Apr-Jun 2014

Reimagining India – Unlocking The Potential of Asia’s Next Superpower

‘Reimagining India – Unlocking the Potential of Asia’s Next Superpower’ is not merely another book to be read and passed on. It is a unique and remarkable effort to bring together perspectives of some of the top business leaders, academicians, sportsmen, and thinkers from India and abroad, on the various facets that together help carve out a kaleidoscope of issues, challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for India. McKinsey and Company, the world’s leading management consulting fi rm, has done a meticulous job at presenting the myriad views obtained first- hand, in an unbiased and professional manner. The book is divided into six sections and neatly buckets the individual article contributions into cohorts that address distinct, yet equally important aspects of this grand exercise of ‘Reimagining India’.

The book’s first section traces the various connotations that the word – ‘Reimagining’ has, in the Indian context. Anand Mahindra, Chairman and Managing Director of the Mahindra group, in his essay, points to how the concept of the once ‘BIMARU’ or ‘sick’ states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh can no longer be called that. With Bihar surging forward with renewed vigour and Madhya Pradesh establishing new and effective governance models, each under able state leaderships, have set new precedents for other states. He uses these examples to cite the manner in which Indian states, and their characteristics, could be re-imagined.

Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and CEO of Reliance Industries Limited, traces how 1991, the year of economic liberalisation in India and the opening up of the market, stood to benefit Reliance and much of Indian commerce in a big way. He believes that India sits at the cusp of another revolution, similar to the post 1991 era, a revolution that will be sparked by the ever growing middle class, estimated to top one billion by 2040. He asserts that possibilities to overhaul the banking, education, healthcare, entertainment, and retail sectors are breathtaking, especially with the rising income levels and the massive penetration of mobile phones among the large Indian masses. In his essay titled – ‘Overtaking the Dragon’, Yasheng Huang, Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, stresses how economic and social progress can be steered forward, even in a political setup, plagued by the limitation of coalition party dynamics. He says, “In India, nearly all important legislative reforms have been carried out by a coalition of multiple parties rather than by a single majority ruling party”. His explanation lends strength to the argument that coalition politics can no longer be used as an excuse by ruling parties, for not initiating radical reforms. Victor Mallet, the South Asia Bureau Chief for the Financial Times, cautions against the potentially devastating consequences of an uncontrolled population growth. He makes a compelling case as to how the Indian policy makers must stop waiting for the ‘demographic dividend’ to roll in. He instead suggests taking proactive steps to defuse what he interestingly calls ‘a potential demographic time bomb’. It is worth mentioning here, that the authors have done a marvellous job of presenting the reader with an informed view, free from the usual over optimistic (or pessimistic) melodrama and hyperbole associated with mainstream media representations of India.

Howard Schultz, Chairman, President and CEO of Starbucks, tells the story of launching Starbucks in India and the unflinching support he got from their strategic partnership with the Tatas, one of the most respected business houses of the country. His essay underscores the increasingly influential role Indian corporates are playing, by way of strategic partnerships, to attract foreign investments to fuel robust economic growth. Nandan Nilekani, Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India and former CEO of Infosys, drives home the point that the Aadhar project is one that can provide the much needed impetus for making governance more transparent, efficient and accountable. He stresses on the central role that technology has played, and will continue to play, in India’s growth and development.

In many of the essays presenting the challenges before India, the role of innovation and technology has been cited as the backbone for sustainable change. Whether it is to empower citizens and promote inclusive nation building through the Aadhar project, or the crafting of uniquely effective business models in healthcare such as Aravind Eye Care, there is an unmistakable undercurrent of technological innovation at play.

The sections on ‘Culture and Soft Power’ have some rather interesting perspectives from stalwarts from a range of diverse fields including Bollywood and Cricket. Harsha Bhogle, the famous cricket commentator and journalist, beautifully traces the roots of cricket in India and how it evolved from being a vehicle for competition among different religions to becoming a religion of its own. Geet Sethi, an international billiards champion and co-founder of Olympic Gold Quest, makes the case for the critical nature of private sector support to athletes, if India is to dream of becoming a true Olympic champion. He stresses the need for Indians to have heroes and role models, people who can inspire them to transcend the petty differences in religion, language, caste and ethnicity to collectively strive and thrust India to greatness.

On a different note, Christopher Graves, global CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations explains the branding challenge that India faces, as a nation. He persuasively argues that India must embrace two distinctly different branding approaches. One approach, he says, must be to campaign for India as an overall concept to allure first time travellers. The second, he urges, must be one, where each state is allowed to compete on the basis of its local strengths to attract foreign investments.

The book stays true to its purpose of presenting an objective, real and compelling collection of articles from a diverse group of people who are keen and learned India observers. Since it is impossible to present such a collection as a completely coherent story, considering the book has been written by not one, but by many people, each carrying different perspectives and experiences, one may find the read to be a bit arbitrary at times. Having said that, the book is a must read for anyone, who wants to get an in-depth, invaluable view on the prospects of an India geared to embrace the future. McKinsey and Company, the volume’s editor has to be credited for maintaining the book’s elegant aesthetics, clear presentation and high quality of content. The book is an easy read, and a must read at that, no matter which age group, profession or background one belongs to. If not for anything else, it will make the reader sit back, pause and think about emerging India, in a manner that she probably would never have imagined.

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