Saturday, October 05, 2019

East India Company: How it entered the Indian market to make money and how it used the money to buy India itself

I read two books on the East India Company (EIC) which have fascinating details and insights:

-“The Anarchy: The relentless Rise of the East India Company” by William Dalrymple and
-“The East India Company: The world’s most powerful corporation” by Tirthankar Roy




The company acquired territories with money as much as it did with guns. The Indian kingdoms were bought as much it was fought. The company paid bribes to Indian rulers and army commanders to betray each other as well as to make or break alliances. It paid its Indian soldiers much more than Indian kings and obviously got the best and most loyal troops. They were able to buy the services of even the Naga Sadhus as troops. Before this, the Sadhus had fought on the side of the Muslim princes. The naked and ash painted Sadhus fought with clubs, swords and arrows.

The company used money to become powerful not only in India but in Britain itself. It had contributed funds to British members of Parliament as well as the Crown and ministers creating a strong lobby to protect and promote its interests. The company had bribed even the Solicitor General and the Attorney General. A parliamentary investigation found the EIC guilty of bribery which lead to the impeachment of the Lord President of the Council and imprisonment of the Company’s governor. 

About 40% of its shareholders were MPs. After their return from India some Company officials used their fortunes to get elected to the Parliament and lobby even more for the company. When EIC faced bankruptcy, the Parliament bailed out the company with public funds since EIC was too big to be allowed to fail. 

Initially the company brought silver and gold from UK for purchase of Indian items such as clothes and spices. But later it acquired enough local wealth with which it financed its purchases and trade. The company offered military service to Indian princes in return for payments and land grants. 

Indian bankers and money lenders such as the Seths competed with each other to finance EIC’s military and trade ventures. EIC borrowed annually 400,000 rupees from Jagat Seth in the period 1718-1730. The Hindu moneylenders were giving credit and financial support to the Muslim rulers too.

The Greek, Turk, Afghan, Persian and other Muslim kings invaded and conquered parts of India with their army as part of their plan for expansion of their territories or for plunder. But the British conquered and colonized the whole of India and ruled for three centuries not with any grand strategy, imperial design or mighty army. The British East India Company (EIC) came just for trade and became rulers by taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the decadence of the Mughals and the fighting between rival kingdoms. The EIC used mostly Indian soldiers and money to fight Indian princes and take Indian territories bit by bit until they had the whole of the subcontinent. It was only then that the British government stepped in and assumed control of India as a colony.
  
EIC started off as a joint stock corporation and ended up as ruler of the world’s largest empire. It sought very humbly permission for trade from  the rich and powerful Mughal emperor Jahangir, the richest monarch in the world at that time. The Mughal army was huge with about 4 million men.  When the first EIC vessel reached Surat in 1608, England was a a relatively poor and largely agricultural country which had spent almost a century at war with itself on religious issues. England had just 5% of India’s population and 3 % of world manufacturing output. In contrast, India had a large population of 150 million and accounted for a quarter of global manufacturing. In two centuries EIC made the last Mughal emperor Shah Alam as its pensioner, paid and protected by the company. 

EIC was concerned only with profit for its share holders and it cautioned its employees not to get into wars and local conflcits which could go out of control. The EIC headquarters did not like building of forts and raising troops which would add to avoidable expenditure. But the company chiefs and officials in India took initiatives and became adventurous seeing the opportunities thrown up by the constant fighting between the local kingdoms and rivalry between rulers. In many cases, the Indian princes sought out the support of the EIC to settle scores among themselves. The company joined with one faction, defeated the other and eventually took over both sides. The audacious and ambitious company chiefs like Clive, Cornwallis and Hastings went beyond the company brief and acquired territories and fortunes for themselves.  The traders and agents of EIC became administrators of law and order, tax collection and justice. They waged wars and signed peace agreements like the governments.

At its zenith, the company had a 200,000 strong army which was twice the size of the British army in England at that time. It accounted for nearly half of British trade and significant portion of tax revenue and customs duties.

