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  • Writer's pictureNishant Mittal

Gujarmal Modi by Sonu Bhasin: Book Review by Nishant Mittal

Entrepreneurship in India has a fascinating history. Until recently, it wasn't something that was encouraged, let alone celebrated in the average Indian household. In India, "Sarkari Naukri" has always been the way to go, and even now, majority of the Indian middle class youth "aspires" for Civil Services, so they can land a cushy, stable job and be the modern day "Collector Sahab (or Saahiba)". The love for Babus is real in this country, and becoming a bureaucrat is still the default "Indian dream". But why?

If you look at the US, entrepreneurs are regarded as the folks who "built the country", not Babus. People like JD Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, etc., are considered as the foundation of that nation, and being a bureaucrat isn't something most people aspire for. Yet in India, the societal order is quite the opposite. Why? Because we have a unique and interesting history.

You see, from 1857 to 1947, the best minds in India weren't trying to build a business, they were fighting for freedom. The struggle for independence was the collective pursuit of the passionate, and the businessmen of that era were essentially obedient stooges of the British. Common people of that time looked at most businessmen like they were dispassionate profiteers in the wake of ubiquitous suffering. And honestly, can anybody say they were wrong? I don't think so.

Then in 1947, India became independent. And even though it didn't make sense to hate entrepreneurs anymore, the erstwhile revolutionaries (now leaders of the free country) couldn't really make the mental transition. They chose Socialism as the way to go and entrepreneurship was stifled out of the system with policy developments like License Raj, rampant corruption and general lack of support. Building a business was always hard work and gave employment to millions, but becoming a Babu was clearly a more fashionable career choice, given the terrible socio-political construct of the country.

Despite these insurmountable difficulties, some people still chose to build businesses against all odds, and somehow survived in India. Thankfully, we're finally stepping into an era where entrepreneurship is being celebrated in this country and Madam Sonu Bhasin's book - Gujarmal Modi - is a great part of the movement. I'm a sucker for Indian stories of entrepreneurship and had already read The Inheritors by Ms. Bhasin, so naturally, as soon as I came to know about this one, I picked it up!

'Gujarmal Modi' is a biography of the patriarch of the Modi empire, which was amongst the leading business families in the 80s. Even now, the Modi group scores over $2 Billion in annual revenues and company operates big brands like IPL, Godfrey Phillips India & 24 Seven to name a few.

The company (like most Indian business families) began before Independence and navigated its way through many cataclysmic changes faced by the nation. The founder (Mr. Gujarmal Modi) began with the idea of starting a township around his name, after he was exiled from the riyasat of Patiala for something quite frivolous. He came from a huge business family and used the insult to build "his own city", naming it Modinagar. From a sugar mill to fifteen different factories, Mr. Gujarmal Modi built the seventh largest conglomerate of India, but the company soon withered after his death because of lack of succession planning. Even the city of Modinagar, once a thriving place is now only a shadow of what it once was. This story is an important insight into the world of great Indian business families, and Ms. Bhasin has captured it with characteristic simplicity.

I genuinely believe it's very important that the society learns more about the "entrepreneurs who built India", and thank Ms. Sonu Bhasin for writing this book.

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