Our industrial output, slipping into a negative growth mode, plunged to minus 5.1 percent in October (see headline). The same month last year saw a robust 11.3 percent growth. Economics alone wouldn’t explain such steep fall to dismal depths within a year. Corporate leaders talk of a governance deficit. The government (read PM), facing the charge of decision-making paralysis, points to compulsions of coalition politics that resulted in the govt. having to put on hold FDI in retailing, despite a cabinet decision. Localised protests hold up commissioning of Kudamkulam nuclear power plant. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are engaged in disruptive politics over the future of Mullaiperiyar dam. And then we have Team Anna dictating terms to the govt. on drafting the Lokpal Bill, and giving parliament a timeline for enactment of the Bill.
This then is the scenario in which I got to read Arun Maira’s ‘Transforming Capitalism‘. The book’s sub-title – ‘Improving the World for Everyone‘ – sounds rather presumptuous , I thought. But then I wouldn’t fault the author, for it is often the publisher who gives a book the title that sells. A compilation of Mr Maira’s newspaper and magazine articles, the book is designed to help business leaders and managers undertand the social issues they need to factor in, while making business decision. Mr Arun Maira, a Planning Commission member, has spent decades in the corporate sector – in the Tatas and later at the Boston Consulting Group.
‘Transforming Capitalism‘ is the sort of book you choose to read for ideas, for professional guidance, and for other info. of your interest. You don’t need to start at the beginning , and plod through chapter, after chapter, to get at the guts of it , on Page 148 (as I did) . The chapters, reproduced from Mr Maira’s media writings , are stand-alone pieces that people read on morning commute. As the author says in the preface, his chapters are longer than Tweets, but they are short enough to be read during a brief plane ride. You can start anywhere, flip through chapters, go back and forth. I did this all, and also revisited a chapter, in which Maira writes about people’s movement led by Arvind Kejriwal – Parivartan.
Reading of all the good work he has done at Parivartan, I couldn’t help wonder if too much TV does a person any good for his reputation or for the cause he upholds . Mr Kejriwal of Team Anna fame is all over on TV nowadays, so much so that you can’t escape his presence at prime-time talk-shows, by switching channels, unless you switch to cartoon channel or switch off altogether.
Anyway, even as the govt. announced the date for moving the Lokpal Bill in Lok Sabha Anna Hazare reiterated his threat to go on fast from December 27, if, by then the Bill doesn’t get passed in parliament. Team Anna may have zero trust in govt., but their apparant intolerance with the ruling party, and the ultimatum Anna Hazare sets for the parliament do not set a healthy precedent for growth of people’s movement in a democracy.
In refreshing contrast to present day, the 2009 scenario of civil society awakening after RTI, as articulated by Mr Maira in his book , appeared conducive to the spread of Parivartan-type communities in various parts of the country. The communities were driven by by varied causes – provision of drinking water, adult literacy, village schooling, micro-lending, women’s issues and concerns.
Mr Maira, terming them ‘communities of practice’, says the spread of such communities would transform India from bottom up. The communities (‘fireflies’, in Mr Maira’s book) that used the provisions of the Rights to Information Act to help people get their dues and prevent grass-roots corruption can be connected to each other through networking, and not by hierarchies. The author would like to see the govt. (with its power to facilitate ) as well as the corporates (with their resources) stepping forward to promote a supportive framework that enables many more ‘fireflies’ to rise. This, according to Mr Maira, is the only way India can step up growth in a free market economy. This perceptive chapter in the book has been reprinted from Civil Society, a monthly magazine. Its publisher Umesh Anand was the one who persuaded Mr Maira to do the book.