Family business, start-ups, succession, scions, India Inc., GDP. It is that time of the year when this collective gets its annual renditions from scribes and experts on business and economy. It has been 75 years since our freedom, and the oft-repeated questions are: has clearance raj replaced license raj? While the mushrooming of unicorns in India might hold promise for a new generation of entrepreneurs, are they locked in a battle for valuations, where the creation of an institution has taken a backseat?
Perhaps the most important task today is to analyse the nature of our freedom. Why do the Tatas not have the freedom to appoint a Turkish national as the CEO of their newly re-acquired airline? Why did another foreign national decline the offer to join Tata Motors last year? Why did a jewellery brand some years back and a clothing line last year have to withdraw their ads?
We all know that there is one answer to all the questions.
As we write our annual odes to Brand India, it could be prudent to go back in the annals of history.
Germany’s high growth rate between 1933 and 1939 touching double digit figures within a decade of the Great Depression, Russia’s fate in the Putin years and Turkey under Erdogan all demonstrate the destabilising impact of intolerance.
The growth of the Indian auto, pharma and IT sectors in the last 31 years since liberalisation is the story of the amazing resilience of the Indian entrepreneurship. Despite being held captive in the Indian bureaucrat’s office for more than five decades, India’s turnaround into becoming the second fastest growing economy did not take much time.
Some credit the strong entrepreneurial traditions in the families of Jains, Marwaris, Baniyas, Parsis or Chettiyas, but the garlands of acknowledgement should also be laid at the doors of Nehru’s “modern Indian templesˮ: the IITs and IIMs. Here is where the stories of the Indian IT billionaires and unicorns began. Along with FDI, 1991 also opened doors for the new merchants: the VCs and PEs. Forty-two unicorns in just one year in 2021 with $41 billion flowing into the start-up sector could be the biggest validation of Brand India.
While the two are related, branding and advertising should not be confused.
A shrinking middle class, rising religious intolerance, concentration of wealth in the hands of few, increasing monopolies; nothing bodes well for economic growth.
While India is still advertised as the fastest growing economy in a pandemic-hit world, long-term investment flows in on the basis of the strength of the brand. Here, the perception of India’s future is most important. Is it liberal, inclusive and tolerant?
Let’s pause and think.