Friday, March 09, 2007

Book Review: India Unbound, by Gurcharan Das

Book Review: India Unbound, by Gurcharan Das

It was the worst of times, a time of subjugation. It was followed by the nastiest of times, a time of clipped wings and lame accomplishments--until we had the best of times, the time of liberalization and encouraging growth. The time in which we live today.

That’s how Gurcharan Das portrays the three different economic eras India has had to encounter: pre-independence, post-independence till 1991, and from 1991 till present. In his book, India Unbound, Das has neatly chronicled the factors that influenced (or crippled) the country’s economic and business growth in each distinct period.

The book starts with the pre-independence era, when India was ruled by imperial masters. Surely, imperialism was never about facilitating prosperity and development in one’s colonies. So, we aren’t surprised to learn that under the Brits, India recorded dismal progress. But it was in the post-independence era where we really failed to realize our economic goals, and the prime reason for that, according to Das, was Nehru’s socialist-oriented policies. Profit is evil, is what Nehru promulgated.

If India was dismal, economically, under Pt. Nehru, then under Indira Gandhi, it was further wretched, with all manner of draconian controls being imposed on Indian industry. License Raj wouldn’t let companies expand or produce over a government-specified limit. Pricing was controlled. MRTP and FERA made business houses bleed. With no foreign competition, Indian companies cared minimally for the quality of their products or services. PSUs enjoyed monopoly in their sectors… Das pictures this era very intensely; perhaps he experienced it most intimately as the head of P&G in India.

Finally, the book reveals the new dawn, the golden year of 1991 when India had to – forcibly, I dare say – liberalize and deregulate its economy, scrap all the “stupid” controls, and open its market for foreign companies. The rest, as they say, is history.

Das also speaks about the magnates of Indian industry, who ruled in their respective eras. Be it Ambani’s all too familiar rags-to-riches story, or JRD’s (who use to pay a whopping 97% tax) meeting with Nehru, or the mention of first generation IT czars of India – Das describes them all very neatly. Insight into the personality and enterprising attitude of the Merwari community is also well-presented in a chapter dedicated to the community. Another chapter deals with the confident and burgeoning Indian middle-class, which is now the backbone of the Indian economy.

This book is a must-read for every Indian, and for anyone who wants to understand the factors that have and are shaping the contemporary Indian psyche, which, unlike the past, is now progressive, assertive, confident, and vibrant. And also because we should understand this age, the age in which India will be ushered towards awaiting glory.