EIC had many setbacks too. When EIC tried to use force against the Mughals in Bengal in 1686 with 19 warships, 200 cannons and 600 soldiers, they were quickly beaten. The emperor seized EIC’s  factories, captured and imprisoned company officials and expelled them from Bengal. The English then begged sued for peace and begged for pardon which was granted by the emperor in 1690. Thousands of British died of diseases and in the wars. But they did not give up. They worked patiently, waiting for the right opportunities and making the right alliances

EIC did not recruit the best from universities or gave any formal training to its new employees. Many of those who joined the firm were the unemployed from the lower strata of the society who did not mind the risks of death and diseases in India. With autonomy of operations, the adventurers learnt to become administrators, the merchants turned into warriors and the soldiers became merchants. To compensate for the risks and suffering, the company allowed its officials to do private trading on the side to make extra money. 

Robert Clive came to India as a humble accountant when he was 18. But he transformed as a military, political and business leader in India and went back as a multimillionaire. Clive became the richest self-made man in the whole of Europe. After the battle of Plassey, he took over the contents of the treasury ( estimated at 2.5 million pounds) of the defeated rulers of Bengal

The acquisition of Indian empire was one of the earliest examples of Public Private Partnership (PPP). EIC was given a monopoly charter by the British government. When the company went beyond commerce and started building the empire, the government provided active support militarily and administratively. EIC was also an early example of crony capitalism. The company was given monopoly, support and privileges by the State whose MPs and the Crown had earned profit from it.

Madras, Bombay and Calcutta are essentially creation of EIC as company towns. Before the company came in, they were just unknown villages. In fact St George fort was built by Francis Day with his own money. EIC Headquarters was unhappy with his decision to incur so much expenditure in building a fort which was considered as a needless extravagance. Day was called back to London in 1641 and chasteised. Later, the company realized the wisdom of Day and reimbursed him. EIC built its first fort in Madras which was not a strategic place for a fort. Francis Day the company official in Coromandel coast fell in love with a Tamil woman. He chose the area to build the fort since it was next to her village. Madras was the first English colonial town in India with its own civil administration. 

In the beginning, the EIC could not get the required permission for trade from the Mughal emperor. So the British government had to send an ambassador for ‘Economic Diplomacy’ to open up the Indian market. It sent Thomas Roe as Ambassador to Emperor Jahangir. Roe used his diplomatic skills to get trade concessions and support from the Mughal and win him over from the influence of the Portuguese who were already entrenched in the Indian market. During his stay of three years from 1615 to 1618,  he sent regular political despatches to his government on the situation of India.


Picture: Thomas Roe petitioning Emperor Jahangir

The Boston Tea Party which lead to the independence of US is also connected to EIC. The British government wanted to open the North American market for the tea exported by EIC and this provoked the Americans. The crown lost America but the company won the Indian empire for the crown. Cornwallis, who surrendered the British forces to American freedom fighters in 1781 redeemed himself by defeating Tipu Sultan and other Indian rulers and gained territory for the crown.

EIC was the world’s first Drug Lord, much before Pablo Escobar. It smuggled Opium from India to pay for its import of tea from China. EIC encouraged peasants in Bihar and Bengal to cultivate opium. Since opium was prohibited by the Chinese government, the company would not use its own ships to carry the opium to China. It sold the opium in auctions in Calcutta from where it was smuggled by  independent agents. These agents bribed the Chinese customs and managed to sell their contraband. They deposited their Chinese currency earnings in EIC office in Canton. In 1838, the opium exports were 1400 tons a year. When the Chinese tried to stop the smuggling, the British government fought three opium wars to force opium down the mouth of the Chinese and make millions of them as addicts.  The Opium wars and the humiliation suffered have left deep historical scars in the Chinese. They  are taking revenge by conquering the west through trade, investment and money power just as the East India company did in India.   

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Reluctant Billionaire- biography of Dilip Shanghvi

Dilip Shanghvi is a self-made entreprenuer whose company Sun has become the largest Indian pharmaceutical firm and one of the largest in the world. Pharma is not an easy field like IT in which one can become a billionaire overnight. Shanghvi started off as a distributor of psychiatric medicines in Kolkatta and went into manufacturing in Gujarat. He scaled up the business over the decades both organically and through acquisitions. He became rich without the use of crony capitalism route or other short-cuts. 

The book brings out Shanghvi’s people skills as an important ingredient of his success. He gave the utmost importance to Medical Representatives and doctors and earned their loyalty to build his prescription-driven business. He himself had sat in the waiting room of many doctors. He is still a hands-on owner promoter who takes decisions after going into details himself.

