar has argued — somewhat contentiously — that the country has achieved notable success in simultaneously undertaking a “triple transition” on its political, economic and social fronts and now needs to focus on “governance reforms.” Mr Chandrasekhar’s essay, titled “A Digital Magna Carta,” is on keeping the internet neutral to prevent access providers from cannibalising it, while Mr Sinha writes on green energy hoping that unlike the West, India will be able to achieve better environmental outcomes at its current levels of economic development.

The close acquaintances of the founder of CUTS who have written for the book are, however, not confined to those aligned with the current ruling dispensation. There are those who are opposed to the BJP, including Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor who has written on why and how global governance structures need to change to better reflect the aspirations of emerging nation-states at a time when the powers of countries that benefitted greatly from existing global structures that were set up after World War II, have waned.

Trinamul Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi states that Mr Mehta was not dissuaded from fighting for the causes he believes in, despite not making it to the post of chairman of the Competition Commission of India after a glowing recommendation from Chakravarthi Rangarajan, the then head of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council and former governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Rangarajan’s article in the book argues that while reforms are the “first important step” towards stepping up economic growth, reforms alone are insufficient unless the government is proactively focused on all-round development.

The book under review has been edited by Sanjaya Baru, political analyst and commentator who has served as secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, a body that represents the interests of private big business, together with Abhishek Kumar, director, CUTS International.

Among the contributors to this festschrift are international and Indian diplomats, policy wonks, corporate captains and journalists. They include Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, the sixth director general of the World Trade Organisation; Kenyan Mukhisa Kituyi, the seventh director general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; Kishore Mahbubani, who holds a number of notable positions in institutions in Singapore; Majyd Aziz, president of the Employers’ Federation of Pakistan and a strong proponent of enhanced trade between the two feuding neighbours; economists Isher Judge Ahluwalia, Mustafizur Rahman and the late Saman Kelegama from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka respectively; corporate bigwigs like Ashok Ganguly, former head of Hindustan Lever and Rajya Sabha MP and Sunil Munjal of the Hero group; politicians such as Union minister Suresh Prabhu and Sikkim MP P.D. Rai; senior journalists and columnists such as C. Raja Mohan, T.K. Arun, James Crabtree and Mythili Bhusnurmath, besides a host of retired or serving bureaucrats and academics among many others — the list is long.

A perusal of the illustrative list of writers given would convince anyone that Mr Mehta has excelled in getting the support of the high and the mighty in his endeavour to build his clutch of civil society organisations. Politically, he describes himself as a centrist. One could add “liberal” to that nomenclature. A more appropriate way to evoke his considerable skills would be to call Mr Mehta a successful networker. But that would be an understatement.

The writer is an independent journalist, author, publisher, educator, documentary filmmaker and consultant, with work experience of over four decades

Tags: modi government, pradeep mehta