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It was in 1991, three decades ago, that India, left with little time or options, ushered in pivotal economic reforms. It opened up its economy and abolished the intricate system of controls that gave the state primacy in most aspects of business and daily life. “No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come," the then finance minister Manmohan Singh said during his 1991 budget speech, quoting French poet Victor Hugo.

If the reforms process started under the government that faced a balance of payments crisis under Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, it has continued in fits and starts under various governments since then, shackled by coalition politics or lack of consensus at different periods, and for the first time under a government with a single-party majority under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, since 2014.

Today, India’s economy is facing exceptional headwinds yet again, battered by a pandemic. A potentially historic budget is at our doorstep. The circumstances are ripe for deep reforms. While the immediate reality is difficult, the sentiment is on the upswing. The vaccine rollout has begun. The Sensex just hit an all-time high.

It’s an opportune time to look back and take stock: How have these 30 years transformed India? What’s the unfinished agenda? What are the pitfalls to watch out for? What do the next three decades hold in store?

Today’s Mint carries a special edition on India’s economic reforms that tries to address these questions. It features essays by and interviews with experts and some of the protagonists who influenced policy at crucial junctures. We have spoken with entrepreneurs about how these decisions shaped their businesses. The pages of our special issue are illustrated with art curated from the past decade to point to the ways in which contemporary artists have documented and commented on the social, economic and political changes associated with a modern, more globalized India.

Also read

Like 1991, 2021 is an opportunity - C. Rangarajan

More than just a BOP issue’ - Montek Singh Ahluwalia

30 years on, India at the crossroads - Niranjan Rajadhyaksha

The rise of India’s Goliaths - Gita Piramal

A moment 18 months in the making’ - Rakesh Mohan

Healthy competition and open markets - Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

The banking sector’s learning curve’ - K.V. Kamath

Ignoring ecology is perverse economics - Pranay Lal

‘Making decisions outside the rule book rang in telecom’s success’ - N.K. Singh

Only in a crisis does India reform’ - Ruchir Sharma

Why legal reform remains an afterthought - Bibek Debroy

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