In the beginning of his ventures, he had put his boyhood friends and relatives in the business. These friends and relatives worked hard with commitment and helped him succeed. Even now Shanghvi goes on vacations with his childhood friends.

Shanghvi is an avid reader. He read not only lot of books on management but also medical journals from which he had acquired knowledge with which he provoked and questioned R and D scientists. He listened to and watched professional managers in action and learnt from them. 



After having started and built Sun Pharma in India with his Gujarati DNA, Shanghvi went global. He acquired the Israeli firm Taro which was doing generics business in US. The Gujarati was up against the formidable and wily Jewish entrepreneur Barrie Levitt who had built Taro in the same way as Shanghvi had created Sun. After having agreed to sell his firm to Sun, Levitt started playing games and dragged the case to an Israeli court. He did a media campaign saying that an Indian was challenging Jewish pride by the acquisition and made it as a case of Israeli honour. Even the Israeli lawyer of Sun doubted the strength of Shanghvi’s case. But Shanghvi changed the lawyer and fought the case and won. After the take over of the company he was gracious enough to give a grand farewell dinner to Levitt with the presence of the senior executives of Taro.

After having won the Jewish war, Shanghvi went in for a Punjabi conquest with the acquisition of Ranbaxy. The executives of Ranbaxy looked down on Sun’s frugal Gujarati culture. At one time, Ranbaxy itself had considered buying up Sun. The haughty and flashy Ranbaxy executives gave a hard time even after Sun acquired their firm. But Shanghvi stood firm and merged Ranbaxy into Sun. One of the first things he did was to get a consultant to analyse and present the cultural differences of the two companies to the senior executives of both the firms. He threw out many Ranbaxy executives whose style and culture did not conform to the frugal and cost conscious Sun business culture.

Soma Das, the author of the book has made the biography of Shanghvi interesting by focusing on the larger issues of his business and personality. But the author is a bit carried away with admiration and has highlighted only the positive aspects of Shanghvi. 

 Shanghvi became the richest Indian briefly in 2015 with net worth of 21 billion dollars overtaking Mukesh Ambani. But since then stocks of Sun have come down and his networth has crashed to 8 billion dollars. Sun’s reputation has come under a slight cloud after reports of a whistle blower’s allegations of governance lapses.

Unlike the flamboyant Ambanis and many other tycoons, Shanghvi keeps a low profile and is publicity-shy. He lives a modest and austere lifestyle as a vegetarian. But Shanghvi is yet to display corporate social responsibility like Azim Premji and other benevolent rich Indians.

Pharmaceuticals is a sector in which India outshines China and has established its reputation in the world as a whole. India’s export of pharmaceuticals in 2018 were  18 billion dollars as against China’s 9 billion. Over one quarter of India’s exports go to USA and more than half goes to the developed regulated markets. While China imports 28 billion dollars of pharmaceueticals India’s imports are just 2 billion dollars. At last even China has recognized the competitiveness and quality of Indian generics and has just opened its market for imports from India.

India needs more Shanghvis to produce affordable generic medicines for the masses of India and the world. Shanghvi is an inspiration for Indian entrepreneurs.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Chinese Socialism needs Indian medicines

Every major advanced developed country in the world is importing generic medicines from India. In 2018, the US imported from India 5.02 billion, UK-550 million, Canada-248 m, Australia- 248 m, Germany-215 m, France- 190 m, Belgium- 180 m and Netherlands-129 m. These countries are not doing any favour to India. They have been forced to do this to reduce the high cost of their countries’s health care. As this consciousness grows, India’s exports keep increasing.

But for India's inexpensive generics, several hundred thousands of African patients, who could not afford the expensive patented medicines, would have died. Organizations such as Gates and Melinda Foundation, Clinton Foundation, WHO and Doctors without borders bought the Indian generics to distribute to the poor patients in Africa. They even took on the fight with the Multinationals on behalf of India. 

India exported 15 billion dollars of medicines to the world in 2018. India is the largest (by volume) exporter of generic medicines in the world. 

More than fifty percent of India’s exports went to the advanced developed countries with the most rigorous quality control and registration procedures. India has around 200 pharma units approved by US FDA. India has the second largest FDA-approved units after USA. There arefour Indian companies ( Sun Pharma, Cipla, Lupin and Dr Reddy Labs) in the top ten global generic medicine producers in the world.

