TODAY, THE ENTREPRENEUR IS OMNIPRESENT in a way unprecedented in history. Her image is splashed across magazine covers, politicians are always concerned with “promoting entrepreneurship,” even left-wing talking heads, who decades ago were obsessed with class injustice, that nothing must be done to restrict the “dynamism” of the entrepreneur.
And why not? The entrepreneur is an inspiration, because she can, sometimes, escape from the baggage of caste and hierarchy that still grips much of India. She is comforting because, by virtue of her success, she restores a semblance of meritocracy to an otherwise unfair world. She convinces the intellectual establishment that its agenda of a state perpetually in retreat from economic life is a workable one.
The rise of the entrepreneur is, in many ways, directly related to the ascent of the market as the most important institution for organising human material life, both nationally and globally. In India, particularly, the entrepreneur’s prestige in the popular imagination has followed from the success of the 1991 liberalising reforms. Through privatisation, trade liberalisation and the dismantling of the “licence raj,” these reforms enabled a consistent boom in certain sectors of the Indian economy. Real estate, finance and the information-technology sector grew rapidly even as manufacturing faced relative stagnation. Authors and public intellectuals such as Gurcharan Das, Patrick French and Arvind Panagariya popularised the narrative that these reforms had ushered in economic prosperity. They celebrated the virtues of the market in books and opinion editorials, while noting the vibrancy of the entrepreneur, who formed the core of the liberalised economy.