Books and Me: Accidental India

Books Title: Accidental IndiaAccidental India

Author:  Shankkar Aiyar

For some time I have been wanting to read an economist take on India’s development, especially around liberalization.  Though macro economics is not my primary subject of study I have been intrigued, by the number of times liberalization has been mentioned during conferences and during my interactions with successful entrepreneurs. The references by these practitioners on the macro economics of India’s development did not make me too comfortable and hence I decided to pick a book.  Among the many I browsed, I picked Shankkar Aiyar’s ‘Accidental India’ – primarily because of its structure and hypothesis.

The book is structured around seven major events that have been seen as forward looking  and have also triggered changes in society. Was all this sheer accident? Or was it as per well laid plans? The seven events around which stories have been beautifully weaved are:

  • The liberalization of the economy, 1991
  • The Green Revolution , 1964
  • The Nationalization of Banks, 1969
  • The Operation flood, 1970
  • The mid-day meals scheme, 1982
  • The software revolution, 1990
  • The right to information, 2005

Each of the above mentioned are spoken of as major revolutions that have solved India’s challenges and also paved the way for development. While there is no doubt about the success and benefits of the various events,  I was rather surprised and amused on how each of them came to be. While the author’s deep research and incisive analysis builds the rational to show how each of these revolution were the result of a crisis and were not a result of any plan makes the already precarious development story appear scarier,  the fact that in most of these stories the protagonist was someone much lower than the leadership layer working slowly and steadily against all odds and obstacles to solve problems definitely leaves a positive feel.  A little more awareness and sensitivity by the leadership would have leveraged these actions, multiplied the benefits many times over. Reading the book also provides a detailed understanding on number of events that led to these successful revolutions.  The stories are filled with data, real life characters, people whom we may have known, heard of and also some unsung heroes . The stories have been weaved like a fast pace bollywood flick  with enough action, emotions and romance.

While it is a book on economics and development, the author ensures that you will keep reading till the end through his excellent story telling ability. If you are not from the area of economics as your daily job, you will benefit in knowing more about India, its actions, its policies, leadership, politics and execution machinery, which infact is eye opening.  After reading the book and being convinced by the author that every revolution in India has been caused by crisis – the epilogue raises questions on today’s challenges of the country, including power, agriculture, water and education.

Governing a country like India is not easy. But at the same time with the amount of intellectual ability and strength that we possess we definitely need better ways to foresee the challenges and opportunities that are in front of us as a nation. This understanding definitely adds one more lens or perspective to viewing our own actions before acting on them. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, learnt a lot from it and am motivated to read further on how strategy can help in public policy.

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2 thoughts on “Books and Me: Accidental India

  1. You’ve definitely enticed me to get this book and read it, Raj. What you wrote about “the protagonist was someone much lower than the leadership layer working slowly and steadily against all odds and obstacles to solve problems definitely leaves a positive feel” reminds me of this oft-cited saying by anthropologist, Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

    The result of these revolutions leading to lasting change and economic benefit in India should give pause to anyone who has ever looked at “reality” (which to my mind is only the manifestation of what we choose to believe and see) and either thought: “Why bother, nothing is ever going to change?” or “What’s the point doing anything, I’m only one person with no real clout?”

    Inspiring stuff, indeed!

    1. Thanks Dr Liz Alexander! I find some of these books contain stories from real life that are thoughtful and reflective of entrepreneurial effort. While i look for traditional stories on entrepreneurship, i find these off beat entrepreneurial efforts equally inspiring. In fact i use some of them in my courses on entrepreneurship to show that someone who intends to be entrepreneurial, can be so, irrespective of the environment, and eventually end up changing the ecosystem for the better. Glad you liked the review!

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