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On The Path Of Reform And Growth

Kishan S. Rana

By Tarun Das
Business Standard Books, New Delhi, 2015, pp. IV 236, Rs. 699.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 12 December 2015

Tarun Das transports the reader on a 30-year twin journey: he narrates the opening up of India, from its hesitant and wayward path before P.V. Narasimha Rao became Prime Minister in 1991, gaining traction after the latter launched economic reforms; that story is juxtaposed with a detailed account of the transformation of an obscure engineering industry association into what became for a time India’s most powerful non-state economic actor. Tarun Das accomplishes this in a short book, which unfortunately leaves out a large part of his fund of rich stories, episodes that those that travelled with him on stretches of that journey might wish were included. I first met Tarun in mid-1975, on way to an ambassadorship to Algeria; I have only a faint recollection of a modest engineering association office in Jor Bagh; it was after I reached Kenya in 1984 that his organization, on its way to becoming the ‘Confederation of Engineering Industry’, became our Mission’s useful interlocutor; friendship flowered during the years 1986 to 1995, when Tarun and his Confederation became, at San Francisco, Mauritius and Germany, our indispensable partners for economic promotion. In essence, Tarun Das tells us in detail the way institutions are built, how organizational practices, internal and external, that became hallmarks, were forged in the early years, 1974–75, producing a chrysalis cycle that led from AIEI to CEI and thence to CII in 1992. These practices included a strict one-year term for the organization’s president, a 15-member executive that handled key decisions, and a council of past presidents, all designed to promote unified actions, combined with enduring values. We read of organization heads, all busy corporate leaders, that took a year’s leave from their work commitments, like Suresh Krishna travelling across India to connect with members, listen to their needs, and deliver the organization’s message. A starting point for external outreach to ministries and other official agencies was data collection and processing, to produce credible policy advice, rooted in facts. The real novelty was a mindset shift, to work with the government, not to confront it, which was the traditional default setting for business chambers. One chapter sets out the ingredients for a successful organization; prominent amongst these is building credibility, creating confidence with official agencies that are to become partners. At a time when real business-industry dialogue did not take place, AIEI chose to start with the Department of Heavy Industry, and ...

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