book review for imagining india by nandan nilekani

this review was written long back when the book was released (2009, as suggested by this entry My stint with reading). Somehow it always stayed lost among the drafts and was never published. Although my tone varies from somewhat harsh to petty ridicule, specially against south indians, bear in mind that its in reference against the propagandists of south indian miracle and greatness (i dont buy any). I could have reviewed it and edited, but that would have tampered with levels of disgust I have for these salesmen.

Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century - by Nandan Nilekani

this book looks more from an NRI visiting india. Typical american returned indian attitude : i know everything to fix this country, its so damn filthy and im going to clean it. Losers.

nandan worries y infy roads are better than those of bangalore's. I guess he shud have recalled he is not in road-making business, and best worried about the quality of softwares Infy has built for its customers, or at least, for the state government. Whereas companies like Ittiam have created world-class IP and products, softwares built by Infy would be last in the list of quality softwares. This is exactly how roads built by nandan looks like : full of potholes, can hardly sustain load and always need maintenance :-) and btw infy roads are worse than bangalore roads.

if social reforms were meant to augment business, then people would chant rupee bhajans, worship rich and live and die for money. Values would matter if it matters to money, pride of a person would be calculated using how much it owns in terms of wealth, and that is how respect would also be calculated. Undoubtedly nandan wants Indians to be good at english, so that he can run more of bangalore like ghettos of software engineers and fill his and his boss' (read infy shareholders) pockets with more rupees and dollars. He wants to exploit india's people to work for global business, rather American and Europe business. No wonder he sounds like those indian officers of old colonial times, who used to recruit people and train them in english to get britisher's work done.

nandan worries about india's unity over language and religious differences of Indians. he feels the only time india was united was about the times of war, else ppl disgusted being called indians, but felt proud calling themselves tamil or punjabi or bengali. Little he knows, that politically and forecefully it was not possible to get separated from India, as patel had removed all troops from all regions, giving central govt. complete control over it. And secondly, there is no need for a assamese to interact with a bombaikkar to feel the unity of India. India, as a nation, just like any other large nation, stands united in its purpose and pride.

nandan believes that people should be more loyal to money than religion, caste, region, class or even family. he sees politics to be divided based on religion or castes, but fails to understand why Indian votes for value than money. A yadav would vote for a yadav candidate, else he might be downtrodden by zamindars if they come to power. his self-centered approach to build society can only lead to what west is already facing, a decaying society in all. Divides of caste, religion and region have killed less people than the divide of power and money. what europeans did to america, africa and asia not until even hundred years ago has easily passed through the throat of these think tanks, who still believe that a society is build and bound by money and not relations. lack of developmental activities by elected candidates only show their failure of driving different agendas than social and does not mean religion and caste are coming into the way of development. Politicians in democracy are not engineers or entrepreneurs who also have interest in state power and ruling a city. Politicians represent social ethos of an area or smaller region to the central region so that "people" are well represented, and NOT "money". Nandan feels he is a great entrepreneur still people might reject him as an MP because politics in India is religious or caste based. His statement is right and so is his reasoning. People would reject him as an MP because he does not resonate with the social ethos of the region he likes to represent but some other region. Surely people of manhattan or newyork would love to see him on top state position, because they like to make more money and yet more. In India, its not money honey, its just honey honey.

he has not been able to hide his south indian roots or conversion either. he believes people of mahasrashtra or tamilnadu are more developed because they do not vote for anti-hindi or anti-brahmin or dravidian politics but for development, and hence topple the govt. every now and then. LOL. He thinks that people of rajasthan or bihar are backward, because there people vote to suffer under caste and religious leaders. Little he knows the dynamics of politics in India, no doubt. More so, the metrics of development is entirely based on economics, and not on social harmony for nandan. The harm done by ill will and hatred for other social groups is far more and undoable than what poverty and lack of opportunity does to you. The wounds are deeper and not erasable in the former case.

Our IIT graduate and ex-CEO of an IT company likes to tackle agricultural problems of India in just one para. he is forgetting that both the generators and eaters of agriculture products live in India, and not some foreignland where they go to barter dollars for indian talent.

