Book Reviews

Remaking India: One Country One Destiny

During the last decade there has been an unprecedented explosion in the world of publication of books in India and abroad on different facets of India ' history, society, religion, culture, economy and people. This renewed and reawakened interest in India was created by the revolutionary economic reforms initiated by P.V.Narasimha Rao in 1991. Even today market is getting flooded by more and more books on India and its economy ' printed by people who do not understand them, sold by people who do not understand them, and even written by people who do not understand them.

A spectacular exception to this established rule of the book market is "Remaking India: One Country, One Destiny' by Arun Maira published by 'Response Books', New Delhi. Ratan N Tata has given a foreword to this avant-garde book which sets new trends, establishes new norms, proclaims new values, destroys old customs and upholds new ideals.

In his foreword, Ratan N Tata has observed : 'The book contains a set of practical suggestions for accelerating India's pace of development but essentially this is not a 'how to' book. This book is the plea of a manager to be given the chance to place his diagnosis and prescription for the country in the public domain for a genuine dialogue to take place around it. I am pleased and honored to have the opportunity to commend whole-heartedly this slim volume from one of the country's most caring managers. This book is a prescription from a seasoned manager on taking the country global'. 

Arun Maira is an internationally renowned authority on business leadership, teams and organizational transformation. Born in Lahore in 1943, he receive his Bachelors and Masters degrees in physics from St. Stephens College, Delhi University in 1964. He joined the Tata Administrative Services in 1965 and served with distinction for 25 years in the Tata Group. In 1990 he went to the USA to work with Arthur D Little INC ( ADL ) , an international consulting company. After serving there for 10 years, he joined The Boston Consulting Group ( BCG ), becoming Chairman of the Group in India. As a management consultant, he has advised clients across a wide variety of industries and in many countries on ticklish and tricky issues of strategy and organization. As a brilliant writer, his books The Accelerating Organization : Embracing the Human Face of Change (1997) andShaping the Future : Aspirational Leadership in India and Beyond have been internationally acclaimed for their original insight and clairvoyant analysis.

Arun Maira says in his introductory chapter that the role that businesses must play in a developing society and nation have been close to his heart for nearly 40 years. He recognizes that Indian companies have a very important and difficult role to play in the country's development. It will be admitted on all hands that it is certainly more complex than the role of business corporations in developed countries. In this newly emerging world of never ending and ruthless globalization, Indian companies, starting much behind their international competitors both in size and capabilities, must rapidly learn to compete with the best in the world. At the same time, they have to compassionately connect with and relate to the conditions in their own country and the communities around them. In this context, the apposite words of Arun Maira are important : 'This is by no means an easy task. The difficult question for Indian businesses is how to pursue improvement in business performance and effectively enrich the lives of people around them, not as separate activities but in a mutually reinforcing process that improves results on both sides. Perhaps some of the guiding ideals Indian companies need for their management could be different from the ideas that work for successful companies centered in economically advanced countries, because their social and economic environments are entirely different'.

Arun Maira rightly concludes that processes of decision-making, planning and implementing change that may have been effective earlier in India cannot be effective any longer. New ways must be used that are appropriate to the changed conditions. For example, a directive, centralized planning process introduced by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1950, with experts like Mahalanobis determining the targets and allocation of resources cannot be an effective model today.

Politically India has moved from an era of a one party dominated government to coalition governments. State politics and governments have become more independent of the centre. Further, many sections of the Indian society, which could be and which were excluded from the process of decision-making, such as the so called backward classes, schedule castes and schedule tribes, have to be included not merely as beneficiaries of development but as vital participants with power to determine the pace and direction of change. The second phase of economic reforms requires changes in policies that directly affect the masses ' issues such as subsidies, labor laws, prices of utilities and agricultural taxation etc. This makes the task of decision-making at a policy level more complex than in the first phase of reforms soon after 1991 that mostly affected corporate industries. These changes call for new approaches to leadership and management.

Now more participative processes are required for dialogue and decision-making by which diverse interests can be understood and aligned to the larger whole. In India governments and leaders change frequently and so top-down visions cannot have continuity and so lose their power and relevance rapidly. Therefore, visions in the new context have to be developed by a broad consensus involving many people to enable continuity and durability of the change process. Arun Maira laments that the underlying philosophy and procedures of management do not seem to have changed adequately to fit the new conditions now emerging in India. The paramount national need today is that new processes imperatively required have to be instituted forthwith without any further delay.

Arun Maira makes it clear that he is not prescribing a dogmatic vision for India in terms of the size of its economy and its various sectors. Nor does he recommend a rigid economic strategy for bringing about growth. At the same time he does strongly advocate a solution for India. To put it in his own words : 'The solution is a process for inclusive development founded on the development of a shared vision. The thesis of this book is that the vision of the outcome of change that people desire must be created through participation. Further, an agreement on the way this will be brought about must be the result of a participative process of effective organizational learning and change. Therefore, to guess, or even worse, to prescribe, the vision that should be the outcome of this process would be antithetical to the core proposition of this book'.

