India happens to be a rich country inhabited by very poor people
– Manmohan Singh

Seldom does a book merit an article, let alone the promise of a series. But certain topics when are said to be addressed by men and women who command immense respect, their addresal too must be assessed. India to Indians is not an enigma, not an inexplicable oriental carnival of chaos. But those who seek its portrayal in literature often find little else. So when a multinational company taps the brains of many Indian as well as foreign persons for the reinterpretation of the world’s 7th largest nation, the results demand reading.

Indiabook_hero7Reimagining India is a collection of essays by people of economic, political and social prominence, on the nation and the change it is or should be heading for (published in 2012). Compiled and edited by McKinsey and Co. this promises to “Unlock the potential of Asia’s next super power”. Unlike tedious reports and recommendations one may come to expect of the company that published it, this book caters to a wider audience. The business school aspirant, entrant or passout shall find this the perfect travel companion. Its ability to bestow upon the bearer an aura of presumed intelligence with a blend of fleeting patriotism is another plus. I stay away from such books but I am glad I didn’t with this.

The entire book is divided into 6 chapters with a dozen or so essays in each. The first, reimagining tries to build the landscape into which the reader is to be later led. When you pick this book up you assume that even though the opinions it offers may not the most informed ones, they shall be influential. In all the articles the following are painfully, obviously common:

  • Reverence to the Freedom struggle and the nation’s founders
  • Pre 1991 economic woes of the license permission raj.
  • The opening up of the economy
  • Direct competition with China
  • India’s diversity

All the authors mostly seem to base their contributions around these central themes. However given the natural diversity of human thought there are differences, some rather pleasant ones. The first articles underlines the importance of India’s middle class and how the shaping of this nation shall be by the people and not a leader. Its a pleasant revisiting of Indian policy making and history by Fareed Zakaria. The second piece is by an interesting author Ruchir Sharma whose book Breakout Nations is another one for the MBA, economics or polity students must read to appear informed, list. He cuts down the optimist to size arguing that India’s growth has been not remarkable when compared to other nations adjusting for scale and population. He outlines the idea that basic sustenance provision is no longer a ballot winner in India. His notion of state level development to build the nation is echoed in the article by the chairman of the Mahindra group. Anand Mahindra‘s vision for India’s growth is a model of competition among states for investment. To any mind used to capitalism this seems like the perfect cure for the lethargy of state governments and the center’s indifference to them. He also speaks of learning from China’s urbanization mistakes and being prepared with smaller economic urban areas to take the financial load off our current handful metro cities. Gurcharan Das the author of India grows at Night echoes perhaps the laments of every Indian businessman even today. Growth despite policies and not because of them seems to be the mantra to begin with. He speaks for a strong state which can lead to the dissolution of crony capitalism and becoming pro-business. Here one comes across the ease to invest in India and the numbers are shaming yet not wholly surprising.

Ease of Investment Index as computed by the World Bank.
Ease of Investment Index as computed by the World Bank.

Anand Girdharadas goes in the search of the Indian dream in his article. The idea that our collective dream is a million acts of private daring, is gripping as well as relatable. The concept of the shackles of societal thinking and a resignation to fate which is often applied to nations in the orient is now put into the Indian context. While to the unthinking patriot the word sanskar might offer some if shallow defense, the rising healthy wave of individualism is encouraged in this work. Mukesh Ambani‘s piece is to be acknowledged for the what the author represents rather than the content presented. There is little said that is new but perhaps the once richest man in the world and the CEO of a huge company isn’t the right choice to contribute an article out of an already full life? Or perhaps he is, as Bill Gates proves in the last article of the chapter. The man whose genius runs the systems on which most of the other authors wrote their works offers a unique insight into India’s fight with polio. He proposes that Indians and the world don’t recognize the resolve and the strength of the large economically depressed fraction of the nation’s population. He sees hope in the promise of enterprise where even Indian’s refuse to see it.

As is to be expected from any collection of non fiction articles the overall experience shall be a mixed bag. Some of these works might be partially or full ghost written or heavily edited. Perhaps many were included for the name of the author and not the content. They might not even make any impact on the way the world perceives this nation of ours. But to the thinking mind there is a plethora of ideas and explanations along with further sources of reading that this book offers. The first chapter was educational and thought invoking, what more can one ask for?

A panel discussion with a few contributors to the book.

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