Pharmaceuticals is one area in which India has beaten China in exports. In 2018, India exported 15 billion dollars as against 9 bn of China. What is interesting is that the Indian manufacturers use a substantial quantity of Chinese raw materials. 

In 2018, India imported just 2 billion dollars of medicines. 

Guess how much did China import from India and the world … just 39 million dollars from India out of their total imports of 28 billion dollars. 

Here is the break up of major sources of Chinese imports:
From Germany 6.8 billion dollars, US- 4.7 bn, France-2.3 bn, Italy-1.8 bn and over a billion dollars each from Sweden, Ireland, Switzerland, Japan and UK.. 
The Chinese imported much more from Argentina, Brazil, Poland, Norway, Hungary, Finland and Greece than from India. 

China, which has developed its own versions of Amazon, Google and Facebook by blocking these American giants, seem to have become a willing victim of the western pharmaceutical multinationals who take the Chinese government and consumers for a ride... 

It is a no brainer.. the Chinese need the less expensive generics from India as much as the rich as well as the poor countries of the world.  

This theme was brought in a Chinese film “ Dying to survive ( released in 2018) in which a Chinese smuggles Indian medicines for treatment of about a thousand Chinese cancer patients who could not afford the pricey branded ones. The film was based on a real life story.

                                                poster of " Dying to survive"



The Chinese government, known for smart nationalistic policies seem to be plainly dumb  in the case of generic medicines. 

The Chinese dumbness is an opportunity for India.  The government of India should push the Chinese government to increase import of Indian medicines to partly reduce the massive trade deficit of over fifty billion dollars. The Chinese can certainly buy a couple of billions of dollars of generics from India to reduce their high health care cost. The Chinese government will do a favour to their own people by importing more generic medicines from India. 

The Chinese Socialism needs Indian medicines..

Source of statistics: ITC, Geneva

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Bottle of Lies - Book on Indian pharmaceutical exports

I have just finished reading the book “ Bottle of Lies: The inside story of generic drug boom” by Katherine Eban

The main hero in the story is Dinesh Thakur, the whistle blower, who collected 48 million dollars for exposing the scandal of quality control frauds in Ranbaxy which was fined 500 million dollars by the US FDA. The other heroes are the FDA inspectors who jump over walls to pick up trash containing shredded documents and discarded samples. 

The author has used the Ranbaxy story to condemn Indian generic exporters. She has gone beyond India with a larger agenda, portraying generics as dangerous as against the patented branded medicines. It appears that she is part of the conspiracy of the Big Parma majors to trash the inexpensive generics and the Indian exporters.
She does not even pretend to be objective. She has dug only the dark side of Ranbaxy and does not acknowledge the merits of Ranbaxy which was a leader in Indian Pharma industry and was a pioneer in opening the US and global markets. She has completely ignored the strength of Indian Pharma entrepreneurs and scientific community. 


Undoubtedly, there is some truth in the allegations of the author. The Indian drug quality control is lax and disorganized. The Indian drug manufacturers have been converted to strict quality controls and good manufacturing practices, driven mainly after discovering the hugely lucrative US market. In their hurry to file new registrations with FDA and reach the market before the others, some companies have cut corners, cooked the books and compromised on quality for profits. Ranbaxy set the bad example followed by some others.

Indians are not the only ones who get FDA fines. Even the Big pharma tries to cheat and get caught. GSK, a British MNC paid a fine of 750 million dollars and the whistle blower got the highest reward of 96 million for exposing the poor manufacturing practices in their unit in Puerto Rico. Even the famous Pfizer paid 2.3 billion dollars fine in 2009.
Of course, there have been even bigger scandals from the Brahmins of Quality: The German Volkswagon’s cheating on emissions and Kobe Steel’s poor steel products, besides American scandals such as Enron and Madoff. But one cannot damn Germany, Japan or US, as Katherine has done with India based on a few cases.

