Can we discuss Indian entrepreneurship exclusively in terms of caste and community? Can it be claimed that Indian business has broken loose of its traditional social moorings and is much more inclusive? Are caste and community affiliations still of some consequence, despite the transformed economic context? And, can we be dismissive of the weight of history in shaping the social trajectory of entrepreneurial development in contemporary India? These are key concerns we face in trying to make sense of this complex conundrum of business communities. While there are no short answers, laying bare the broader historical context could throw some light.
The rise of an indigenous entrepreneurial class in pre-independence India, despite the overbearing presence of foreign capital, is exceptional and has few parallels in the rest of the Third World. It was a product of colonial commercialisation during the 19th century. As a colonial economy, India was required to absorb the manufactured goods of Britain as well as meet the ever-growing demand for primary products from British and European industry. The development of commodity markets provided the necessary impetus for the Indian merchant class to grow and flourish.