The best books on crony capitalism

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta Author Of Gas Wars - Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis
By Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

Who am I?

For over 44 years, I have been a writer, speaker, anchor, interviewer, teacher, analyst/commentator, publisher, producer, director, and consultant across different mass media: the written word, the spoken word, and the audio-visual medium – printed publications and websites, radio and podcasts, television, and documentary cinema. As a student of the political economy of India, I have sought to investigate the working of the nexus between business and politics. I am of the view that crony capitalism and oligarchy are at the roots of much that has gone wrong in the country of my birth and domicile which is often described as the “world’s largest democracy”.

I wrote...

Gas Wars - Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis

By Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Subir Ghosh, Jyotirmoy Chaudhuri

Book cover of Gas Wars - Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis

What is my book about?

The Ambani siblings, among India’s richest men, fought over many issues, but what got lost in the din of the battle-cries was that much of the tussle was over India’s natural resources, about how these were mined, marketed, and monetised. The book shows how the simmering controversy over the natural gas reserves in the Krishna-Godavari Basin boiled over into a storm on gas pricing involving many organisations of the government of India.

While many reasons have been attributed to the split in the powerful Indian business family, it is argued that the battle between the Ambani brothers was largely about wresting control over reserves of natural gas that are below the ocean bed along the basin of the two greatest rivers of southern India.

The books I picked & why

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The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power

By Shoshana Zuboff,

Book cover of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power

Why this book?

Surveillance Capitalism is a path-breaking work that highlights how a clutch of international digital monopolies are modifying our behaviour and predicting our preferences in a way in which human nature is threatened. The accumulation of vast wealth and the power that accompanies it enables a few corporate conglomerates to influence not only what we watch, hear and read but also anticipate our decisions and, in the process, are enabled to earn super-profits. This new era of capitalism is marked by extreme concentrations of information and knowledge with no democratic oversight, Professor Shoshana Zuboff convincingly argues. Her book may appear intimidating to some because of its size (nearly 700 pages) but is lucidly written and comprehensible for even a lay reader. 

The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India's New Gilded Age

By James Crabtree,

Book cover of The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India's New Gilded Age

Why this book?

American author Mark Twain had described the last decades of the 19th century as the Gilded Age in the United States, a period when on the surface everything appeared to be glittering like gold concealing the filth and ugliness that lay beneath. British journalist and academic James Crabtree, now based in Singapore, believes that the last few decades in India closely resembles the Gilded Age of the US. His 357-page book is filled with dozens of anecdotes about some of India’s most wealthy individuals such as Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani, and Vijay Mallya. His meetings with them and his detailed descriptions of their lifestyles and demeanour make for racy reading. 

A disclaimer: Crabtree has described in flattering terms his meeting with this writer and referred to some of my articles and books.

A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India

By Josy Joseph,

Book cover of A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India

Why this book?

This book describes in fascinating detail several episodes of crony capitalism in contemporary India. The author focuses on the intimate nexus between big business and politics that shapes economic policies and covertly funds elections, often to the detriment of the interests of underprivileged sections of society. Drawing on his experience as an investigative journalist, Josy Joseph delineates corporate rivalries, the activities of shady lobbyists and recounts financial scandals. A riveting read.

Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the Worl

By Nicholas Shaxson,

Book cover of Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the Worl

Why this book?

This book paved the way for several other publications and reports that examine how tax havens are misused by rich individuals and corporate entities and private trusts and to legally avoid as well as to illegally evade taxes. The taxes not paid could have been used for supporting social welfare schemes and infrastructure projects that benefit ordinary people. In this manner, tax havens deepen and widen inequalities of income and wealth and concentrates economic power in the hands of crony capitalists.

Nicholas Shaxson’s book was of immense help to me when I wrote with Shinzani Jain a book titled Thin Dividing Line: India, Mauritius and Global Illicit Financial Flows published by Penguin Random House in December 2017.

India: The Wasted Years

By Avay Shukla,

Book cover of India: The Wasted Years

Why this book?

This book is a series of essays that were originally blogs, written by a retired civil servant. These essays have been arranged not in a chronological sequence but under subject-heads, making them a cohesive commentary on the times we live in, in India, about which the author writes. While not a work of history, the book is instead the shout of a wounded civilisation. These essays will find place in the annals of India’s evolution through the 21st century. Uncompromising in his analysis, the author studiously cites the dark clouds of political, social, and economic failures, that seem to be without the proverbial silver lining. Disclosure: I am the publisher of this book.

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