The truth is that the US desperately needs less expensive Indian generics to reduce the huge cost of health care. That’s why they import five billion dollars worth pharmaceuticals from India annually. US is the number one market with a one third share of India’s global exports. Half India’s exports go to highly regulated markets such as UK, Germany, France, Canada and Australia, besides US. These countries, who are aware of the Indian issues and culture, are going to continue and even increase their imports in the future. The Big Parma has also joined the boom of India’s exports by acquiring and setting up manufacturing units in India. Mylan, the top generic producer in the world has many production units in India. The President of Mylan is an Indian, Rajiv Malik, who is trashed by the author of the book. It is good to see four Indian companies ( Sun Pharma, Cipla, Lupin and Dr Reddy Labs) in the top ten global generic medicine producers in the world.  And, India has the largest number of FDA approved pharma units in the world. 

Pharmaceuticals is one area in which India has beaten China in exports. In 2018, India exported 15 billion dollars as against 9 bn of China. What is interesting is that the Indian manufacturers use a substantial quantity of Chinese raw materials. While India imports 2 billon dollars of pharma products, China imports 28 billion dollars annually.  It is a pity that they import only about 40 million dollars from India but import more from countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Greece and Hungary.  Obviously, the Chinese need the less expensive generics from India as much as the rich countries of the world. So China should be the next target of Indian pharma exporters. The government of India should push this with the Chinese with whom India has a massive trade deficit of over fifty billion dollars. The Chinese can certainly buy a couple of billions of dollars of generics from India to reduce their high health care cost.

Despite the clear agenda, motives and prejudices of the author, the book is informative and useful. It gives an insight into the bureaucracy, corruption and politics and challenges faced by FDA. It has shortage of staff to deal with the large number of inspections around the world. The inspector job is unattractive with poor salary and hazardous travels to remote areas to do risky detective and investigation  work in environments of different cultures and value systems. The book is a must read for Indian pharma industry and policy makers to understand how FDA works and to improve the quality standadards of our own exporters.  


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Age of ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China- book by Evan Osnos


Evan Osnos, who lived in China as correspondent of New Yorker and who speaks Chinese, gives a fresh perspective on the multidimensional and rapid transformations taking place in the Chinese society. He does this through the narration of his encounters and interactions with individuals who are entrepreneurs, company executives, party leaders, government officials, workers, peasants, artists and dissidents. He describes how the people try to make sense of the new dawn of China from their own point of view and advance their careers and goals. Some of them are lucky to hit the jackpot while others struggle and fail. Some entrepreneurs succeed in becoming billionaires legitimately as first movers. But there are also lot of corrupt officials, party leaders and those close to power who also become rich quickly.



The journalists, artists and activists play a cat and mouse game with authorities all the time. Each side tries to push the boundaries of freedom of expression and state control of thought relentlessly moving back and forth. The authorities sometimes resort to ridiculous methods such as banning jasmine flowers in the market to prevent them from being reminder of Jasmine revolution in Tunisia which brought down a dictatorship. 

The authorities do not have fixed doctrines except for the determination to perpetuate their own power and control. Confucius was persona non grata at one time. But later the authorities changed their mind and rehabilitated him. They have even gone to the extent of using Confucius name as soft power diplomacy by opening Confucius Centres all over the world.

Osnos has not come to any conclusions or given the readers any clue to the future of China. But after reading the book, one gets the impression that the process of reforms and transformation of China are likely to go on for a long time. What is clear is that the Chinese have a remarkable capacity and hunger to learn, adapt, improve and excel themselves quickly with resilience and determination. So there is no point in gloating over the Hongkong protests, the economic slowdown and corruption scandals.

The absence of democracy is not going to stop the country from becoming more prosperous and be a global leader. Look at Singapore. It is respected as a role model for good governance, development, cleanliness, efficiency, least corrupt and globally competitive. But it is not a democracy. China will go the Singapore way. So will Cuba and Vietnam.

Osnos confirms my own impression after my visit to China last year. As an Indian, I saw a lesson and inspiration for India from the Chinese success and achievements. I admire the way the Chinese have transformed themselves within a generation. I have nothing but admiration for the way in which they have become global leaders in areas such as high speed trains, electric vehicles and renewable energy, overtaking US in such a short period. 

India has to manage the relationship with China smartly given the complex role of China as a threat, competitor, collaborator, trade partner and global leader in manufacturing, trade and technology. The US-China rivalry offers opportunities for India to play one against the other and get the best from both the great powers. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Cycling in Minneapolis

 I cycled almost every day between 10 and 20 kms during my stay in Minneapolis from 22 May to 16 June. I found it as the most enjoyable and leisurely way of sightseeing while getting some exercise as a bonus.

