A timely new anthology, a compilation of essays by intellectuals and businessmen, mostly from Singapore, reviews India's society and economy ahead of the 16th Lok Sabha elections.

What's Up? What's Down? Essays on Indian Socio-Economy
Edited by Gurdip Singh and Sameer C. Mohindru
206 Pages. Published by 7Clicks.
ISBN 978-981-07-8932-9.

As its economy flounders and society comes under severe strain for heinous crimes against women, India suddenly finds itself under the magnifying glass of academia. There are some important books published this year on the Indian economy. First, we had Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya coming out with their thesis in "Why Growth Matters: How economic growth in India reduced poverty and the lessons for other developing countries." This was followed by Princeton's release of Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen's "An Uncertain Glory". Not to be left behind, Harvard has published Sumantra Bose's "Transforming India".

Now we have the icing on the cake, an anthology of essays by academics, researchers, entrepreneurs, economists, bankers and bureaucrats, on what ails India's society and economy, put together by two Singapore-based journalists, Gurdip Singh and Sameer C. Mohindru. The compendium titled "What's Up? What's Down?" stands apart because it argues that the society and economy are intertwined and drive or pull each other. For example a weak economy with large slums is expected to have more incidences of crime against women. Interestingly most contributors in this E-book anthology are based in Singapore and provide a bipartisan bird's eye view on India ahead of the 16th Lok Sabha elections. They aren't blindly critical and instead suggest solutions for India to tackle its social and economic challenges.

The E-book, dedicated to the Delhi brave heart girl who passed away in Singapore, a year ago, is available for reading on the Amazon Kindle (Singapore, US and worldwide / India) and Google Play Books (Android Market) platforms.

The book gives voice to the sentiments of the Indian diaspora, which is keen to invest their hard earned money in their country of origin. Karan Singh Thakral, a Singapore-based businessman suggests that India must spruce up the infrastructure to revive its economy. Infrastructure is both - needed for economic development and also a business opportunity for the entrepreneurs.  The opportunity in the Indian market is immense because it is backed by a large middle-class, a strong spirit of entrepreneurship and a league of extraordinary businessmen, says Piyush Gupta, chief executive officer of DBS Group in Singapore.

As economists point out, India, a land of 1.3 billion people is not only a vast consumer base for manufacturers and businesses but also has a large pool of human resources to be tapped for giving a boost to manufacturing output and productivity.

Entrepreneurs and researchers are bearish about India's economic outlook in the short-term and suggest ways in which the country can unlock its potential. As Gupta points out, Indian companies and corporations are increasingly scaling up to meet world-class standards, and can be the bulwark for higher economic growth.

Magnus Bocker, Singapore Exchange's chief executive and Professor Rajendra K. Srivastava a Deputy President with Singapore Management University elaborate about their plans for India.

Contributors in this anthology express deep concern that Parliament, the temple of Indian democracy barely functions as lawmakers display more lung power than brain power. Though politically some might have triumphed in blocking parliamentary proceedings, but for the potential investors this is in bad taste.

The idea of an E-book germinated when an Indian brave heart girl, brutally raped in a moving bus in Delhi on December 16, 2012, was flown in to Singapore in a serious condition. The girl's passing away less than two weeks later was covered by the two journalists who have edited the anthology.

"We had extensive interviews with businessmen and researchers to get their two cents on the Indian society and economy, found both a sense of disappointment and optimism all around and decided to analyse this paradox in a book," says Mr Singh, one of the journalists.

Mr Mohindru says coalition politics isn't an obstacle in India's progress if the rulers are decisive and not afraid in taking unpopular decisions which change the course of India's economy, society and polity. Investors aren't afraid of multi-party coalition governments provided they are result oriented. He points out that implementation of the Mandal Commission report that recommended reservations for the backward classes, liberalizing the Indian economy by abolishing the industrial licensing regime, testing of nuclear bombs to enhance national security and the inking of Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, are all decisions taken by coalition governments that have ruled India during the last 25 years.

There are some very interesting observations in the book. Cineplexes and slums are both products of a liberalized and urbanized Indian society economy. Both had a role to play in the rape and death of the brave heart girl. In the pantheon of Hindu Gods and Goddesses , the female is always named first, Siya-Ram, Radhey-Shyam, Gauri-Shankar, Laxmi-Narayan, Uma-Mahesh, Devki-Vasudev, Yashoda- Nand and yet when it comes to respect for the female community, they are being treated with disdain.  Ironically, the main accused in the Delhi gang rape case was Ram Singh, named by his parents after Hindu God known for his character, idealism and virtue, Lord Ram, hero of the world renowned epic, Ramayana.

A top Singapore cardiologist, Dr V P Nair, suggests that a solution to India's woes lies in going back to its own ancient roots and principles of Vedanta. India lost momentum in the 1960s and 1970s due to a misguided commitment towards socialism, Girija Pande, former chairman of Tata Consultancy Services for Asia Pacific, in one of the essays.

In another essay, R Narayanamohan, chairman of the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry points out that Indian economy is one of the most heavily taxed in the world and a rejig and lowering of taxes is needed for the country to forge ahead in economic development. In an essay that analyzes India's new food security law, a retired officer of a state-run Indian company and renowned columnist, Tejinder Narang, terms it as FoodCare and compares it with ObamaCare, the U.S. health care program, and argues that both will prove to be a drain on two of the world's largest economies.

The silver lining is that all is not lost. The long-term structural opportunities are still there, says Gupta of DBS Bank.  A chapter on Amarnath, analyses how one of the world's oldest pilgrimages, with historical references going back more than 2000 years, has become the prime driver of the economy of the Kashmir valley. It argues that regardless of the overall health of the national and global economy, there are thousands of pockets of local economies that are blossoming and many are based on religious tourism, which is an ancient concept. The general consensus that emerges in the anthology s is that entrepreneurs and investors can't afford to ignore the consumption and production driven Indian economy, despite the current political churning and paralysis.