Provocative commentaries on international issues, social development, and people and places by a veteran journalist
A skilled practitioner of politics produces a timely volume on what makes Asia's giant tick
Published on January 24, 2008 By PranayGupte In Writing
The single most significant aspect of this book is that it's under the byline of Kamal Nath, arguably India's most talented and resourceful politician since Independence. In fact, he's 61 years old -- just a year older than Modern India, which was carved out of the British Raj in 1947.

There are those who predict that he will some day be the country's prime minister, and, indeed, some of his friends are already canvassing in his behalf. Mr. Nath's intrinsic decency and good nature make him a likable figure not only in his own Congress Party but also among Opposition members. His exceptional intelligence and acuity have impressed world leaders. As a journalist, I've observed his career for nearly three decades, and I've been struck by how accessible and sharply focused he is. No doubt Mr. Nath has his share of political enemies, but you'd be hard pressed to cite too many instances when he's down-sizing anyone (except, maybe, a journalist or two).

Moreover, Mr. Nath is a "contemporary" Indian -- a truly global citizen in this era of globalization, a man who's equally at ease in the chancelleries of the West, in the negotiating chambers of multilateral organizations, and in the poor constituencies of his native land. He's the beneficiary of a remarkable family: his late father, Mahendra Nath, was an accomplished industrialist who also established one of India best institutions of management education. Kamal Nath continues his family's tradition of educating and inspiring talented Indians, and also furthering philanthropy.

He makes no bones about enjoying life. He's a colorful character, full of good humor and good cheer and bonhomie. As a journalist, I rarely admire politicians -- not because of any bias against them, but because it's best to be skeptical of those in power. But I must admit to a certain fascination with Kamal Nath's life and career. If he occasionally succumbs to the poor advice of associates, or associates himself with dubious characters -- well, he's a big boy now, and knows very well how to take care of himself. He knows how to take criticism in stride, and put it in context. He's not exactly unflappable, but, given the constant scrutiny and limelight he lives under, Mr. Nath is about as even tempered as a man holding public office can be. That isn't to say he's not capable of being politically ruthless and calculating -- but then, which politician isn't? His three decades in India's national parliament bear testimony to Mr. Nath's ability to successfully navigate the political and social shoals of India's complicated society. They also bear testimony to the fact that, the rumors and whispering notwithstanding, Mr. Nath's personal integrity remains intact. Born into wealth, and having a family business that's formidably successful, Mr. Nath doesn't need to be corrupt.

His book is well organized, and offers a wide-ranging review of India's economic and social development. It offers his special insider's insights into how policy is made and implemented. Mr. Nath has a good grasp of not only India's indigenous economic scene but also of world affairs. Global audiences -- particularly investors -- should find "India's Century" useful; no wonder India's industrialists are promoting the book heavily, and a recent launch party in London was attended by the "who's who" of Indian and global business.

Having said all that, here are some quibbles and disclosures: Mr. Nath fails to mention that the book would never have happened without the extraordinary efforts of Robert L. Dilenschneider, the New York-based guru of strategic communications, who persuaded McGraw-Hill to publish the timely book. He fails to mention that it was I who suggested the book's title, and informally assisted him in the early stages of the book. I'm sure that these are unintentional oversights, because I like to think that Mr. Nath is far too magnanimous a person to withhold credit where it's due.

Another lapse -- one that Mr. Nath cannot be necessarily held responsible for -- is that some of the wonderful photographs that adorn the back cover and inside of the the book were not credited to the young man who took them, Siddhartha Prakash of New Delhi. Instead, another, equally talented, photographer, Sanjit Das -- some of whose pictures were also used -- was credited with those pictures. I hope that the publisher corrects this matter and makes the proper restitution to the photographer. It's an unnecessary blemish on the book, and one that was entirely avoidable had there been more vigilance during the editing and production stages.

Regardless of Mr. Nath's political future and fortunes, this book will enjoy a long shelf life. It is a sensible book about what makes modern India tick, a book by a skilled practitioner of the art of the possible -- politics.

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