The release of the book (Made in India: 75 Years of Business and Enterprise) couldn’t have been timed better as it coincides with India reaching a significant milestone by becoming the fifth largest economy in the world, surpassing its former colonial master, the UK, after 75 years of independence.
Though many bureaucrats have already written extensively on India’s transition from a command economy to a market economy over the last few decades, this attempt by Amitabh Kant is refreshing as it sheds light on the second-generation reforms which began in 2014 and delves deep into the policies and people behind the disruptive new age start-ups and their unicorn-plus versions that are unleashing the entrepreneurial zeal among the Indian youth.
Kant’s ringside view as a top policy maker while initiating policies such as the flagship Make In India, Start-up India, Performance-Linked Incentive Scheme (PLI), Aspirational Districts, e-Mobility, Green Hydrogen, Ease of Doing Business reforms, have all added value to the book.
Pre-Narendra Modi era
Out of the seven chapters of this relatively short book, the first four chapters take you through how the British destroyed the Indian economy, India’s position at the dawn of Independence, the beginning of the Planning era under Jawaharlal Nehru’s leadership, nationalisation of private enterprises and the omnipresence of public sector enterprises during India Gandhi’s rule, the introduction of early-stage reforms (‘reforms by stealth’ as the author calls them) during the 1980s, new economic policies during the Narasimha Rao government in the early 1990s and the continuation of these policies by the subsequent governments till 2014.
If this is not your first book on the economic history of post-Independent India, you can skip these four chapters as the author doesn’t offer any fresh perspective and relies heavily on the available literature and media reports.
Modi, the ‘Messiah’
The policy analyst in Amitabh Kant comes to the fore from the fifth chapter onwards, which not only begins with Narendra Modi’s entry into the power corridors of Delhi as the Prime Minister in 2014 but also the ‘golden period’ in Kant’s career as the DIPP Secretary and NITI Aayog CEO.
For Kant, long overdue reforms such as GST, RERA, and IBC, under the Modi-led government have not only placed the private sector in the driver’s seat but also an antithesis to the policies of Modi’s predecessors who were not bold enough to break the shackles of the ‘old paradigm.’
Kant tries to bring down the temperature in this otherwise ‘serious’ book by sprinkling it with his lighter moments with Prime Ministers. What Atal Bihari Vajpayee advised the Kerala-cadre IAS officer on opting for a deputation with the Centre and Narendra Modi’s reaction when Kant sought his ‘blessings’ for the appointment as the Chairman of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) are some of the soft corners of the book.
Also, Kant’s role in developing India’s tourism industry, especially his efforts to put Kerala on the global tourist map by driving the ‘God’s Own Country’ campaign and promoting houseboats of the State and the ‘Incredible India’ campaign during his stint in the Tourism Ministry at the Centre are worth reading.
Throughout the book, Kant has equated India’s ‘business and enterprise’ either with big firms (India Inc) or the ubiquitous start-ups by ignoring the key role played by the men and machines in over 6.5 crore micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that contribute a whopping 30 per cent of the country’s GDP. As a reader, I would have expected the much-needed attention to this voiceless segment of the economy from Kant, who has been at the helm of industrial policy-making for a long period.
The most striking deficiency in this book is Kant’s silence on why the share of India’s manufacturing sector (in the overall GDP) is still struck at the 15 per cent mark despite pro-industry policies in the last nine years.
If you want to familiarise yourself with India’s start-up policies over the last decade, this book definitely offers some insights as it is coming from the horse’s mouth. If you are expecting deeper insights into the chequered history of India’s manufacturing sector, you are likely to be disappointed.
Check it out on Amazon.