Academic journal article South Asian Journal of Management

India's New Capitalists: Caste, Business, and Industry in a Modern Nation

Academic journal article South Asian Journal of Management

India's New Capitalists: Caste, Business, and Industry in a Modern Nation

Article excerpt

India's New Capitalists: Caste, Business, and Industry in a Modern Nation By Hartsh Damodaran Palgrave Macmillan, 2008; Pages: 368; Price: ?395 ISBN: 978-0-230-20507-9

With the world's economic order getting restructured, the buzz word today is 'emerging economies'. The transformation and growth of these economies has been attributed to emergence and influence of entrepreneurial private and collective firms (Peng and Heath, 1996). A growing body of research attempts to understand the sociocultural, political and economic factors in these countries that facilitate or impede entrepreneurship. While studies have examined several transition economies, such as some East-European countries as well as China, there is a glaring paucity of rigorous research on the evolution of the business environment in India. The pattern of entrepreneurship development in India is vastly different from countries like China and constituents of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Despite the presence of 'impediments' such as ideological practices and societal norms that stifle entrepreneurial zeal, protectionist policies, red-tape and bureaucracy, business and innovation have thrived for centuries in India. It is said that the choices we have made in the past, limit the outcomes of the present; therefore in order to understand our present, it is vital to understand our history. As the world beats a path to India on account of its growing economic vigor, it becomes increasingly pertinent to understand the evolution of our business arena.

In this light, Harish Damodaran's book is well-timed. Damodaran is a journalist with 16 years of experience and currently works as the Senior Assistant Editor at The Hindu Business Line. 'India's new capitalists' is a product of a book-writing fellowship granted to him by the New India Foundation1 - an organization that encourages works that further help in our understanding of Independent India. Damodaran, through this research effort attempts to address three lacunae in business history: the lack of adequate works on the current period, an absence of research on non-traditional mercantile classes and the contemporary literature's negligence of businesses in the South. The author adopts the Varna or the caste system as a sociological lens to view business history and traces the evolution of India's present day entrepreneurial groups. In the process, he captures the social history of several communities that have engaged with business from colonial times. The book informs the reader of the remarkable diversity in the current economic and business sphere and that this diversity is not just in terms of the production profile but also in its social base. Entrepreneurship, it appears, is increasingly breaking free of the boundaries of the traditional merchant communities to reflect individual entrepreneurial behavior.

On the basis of his expansive research, Damodaran identifies three general trajectories of industrial transitions by various communities. The chapters of the book are organized around these historical shifts. The second chapter captures the 'bazaars to factory' route of the traditional merchant classes into industry. The third chapter documents the Office to factory' route taken by Brahmins, Khatris, the Bengali Bhadralok and similar scribal castes with a distinct urban middle class orientation. Five chapters then record the 'field to factory' path of the castes referred to as the Shudras, i.e., the rural service provider communities such as the Kammas, Kongunad Naidus, Patidars, Gounders, Nadars, so on and so forth.

The author begins his exposition with the traditional business communities who dominated the business sphere and tracks their growth from the 17th and the 18th century to the present day. These communities (referred to as the Vaishya-plus communities) comprised particular ethnic communities or castes and were distinguished from the rest on account of particular defining features. …

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