Thursday, June 28, 2007
India Unbound: An attempt at a review
I finished reading the book a few weeks ago, and I’m officially declaring it as one of my favorites. I’m sure many great men and women have reviewed this book much more objectively and eloquently than I could ever hope for. So this is not going to be your traditional review, in fact I’m not quite sure what this is; just that I thought the book at the very least deserved a blog post.
Apart from my own, there are two nations that have always captured my imagination - one is the United States and the other is India. The latter perhaps more than the former, possibly because of my closer interaction with it – travel, friends and of course NDTV. This book relates the story of India, from its independence to its time under the ‘mixed economy’ and finally to economic liberalization and beyond.
Gurcharan Das, the author of India Unbound is a former CEO of P&G India and a Harvard educated scholar who grew up almost with post-independent India. The book is part memoir, part economic analysis and part political history all compiled into an engaging as well an insightful book about India. The thesis of the book can be summarized as follows:
After India won its independence from the British, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru started building a nation based on secularism, democracy and socialism. Nehru being infatuated by the then Soviet Union introduced the ‘third way’ supposed to combine the best of socialism and capitalism, but ended up combining the worst features of both. In combining democracy with socialism the Indian state quickly degenerated into a license-raj and a massive bureaucracy which lead to corruption and suppression of millions of aspiring entrepreneurs.
Few, like Dhirubhai Ambani’s managed to beat the system, and use it to their advantage. But for every success, there were thousands who failed. After years of struggle, and faced with a financial crisis and a change of government, India opened up its economy in 1991. Unshackling itself from the self-imposed chains and controls and ever since has put itself towards a path of rapid economic growth especially helped by the global information age.
It’s a wonderful story of how reforms can bring about such profound changes, and the lunacies of command and control economics. He takes a very personal approach citing examples he himself has experienced, conversations he had, and the situations he had to face as a manager and a businessman. The book often diverts its attention to societal analysis, governance and sometimes even management advice, but somehow all of it manages to fit well with the overall narrative.
It’s an optimistic take on India. Some have criticized the book for this feature and how it doesn’t present a ‘balanced view’ of India. But as Das himself has said, it’s not supposed to be a scholarly work; it’s a book, the story of India seen by one Gurcharan Das. Some of his optimism, particularly with regard to the IT-based services has not materialized but by and large, the thesis of the book remains strong especially against the backdrop of India’s current progress.
I wish some of the Sri Lankan policy makers and even some Sri Lankan newspaper editors take a look at the book. India Unbound: from Independence to the Global Information Age – A must read!
Gurcharan Das maintains a blog here.