William Nanda Bissell talks about “Making India Work”

In a light blue shirt and beige trousers, William Nanda Bissell looks the prim, corporate type. And you feel somewhat let down. Here we are, never seeming to get enough of Fabindia products even after years of using them, and Bissell, the managing director of the label, is in some other label!

“I like what you are wearing, such fabrics breathe, mine don’t. I had to go to a corporate breakfast meeting this morning and had to wear it,” he almost rattles you out of your furtive fleeting thought. Gosh! This man can read minds!

With a balmy smile negating the sweltering Delhi heat, he ushers you into his office atop the Fabindia store in the city’s posh Khan Market complete with window blinds flaunting chikankari work from Lucknow, and also runners on sideboards in a lovely peacock blue with horizontal lines of white — the kind you never get tired of picking up from his company’s stores.

With a book fresh from the press, his first, Bissell gives the impression of an industrious student awaiting board results. He knows he has put his 100 per cent into it, he knows what he has written can’t be ignored, but he has to wait and see how much of it is appreciated and realised. A Penguin release, the book “Making India Work” is to hit the bookstores this Friday. As the name implies, it is about ways of making a new India, a country that seriously thinks of giving a future to millions of people bogged down in poverty and hopelessness.

“There are a lot of right-thinking people, be it authors or journalists, who have written extensively on the problems of this country. But I thought of concentrating on solutions to those problems, and this is what the book is about,” Bissell gives a succinct introduction. Having grown up in Delhi and often criss-crossing the country with his father John Bissell (the man behind Fabindia) in his formative years, he knows the fundamental problem the country has been facing. “Over 60 years after Independence, India accounts for around 36 per cent of the world’s poor. The deepening faultlines between the haves and the have-nots have given rise to skewed development and widespread discontent,” he highlights in the blurb of the book. A super optimist, he believes if his solutions are applied in their true spirit, India will be able to step out of poverty in just a few years’ time.

Well that is quite idealistic. Is it really that simple? But he insists he is practical. “If you put your mind to it I don’t think it is unachievable. India is not a poor country, it is a poorly-run country,” he argues. “We follow a fairly failing model. First was the Nehruvian period of Fabian socialism which was already 20 years out of date when we initiated it. It was quickly followed by nationalisation, a few years before the idea of state-controlled business was thoroughly discredited,” he states. Bissell says India is over-centralised, over-governed. “Soon after Partition, it became a huge task to integrate 600 countries into one. So one understands many things got centralised then. But today’s challenges are different.” So it is time to travel to the next step.

One interesting solution he offers is keeping the working class out of the tax net. “This class is earning to build a house, give education to their children, look after their health…Why tax them? Tax heavily those who have the super wealth. They are a few thousand Indians, but they hold most of the wealth and run almost all big industries.” Also, he propagates the idea of cashless transactions through cards. “This way, every penny will be accounted for, there will be less chance for corruption.”

Since the politicians’ future lies in garnering votes, he is confident they will have to back policies which benefit the masses.

“I hope a day comes when India gets a visionary leader and uses these solutions,” he says. Meanwhile, he points to you as his reader.

(All royalties from the sale of the book will go to Fabindia Rural Schools For Girls in Rajasthan)

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