India Unbound is the riveting story of a nation's rise from poverty to prosperity and the clash of ideas that occurred along the way. Today's India is a vibrant free-market democracy, and it has begun to flex its muscles in the global information economy. The old centralized, bureaucratic state, which stifled industrial growth, is on the decline; the lower castes have risen confidently through the ballot box; and the middle class has tripled in the last two decades. This economic and social transformation is one of the major themes of this book.
Gurcharan Das recounts the hope and despair of the last fifty years. The Licence Raj created a work environment in which a cousin of the author, one his first day at work in the railways, could precipitate a strike just because he was honest. An on one occasion, the author, even though a seasoned executive, was driven to sit by the polluted Yamuna and weep after a fruitless meeting with a bureaucrat. The transformation began in the golden summer of 1991, when a reticent reformer, Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, finally changed the nation's course through sweeping economic reforms. A restrictive regime, in which the state dictated everything, from a woman's choice of lipstick to the programmes on television, gave way to the optimism of a rising middle class eager to compete with the rest of the world. It was a quiet revolution, one that has not been chronicled before.
Gurcharan Das examines the high's and lows of independent India through the prism of history and his own experiences and those of numerous others he has met following the reforms, from young people in sleepy UP villages to the chiefs of software companies in Bangalore. Defining and exploring the new mindset of the nation, India Unbound is the perfect introduction to contemporary India.
Here is a totally fresh look at India based on today's values. Unlike other books on India, its heroes are not political figures but private individuals. And the dualism that it focuses on is not between the rich and the poor, nor the village and the city, but the contrast between the vibrant private space in India versus the impoverished public space.
Mr. Das argues that "India embraced democracy first and capitalism afterwards and this has made all the difference. India became a full fledged democracy in 1950, with universal suffrage and extensive human rights, but it was not until 1991 that it opened up to the free play of market forces. This curious historic inversion means that India's future will not be a creation of unbridled capitalism, but it will evolve through a daily dialogue between the conservative forces of caste, religion and the village, the leftist and Nehruvian socialist forces which dominated the intellectual life of the country for 40 years, and the new forces of global capitalism. These 'million negotiations of democracy,' the plurality of interests, the contentious nature of the people, and the lack of discipline and teamwork imply that the pace of economic reforms will be slow and incremental. It means that India will not grow as rapidly as the Asian tigers, nor wipe out poverty and ignorance as quickly."
"The Economist has been trying, with some frustration, to paint stripes on India since 1991," adds Das, "It doesn't realise that India will never be a tiger. It is an elephant that has begun to lumber and move a head. It will never have speed, but it will always have stamina." And in moving into the future, if India manages to avoid the negative side-effects of an unprepared capitalist society and hold it own against the onslaught of global culture, then, states Das, "it is, perhaps, a wise elephant."
The story of this "silent revolution" is narrated in the first person by someone who has lived and intimately participated in it. He breathes life into the clash of economic and social ideas by recounting how one middle class family has lived its life and responded to the ups and downs of the past fifty years.