Monday, December 27, 2010

India's New Capitalists

India's New Capitalists: Caste, Business and Industry in a Modern Nation
Author: Harish Damodaran
Business history is a neglected subject in India. Harish Damodaran's main contribution in this well-researched book is to bring the narrative up-to-date. History of entrepreneurship in India is very old but very often overlooked even in economic history. The general narrative available so far(in Dwijendra Tripathy, Rajat Kanta Ray, Amiya Bagchi and others) was more focussed on pre-independence period. Damodaran has brought it right upto the first decade of 21st century, describing the post-liberalisation scenario and IT boom. Damodaran outlines three major lines to capitalist stardom - from agriculture to Industry(Kammas of Andhra), from trading to industry(Marwaris) and from service to industry(cutting across caste lines - but due to their educational advancement basically brahmins and other literate castes). Traders turning industrialists is relatively better documented. But Damodaran breaks new ground in delineating the connection between commercialisation of agriculture and advent of a new breed of entrepreneurs. Service to industry - perhaps the best example of which is Infosys and such IT behemoths- is a recent phenomenon and as such, Damodaran's is one of the firsts comprehensive account of this trend.His other important contribution is to give a detailed account of industry and entrepreneurship in South India. Apart from various works of noted business historian Raman Mahadevan and one edited volume on South Indian economy, there is very little serious material on the subject. Damodaran does an enviable job in giving us a complete business and sociological narrative of South Indian business communities. One of his important conclusions is that the absence of an all-pervasive commercial caste like marwaris/bania(in North India) paved the way for rise of middle and lower castes in South Indian business. On the other hand, over-dominance of trading castes in every sphere of economic activities in North India - he concludes - did not allow agricultural castes to take to entrepreneurship in a large scale. Justifying the sub-title of the book, he describes business communites in different regions along the caste lines, which at times is stretched too much. On the other hand a very important sub-text of the entire narrative is the nexus between Indian business and politics. It provides a perfect context to understand present day trends of crony capitalism and mega scandals involving big business and mainstream political parties.

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