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India Unbound: The Social and Economic Revolution from Independence to the Global Information Age Paperback – April 9, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Since the start of the recent global boom in information technology, there's been much talk in economic circles of an India covered with bold stripes, the next Asian tiger. Gurcharan Das, however, sees a much larger but lumbering elephant rising out of the muggy history of a country in which one-sixth of the world's population resides. India, as he states in India Unbound, "will never have speed, but it will always have stamina." How that stamina has evidenced itself over the past half-century is the focus of Das's book, an intricate, personal account of the beginnings of India's ongoing economic and social transformation.

Das begins his story shortly before India gained its independence from the British in 1947. He was born into a middle-class Punjabi family well ensconced in the new British-educated professional class. Das's borrowed term of "cultural commuters" fits his father's generation well, and his description of life lived between the more philosophical and spiritual worlds of Indian tradition and the Western-influenced business world of the British Raj reveal both a versatility and disorientation that was to permeate succeeding generations of independent Indians. Though mindful of Jawaharlal Nehru's influence on India's embrace of democracy, Das takes to task the economic leadership of the man who, while beginning his democratic rule with ambitions to end "poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity" ultimately failed in this regard. With an ever-present eye on the economic plight of his fellow countrymen (and frequent use of anecdotes and statistics), Das examines the irony of the socialist governments of Nehru and Indira Gandhi, which were founded in the name of the poor but became inefficient, bureaucratic behemoths, sucking the economic lifeblood out of the country. His education at Harvard introduced him to a slew of influential theories, including those of economist John Kenneth Galbraith and philosopher John Rawls. But instead of remaining in academia, Das began his career in business, joining the Indian subsidiary of Vicks and rising to become head of its Indian company, Richardson Hindustan, in 1981, and eventually, a CEO at Proctor & Gamble. Soon after the economic reforms of the early 1990s, however, Das left to employ his keen observational skills as a journalist and writer, and the latter part of this book is crammed with his insights into the opportunities of present-day India. Das is obviously enthusiastic about the possibilities that the knowledge economy has opened up for India, but he thoughtfully examines these economic options within the framework of the cultural past and future of a country on the "brink of the biggest transformation in its history."

As an autobiography that touches on every area of life but focuses a keen eye on economic development, Das's account is jam-packed with detail. At every chance, he sets the personal story of his family and ancestors in the wider context of history (often for full chapters at a time), creating a broad and richly detailed picture of Indian life. Though he writes in colorful, descriptive prose, Das's succinct and matter-of-fact statements occasionally seem to belie the complexity and ambiguities of historical and cultural transitions. However, India Unbound is a vast undertaking, and Das's combination of historical account, economic analysis, cultural observation, and personal experience is often intriguing and always informative. --S. Ketchum --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Das, an Indian venture capitalist and columnist for the Times of India (and former CEO of Procter & Gamble India), uses his own experiences as a businessman as the context in which to comment on India's postcolonial economic policies. He begins with Nehru's mixed economy (which he argues achieved democracy but ignored entrepreneurship and competition, resulting in an absence of industrial development) and continues through to the economic reforms of 1991 under Prime Minister Narasimha Rao (whom he labels a "reluctant liberalizer"), demonstrating how India has abandoned state-directed industrialization and finally become a free-market democracy with a burgeoning middle class. He also points out how India's late (and incomplete) entry into the international economy continues to hamper its growth, as compared to other late entries, such as that of China, which had a lower per capita income than India did in the mid-'60s and today boasts one twice as large as India's. Nevertheless, Das remains optimistic that "the new India is increasingly one of competition and decentralization," particularly because of the Internet and the boom in software entrepreneurship. In explaining India's economic policies, he gives much credence to theories about high-caste Brahmins being averse to making money and the government's fears that capitalism would crush the poor; but Das only mentions in passing Russia's ideological sway at the time of India's independence and does not discuss the Cold War or the context for India's belief that import substitution was necessary to make India less dependent on the outside world for its survival. Business readers with an interest in Third World development will learn much from Das.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (April 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385720742
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385720748
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #578,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Recently, while vacationing in India, I happened to watch an episode of 'Question Hour', an Indian political talk show hosted by Prannoy Roy on BBC World. Gurcharan Das was one of the guests and he, just like the other guests, shared his views on the Indian economy, the past policies and the needs for the future. The views expressed were so insightful and honest, that I decided to buy Gurcharan's book, 'India Unbound'.
Honestly, I couldn't put the book down for a minute. I finished the book, cover to cover, in three days. In my opinion, this is one of the finest books ever written about India (in the same league as 'Freedom at Midnight'). This book is not only superbly written, but also provides valuable insight and perspective.
The author discusses his childhood, his humble beginnings in corporate India, and his views about socialism and capitalism. In parallel, he discusses history, India's freedom, Indian politics and government, the Indian bureaucracy and even the caste system. Most endearing though, is how he describes the events in his life in a broader perspective of national politics and policies. He performs insightful analysis of the workings of Indian bureaucracy and how it influenced/touched not just his life, but the lives of millions and the workings of corporate India. He talks about all the failed attempts to reform government in the past (including his own) and the failures of the people in power to perform introspection and to do course correction.
He talks about the new beginnings after the reforms of 1991, the hopes and aspirations of millions in this new millenium, the IT boom, and the wonderful possibilities of the future.
This book is a must read for anyone who feels strongly about India.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Pranab Majumder on October 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book presents a picture of India's Economic and Business stroy from just before Independence in 1947 till about 2001. Mr Das uses his family members as a chorus to present the story in the early days, and then transitions to his own experiences as a manager in Richardson Hindustan, where he had a ringside view of the business climate in India during the 70s and 80s and later.

