A Better India – A Better World – A Review

This book from an iconic entrepreneur, Mr. N.R. Narayana Murthy (NRN), is as simple and straightforward as I have known him to be. This book is lucid, powerful, stimulating and full of candid wisdom. There is honesty in his understandable anxiety to convey his ideas to young minds with a firm zeal that they will create a better India and so a better world. Coming as it does from NRN who harnessed the power of their intellect and driven by values that he and his colleagues propagated (Weberian values!) in creating a power house called Infosys, it must be taken seriously.

The complexity called India is well articulated in the book, when he says “our politicians, bureaucrats, and the elite have to straddle multiple worlds – urban and the rural, the rich and the poor, the educated and the not-so-well-educated”. He goes on to write “They have to juxtapose the two realities of India to understand and appreciate the complexities and challenges of their task, and create appropriate policies that enhance the hope and confidence of these multiple worlds that make up India”. Again sample this – “ It is very important to remember that a few million English-speaking Indians do not make up India”. Such impressions cannot be conveyed so convincingly without firsthand experience of what the real India is all about. I can resonate very well to this image of India as in the past few years I have been fortunate to work on projects for the legion of less fortunate Indians.

This book is a compendium of select speeches he delivered throughout the world spiced with some of his thought provoking articles. It is interesting that many of his lectures were delivered to student audiences exhorting them to execute ideas rather than just articulating them. The introduction to the book gives a quick glimpse of some the problems confronting our nation and the later chapters provide several insights into possible solutions.

In less than twenty pages, the introduction to the book is excellent. It is very well prepared. Written in a cogent manner, there are no pretensions. The reader is well equipped to go on and study his speeches delivered to as wide an audience in INSEAD, Fontainebleau, Stern School of Business in New York University, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, Michael Dell Lecture, University of Texas, Wharton School of Business, Philadelphia, Nani Palkhivala Lecture in Mumbai, Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture in New Delhi, IESE Business School in Barcelona, Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture in London and many others.

He says how Max Weber, Gandhi and Franz Fanon influenced his thinking and left lasting impressions on him. Young minds can read the books that have deeply influenced his thinking. They are – The Protestant Ethic and the Spiritual Capitalism by Max Weber; My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi and Peau Noire, Masques Blance (Black Skin, White Mask) by Franz Fanon. If one needs clarity on such terms as “culture” and “values”, “intellectual honesty” you can find them in this book.

While elaborating on the importance of execution rather than just articulating, NRN reminds me of Madam Indira Gandhi who urged the nation with her slogan Baatein Kam, Kaam Zyada, (”Less talk, more work”). His statement on this is strong “….. in this country, it is fashionable to see ideas as an end in themselves without any focus on implementation, in fact, articulation is accomplishment enough for most of our intellectuals! This tendency to keep discussing an idea without making any progress towards implementation is sometimes taken to ridiculous levels”. How true! He even gives a concrete example about how even after about 33 seminars on building a power station for Bangalore in the last over 25 years, how the city continues to suffer from blackouts!

Can anyone disagree when he writes “I am convinced that a laser focus on implementation and the ability to get into details are most urgent needs for the development of our country”? But how many of our politicians, bureaucrats, and the elite can do this? We will need not less than one hundred people all at once like NRN to transform this poor nation because there will be hundreds more who will want to put a spoke in the wheel. He narrates an incident about how Singapore fought corruption. A minister, who was caught, found out that he will not be protected and so killed himself. I wonder how many Indian ministers will dare do that!

He has touched upon a variety of topics of significance be it education, corporate governance, leadership, economic reforms, managerial remuneration and so on. He says “Unfortunately, today, there is a paucity of trustworthy leaders in developing countries”. Talking about the complete loss of faith in leadership on Wall Street and the Main Street, he is unqualified in his comment that “ No amount of rule- based governance prescriptions will enhance the ethical behaviour of corporate leaders”.

I heard a few critics who said that this book is all about theories perhaps reflecting on his vision for 2067 in one his articles. I suspect that their remarks border on making illicit conclusions based on insufficient data. You must read the whole book to get a flavour of his powerful ideas. Dwelling on Max Weber’s philosophy, he makes powerful observations which every Indian leader can practice. And if they will, then we will reach a tipping point.

All youngsters who are the leaders of tomorrow should read this book. You can straddle through the book as you like it. You don’t need to follow it sequentially. But read the introduction first.

V V Ranganathan is the Chairman at Compassites. A successful finance professional, he was on the supervisory board of Ernst & Young. Mr. Ranganathan was the Country Leader for Strategic Growth Markets and Country Head for Quality & Risk Management of the firm. He co-founded the “Entrepreneur of The Year” award and was on the founding team of the “World Entrepreneur of The Year” at Monte Carlo. He also is a director on the board of Rural Shores and a trustee and member of the governing board of Bharti Foundation.

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