Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Imagining India - Book Review

Nandan Nilekani's Imagining India starts where our history text books end. The book analyses not only the social, political and economic condition of India but also probes into the inter-relation of these with respect to both time and space. The fact that Imagining India is written by an engineer (and a software engineer at that) is evident from the style and tone in which it is written. Like a software, the book is divided into modules - each module having its own aim which aligns to the goal of the book as a whole. The book not only enunciates the challenges India is facing, but also proposes logical solutions to them. The book is divided into four parts

The first part describes the commonly accepted notions. Once considered a liability, the high population, is the biggest asset of India. The high GDP growth rate of India is due partly to the abundant human resource of India. Also, the knowledge of English language has been the single most effective tool for the upward mobility of the Indian youth. The irony is, still there are political parties who are shunning away from the English language! He also highlights the change in attitude towards businesses. The journey from the Bombay Plan to globalization through license raj is described from not only economic but also from social and political perspective. He also acknowledges the supposed shortcomings of democracy but considers it as the best form of government for a country as diverse as India. Democracy, according to him, may slow progress, but the progress it makes is robust.

The second part of the book looks into ideas that have arrived. No one today questions the importance of education. He appreciates the initiatives, such as the SSA, taken by state and central governments at this front but believes that much more needs to be done. He also delves into the benefits of developments in infrastructure, urbanization and market reforms.

In the third part of the book he talks about the ideas that are not widely accepted. Here, he talks about the equation between the state and the central government starting from when India got freedom. He also looks into the ingredients which went in creating millions of jobs and what needs to be done to create more jobs for the jobless Indians. In the end he highlights the evolution of universities and institutions of higher education and their role in the progress of the nation

The fourth part is the most interesting part. Here, he gives innovative solutions to a lot of problems which are not currently high up in our priority list but are, nevertheless, very crucial to the sustained development of India. He proposes the introduction of one ID for each citizen. Currently, we have a lot of cards and numbers – PAN, driving license, ration card, etc. He proposes that we make a central database of all these. This will ease tracking and reduce corruption to a great extent. If a central ID is used, then instead of distributing “free rice” to poor through s separate porous supply chain, vouchers can be distributed using the central ID tied to a bank account which can be redeemed at a normal general store. He also highlights the need of social security. According to him, for sustainable social security and pension scheme, participation of the individual is a must and the cost should be shared by both the government and the individual. He also talks about the need of better health care facility. This can be achieved by making the benefits of private health sector available to the poor by distributing vouchers. Currently, only the government hospitals are subsidized. And since the poor have no other option, they have to, but, go to the substandard hospitals. The use of vouchers and centralized unique ID will help in addressing the problem. Lastly, he addresses a major problem the world is facing – energy and environment. He mentions about monetizing carbon footprints so that businesses having more carbon footprints pay more than those having less. This would give incentive for businesses to invest in greener and inexhaustible sources of energy.

This is, in short, what the 531-page book has in store. Actually, i have just strung the names of the chapters together into paragraphs! The book is a huge repository of information.

I was wondering what prompted Nilekani to write this book. Does he want to enter politics? I think, only time can tell us that. But given his views, I would rather want people like him joining politics than goons having criminal charges. From his book we can see that despite being the CEO of one of the largest IT companies, he is so much in touch with the reality – with the problems the common Indian face.

This book is a must read for anyone who wants to know about the evolution of various problems India is facing and about various ways of solving them, The book is very informative and draws references the way a technical paper does. The book’s USP is the logically developed innovative ideas to resolve age long problems. It’s a must need for the coffee-table debater at office cafeteria and for anyone who wants to be a ‘know all'.

- Cheers!


deicider May 6, 2009 at 12:44 PM  

Hmm interesting read....ur essay seems quite a precise of the whole book.But what caught my attention is "Does he want to enter politics?"
Is he already not a part of politics,are we all not a part of politics? We are as much responsible to build the society as our leaders and who knows it better than you who is actually doing something for the society.
That an engineer like Nilekani has taken up issues and suggeted solutions for them is only a part of the long line of activities that people all over India are undertaking to show their involvement in politics.Gone are the days of Gandhi and Nehru,when leaders would decide what the nation wanted.Now people decide what they want and the best part is people are coming forward to speak up.Some write books some write blogs but the freedom of self expression has never been better.I would like to read the book myself and see if I can draw some fresh conclusions.
Very interestingly I am now reading a book called An Indian Odyssey which chronicles the journey of a British student through India following the foot steps of the legendary journey of Prince Ram .
Let us see what I can dig out of this book.!
But Prashant I would like to read what you feel about the writing style of the book what do u think Nilekani missed out and all that stuff.Could you write this stuff in maybe an epilogue?

Anonymous May 11, 2009 at 4:47 PM  

very well written,
kudos to write this considering your busy work schedule!

Sudhir Kekre May 14, 2009 at 9:57 PM  

hi a nice review. well i dont think he needs to enter politics. hes one of the most influential person. mayb entering politics may be a bad experience. remember narayan murthy's exp reg. the bangalore airport! he has a precedence.

Devika May 15, 2009 at 11:04 PM  

nice review ...sounds interesting! wud like to read the buk ;)..thnx

Sridhar Iyer January 31, 2010 at 9:47 PM  

Really a nice review.....

thnx for sharing

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