Raghu Ananthanarayanan, a scholar and social scientist, in his own right, in his book, Five seats of Power, (Harper Collins India), expands on what he calls The ABCD of leadership; Awareness, Balance, Contextual intelligence and a quaint compound word ‘Dharma sankatam’. He informs us that leaders are constantly faced with both ethical and moral dilemma.

Dr Nagendra P. Singh, whose book Leadership Matters (Journey of Indian entrepreneurship) (White Falcon Publishing), echoes this dilemma and the consequent polarities that leaders need to contain within themselves, throughout his book.

While his title offers to take us on the journey of Indian entrepreneurship, the subtext is really about ‘Political entrepreneurship.’

The book is a memoir in many ways as Singh gives us a ringside understanding and view of how India’s political landscape bears heavily on the demonstration of leadership, be it in entrepreneurship or even politics.

The confluence of politics and entrepreneurship are so completely meshed that I am tempted to say the entrepreneur’s doppelganger is the politician.

Singh is proud of his heritage, his ‘home’ acquired PhD, which he writes with confidence is no less than what is offered by the West. His admiration for ‘political entrepreneurship’ travels the distance from Gandhi to Modi.

Singh asserts as early as in page 10 of his book, that ‘Indians have great political sensitivity, but their understanding of leadership is lost in the perceptions that leaders create.’ Such a categorical statement in itself establishes unequivocally that the Indian entrepreneur is a victim of a political system.

Dismantling of Licence Raj

Even after 20-plus years, when the ‘licence raj’ was supposedly dismantled, we still hear echoes of it in the corridors of government agencies that one has to go to for permission, from having to get ‘a pollution control clearance, in the case of manufacturing, to a MSME registration, in the case of a service enterprise.’

Singh has throughout his book kept the focus on the overarching political climate that entrepreneurship has to contend with. There is appreciation for the ordeals that entrepreneurs go through, yet Singh makes it clear that chicanery has also to be employed if the entrepreneur has to ‘succeed.’

Perhaps there is existential wisdom in such postulation yet the conundrum that remains unanswered is, how does the entrepreneur unshackle oneself?

There is heavy dependence on ‘now’ the present Prime Minister to initiate change as there was first on Gandhiji and then Nehru after him.

The entrepreneur’s destiny is intertwined with that of the political ‘Hero’ of the time. Because there is an almost cloying dependence on political endorsement, Singh appropriately writes, ‘Many potential entrepreneurs have lost their way forward due to their goal ambivalence.’

He explains this as ‘Gandhian Economics’, when he writes that Gandhi believed that the human being is not a rational actor and hence should not seek to maximize material self-interest, which he felt was a Western economic model, being foist on us. Gandhi, Singh writes, thought the Western economic system was based on multiplication of wants, which in Gandhi’s view was both unsustainable and would devastate the human spirit, leading to working against ‘Nature.’

Such dogmatized belief is what Singh is alluding to when he writes that the Indian entrepreneur suffers from ‘acute goal ambivalence.’

On page 115, Singh calls Nehru ‘an undisputed feudal leader of his time.’ This is a very compelling statement for, unsaid throughout the book, yet palpable is that entrepreneurship has developed in India and perhaps continues to do so, only through the feudal route.

While Singh writes that ‘Indian entrepreneurship has now moved to its highway from the sidewalk’, the credit for this is laid at the feet of Modi, ‘who has placed his intent very clearly (to) the economic powers.’ Thus, the dependence on the feudal ‘Lord’ continues.

Self-reliance, self-sufficiency

Even the advocating of ‘Atmanirbhar’, self-reliance and self-sufficiency, is being given credence by Mr Modi. Thus, the Indian entrepreneur seems to rely on political largesse.

While the book is exhaustively filled with content, there are several pages in which one is reading a reporting of what has been done to death by columnists. Hence, I wonder if it is adding to my body of wisdom.

Yet for those of us who may want a quick overview of ‘what was’ and ‘what may be emerging’ in the sphere of entrepreneurship, the book is a well-documented treatise. One aspect of contention that may have helped the book read better would have been a more comprehensive use of syntax and sharp editing.

Yet again as Andrew Carnegie is purported to have said, “when you go digging for gold, a lot of unwanted stuff may come up, but since the intent is to find gold, we can ignore the other stuff.’‘

The book therefore offers through brush strokes a glimpse of entrepreneurship as it was and perhaps as it can evolve.

Leadership Matters - Journey of Indian Entrepreneurship - Distortions And Directions From Gandhi To Modi Era
By Nagendra P. Singh
Published: White Falcon Publishing
Price: ₹650 Pages: 338

Check it out on Amazon.

(The writer is a visiting professor at the Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai and is an organisational and behavioural consultant. He can be contacted at ttsrinath@gmail.com)