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Bonding rural India with Dhan

This is the success story of an enterprise,started in 1999 as a micro-credit organisation became Bandhan Bank in 2015

Published: 10th September 2016 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 10th September 2016 12:35 PM   |  A+A-

If there is one success story in entrepreneurship to come out of West Bengal in the last decade—a genuine success story and not the likes of the Saradha Group or Abhishek Hardwares—it is possibly that of the Bandhan Bank.

Beginning around 1999 as a micro-credit organisation lending to the poor in the rural backwaters of Bengal (people that would not be lent money even under Jan Dhan Yojana), the Bandhan group went on to set up thousands of branches in large parts of the country before it was cleared by the RBI to set itself up as a full-fledged bank in 2015. On August 23, 2016, it celebrated the first anniversary of its existence as a bank with President Pranab Mukherjee as its chief guest.

The volume under review is the account of an insider who saw the enterprise flourish right before his eyes (although not from the very beginning), and who tries to make sense of what he has borne witness to.

It presents a very detailed account of how Chandra Shekhar Ghosh, the son of a sweet-vendor in the small town of Agartala, worked his way up the murky and unruly world of (unorganised) rural money market in the southern part of West Bengal and developed a micro-credit organisation so successful that the Small Industrial Development Bank of India (SIDBI) changed its rules to lend Bandhan some money at a critical juncture, and the International Finance Corporation (the private investment arm of World Bank) came forth to capitalise the organisation.

BOND.jpgSupport from such key financial players owed principally to the fact that the Bandhan group was playing a major role in capacity-building and financial inclusion in the rural sector in post-liberalisation India, something that mainstream nationalised banks were meant to do since the 1970s, but have been deficient in till date.

The account is put together by a reputed business journalist in the country, and thus bears the hallmark of a journalist. It weaves together a huge assortment of fascinating anecdotes of not only Chandra Shekhar Ghosh but many of his most trusted associates (viz. his ten commanders) who did much of the soldiering—viz. identifying recipients of loans, collecting deposits, setting up the branches far and wide—at a time when Bandhan was just another micro-credit organisation. In a tangential fashion it also tells how, as the organisation expanded its mandate, the group brought in people from diverse sectors (IT professionals, police functionaries, business journalists such as the author himself) to make the operations more efficient and informed. It also tells of those sections of rural India whose lives were changed by Bandhan, and the manner in which it was done.

The book has one major thing going for it, which is also the thing that might go against it in a sense. It comes from a man who knows almost all the key players in the group personally, and has access to all the insider’s sources that lends colour to any chronicle.

However, for the same reason, it is too positive an account that presents before the reader a rosy picture—a kind of picture that observers of the financial world are instinctively inclined to mistrust. Are there no serious concerns about the pace of expansion of the group? Is Ghosh always as gung-ho and surefooted as his associates appear to think him to be? Are there no tensions, or even any serious difference of opinion? The account, one might say, paints a pretty picture of Ghosh, but does not breathe much life into him. Much more humane treatment is made of Vijay Mahajan and Vikram Akula in the last two chapters which hang incongruously at the end of the book.

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