I was inspired by Becky, my daughter in law and son Raja both of whom who go to office by cycle and take their children in the bike trailer and tagalong. They do it on many days even in the harsh winter when the temperature is many degrees below freezing point. Thanks to the daily cycling, both Raja and Becky are fit and do not need to go to gym. While the five year old Divya enjoys pedaling in the TagAlong, the 30-month old Leela prefers to go to sleep in the Burley trailer listening to audio stories from iPhone. Becky's parents, in their seventies, also cycle every day besides going on cycling tours to other parts of US and Europe.

Becky is not only an enthusiastic cyclist but also a passionate activist promoter of cycling and use of public transport to reduce use of cars and pollution. She works with NGOs in these fields.

                                                      Becky taking Divya in Tag-along 




                                     Raja taking the two kids to daycare in Burley trailer


Minneapolis, ranked as one of the best biking cities in USA, proactively promotes cycling as a healthy, low-cost, safe and environment-friendly way of travel. The city has 130 miles of on-street and 100 miles of off-street bikeways. There are free public facilities for pumping air and minor repair tools in cycling routes. The city runs and efficient and user-friendly bike-share program called as Nice Ride which has a fleet of 1600 cycles and 170 stations. There are special maps and Apps for cycling.

There are several hundred miles of cycle trails beyond the city going through scenic interior areas of the state.  The buses and trains have special places to take the cycles along.

The state, city and county authorities collaborate with NGOs in planning, maintenance and innovation of the cycling facilities and use.

Traffic rules and regulations are in place to ensure the safety and efficiency of the cycling system. A new culture of cycling has evolved. Car drivers respect cyclists and give way to them. The cyclists offer the same courtesy to pedestrians. When you hear the shout "on your left" one needs to give way to the faster cyclist behind who wants to overtake.

Thousands of Minnesotans commute to work in cycles with special and stylish bike wear and change into office dress after reaching the place of work. 


There are five different interesting routes for cycling:

- on both sides of the Mississippi River and crisscrossing through the various bridges with different architectures.

- around the many lakes. A popular circuit is the 12-mile loop connecting the Cedar lake, Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet.  Each of the lake has a perimeter ranging from 1.7 to 3.2 miles. 

-Midtown Greenway, a dedicated cycle path through the city for 6 miles. It is a kind of cycle highway with one lane to go and another to come. 

-cycle trails, going out of the city through scenic routes. A popular one is the Grand Round Scenic Byway which covers 55 miles around the city.

- on the streets and roads of the city, where large space is marked prominently for exclusive use of cyclists. In some streets, which are designated as bike boulevards, the cycles have  priority over vehicles.

More information: https://rootsrated.com/minneapolis-mn/cycling



                                         riding along the river near the office of Raja


                                           Riding on the historic stone arch bridge


stone arch bridge



riding in a park



                                            Midtown Greenway with divided lanes








the view of standup paddling and boating in the Lake of the Isles which has a 4 km cycling path around

                                                      
                                                view of downtown from the lake


The only problem is that one has to lock the cycle carefully every time one parks it. Cycle theft is common, even from garages in the houses.  

After the Minneapolis experience, I have bought a cycle and use it in my village (Alangudi Mahajanam, 35 km from Trichy and 350 km from Chennai) during my visits. Of course, there are no bike routes there. I ride through tractor roads between the rice and sugarcane fields behind my house.

I would love to cycle in Gurgaon where I live. My golf course, metro station and shopping malls are within cyclable distances. But the roads are dangerous and dusty, although a few enthusiasts do it bravely. The good news is that there is growing realization among the Gurgaon youth about the value and pleasure of cycling. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Gandhian journey with Guha


It was indeed an epic journey reading the three long books on Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha. 
1 Gandhi before India
2 Gandhi: the years that changed the world and
3 India after Gandhi: the history of the world’s largest democracy

Guha gives a fresh perspective on Gandhi with his objective and scholarly approach. He keeps the readers spellbound with his stories, anecdotes, comments and conclusions with his distinct style of narration. 

In these three books Guha gives a comprehensive account of Gandhi’s life: how he evolved with circumstances; the books and people who influenced him; how he became the Mahatma; his politics and spiritualism; and how he used his pioneering methods of satyagraha, civil disobedience and fasting to achieve outcomes. Guha gives the contexts of Gandhi’s actions with details of how his admirers encouraged him and how his critics tried to pull him down.

