In the 1980s and 1990s, having a telephone connection seemed like a distant dream. In fact, you could even imagine not having one for a lifetime. The odd, venerable owner of a landline stood out in a neighborhood as something of a VIP, and the PCO booths were sacrosanct spaces for making concise calls while keeping an eye on the pulse.
These coming relics have been swept away by a mobile telecommunications revolution that began with a call – believe it or not – at 16 rupees per minute more than a quarter of a century ago. The person to whom the call was made was also charged Rs 8 per minute.
As India completes 75 years of independence, the dramatic changes that have taken place in the lives of its citizens after the liberalization of 1991 are best symbolized by the figure of a handset. It is like an extension of the human body, a residual organ of the future that needs to be updated or replaced every few years. We increasingly rely on it to connect with people and consume information and mis/disinformation that shapes our understanding of the world.
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The shift from a Nehruvian to a neoliberal model undoubtedly marked an intersection between the old India and the new. For independent India, before 1991, when it was a mixed economy, the pace of change was slow. Still, going back to 1947 to measure how far we’ve come as a nation that has embraced modernity and is simultaneously full of paradoxes can be mind-blowing.
For a young, richly diverse nation built on the principles of secularism and not aligned with any superpower, the story would be untold without the role played by corporations. Along the way, the brands have ingrained themselves into our daily lives, defining eras and leaving their indelible imprints that evoke a sepia-tinged nostalgia like iconic cultural products do.
The role of trading houses predates the birth of independent India. A private business class had already made its mark at the beginning of the 20th century. Hereditary businesses, with properties involving common families, emerged – some belonging to traditional business castes (such as the Birlas who started out as opium and jute traders in Calcutta), while others came from non-traditional businesses such as Kirloskars.
Over the decades, large business groups will become inextricably linked to India’s industrial and social journey. In the years preceding independence, some would even form pressure groups allied with the Congress party and the freedom movement against British rule.
After 1947, the public sector remained the dominant part of industry as a socialist government inspired by the Soviet Union and communist China favored government control over capitalist freedom. He implemented the “licence raj”, while regulation tightened during the Indira Gandhi years with a decline in foreign companies, further expansion of public sector units and a slowdown in business creation private.
Against a deluge of goods and services with the opening up of the Indian economy, the years leading up to 1991 were also characterized by a lack of options – and this is a feature that our special issue serves as a return to ” simpler times” while cataloging the brands and personalities at the heart of India’s history.
India’s embrace of a free market while remaining essentially a welfare state has been accompanied by a political shift to the right.
The Platinum Jubilee of Independence is a moment of introspection and recognition of the foundations that have allowed India to be considered a healthy democracy for almost 75 years, often distinguishing itself in the region by its claim to unity in diversity.
In a world disrupted by Covid-19 and grappling with an economic crisis, India sees self-reliance as the way forward. Businesses big and small have earned a name for a uniquely Indian frugal innovation – captured in the concept of “jugaad”, despite its unflattering connotations.
The 1991 reforms were born out of a crisis. [email protected] faces the question of whether this is another hour of disruption, of reshaping our lives. And, in this era of Big Tech, will Indian tycoons and rising unicorn start-ups innovate and lead the way? We will know for years to come.
THE GAME CHANGERS
The pionneers : Some of them are “midnight children” – their companies were born before 1947, but they came of age in post-independence India. Some are “License Raj Warriors” who refused to let bureaucracy slow them down. Some are “descendants of liberalisation” who took the open economy as a springboard and launched themselves high, high and high. And some are “The Millennials,” the tech entrepreneurs who have embraced the digital world and created the kind of businesses that were perhaps unfathomable not so long ago. Some are hard-nosed professionals who have transformed the way we do things or live our lives.
In the decades since independence, some of the companies run by these leaders have grown into giants – conglomerates with a much larger footprint than they started out with. Many have expanded beyond India’s borders, to become companies with a global presence. Others have shrunk in size, or even fallen behind in time. Some have seen their large family of Indian businesses split into smaller units and follow different paths. Some have moved on after creating a whole new business segment to try their hand at something completely different.
But each of them played an important role in building the country, taking ideas and giving them wings. They are the champions and visionaries of India Inc, inseparable from the idea of India.
Indians of the world: They have the world to sit up and take notice. From humble beginnings, these professionals, equipped with the vision and confidence to innovate and meet challenges, have gone on to lead businesses in all geographies. Their history is as much that of India as that of the world.
Others: They started something big, something different, something new. But somewhere down the line they got lost, even landed on the wrong side of the law. It’s the High Thieves who have fallen out of favor.
INDIA’S MARK WIDTH
From bicycles to cough syrup, washing powder to music labels, cosmetics to inkwell, movies to stationery, some brands have come to define the segments they represent. And when television became popular in India, it propelled them deeper into our lives. Some slogans made us laugh. A few jingles got us singing. Some mascots have stuck with us for life. Today, while some of these brands have braved the challenges of time, a few have become distant memories of simpler days. Some have reinvented themselves. Others cling to yesterday while embracing tomorrow. Somehow they remained a part of our lives.
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