Arun Maira recommends a framework of concepts and techniques for a participative process of change. He intersperses short conceptual pieces with live stories from his own management experiences for four decades to illustrate the relevance of these concepts.

After independence, India has been struggling to live by the lofty ideals of freedom and democracy for the last 59 years. Ideologically we may have won the war. But we have to achieve the practical means to live by this ideology even while taking action on a war-footing to provide basic human needs to our growing millions. The first and foremost amongst these is the need for physical security, which requires a 'war' on terrorism. The second is the paramount need for food, which requires a 'war on poverty'. In order to win these two wars, we have to totally discard the traditional ideas of leadership that have prevailed for more than thousand years. Arun Maira is definitely of the view that modern wars ' be it military, political or economic or social ? cannot be won by Commanders-in-Chief in the traditional historical sense who require their unilateral orders to be followed without question, and therefore impose a state of emergency so that they are armed with the right to suppress descent. Arun Maira categorically declares that what India needs is a new type of leadership. We require leaders who can work without strong authority, integrate and harmonize the interests of many diverse people and yet deliver the goods in the manner and measure required without fatiguing delays. Our democratic framework requires such a leadership. Only such a leadership can build strong democratic institutions and processes that open societies like India need to win the so-called 'wars' that demand voluntary and enthusiastic participation of people with widely different beliefs. In order to achieve this objective of total participation of people, we have to stop thinking of our people as liabilities and convert them into assets. For example, India can become the largest knowledge and skill-based service provider to the world within the next two decades, just as China seems to have become the largest provider of low-cost manufactures. Arun Maira says we can bring in around $200 Billion additional revenues to India every year and generate an additional 40 million jobs. What we need to do before that is to focus on the process of engaging masses of people to accelerate the changes they want in this country.

Arun Maira, in his great book Remaking India-One Country, One Destiny, firmly declares that we have to treat our over hundred crores of people not as liabilities but as assets. According to him three changes are essential to convert people from being the problem to becoming part of the solution. The first is to create a contagion of hope. We require dynamic leaders upholding a vision for the country and propagating stories of success sparking hope which is vital to start a transformation of attitudes. The second is to engage people, encouraging them to help themselves, thereby overcoming the feeling of impotence and helplessness that pervades us in the face of interminable problems that we feel are always beyond our control. With this kind of people-oriented, people-involving and people-inspiring approach, many villages in Rajasthan have found workable solutions to chronic water shortage. Many self-help groups among women in Tamilnadu have been able to raise themselves above the poverty line.

Apart from these two changes, the third and the most essential change is to create alignment among many perspectives. To quote Arun Maira's words in this context: 'We are blessed or cursed, some would say' with diversity. This richness can be a blessing if we can work together effectively. But if we cannot, which too often seems to be the case, we may not realize our vision. Political parties espouse one thing when in power and the opposite when they are not, merely to trip the Government of the day. We must have alignment on a few fundamental goals and principles. These will form the bridge to take us across to the land on the other side, a land without poverty which stands tall and mightily respected amongst nations. ....We need a productive dialogue amongst leaders representing diverse stakeholders in our society. This dialogue will have two purposes. The first is to develop a shared vision of the nation that we are aiming to become. The second is to agree on the few fundamental strategies that we will have to follow.'

The fight between private capitalism and State socialism which began in the first decade of the 20th century ended in the resounding triumph of private capitalism with the fall of Soviet Union in 1989. The final verdict was that business should be conducted by the people and not the State. The main tool of private capitalism is the limited liability company. Companies are created to serve the needs of their shareholders. Rooted in this narrow and rising ideology of the 1990s, many business corporations started believing only in their commercial business with no obligation whatsoever to provide other services to the community. This view is now being increasingly questioned throughout the world. It is in this context that the concept of 'corporate social responsibility' has come to the forefront in all public debates about business corporations and their ways of functioning. Many companies in the West have become completely aware of the spirit and letter of this social responsibility cast upon them. There is greater need in India than the West to build systems to serve the societal needs for health care, education and the like. It is disheartening to note that many companies in India are curtailing their welfare programmes to concentrate on their core business activities. The time has come for Indian business to declare its agenda for fulfilling society's expectations and be seen to live up to it. The three areas for companies' engagement with society are:
1. The Physical environment: Preserving and/or improving it - avoiding pollution, aforestation, etc.
2. The Social environment: Engaging with communities' needs for services such as education, health, water, sanitation, infrastructure, etc.
3. The Political environment: Influencing the process of improvement in public policy and governance.