Gandhi united Indians from different languages, religions, castes, ethnic groups and socioeconomic groups and directed their energy to freedom movement, abolition of untouchability, social reforms and communal harmony.He was the first one to make such remarkable contribution to India’s unity in diversity.



Despite not being a charismatic orator, he inspired people with his many thousands of speeches. He spoke to all kinds of audience ranging from peasants, workers, professionals, intellectuals, political parties, religious gatherings and conferences. His speeches stopped communal violence,  saved many lives and drove people to social reform and personal purification.

Gandhi was a prolific writer. He wrote thousands of articles, letters, pamphlets and petitions to governments. Besides responding on or explaining policy issues, he took the trouble to write in detail, when people asked for help in personal matters about love, marriage and religion.

Gandhi felt perfectly at home in his austere ashrams, in the houses of village peasants, in the British jails, the mansions of rich industrialists and in the Buckingham Palace. Tatas, Birlas and Bajajs donated money and extended support to Gandhi’s ashrams, campaigns and movements.

He is perhaps the only leader who walked the maximum miles across India meeting people, addressing meetings, resolving problems, preaching social reforms and religious harmony. He walked and fasted even in his old age when the doctors advised him against overstraining.  He walked in the hot summers and through all kinds of terrains.

He went on fasting and self sacrifice to persuade governments to stop undesirable legislations and communities to stop conflicts.

He experimented with food, nutrition, nature cure and celibacy. He went overboard in the practice and preaching of abstinence from sex by trying to enforce this even with young people including his own sons.

Gandhi was attacked viciously by Jinnah and Ambedkar who considered themselves as rivals. Gandhi responded to their criticism with reasoning and arguments, while showing respect and courtesy to them. The Communists had called him as an imperial stooge and one Andhra communist leader went all the way to Gandhi’s place of birth to spit on a Gandhi memorial.

Gandhi’s life was an open book. He admitted his weaknesses, changed his course several times when he realised the need and accepted the advice of others on many things. It was Rajaji who stopped Gandhi (in his sixties) from his pursuit of spiritual marriage to the Bengali beauty Sarala Devi. Gandhi was influenced by Tolstoy, Gokhale and some others who had enlightened him.

Conservative Hindu Sanatanists tried to kill him with a bomb in Pune but fortunately his car got delayed and the bomb fell on the wrong car . They showed black flags protesting against his campaign to abolish untouchability and opening of temples to the Dalits. Eventually it was another fanatic Hindu Godse, who assassinated him with the grouse that Gandhi was too generous to the Muslims. 

In contrast, the British rulers treated him with due respect and courtesy even while acknowledging that he was the biggest danger to their Indian empire. While convicting Gandhi, a British judge openly expressed his personal anguish about his legal burden of having to punish a great man. A British government circular in the forties had asked the civil servants to start referring to him as Mahatma. While there were a few racist detractors such as Churchil, overall, the British showed remarkable tolerance and reverence to him. Thank God India was not a Portuguese, Spanish or French Colony. They would have killed Gandhi long before..

At the same time, Gandhi had never called the British as enemies. He showed respect and friendship to the British and he just wanted them to be true to their own principle of freedom which India deserved.He showed such respect to all his other opponents and opposing ideas.

Gandhi was responsible for inspiring and nurturing thousands of value based political leaders and followers. Under his inspiration, thousands of Indians gave up their jobs and sacrificed their lives for the nation. There were many foreigners who devoted their lives looking after him, supporting his causes and participated in his many experiments with life. He set an example with his actions and sacrifices. He never asked anyone to do what he would not do. The leaders who imbibed this spirit laid the foundation for the free India. 

My admiration for Gandhi has increased after reading these books.  I have also become a fan of Guha, who has portrayed, analysed and interpreted Gandhi with objectiveness and clarity based on his original research.

Guha’s books on Gandhi deserve to be made mandatory reading in schools and colleges as well as in management schools and civil service curriculum. Obviously some beliefs, teachings and practices of Gandhi do not fit in today’s world. But the success of Gandhi in uniting Indians and achieving freedom and social reforms will certainly ignite and inspire the minds and hearts of young Indians.