Monday, February 15, 2010

India Unbound

I just finished reading the book India Unbound by Mr Gurucharan Das.

I began the book on a skeptical note after reading numerous books and articles projecting an overly optimistic future of India and its citizens. I must say the book did complete justice to the time and energy that I invested in reading over 350 pages in it. The author came across as a knowledgeable person equipped with keen observation skills. Now, some observations can lead to theories. Mr Das is very liberal to put forward his own theories. I believe that’s where the problems can arise. But, as far as the book in terms of original ideas and analysis is concerned, it is an inspiring work. The author utilizes various references to judge the state of Indian politics, economics, and society. For example, he compares India with China, Japan, the US, and sometimes India of the past. He nails the issues related to the lack of development of the capital markets in India and the way the Government and bureaucracy sabotaged the entrepreneurial spirit of Indians. I found his analysis related to the lack of progress and development in India quite intriguing and accurate.

My criticism is the sense of entitlement that he affords to claim through the access to politicians, his educated class upbringing, and knowledge through his business experience that the author claims in various parts of the book. It starts to rub on the readers face after a few references to his Harvahd education and exploits at P&G. To be fair, he does provide a good amount of original analysis to walk the talk.

The tone of the book can be described as politically neutral, socially liberal, capitalist by economic inclinations. The book has a lot of in depth analysis of the social order, politics and the economics in India. The author narrates with great faith and conviction the benefits associated with capitalism, liberalization, and equality. He has laced the book with rhetoric of the inefficiencies associated with the Government bureaucracy and the legacy of Indira Gandhi and Nehru. He has rejected the Nehruvian model of mixed economy as disastrous at best. His acerbity towards Indira Gandhi is very entertaining and enlightening.

Contradictions are inherent in the book and the author has failed to address several other models such as US, UK, Japan that grew and became industrial under the Government umbrella. These economies were protectionist and the Government bureaucrats played a significant role in the initial stages of the economic development in these countries. He ignores these facts and does not detail on why some models do so well and some did not. He also ignores the extreme capitalist versions implemented in Argentina that led to the bankruptcy of a nation and abject poverty of its innocent citizens.

He recommends that Venture Capitalists and entrepreneurs will revive India. He also glorifies the role of MNCs’s participation in the Indian economy. But, he again does not acknowledge the power of big corporations to wipe out the small entrepreneurs. The monopolies and inefficiencies associated with the capital markets do not make even the slightest mention in the book. I feel that just describing the benefits of capitalism is not sufficient to develop a strong economy in India. We need active participation of Government to bring out half of our population still stuck in the mud of dearth, poverty, and ignorance.

I think this is one of the better books written about India from a very broad perspective. This book has not only influenced mere mortals like myself, but powerful CEOs such as Mr Narayana Murthy of Infosys to write a whole book by developing some of the ideas mentioned in the book. On the whole, a very good book and a must read for young Indians.

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