In 1857, the lavishly wealthy 330-year-old subcontinental Mughal empire was conquered by British imperialists who created their own empire. The British followed the maxim that conquered land belonged to the conqueror. So over the next decades, ships laden with booty crossed the seas to transfer untold riches to Britain. The name of the conquered land was Anglicised from Persian to English as India.
The latter was ruthlessly colonised. By the time the British rule ended in 1947, 'natives' were bequeathed a hapless 'tryst with destiny' (the emotional words of independent India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru) with an impoverished, desiccated, partitioned India whose pyrrhic victory lay in downgrading the British monarch's title from King-Emperor to merely 'King'.
Thus from a score of absolute scratch began the 'making of India' in 1947. The story magnificently told by Akhilesh Tilotia in his book under review with this title now unfolds. The point being made here is that just as in 1947, independent India urgently needed to be made viable, so also in 2015, the task of making a tenable, prosperous and strong India remains an equally urgent imperative. Needless to say, this task bristles with incredibly large complexities, which Tilotia, has set out to unravel, analyse and suggest solution-seeking action. To do so, he has constructed a bastion of reasoned research, though, truth to tell, he has not come up with any formula. It's quite possible no such formula exists. After all, as he aptly puts it, India today is a land of a multitude of transitions, each connected with the other. As Tilotia self-deprecatingly explains, "I have used my training and background as analyst and looked at the issues by deep diving into data. In developing my prognosis I have attempted to bring together the interlinkings between the various transitions." Amongst the latter, the author explains important ones in great depth. The facts, figures and analysis of the demographic transition comes first. This is what these three factors look like.
The Making of India by Akhilesh Tilotia; Rupa (Rs 500; PP 243)
Over the next few decades, India's population growth will yield a demographic dividend by a powering rise in her workforce from 484 million in 2012 to 850 million in 2025. This compares well versus China whose peak workforce in 2016 is expected to be 830 million.
However, India faces a flashpoint of danger here. If an economy grows at 7% a year in real terms, it doubles output in a decade and quadruples it in two. A generation is typically defined as a period of 25 years. As she stands today, India is set to quadruple its economy within the next generation of demographic growth. The expanded economy will bring with it changed spending patterns.
The author predicts: "Indians will still spend 65% of their wallets on basics like food, housing, health, education and transport that leaves them little to spend on leisure and better quality of life."
This doesn't bode well for making an India that is a better place to live in. To paraphrase Tilotia, the faultline is that India has not latched on to a growth led by manufacturing. Without mincing words, he opines: "The idea that India should be a hub of manufacture is a romantic one but beset with the fault of poor infrastructure. Mercifully India has realized that manufacture requires scale and has therefore done away with small scale reservations."
It stands to reason that lack of manufacturing prowess is the prime cause of India's staggering annual trade deficit of US$ 200 billion. Having said so, Tilotia reminds readers of India's success in competing bravely in the global services sector; earning an IT revenue of US$ 67 billion and fetching a diaspora revenue of US$ 65 billion. And here, he strikes a vital chord of caution. The current government's much vaunted 'Make In India' manufacturing focus is perched rather precariously, he implies. Owing to shortcomings and deficiencies described above, the patriotic 'Make In India' philosophy might fall short of stardom. For The Making of India effort, that would be a cruel twist of fate.
Sujoy Gupta is a business historian and corporate biographer.