Whereas nandan attributes his success to his parent's eagerness to get him educated and on english language, he extrapolates it to india's success as an economy. Most of business in India is done in Hindi or regional languages. Provided u do business in India and with Indians, u would know these simple fundas. Computer industry has no doubt revolutionised the way society grows, it hardly means the growth is associated with a language specially English, unless u do business globally. Worst, businessmen know language through practice and not by getting educated in schools. In fact, many business communities lie uneducated and remain unattentive to it. Many countries like Japan,China and european countries have crossed heights of economic development without even uttering word "English". Hence, such a propaganda to spread a language either means Nandan is an English evangelist, or he wants more English speaking Indians to recruit in Infosys BPO or Infosys development arm, so that, as i said before, he can fill more his pocket and that of his bosses.

Overall i think nandan has attempted to voice his political views on india, seen as a westerner. An indian who likes to live in west, dress like west, eat like west, sit and mingle with people from west, but like to own east and rule east. there would be several such books in market, where businessman and economists target government and politicians for lethargic growth and problems of society and people. I wonder if politicians start writing about the lust and tactics of businessmen too. If politicians are half responsible for a corrupt beauracracy, the half responsibility has to be owned by businessmen who almost always take (or like to take) the corrupt route to the success than through the system. As they say, a clap needs two hands and so is a system. If beaurocrats have been eager to eat money, businessmen have been more deliberate in feeding them more, to get their ways of cheating and tax evasions.

And now, when nandan is moving to Indian cabinet to lead multi-billion dollar indian project, no doubt his business intentions are clear for infosys : to get some hold in India's IT business market. The company who took proud sometime back (before recession) by not doing business with Indian companies, and seldom cared for Indian cultural importance as the way it does its business, is now in the state of death unless it revives it survival in the home country.

globalisation is like a global canal project of money. In general they let money flow from large pile of money to lower one. However, when the money rains, they pump it up to the reservoir which undoubtedly belongs to the owners of large pile of money. Globalisation has made some capitalists "owner" capitalists (generally big ones) and some labour capitalists (generally small ones). Labour capitalists are happy at getting their salaries paid, and owner capitalists are happy making multiple times worth wealth by using their labour services.

nandan often seems to take credit for IT growth in India as well. he has mentioned quite a times that IT has lot of potential and talks as if he has brought that potential. He ridicules the idea of not accepting IT by indian companies, when companies at west themselves were wary about it, needless to say who developed it too. Infosys has not done a 1% contribution to computer or internet based technologies, its neither in such a business or capable enough to do it. It's like, the labour who build the house should not feel they created the "way" to build it too. If nandan wants indians to work like labour and if we want to work like that, then English helps beyond your knowledge and degree. however, if you believe in innovation and creative at core, u hardly need to bother English or bring anything foreign to ur mind.

Yet, I have just finished the notes by nandan. let me read the book's main content. Till now i have found nandan's writing both perceptive as well as argumentative. For example, he devotes half a page describing nehru's great qualities, however, does not justify any of it by giving references or examples. This is unimpressive because nandan wouldnt have interaced with Nehru personally, and his impression must be entirely based on what he has read. Sometimes his arguments are weak even by general knowledge or mild standards (like the example of politics I gave above).

nandan believes the population of India is now a blessing, and was a curse before. IT is consuming the cream of educated youth by only the virtue of high salary. The work standards of IT companies are pathetic and quality is touching level zero. However, the lust for dollar money and dream for a bunglaw and cars have yet attached people to IT jobs. If this is the group which represents india's population, then its time for nandan to open up eyes to the sheer count : over 100 crore. majority of population of India is living sub-standard whereas companies are looting resources and making pile of wealth. before liberalisation, politicians were looting the India's resources, and now its businessmen. The common man is the same, yet to get the share of being part of this land, the cash which actually belongs to them than the repleters. however, even when the general standard of education and training rises among working people, it has to be harnessed for business in india. indian trianed labour should work for business which generates money in india and not on foriegn land. else, we would just become labour nation and US and EU would become our capitalist nation. Acquisition of dying companies on foreign land at the hickup of shareholders money is no gr8 business, unless we bring that business to india and make money out of these dead entities.

the use of word dividend just like they use f word in gangster hollywood movies . it only shows how crazy r infy directors to solve dividend problems to its investors.

