Time has come to call the British bluff. The “New Britain” is seen by British people themselves as a nation given to much war-mongering on the part of Tony Blair who imagines himself a second Winston Churchill! More war interventions, more name and fame for Britain.
I had read the two biographies of two great men, one a statesman, another a great economist. Now, reading these biographies, after I had lived through a rather longish life in India, I don’t seem to have the same excitement and a sort of glamour I had associated with these great men of great achievements. Yes, there was time when I was in Oxford I was taught economics by great economists themselves. One was Sir John Hicks who went on to win a Noble Prize. Another was Sir Roy Harrod, author of a first life of Lord Keynes and was also a student of Keynes. Harrod had this rather haughty way of saying us, students: “This is how Keynes thought of this problem, I know him so well, not the way you would be reading from other economists!”.
So, we were made to be fascinated by the way Keynes turned academic economics into an effective instrument of state policy. The life and achievements of Keynes even now makes for fascinating reading. The book, comprised out of three earlier volumes into a single volume is a treasure house of economic debates that shaped the 20th century economics, academic economics and also economic policy for lifting the world economy out of the Great Depression.
So, for Indian economists who all played such critical role in the formulation of the Five Year Plans Keynes was a role model and much inspiration. Those were the days when economists were taken seriously by politicians. Now? I am not sure whether politicians have any use or respect for economists. Narasimha Rao quietly buried the Economics Advisory Council, Dr. Manmohan Singh was then the Finance Minister! Now, Dr. Singh is the Prime Minister! I read Keynes life keeping Dr. Singh in mind! To find out whether Singh’s Prime Ministership and his economic management would have any meaning, a meaning I tried to derive by reading Keynes. My conclusions I cant put in writing, as the matter is rather too sensitive!
Fellow professional economist too might get offended if I, a free citizen of this country, thought a student of serious professional economics for much of my life, having Prof. Amartya Sen and others as my friends for all the years. I was in Santiniketan and Oxford, I have, to confess, come to treat professional economists and economists rather poorly! As an entrepreneur, I haven’t benefited at all from economics. Entrepreneurship demands a different type of mindset and perception. Indian economists are a timid people, they change colours according to who is in power. This is rather a shameful reality. Keynes, now seem to be much bluster and high profile controversy. My reading the volume now was mainly owing to find out the exact controversy between Keynes and his fellow economist, the Austrian, Fredrick Von Hayek, who though not given the recognition due by both the British and the Left economists, lived through much of Communism and won the first Nobel Prize for Economics and saw before his eyes the downfall of Communism! That was his foresight and wisdom! So, Keynes for what had all done for his country, would now remembered by the world for having helped to establish the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In a way he would be remembered for having made economic policy so that any government intervened to “manage” some key economic parameters, budget deficits, employment, economic equilibrium, prices, inflation, investments etc.
Keynes is considered a great economic theorist and even a sort of philosopher. An economic philosopher or a prophet? I doubt this claim. That claim can be legitimately appropriated by Von Hayek whose two books remain today as the anti-thesis to Communist utopia which classic stood against Keynes’s role in the government of the day. Can economists become politicians’ advisors?
The question now seems ironical, considering Dr. Singh as the Prime Minister. But in a government more so in a democracry, it is the periodic elections that decide the performance of Governments! So, Dr. Singh’s government’s too would be judged in the next elections!
The other book on Churchill is a latest, well written one by a fellow politician who died recently and who also served for long as the Chancellor of Oxford University. Now, my views on Churchill had radically changed. In the 1000 pages of this elaborate book, there is a very little reference to India. Where there is, it is Churchill’s infamous remark on Gandhi “the half naked fakir. The author mentioning the full sentences as spoke by Churchill, all he remarks is “the remark unfortunate”. Is this all, I wondered. About Nehru too Churchill didn’t warm up until his last years when he was out of office. We in India had to learn to change our views of Britain and Churchill now. First, Britain was never a friendly nation towards India. More so under the Conservatives. Only under Labour and that too under Atlee briefly upto 1947 there was this warming up.
Soon afterwards, the Labour Party itself lost its idealism that shaped it in its early years. One by one the friends of India, in the labour party, Harold. Lastly, Kingsley Martin, the editor of New Statesman and the old guard of the Labour Aneurin Bevan and many others (too many to mention) have passed away and the men and women who came after had become the very same English people, they forget their past traditions and the very face of new Britain had changed. May be there are some idealists left in the Liberal party. The author himself was a founder and leader of the Liberal Party, a near miss for the Prime Minister’s job!
So, I read the book to search for a more objective version of Churchill’s real pedigree. The very first chapter opens up with the statement: “Churchill’s provenance was aristocratic, indeed ducal and some have seen this as the most important key to his whole career. That is unconvincing”. This cant be said by any other biographer, so Jenkins’ book has a special appeal. Churchill pretended to be an aristocrat. Churchill tried hard to prove his family’s pedigree, he wrote some eight volumes of a biography of his ancestor to prove it. But his ancestor was an adventurer and Churchill was no blue-blood aristocrat, no traditional agri property, nor proper Oxbridge education. So, he had to become a soldier, live in debts, always was a defaulter, unpaid bills doffed him from his Bangalore days! His leadership in the second world war only helped to raise his image. But for Indians or for students of politics his life holds no lessons. Such as unscrupled man, no principles whatever, no beliefs. For him the end justified the means! It is the great merit of Lord Jenkins biography that it discredits the many claims of this man, a John Bull, a perfidious Albion and the myth stands shattered. Some merit!