He captures the initial euphoria over independence and the sense of control Indians felt over their own destiny, which led to Nehru's implementation of a centrally planned economy, with most important industries nationalized, and private enterprise being severly shacked, and "profit" being a dirty word.

Some of the chapters in this book are almost like business cases/narratives which present the journey of different business houses, like the Tatas or the Ambanis as they tried to run business and navigate the suffocating bureaucratic maze that the planned economy gave rise to. His contention is that while Nehru may have made a mistake, the real blunder was in continuing with the planned economy model after his death even when it was abundantly clear that it was not working.

He leads up to the balance of payments crisis, with the resultant changes in the Indian economy caused by liberalization by Narsimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, who appear to him to be apologetic reformers almost unaware of the monumental changes they were unleashing. Finally, he notes the frustration that the economy has not continued to open up as quickly as it had started to, now that the crisi has passed. However, he notes that there is a sense of widespread optimism that is driving change all over India.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Ajit G. on April 11, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book gives an in-depth look at the follies of past governmental policies in India while tracing substantial changes in the nation's economic plans within the last ten years--allowing for the opening of markets and a competitive stance in the global arena by India. He outlines the failures of Nehru's idealistic approach, along with Mrs. Gandhi's autocratic regime. It also shows the potential for further opportunity with the change of the economic environment via globalization. It does have a few weaknesses--capitalism is exhorted as a panacea for India's dilemmas. And the image presented is overly rosy--the book only gives half of the picture and is unfounded in its optimism with regards to India's future via its current path. Abraham George's "India Untouched: The Forgotten Face of Rural Poverty" and P. Sainath's "Everybody Loves A Good Drought" are excellent counter-points to the issues presented in this volume.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very informative book (and a thrilling one for every Indian) on the current state of Indian economy, what policies and factors shaped it and what can be made of it in the new century. The book blends government policy details of the past half a century (of independence) with interesting anecdotes of successful businessmen. The author is a strong advocate of free market policies and comes down heavily on Nehruvian thinking. The statistics and facts that are presented to support his reasoning are compelling.
After reading this book, one would tend to see a lot of mistakes in Nehru's view of modern India. The book squarely blames Indira Gandhi for most of the damage done to the system, citing the nationalization of banks and enactment of laws thwarting entrepreneurship. Overall, the book is very positive in what the new millenium holds for India. It presents a glowing future in the face of the recent economic liberalization.
A must read to catch up with post-independence Indian economy.
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