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February - March 2008
Kamal Nath - 'India's Century' Launched in London
The launch of INDIA'S CENTURY, a book written by Kamal Nath, India's minister for Commerce and Industries at Marlborough House, West End London, was the showcase for the new dynamic India and its role in the world in future decades. Sitting on the dais with Kamal Nath, were the shining stars of Indian business. Sunil Mittal introduced the Minister and his solo creation. Mukhesh Ambani was there to lend his hand; and our own Laxmi Mittal spoke eloquently about the personality and achievements of Kamal Nath, the man and the politician. Among the audience were Hinduja brothers, Vijay Malaya, Arun Sarin and many other business luminaries of Indian Diaspora. The presence of such a galaxy of business stars is a testimony to the magnetism of Kamal Nath, one of the most successful ministers in Dr. Manmohan Singh's cabinet.
The title of the book may sound hyperbolic; but the contents are factual and illuminating. The 200-page treatise takes the reader, whether Indian or foreigner, on a roller coasting ride of economic, political and cultural triumphs and tribulations of the last sixty years of Independent India. Wherever possible, Kamal Nath has avoided economic jargon and political shibboleths that are so common with Indian writers on economics and politics. Kamal Nath's style of writing deals with the intricate economic problems of India and the world in plain English suffused with his enthusiasm for the subject. The book divided in twelve chapters takes us from 'Here and Now' (1947) to Twenty Twenty (2020). Any forecasting is, as Kamal Nath admits, a hazardous business. Playing Nostradamus can backfire, especially on the career of an active politician.
Kamal Nath, nevertheless, ventures into the deep with his thought-provoking analysis of early failures of the Indian economy in the 60,s and 70's. To some it may sound as an apologia for economic planning regime under Jawahar Lal Nehru and the socialistic pattern of society under Indira Gandhi. Kamal Nath writes; "While India is now seen as a country that counts, the picture was not so rosy just 15 years ago, when economic reforms began in 1991. Inflation was raging, and real GDP growth was taking too long to shift gears. The present was tense; the past seemed imperfect. Many were ready to blame Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, for having taken the country on a state-driven, semisocialist path in the 1950s. This premise is wrong, as after independence and later, the private sector was in its infancy, resources were scarce, and poverty was endemic. Yet India was able to build a social and economic foundation from which it could one day hope to launch itself on a high-growth trajectory. Today's "India story" is being written by a generation molded by the institutions of the Nehru era - the government-incubated Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the medical colleges, the science faculties, and above all, the rule of law, which alone can sponsor and nurture meritocracy. Many of the policies introduced between independence and the 1991 reform were for building blocks of the booming economy of today's India.” (pp90-91). He further iterates, "The perception of India's slow development in the first four decades after independence ignores the fact that the cultural and attitudinal change that ought to have come first was missing."
Who were responsible for these missing elements? Kamal Nath is shy of elaborating on the leadership of the congress, which after Nehru became focussed in one person and one family.
Coming back to the most interesting part of his book, the business instinct of the Indians and the entrepreneurship of Indians in general. Mr Kamal Nath has accurately struck the nail on the head. He says, "Be they at the bottom of the pyramid, the middle, or the top, what comes most naturally to Indians is the ability to spot an opportunity to do business. This is a quality that some societies have, and others don't. Just having natural resources does not necessarily make a nation entrepreneurial." And he is absolutely right. He gives examples of Japan, Singapore and Switzerland. However, he overlooks the hordes of Indian graduates who migrated to Britain and the United States in 60's and 70's with just £3 or its equivalent in dollars in their pockets. Today, the same Indians are a great success story and some are multi-millionaires in Britain and the United States. What lure did these countries have that India could not provide? Frankly, the opportunities to start new businesses did not exist under the command economy led by bureaucrats and statisticians in the Planning Commission.
In paying tribute to the Indian Diaspora, Kamal Nath is quite generous, "In many ways, Indians are model immigrants. Industrious, hard working, and focused on merit-based and education-dependent advance, their human skills are much sought after. At a time when immigration and related issues tend to trigger convulsions, or at least strong debate, in Europe and the United States, Indians are being inspired to come over to work in these very nations. At one level, this is a tribute to India's prodigious human capital. At another, it is a salute to Indians as nonintrusive outsiders who settle into their host society, live by its rules, and add value to it, while enriching and enlightening themselves and their families. The Indian value system that migrant families cherish and seem to thrive on has added lustre to the image of India itself. The 20 million children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of India who live in over 100 counties around the world are really India's unofficial ambassadors." (pp158)
One cannot thank Kamal Nath enough for giving such a generous and deserving testimonial to Indians overseas, commonly called the NRIs by the Indian media. What about the attitude of his government towards these 'India's unofficial ambassadors'. One could ask how have they been treated in India in the last sixty years as compared with the British and American expatriates all over the world?
Kamal Nath is undoubtedly correct in his diagnosis of Indian entrepreneurship whether they live in India or overseas. It is this entrepreneurship which, given full freedom, could achieve for India what Mr Nath is aspiring for in the next twelve year. Yet it is a tall order for the United Progressive Alliance, which is ruling India with the support of Communist parties.
The major hurdles, as Mr Nath has aptly pointed out in the book, are poor infra structure, lack of universal basic education, poor health care and hygiene facilities. Building of roads, airports, seaports and railways need a lot of investment.
Electricity is the foremost. Without power nothing can be achieved. Dr Manmohan Singh, with the support of the Indian Diaspora in the United States has, on paper at least, concluded an Indo-American nuclear treaty. It has the support of the Congress party and that of Kamal Nath. It is not likely to come to fruition in the present parliament because of the attitude of the left wing parties who are determined to hold India back.
Realising it fully well Kamal Nath still is very optimistic about the present rate of GDP growth continuing for at least a decade.
His optimism, some may call it delusion, emanates from a host of trends within India as well as worldwide. The book describes the trends in detail; but the basic factor, according to Mr Nath, is India's demography, Its educated, English-speaking work force which is the largest in the world.
Another plus point about the book is its lucid explanation of Doha rounds and continuous meetings of WTO where India, under the stewardship of Kamal Nath, has played a crucial role. Huge agricultural subsidies by the West to its farmers keep the Indian farmer poor. I wish politicians in the West read the book and find out the reality.
The book narrates some very interesting episodes of the progress of Kamal Nath's constituency and his hold on his voters. A student of Political Science can do a thorough research on this very aspect for the benefit of future students of Indian democracy.
The book INDIA'S CENTURY, oracular as it may seem, is, in fact, a book about India and her social, cultural and political ethos in the present day, which may, in the long run, turn India into Bharat, a land of plenty distributing its riches to other countries in need and disseminating its ethical principles to the corridors of power all over the world. In that sense, the 21st century can indeed be India's century.
(INDIA'S CENTURY by Kamal Nath is published by McGraw Hill, New York)