India's identity crisis

Elliot Wilson
Published on:

India’s business leaders are increasingly concerned about the will of its political elite to drive economic growth. They see a country trapped between its past and its present, and a financial system that is quickly losing its reputed potential to be a leading global market. What can stop the rot?

Arun Lohia is a hard man to see. Not simply because he is busy. He’s also weary: ground down by bureaucrats; exhausted by hostile trades unions. In the fading summer sun, he almost seeks to disappear into his grey office wallpaper – India’s own bleak version of Philip Larkin’s Mr Bleaney, existing only in a surreal form of corporate half-life.

"There’s this word in Hindi: ‘Gherao’," Lohia says, spreading his hands almost meditatively. "It means encirclement, confinement. Workers come in and surround you so you can’t leave your office until you meet their demands. It happened to me a year ago when three-dozen workers came in and just pressed against me heavily. They wouldn’t leave until I threw out all the new weaving machines we’d just bought. In the end I agreed. I had no choice. I really needed the toilet." ...