Accidental India - A book review

Award winning journalist-analyst Shankkar Aiyar scooped the news of India pledging its gold reserves to the Bank of England during its worst economic crisis since Independence. His exposé of the hush-hush operation brought home to Indians, and the world, the magnitude of India’s woes. He has written his book “Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change” in the same gripping, engrossing journalistic style.

Aiyar examines India’s ascent through seven game changers: the economic liberalization of 1991, the Green Revolution of the sixties, the nationalization of banks in 1969, Operation Flood in the seventies, the mid-day meal scheme of 1982, the software revolution of the nineties, and the passing of the Right to Information Act in 2005. The preface asks you why crisis is the stimulus for change in India and the first thing you think of is the shameful December Delhi gang rape. It took a dead raped woman to wake up the country’s politicians to the need for change in sexual assault laws. But that will take another book. For now, here are my assimilations and most enjoyed take-aways from the book (without giving away everything / making it a summary essay).

So the book starts from the shadows of colonization and moves ahead with the independent India. Used to, as we were, to being controlled and monitored as a country, we took well to the government’s playing big boss post 1947. Bombay plan or no Bombay plan, state control was very high in the years following freedom and it only kept increasing. Each successive five-year plan kept adding to the list of forbidden areas for the private sector. As a result the country lost many developmental and growth opportunities. It was a case of illiterate parents hampering the blooming of a prodigy because of their own limited foresight. It was only towards the 80s, more with the advent of the Rajiv Gandhi era, that the politicized control of the economy started ending. While the babu system and evils of bureaucracy still continue to mar the country, it looks very different from the India of the 70s and before.

India’s founding fathers dreamt of a nation flowing with milk but there were no resources, nor the imagination. Along came Verghese Kurien. In Anand, a small town at the edge of rural India 442 km from Bombay, he gave birth to a revolution. With an idea to start a national milk grid, the rebellious US educated Kurien battled it out to fructify his ideas. Starting with his alliance with Sardar Patel, suggesting stop of milk-powder imports from New Zealand to help poor farmers, studying the process chain of converting milk into varius products at New Zealand and Australia, ensuring end to end processing of milk at KDCMPUL, using buffalo milk to convert into powder, harnessing the power of cooperatives to enhance output and empower farmers, use of sophisticated technology and the legendary Operation flood, Kurien led what the author calls ‘The Milky Way’ from the front. By the time, utterly butterly delicious Amul (Anand Milk Union Limited) was born, Amul had begun its journey of being the taste of India. Today Amul’s advertising budget is close to 100 crores and its turnover is close of 1100 crores.

If you have read Adiga’s White Tiger, you know a lot of what is in chapter 6, albeit in a comic way. But at least what I did not know was the role of Indira Gandhi in India’s software revolution, before I read Aiyar’s book. The North South Conference where all nations whether rich or poor came together to one table, saw interaction between Indira Gandhi and Ronald Regan that set off a new phase in Indo-American relations. In july 1983, the US and India signed the milestone Reagan-Indira Science and Technology agreement with the objective of working together across the technological spectrum. Among the firt technological giants to arrive in India after this agreement was Texas Instruments which in turn sent positive signals to all other potential multinationals. Now of course you have TCS, Infosys and HCL as the Indian giants and IBM, Accenture and HP as the global giants marking their territory in the Indian technological space. As of March 2012, IT and BPO services aggregated revenue of over $100 billion. The rest, as they say, will be history. 

These are nuggets from my three favourite chapters from the books that is laden with fascinating insights into india’s passage through crisis and change, making it eminently readable as a whole. I have limited experience with non-fiction books, but have to say, learnt a lot with this one. The book, published by Aleph Book Company this month, has been received to critical acclaim and endorsed by the likes of C. Rangarajan, chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, and Nandan Nilekani, Infosys co-founder and Unique Identification Authority of India chairman.

Publisher : Aleph Book Company

Genre : Non Fiction

ISBN : 978-81-923280-8-9

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