As the world approaches the 20th anniversary of the fall of
communism, it is worth investigating the costs borne by countries like
India that did not become communist but drew heavily on the Soviet
model. For three decades after its independence in 1947, India strove
for self-sufficiency instead of the gains of international trade, and
gave the state an ever-increasing role in controlling the means of
production. These policies yielded economic growth of 3.5 percent per
year, which was half that of export-oriented Asian countries, and
yielded slow progress in social indicators, too. Growth per capita in
India was even slower, at 1.49 percent per year. It accelerated after
reforms started tentatively in 1981, and shot up to 6.78 percent per
year after reforms deepened in the current decade.

What would the impact on social indicators have been had India
commenced economic reform one decade earlier, and enjoyed
correspondingly faster economic growth and improvements in human
development indicators? This paper seeks to estimate the number of
“missing children,” “missing literates,” and “missing non-poor”
resulting from delayed reform, slower economic growth, and hence, slower
improvement of social indicators. It finds that with earlier reform,
14.5 million more children would have survived, 261 million more Indians
would have become literate, and 109 million more people would have
risen above the poverty line. The delay in economic reform represents an
enormous social tragedy. It drives home the point that India’s
socialist era, which claimed it would deliver growth with social
justice, delivered neither.