chairman started its work in December 1938.
However, the birth of a new nation state gave an agency and primacy to
the task of articulating, with reasonable clarity, the broad framework of
development and the national leadership took up the challenge in all
seriousness. Through the deliberations of experts drawn from a broad
spectrum of the intelligentsia and professions such a framework was put in
place. The planning commission was set up in 1950 with Nehru as its
chairman. The commission, which soon became the cynosure of many
economists of the day, was entrusted with the task of devising an appropriate
development strategy through five-year plans.
It may be worth stressing here that around the time the country gained
independence, planning per se, as distinct from specific frameworks and
strategies, had already come to enjoy wide acceptance. It has considered
absolutely necessary to break free from the prevailing stagnation and.
backwardness, thus the debate was not about the need for planning but about
the kind of planning. The alternative suggestions offered ranged from the
Bombay Plan to the People’s Plan to a Gandhian Plan and covered a huge
ideological spectrum. Around this time, a strong advocacy for planning, not
only for India but also in the case of any post-colonial backward country,
came from the emerging powerful sub-discipline of economics called
development economics. The perceived spectacular economic successes of
the then USSR only added to this controversy.
The broad framework of planned development that got the official nod
hinged on the central importance of rapid industrialisation for ushering in an
era of prosperity and modernisation. One of Nehru’s statements brings this
out quite categorically—“We are trying to catch up, as far as we can, with
the Industrial Revolution that occurred long ago in western countries.” Such
an emphasis was again very much in line with the dominant view in
development economics, as well as related disciplines, and had support from
the overwhelming majority of the professional intelligentsia in the country. It
was also very much in line with what one presumed was the explanation for
the success of the USSR.
Moreover, and again consistent with the dominant voices and perceptions
in the intellectual climate of the time, the role of the state in promoting
economic development was considered absolutely central. The public sector
was accorded the pride of place in carrying forward the onward march of