Gurcharan Das is an author and a public intellectual. He is the author of The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma which interrogates the epic Mahabharata. His international bestseller, India Unbound, is a narrative account of India from Independence to the turn of the century. His latest book India Grows At Night – A Liberal Case For a Strong State (Penguin Allen Lane) has just come out. He was also formerly the CEO of Proctor & Gamble India.
In this interview he speaks to Vivek Kaul on why Gurgaon made it and Faridabad didn’t, how the actions of Indira Gandhi are still hurting us, why he cannot vote for anyone in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and why democracy has to start in your own backyard if it has to succeed. Excerpts:
What do you mean when you say India grows at night?
Essentially the full expression is "India grows at night while the government sleeps". I thought that would be insulting to put in the title. So I left it at India Grows at Night. And I subtitled it A liberal case for a strong state. The basic idea is that India has risen from below. We are a bottom up success, unlike China, which is a top down success. And because our success is from below, it is more heroic and also more enduring. But we should also grow during the day, meaning we should reform our institutions of the state, so that they contribute much more to the growth of the country. We cannot have a story of private success and public failure in India.
Could you explain this through an example?
I start chapter one of the book with a contrast between Faridabad and Gurgaon. If you were living in Delhi in the seventies and eighties, the big story, the place you were going to invest in was Faridabad. It had an active municipality. The state government wanted to make it into a showcase for the future. It had a direct line to Delhi. It had host of industries coming in. It had a very rich agriculture. It was the success story. So if you were an investor you would have put your money in Faridabad.
And what about Gurgaon?
In contrast there was this village called Gurgaon not connected to Delhi. No industries. It had rocky soil, so the agriculture was poor. Even the goats did not want to go there. So it was wilderness. And yet 25 years later, look at the story. Gurgaon has become an engine of international growth. It is called the millennium city. It has 32 million square feet of commercial space. It is the residence of all the major multinationals that have come into the country. It has seven golf courses. Every brand name, from BMW to Mercedes Benz, they are all there. And look at Faridabad (laughs)…
Faridabad missed the bus?
Faridabad still hasn’t got the first wave of modernisation that came to India after 1991. It escaped Faridabad. Only now it’s kind of waking up. And Gurgaon did not have a municipality until 2009. This contrast really is in a way the story of India grows at night. And the fact is that the people of Gurgaon deserve a lot of credit because they didn’t sit and wait around. If the police didn’t show up they had private security guards. They even dug bore-wells to make up for the water. The state electricity board did not provide electricity, so they had generators and backup. They used couriers instead of the Post Office. Basically they rose on their own.
So what is the point you are trying to make?
My point is that neither Faridabad nor Gurgaon is India’s model. Faridabad is a model where you have an excessive bureaucracy. Why did Faridabad not succeed? Because the politician and bureaucrat tried to squeeze everything out in the form of licences.
And Gurgaon’s disadvantage turned out to be its advantage. It had no government. So there was nobody to bribe. But at the end of the day Gurgaon would be better off, people would have happier if they had good sanitation, if they had a working transportation system, they had good roads, parks, power etc.
All that is missing…
All the things that you take for granted that you would get in a city, you shouldn’t have to provide them for yourself. This is the point. Neither model is right. And we need to reform the institutions of our state. And we need to create what I call a strong liberal state.