once again the reference to tiny south india (around 20% of India's) reflects the biased view of nandan. Whereas nandan clearly mentions health and fertility to be indication of growth and development, he forgets to get a clearer picture of what drives southern states economy vs ganges states. Whereas ganges states are primarily agri-economy, southern states own more land resources. Investment figures of Central govt. into ganges states and southern states can clearly show the committment of congress govt. towards uniform development of India's. Whereas kerala might have least fertility rate, it has most unstable society of all India's states as well. Stories of exporting girls to middle-east for flesh trade and beating untouchables by temple authorities for crossing limits are something which do not arise from ganges states but kerala. It's no doubt that service jobs are preferred in market, mainly due to impression created by govt. jobs in mid eighties and nineties. However, this model is more for southern states because their economy does not stand without it. In ganges land, people do not starve w/o service jobs. In fact, most of them do not take up service jobs but agri-based work or business. Army is another popular job southern population have stayed away from but is popular in ganges states.
Its also untrue to regard southern states as self-dependent. Even in IT workforce, the quality has come only from colleges situated across India, as we all know that except IIT Madras, none of the colleges in south india qualifies as even a proper engineering college. Mushrooming colleges can only distribute paper pamphlets of degrees, but not the quality and ability into southern generation. The only way the sothern generation benefit is because of access. Whereas southern states hve welcomed MNC companies to set up offices, ganges states have stood by their nationalistic views and have avoided sharing resources with international capitalists. Committment to national integrity of southern states can only be known by their relentless stand on not accepting hindi, non-migrating and non-mingling attitude towards other parts of India including those which are more developed than southern states, high foreign migration and acceptance of foreign culture, no involvement to nationalistic activities, including politics and border army among others can only show the great path southern states are leading to. Whereas many would like to attribute this towards people, this in fact is the result of fraudulent and opportunistic politics of southern regional parties in mid eighties, who rose after the fall of Indira gandhi and so as defied national spirit among southern junta too.

its not astonishing that economists with whom nandan interacts and refers in his book are neither indians, nor live in india but work on its attributes for livlihood. It is just funny to take them as stalwarts of driving indian economy.

nandan, like many other economists, also blames socialistic attitude towards indian economy for the bad performance in pre-liberalisation era. i have also read stories of license raj, specially when i was reading about dhirubhai ambani's rise in indian business. there is no doubt that the system which had been put in place by govt. and the way beaurocrats behaved post-indira times was way beyond wat could be called productive. however passing the blame of a failure to an ideology than to its execution is as worse as wat is happening now. post liberalisation era, we are living in no better hell. the population has risen steep and so has poverty. fat pockets are becoming fatter and there is little room for a hand to take some out of it. in no country including US or EU who have significantly risen due to globalisation, the distribution of wealth is uniform. its true that like energy, it keeps changing its ownership form from one person to another. talking about equal opportunity, equal treatment, homogenous society is good, however, this sharp curve of this wealth distribution can only mean lesser and lesser of those dreams.

nandan has really high regards for english. he believes english stands for our nationalistic spirit. Typical south indian, does he know that people seldom speak any other language than their mother tongue in general? Whereas all states in India have accepted hindi as their second language, its the southern states and their politics who preferred to adopt english as their second language to hindi. In fact, just like nandan, they take pride in refusing hindi as india's national language. Was the times of colonial british raj different than this? The result is what we see, an English educated breed of people who are becoming champions of language to the other parts of country. Still, even in educated circuit, except ofcourse south india, people always take hindi as preferred language. With the rise of regionalism, and hence divisions, no doubt the firang language is making its roads into our space, and becoming the symbol of national integrity. And, for no less reason, nandan should now feel how Indian he really feels when he needs to use a foreign language to understand the complicacies of his business and so as to advise the same to other people, all Indians. Except among the educated youth from urban cities of delhi, bombay, calcutta or chennai (and other south indian cities), students or businessmen seldom use english, unless compelled. Very few people in India do business with foreign land, and for no doubt they need to learn english to be able to do that. However, spreading english as means of being prosperous and business doable and stand for national integrity is total business proposition for the IT company nandan leads. Needless to say, he does not need engineers, he does not need people, he needs english speaking machines so that he can hire them cheaply at the end of call centers to engage americans and some europeans and by that making huge pile of money in his pocket and that of his bosses. Funningly, nandan also believes english as language of dalits.