It is now widely accepted everywhere that business should not be left uncontrolled to spoil the physical environment. The role of business in the social agenda is less clear - though the imperative need to contribute is increasingly understood and realized. According to Arun Maira, it well behooves business leaders to productively engage civil society and Government in a constructive dialogue to confirm what society should fairly expect from them. If they wish to be seen as leaders of desirable change in society, Indian businessmen should take the lead to establish this dialogue.

Arun Maira asked the CEO of one of India's larger companies: 'What is the change that was noticeable in the 1990s?' He got the reply: 'The knocking on the window'. In India we have always had poor people on the streets and vagrant beggars. Now they knock hard on the windows of cars at traffic points and it is not easy to chase them away. The cars have changed too. Ambassadors and Fiats have been replaced by international models. All the beggars knock on their windows. Arun Maira declares with conviction: 'In India, as everywhere in the world today, leaders of business corporations must shoulder a greater responsibility for answering the knock on the window'. This means business leaders must discover new solutions that, while meeting the increasing demands of their own shareholders, also address broader social issues.

Indian business leaders need a new approach to increase the purchasing power of the poor more quickly. The leaders in India will be those who experiment and discover pathways for accelerated development and growth of their businesses in India. The knocking on the window may not only be a warning but an opportunity to grow their businesses as well. The key to creating markets at the bottom of the pyramid is to grow incomes of poor people in rural areas by making them part of extended, networked enterprises. Corporations should consider new models of organizing and governing businesses. Information Technology can be an enabler. 
In July 2003, George Robertson, Secretary General of NATO, was asked whether the force of arms would root out terrorism or was another approach necessary. Arun Maira says that Robertson answered like a Zen Master, saying that we have a 'Conceptual Emergency'. And he waved a little booklet, which he said would suggest how to find the answer to the question!

The booklet The Things To Do In A Conceptual Emergency was produced by the International Futures Forum, a group of 24 Economists, Businessmen, Technologists, Scientists, Philosophers and Artists from the UK, Europe, USA, South Africa and India. They were asked to find the next Enlightenment! This programme was sponsored by the Scottish Council Foundation and British Petroleum. The sponsors felt that the First Enlightenment Ideas of the 18th century were inadequate to address the systematic problems the world was facing today, such as the degradation of the environment, depletion of water resources, endemic poverty in many parts of the world and violent conflicts. All these intellectual giants came to this conclusion:

'Our knowledge about the world is unprecedented, as is the level of communication across the globe, the pace of development of new technologies and many other phenomena. In consequence, almost everywhere we look what used to be the stuff of dreams can now be contemplated in terms of practical reality. We are living in a world in which almost anything seems possible, yet in which the forces of fragmentation and alienation seem at least as strong as those of integration and mindfulness; we seem short of the wisdom to choose which possibilities to explore and which to deny'.

All the economists are predicting that the global GDP would keep on rising in the coming years. Many fear that the ruthless march on this narrow road, focused on economic growth through globalization, is threatening diversity. They would like a world with multiple modernities and not just one Western or increasing US-centric view of what it means to be modern. I fully endorse the view of Arun Maira that the challenge before the world is to respect, grow and take advantage of the multiple modern sensibilities each with its own roots, both in the East and the West. The conceptual challenge is to develop effective processes of governance for a world with diversity to preserve many models and yet create one unifying model.

Unlike Tony Blair and George Bush who used their modern Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in order to fight the non-existent WMD in Iraq, Arun Maira talks about the strategic importance of a new type of WMD that we really want in India.

For him, WMD not only in the Indian context but in the wider global context means 'Ways of Mass Dialogue'.

Firstly, 'Dialogue' is certainly not a physical process with scuffles and frequent walkouts, which is what our Parliamentary process often degenerates into.

Secondly, it is not a debate in which people are compelled to advocate opposing points of view, but a process during which people rise above their different perspectives.

Thirdly, 'Dialogue' is not a summation of many monologues, which is what most of our Seminars turn out to be.

To quote the beautiful words of Arun Maira: 'A Dialogue requires participative formats that facilitate listening, inquiry, and exploration, not speeches from a panel with perfunctory questions and answers. We urgently need effective dialogues to help stop the bleeding of our national potential and the lives of our people.'

In clear terms Arun Maira proclaims that progress in every age results only from the fact that there are some exceptional men and women who refuse to believe that what they know to be right cannot be done. Progress can be made possible only by constantly striving towards new horizons in every human activity. Who can say what new horizons lie before us? If we can but maintain the initiative and develop the imagination to penetrate them - new economic horizons, new horizons in the art of government, new social horizons and new horizons expanding in all directions to the end - then perhaps we may succeed in ensuring greater degrees of well being for everyone everywhere in India.    


More by :  V. Sundaram

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