Dealing with India’s late spurt on the industrial scene and the associated process of democratising of entrepreneurship, the book by Sumit K. Majumdar, Professor of Technology Strategy in the School of Management, University of Texas, arrives at an opportune moment. For the country, which weathered the storm of the 2007-08 global financial crisis, is now finding ways to clamber out of the economic slowdown that stares it in the face.
The growth rates are on a south-bound journey, the confidence level is low and policy paralysis is cited as one of the culprits, making many introspect. But to say something even in hindsight, a fairly good understanding of the past is a requisite. It is from this requirement perspective that ‘India’s Late, Late Industrial Revolution — Democratising Entrepreneurship’ is important, particularly for those who do not want to go through reams.
Story of growth
With its combination of history, industrial economics and comparative analysis, the book comes off as a good attempt to tell the story of growth, across geographies over the centuries, and a worthy reference material for researchers. Starting with his experience as Mess Secretary of the college hostel, when he was exposed to the ingenuity and drive of the Indian businessman to utilise all opportunities — the ‘Maharaj’ (chief cook) agreed to his suggestion of purchasing a kg of saffron for Shrikhand without saying that a few grams would do — the author sets the tone by asking why was the Indian industry backward. “If Indian businessmen were innately entrepreneurial, commercial, insightful and highly ingenious persons,” as the Maharaj, who would have made good money by selling the leftover saffron, demonstrated, “why was there this paradox in India’s industrial performance?”
While searching for the answers, the book takes the readers from the time the British began interfering with governance in India — in 1750 India’s share of world manufacturing was over 25 per cent — through various stages, which saw the economy plummeting and the country’s resources plundered, to independence, revival of industry, growth of entrepreneurship and the D-Day, July 24, 1991, when economic reforms were initiated. The book lives up to the author’s description of it as an interdisciplinary analytical narrative.
Considerable efforts have been taken to put out data in support of the arguments, not just woven into the story, but also in the form of standalone charts, tables and graphs on several aspects. Though initially much of the space is devoted to economic history, the pace gathers momentum as industrial revolutions are discussed — though India missed both, the book argues that there still is considerable potential to catch up. “The Indian economy has a significant amount of catching up to do. Yet, oddly enough, there is an extremely important advantage. The relative backwardness of a country as it is taking off, relative to other comparable but not backward countries, provides conditions for subsequent industrialisation success.”
The book, though heavy in portions on use of statistics and the resultant number crunching required of the readers, also makes for interesting reading with regard to the explanations given for various inventions and developments.
One such is mentioned in the context of steam engine and subsequent change due to the vast new sources of energy it opened up. “By the final decades of the 18th century, the British had burst through labour barriers in textiles. In the textile industry, with which the industrial revolution is associated, by 1820 a worker operating several looms, originally invented by Edmund Cartwright, driven by power, produced 20 times the output of a manual worker. A single railway engineer could transport goods requiring several hundred horses. This functionality led to the origin of the term horsepower.”
It discusses almost everything related to economic growth, the Asian industrialisation, including the story on Samsung’s foray into microwave oven, the licence raj, differing views of the leaders of the times, role of governments, the growth of Indian industrialists and the generation of alternatives that led to the coinage of the term jugaad.
The conclusion, however, is a rather cautious and subdued comment: “Indian industry has to actively utilise all the functionalities of modern information and communications technologies for catching up and resetting the clock. Her industrialisation example can be emulated by other emerging nations engaged in the industrialisation process …”
INDIA’S LATE, LATE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION — Democratising Entrepreneurship: Sumit K. Majumdar; Cambridge University Press, 4381/4, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 695.