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India 2015: MARKET INTELLIGENCE | The Indian Dream

Free and empowered people build their lives and the nation

Ancient civilization transforms into a modern state

There is not an Indian Dream in the sense that there is an American Dream, an animating idea that defined the nation at its birth and continues to inspire and steer its growth. India was born in the Indus Valley over 5,000 years ago. It’s less than 250 years since the American colonies won independence from Great Britain and established a democracy. 

India was reborn in the middle of the past century as an independent state, following decades of struggle to gain freedom from Great Britain. That India, the successor of multiple dynasties and colonial rule, is among the world’s oldest civilizations and youngest nations. It’s also the world’s largest democracy.

Prior to independence, the Indian Dream was about winning freedom. With the establishment of a modern Indian state, redefining the Indian Dream required leadership that could articulate not only what Indians opposed, but also the values they espoused and how they could achieve them.

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, spoke prophetically: “(The) future is not one of ease or resting... The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer.

It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity.”

That dream has been a work in process. It’s pursued more effectively today than in almost any time during India’s decades as a young state struggling through political upheavals and violent episodes, and dealing with the practical challenges that come with nationhood and freedom.


As a young socialist republic in the 1950s, the government’s priorities advanced a domestic agenda aimed at creating greater equality and helping people meet their basic necessities. Internationally, the country remained officially neutral during the Cold War.

The 1960s opened with a border war with China and a subsequent change in national leadership. India experienced difficult economic hardship during the decade, including food shortages that prompted mass migration from villages to the cities.

The government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi nationalized banks in the 1970s and, ultimately, consolidated power with a two-year state of emergency that led to disillusionment about the possibility of achieving an Indian Dream.

Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister after his mother’s assassination. In the 1980s, he attempted to restore national pride, advancing the notion of India as
a world technology leader. But at the time he was assassinated, in 1991, India’s economy was close to defaulting on its international financial obligations.

Subsequently, the government loosened its control of the economy. Economic and social liberalization unfolded in parallel, weakening the caste system, removing barriers for self-improvement and opening the possibility that how far you travel in life is not completely determined by where you begin the journey.


Liberalization made possible the realization of a personal Indian Dream. Like the personal dreams of people everywhere, the personal Indian Dream is about achieving a good life for oneself and one’s family. A more particularly Indian aspect of this dream is its collective nature, the sense that individuals are responsible both for their own and their family’s wellbeing, along with the wellbeing of their extended family and the wider community.

There’s also a national Indian Dream, to be a modern state, prosperous and inclusive at home and respected and influential abroad; and also to be a model for how to enjoy the material benefits of the modern world and build a country that’s confident and powerful, but informed and balanced by the perspective of ancient traditions and spirituality.

A national dream and the personal dreams of a nation’s people can be aligned, or not. (Please see The Power and Potential of the Chinese Dream at www.brandz.com.) Americans believe that by pursuing their personal dreams they’re helping America achieve its national dream of freedom and opportunity for all. In America, personal and national dreams exist in harmony. In contrast, the personal and national Chinese Dreams are slightly discordant. Both dreams extoll personal and family wellbeing. But the national dream adds the government goal of national greatness.

The personal and national dreams of India seem to exist more like the personal and national American Dreams, with the national agenda flowing from personal aspirations.

The modern Indian state has evolved to a time when more individuals feel that realizing their personal dreams is possible. And the government intends to help empower them. Every personal dream realized brings India closer to achieving the national dream.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who himself began life as a tea seller, personifies the possibilities. In his view, impoverished Indians will not be raised up by government programs alone, but by themselves with help from business and brands and from the government, as it removes barriers and makes opportunity more equally and widely available.

In India today there are 1.3 billion Narendra Modis, individuals who can be part of the Indian Dream. Now, over five millennia since settlements appeared in the Indus Valley, and almost seven decades since independence, Indians seek the same India as Mahatma Gandhi ... “an India, in which there shall be no high class and low class of people, an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony... Women will enjoy the same rights as men... This is the India of my dreams.”