Indian education system has long borrowed western text for almost all kinds of training and education. Call it laziness of previous congress govt. to create real ingenous knowledge or easiness to borrow than build, the dependence on english for higher education rose by day and nights. Today, most undergraduate degrees are have text books written in english but taught effectively in hindi or local language of the place. In another blow, when govt. schools were failing to educate students upto the standards, private schools, specially christian funded schools took advantage and rapidly rose across country with english medium syllabi. Many other private groups notably NPS and DPS rose too, however, adopting the same model as their christian schools, which led to high dependence on english for education right from nursery till the epitome of doctorate.

I think its time that old entrepreneurs like nandan thinks beyond being labelled as labour class in world economy. Learning english and using it for everything only makes us accessible to world economy as a preferred labour. However, innovation and business in India can never be done in this language, as almost everywhere including southern states, the employees speak tuti-futi hindi in banks to work with customers. If u go to shops, u can only manage to get ur stuff in hindi, in case u dont know local language. Its time that entrepreneurs push innovation with originality and leave english as the language of innovation. English is a language of international labour. Period.


nandan believes computer removes poverty. sometimes, IT ppl really go crazy beyond limit.

one thing unique is that nandan has special liking for Bihar and UP. Either he is typical south indian who are smitten by their hindi propaganda or is badly beaten by one of biharis or UP fella, nandan has almost everywhere used bihar and UP as symbol of backwardness, stupidity and politically unstable, whereas southern states as role model for rest of the India. Nandan laughs at the idea of diaspora people from bihar and UP within india, however, advocates the idea of learning english, visiting US and making dollar money, which can make u look richer once u go back to India. If this is how nandan believes Indians can become rich, then he is leading us to become a labour class country. Europeans have looted hell wealth from colonial countries, and Americans made fortunes at the times of world wars. Now they are eager to hire the poor people of mal-governed countries, and giving them the hope of becoming rich. Nandan is one of the protagonists of the same.

nandan has quite a liking for congress, I must say. In politics, if nandan has to blame one party to oppose western transition, it would be BJP and if it has to be someone who can bring development to the country, its congress party. congress has long been labelled as champions of western country into ours. This is so clear by the govt. strategies that it cant be ignored. Congress, at the lines of US, established DRDO and RAW orgs to lead in the space of technology, defense and security. but they preferred to import technologies on premium rates to the country and let these institutions suffer for decades, even now. We all know how much innovation DRDO has brought to the country, and how high we pay to western countries for purchase of mainstream technologies like nuclear and defense. in "jaane bhi do yaaron", foreign returned commissioner D'mello comments "america ki to baat hi kuch aur hai, wahan ka gutter bhi hamare sadak se achha hai". nandan sounds very much like these american-returned D'mellos.

whereas retired entrepreneurs like nandan shud be selling indian culture and innovation in the world, what he has become finally is a salesman of west in India. It seems, selling IT has become part of the blood of nandan, and he also believes that everything, just like IT, can be learnt at west and applied in India. It's time new generation entrepreneurs bully such ideas and come up with ingenous and superior innovation techniques to beat west by "creating" new and not by "copying" new.

nandan loves south indian politics. he believes in 1 rs distribution of rice and wheat, free tv and cash as the foundation which changes the lifestyles of people, and brings prosperity. on one hand nandan disgusts caste politics in northern states notably UP and Bihar, nandan silently approves of over 70% reservations in states for some caste groups, anti-brahmin policies of southern govt. and special reservation for muslims, even though it violates indian constitution. he calls mr vajpayee as canny statesman, whereas many indians believe he was a true prime minister to deserve the highest post in decades, after lal bahadur shastri and as one of the most the few politician devoted to the nation.

infy directors, atleast NRN and Nandan, are extremely media savvy. now that their age of retirement has come for business, they are using their outspoken personality to score publicity by posing as nationalist businessmen, which they werent for whole of their career. Mr Pai is no wonder goign to fall behind. He is doing far too much social outcry in public meetings.

many data given by nandan, which sound terrifically awful but have been left without any reference at all!

