This book is by a very young distinguished teacher and researcher of economics who has specialised in studying Asia'srapidly changing societies, their economies, financial markets, cities and demographics. Sanjeev Sanyal, the author, is passionate and interested in environmental conservation and antique maps of India ? he insists they are closely linked. This book is unique in its style of presentation ? presenting timeless and glorious civilisation of India with well-researched data, evidence and rational arguments. The economic richness and good trade relationship India had with many countries in the world and the dominance of India in literature, education, trade and industry and standard of living.
All in all, India had an extraordinary economic, intellectual and cultural influence throughout the ancient world. More over, this was a dominance that was almost entirely exercised through peaceful means. In a way, India'splace in the ancient world was similar to that which is occupied by the United States today. It was not only the dominant centre of economic and cultural activities but also a magnet for various groups of people who came to seek either fortune or refugee from persecution. All these have been described with well-researched data, evidence and historical facts seem to be very interesting and easy to read.
This book analyses the decline of the dominance of Indian economy and polity. It states the decline of India'sposition started well before the colonial period. The industrial revolution in the West and colonisation only sped up the process of degeneration of India. The author says the decline of India started after the eleventh century. The repeated foreign invasions and raids by Turks, Mongols and Afghans from Central Asia, Ghazni and Muhammad Ghori and later by European colonial powers alone do not adequate to explain the secular decline of India as a civilisation and a leading world power. India was no stranger to foreign invasion. Over the centuries Huns, Bactrians, Indo-Greeks, Sakas and others had invaded India. Their invasions must have caused disruptions but did not cause a long-term decline in the country'sfortunes.
He again explains the ?Religious Vigour? theory ? the vigourness of young Muslim religion ? the Muslim invaders ? the invaders of being Muslim does not explain the subsequent failure of the descendants of these same Muslim invaders to fend off latter invasions from Central Asia as well as their poor resistance to European colonisation. He argues it was civilsational decline that led to foreign domination rather than the other way around. The individual brilliance of a few great monarchs, such as Akbar and Krishnadeva Raya, was not able to reverse the secular long-term decline. The key factors, Shri Sanyal argues led to the fossilisation were the erosion of the spirit of entrepreneurship and the openness to new ideas and enquiry, closed attitude towards technology, new ideas and outside world had spread throughout the sub-continent by the thirteenth century. To explain this inward looking and fossilisation of Indian civilisation after the 13th century, he quotes the writings and studies of Al Beruni, Ibn Batuta, Marco Polo, Professor Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, etc.
This book is about how India has finally become free, and how it has the opportunity now of transforming itself and the world. There are many hurdles on the way?the poor state of the institutions of governance, the quality of tertiary education and so on. However, there are also strong forces that will support India'stransformation. Demographic change and a primary education revolution are unleasing the same dynamics that transformed the rest of Asia. A middle class is emerging that will soon demand major institutional and political change. India'srise is not predestined but, for the first time in a millennium, it looks like it has the courage to exploit the window of opportunity.
The book largely deals with India'seconomic resurgence. However, throughout the book, we will be mindful that economic resurgence is only part of a wider civilisational reawakening. An open cultural attitude is perhaps the single most important condition for an Indian renaissance?far more important and long lasting than demographic shifts and rising saving rates. Both the rise of Europe following the renaissance and the revival of Japan after the Meiji restoration predated their demographic shifts. Rising saving rates and literacy rates were important to the extent that they accelerated the pace at which new ideas and technologies were disseminated and absorbed. By themselves, labour and capital are not sufficient. The experience of the communist bloc during the course of the twentieth century clearly shows the limitations of generating growth by deploying capital and labour without an open cultural system. It is the same reason that the Nehru-Mahalanobis attempt to modernise India through the public sector was doomed to failure even if it had survived to see the demographic and literacy shifts.
He explains the inevitability of urbanisation for the development of Indian society. He states that India was the centre of the earliest urbanised civilisation bear testimony to the fact that five thousand years ago Indians lived in well-planned towns.
The ninth and final chapter gives some messages. The very attitudes that encourage economic innovation and risk taking are also those that allow cultural innovation and risk takings. This is why a sustained rise of any civilisation is based on the pursuit of excellence at all levels of human endeavour. The European renaissance in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is an excellent illustration of this phenomenon. The World is not flat just because technology allows us to connect various points on the planet. As Columbus proved, the earth is not flat but round and its opportunities are open only to those who dare to sail around it. Till a thousand years ago, India was a great nation, the world'slargest economy, the lynchpin of global trade, the hub of intellectual activity and a cultural super-power. Now, after ten centuries of decline, India has an opportunity to re-emerge not just as an economy but as a civilisation. He ends the book by quoting a shloka from the Brihdaranyaka Upanishad;
Asato Ma Sadgamaya,
Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya,
Mrityor Ma Amritamgamaya
(Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017.)