TOI vs. The Hindu plus Book Review: India Unbound, Gurcharan Das

A question on Quora recently turned into TOI bashing and apparently, for sound reasons.

I have been reading TOI since I was small. I have loved their hold on the English language. To me, they once personified good journalism: the last time I read a copy, they would report *and* they actively initiate campaigns to mobilise the society in response to developments in the country and local initiatives, a recent one being the iLead campaign. There are countless instances where I would read of action being taken on local matters on account of it having been reported on the front page of the national daily.
The editorials have been interesting: Swaminathan Aiyer’s Swaminomics, Jug Suraiya’s Jugular Vein, Bachi Karkaria’s articles which always ended in an incomprehensible Smart Alec joke, the inimitable Gurcharan Das and MJ Akbar were always a pleasure to read. I love reading while I eat and while I am home, I pore over every page of the paper, invariably the longest on the editorial.
The view/counter view section picks current debatable situations and presents two sides to the coins/ One side would be endorsed by the Times called the Times View. An individual would give the counter view. This section would allow me to reflect on both banks of the river and pick the greener one (note to self: improve on metaphors)
Times View was a familiar sight on every other page. In matters where decisions would disappoint the public, the newspaper would add a Times View with suggested steps and/or their take on the issue.
While I was interning at a firm this summer, a fellow intern was telling me how boring The Hindu could get.
Why read it, then? I asked.
That’s because my teacher at <insert MBA prep class’ name> asked me to read it everyday.
I gave it a try and while there was content, the paper seemed like an insipid, monotonous drone.
Moreover, Times’ supplements were one thing about weekends I would look forward too, especially Times Life. Did I while away my time reading about the Kardashians? You bet I did. I even sang Miley Cyrus songs while I read that stuff and twerked religiously because that is what the Times of India has taught me. That I have been writing since I was small and am becoming increasingly conscious of what titles I spend my time reading, it makes sense I pick the trashiest newspaper in town.
Click to read the article

Click to read the article

This article stopped me in the tracks. Before I read this guy’s account, TOI was unassailable to my eyes. Does the Times really indulge in irresponsible gossip mongering in the name of journalism?
I do not know. There is no way I can ratify the claims made here. I am the public, they’re the reporters. There’s only so much I can do to verify till I end up in ACP Pradyuman’s team.
For a newspaper established in 1838, I used to be certain that the Times of India holds itself to certain standards; no longer.
The newspaper has become shabbier of late, the website is rightfully described as ‘semi-news semi-porn’ (hire a web designer, please).
Times of India, you’re just somebody that I used to know.
Anyway, I would like to know how they respond to this post.
One decision I admit I never understood was letting Chetan Bhagat in on the editorials. He writes average B-grade Bollywood tales and tries to play the devil’s advocate sometimes. The rest of the time, that man is fart.
TOI, if you’re looking for devil’s advocate material (there used to be a column by the same name!) please get Karan Thapar (kyunki naam hi kaafi hai).
Hindustan Times has always been like the village cousin here: knows nothing, tries too hard, settles for mediocre- not much to offer.
The Hindu is certainly content rich; Indian Express? Never read it while I was in Noida/Delhi. The one in Bhubaneswar could be much better; it has a good chance of slinking down to Hindustan Times’ standards.
That said, I cannot remember the last time I really read TOI. I remember seeing a Chetan Bhagat column somewhere…
PS. Emailed one of the  contributors regarding the furor. I wonder if she will reply.
Now that I’m done ranting, I’ll get to the main job at hand: reviewing Gurcharan Das’ India Unbound. A spark of an interest in economics fueled my curiosity to know more about the headlines that I’d see in the paper and on the internet all the time. Many articles would talk about Nehruvian idealism and ‘mixed economy’ and policy failures as causes, but I was clueless beyond a point. I had an inkling over why Indira Gandhi was hated (the massacre, remember?) but Nehru?
He was a charming man from all accounts and a verbose politician who looked to Russia for model governance of a country, even if in part. His birthday is celebrated as Children’s Day; why would you hate him?
After a couple of Google searches and a question on Quora, I set about trying to arrange a copy to read. (I did find some pdf files on Indian economy on the way)

Luckily, my Economics professor happened to have a copy on him. And thus began the race to complete the book at 5 in the morning, between classes and during lunch. 😀

>Tremendous insights
>storytelling/ narrative skills
>analysis is impeccable and scientific in nature: it is the same spirit that has led us to progress
>Ruminates on India’s economic and political failures, decisions and ideology behind the countless acts and laws in the country in the name of equality and ‘mixed economy’ till Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram stepped on to the scene in the 1990’s.
There are some extraordinary insights that the book is pregnant with, the rest follow common economic sense and logic; that it is something that India has tasted only in a very long time despite having had some of the best minds in the country is scandalous.
I want to mention in particular his analysis of cost leadership/strategy versus superior goods strategy.
Cost leadership is when firms compete to price their products the lowest in a competitive market to gain lead over other rival products. It is a good idea but not so much since it heavily relies on currency. Das writes, “A cost strategy is vulnerable to exchange rates of competitors and rising cost of domestic employees. I find it surprising that Indian companies have not directed their energy to a strategy based on superior service. Not only because it is more endearing but also because it builds on the proven capability of Indian traders in the competitive bazaar economy. Anyone who has shopped in a saree store or eaten in an Udipi restaurant knows the Indian trader’s ability to deliver superior service.”
“… yet I am not aware of a single Indian company with global ambitions which is seriously and strategically pursuing it.”
In Democracy First, Capitalism Afterwards, the author relates his brush with politics; poetic, seeing how he was one of the midnight’s children. Born with the free country, he was meant to be in politics, his hopelessly idealistic supervisor told him.
He approached both BJP and Congress, speaking about much needed reforms and steps that could be taken. He faced no resistance, but their willingness to comply came easy because they wanted him to leave as soon as possible. This left the man disillusioned and broken. Of the decision to give up on politics, Gurcharan Das writes
Today, a lingering sense of defeat gnaws at me. My conscience tells me that politics is abrasive everywhere and had always entailed sacrifice, and I wonder if I have chosen the safer, but less courageous route in opting out.
As I zipped to the last chapter of the book, I realized that this book definitely needed a follow-up (about 13 years is time enough for the Indian economic and geopolitical landscape to change)
The book I had ends with an afterword by the writer which extends his meticulous analysis to 10-12 years hence; it is a deeply satisfying conclusion to a book which demystified the history of Indian economics for me.
But what I loved best about the book is the index at the end. How many people bother keeping the book clean and not litter the main text with entire generations of footnotes?
Gurcharan Das definitely does, adding another brownie point to the score. A thoughtful, thought-provoking, meticulously researched book with elegant prose and enchanting stories from one of the midnight’s children. A perfect read particularly if you’re just getting started with economics.
Must read. Nationality no bar.
Rating 4.8/5.0

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