i like to compare nandan's thoughts and writings to movies made by karan johar. Once it was asked to karan that why he would prefer to make movies involving very rich people, NRIs, rich in sexuality. Karan answered that he cant movies without these, because he has only lived in such environment. nandan, having lived his life through parented by office goers, convent education, IT and labour suppliers, he remarks looks as if he would imagine india to transform to a similar one : kids parented by office goers, covent education (english), learn IT and work in internation firms through labour suppliers like infosys, at a pay 100 times lesser than what actually its worth.
growth of bigger cities have only created chaos, both in west and in India. More than half of population of any city is consituted of slums and illegal migrants from other countries. the size by whcih bombay is growing is unparallel to any place in the country or the wolrd! nandan believes cities can bring lot of growth and mooney, what he does not is the at cost of what? Cities consume resources like land, water, electricity, petrolium among others many many times more than smaller towns or villages. The idea of self-sufficient villages is not old, however, cities can never remain self-sufficient as it only survives through influx of large amount of money and people which boosts its productivity.

these exporters like nandan, who deal with people outside country for business, start believing themselves as ambassadors of india. nandan portrays india as IT country, so that clients believe there is lot of support for IT projects in India as compared to other countries. Nandan portrays himself as expert in urban standards of development, and portrays india like a country urbanising. all this falsehood can only lead to wrong perception among foreigners, right now the key to our growth strategy.

nandan's strategy to development is urbanisation and creation of a singular market. whereas singular markets are no better than the zamindari systems, as bigger companies would do anything to wipe out smaller companies, by hook or crook. and urbanisation has a far worse implications. the amount of resource it takes to build a city like area is huge. by resources, I mean cement, sand, iron, and similar stuff. What is the return to these investments? are the returns as infrastructure services that great, just in form of some jobs and better standard of living? The very infrastructure is created to create environment so that more such resources can be consumed. They become the base of such practices. And worse, why should govt. invest as well as spend so much of resources into urban development around certain cities, when the same resources can be used homogenously across the country, and as well as, friends of our future who would also need these resources to survive.

the book is now more n more becomign a "quotes collection". nandan has frivolously used small small quotes, like used in media or journalism, to give almost all directions into which economy has went from past to present. however, many places he misses to put his viewpoint at all, and creates confusion which one he actually supported, or matched with his viewpoint. some quotes are used even multiple times. there are far too many "he tells me" and "she tells me" in the book.

overall, the book looks like an entry mark of nandan into politics from entrepreneurship. it is statement of role change from playing with money to playing with power for nandan. nandan has picked almost all developmental aspects of a modern economy right from infrastructure to medical healthcare and cited british to UPA govt. policies on how they affected these things. most of them are very general observation and nothing radical per se. I could not see any deeper depth in perception on how bad or good indian politicians and policies have been. Except that nandan has vehemently supported capitalistic ideas and western culture, whereas almost always downtrodden socialistic views and indian legacy. While citing examples of failures and successes, nandan has almost always (again) cited southern states, especially tamil nadu (his favorite) as most ignored states by center but most developed ones (he even compares with developed european countries) on their own. He has hailed the society of southern states, their culture, the politics and the developmental strategy of southern states whenver possible. nandan has put forward southern states as the glory states of india, in short. however, whenver he has felt something went wrong in policies or politics or culture or indian legacy, he has always (not almost, but always) cited UP and Bihar as pitiful states. He mentions that even though these states had all the support, they could not rise because of their culture or people's attitude or lack of vision or caste-based politics or anything. nandan refers northern states as the bimaru states of india, which are fading the glare created by southern states.

What can i say? Its a book written by a south indian to glorify his culture through unaccountable references and enter into central politics of India through his whatever background in economics and entrepreneurship.

short of peoplistic views in nandan's book is clear in many ways. its not that india does not have wealth, its just that 70% of wealth is with 30% of indians, and vice versa. new wealth can only be generated by selling of land resources. however, for everh 100Rs coal or iron or crude oil sold, 70% of it reaches to 30% of people, rest 70% manage in 30%. if this is the situation, a major exploitation of land resources as suggested by nandan can only lead to marginal improvements for majority and heavy rains for small set of businessmen. worst, even though 70% of indians depend on agriculture, whatever infrastructure development country has done has only improved "other sectors" of economy. Whereas its imperative to do whatever is important for agri, other sectors reap most benefits out of whatever is done, leaving little of nothing for agri.

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