First, a disclaimer. The theme of this column is not to be taken as a blatant flaunting of nationalist chauvinism. It is a strictly utilitarian concept, having a lot to do with the improvement of the work ethic, fostering of good governance, bolstering of business bottom lines and attainment of success in whatever enterprise one establishes. Indeed, it has a vital bearing on the nurturing of an innovative and creative bent of mind, and a sense of comfort and harmony in work places of whatever description and in interpersonal relations.
Second, an elucidation. I have used the word ‘system’ in the overarching connotations of a form of social, economic, or political organisation or practice, and a set of doctrines, ideas, principles or procedures driving any organised human endeavour. The working of the apparatuses of state as well as organs of industry and business, whether in the public or private sector, will fall within its purview. In fact, the column is intended to focus on the need for infusion of Indian values into the established systems meant to serve the people at large.
Third, a disclosure. I have been part of government setups, both at the State and Central levels, associated in leadership positions with public and private sector enterprises and seen international organisations from the inside.
More than these, I have been a student of management all my life, served on the Board of an institute of management, visited some IIMs and business schools and interacted with some academics. It is based on that experience that I write this column.
I cannot but start off with a reference to the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad. Leaving aside the embarrassment it had to face over the chairman and two directors of its Board not being role models of diligence and rectitude, the management precepts and case studies it banks on to train the young impressionable minds are mostly derived from the Western cultural and societal milieu.
Its walls are adorned with the portraits and statues of industrial tycoons and corporate donors, and its campus exclusively commemorates their doings in a variety of ways.
ISB is not an exception. This is the general intellectual climate in the IIMs as well.
The elaborate and the eternally valid prescriptions of kingly duties and governance laid down in the great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the teachings of the sacred texts on cultivation of harmonious interpersonal relations, approach to life’s problems and challenges, effective communication and promotion of people’s well-being find no place in their ‘craze for phoren’ (as V. S. Naipaul would put it). They have made no efforts till now, after more than 60 years of Indian Independence, to build into their syllabi and curricula, in any definitive and comprehensive manner, the purport and significance of the contributions of the great sons and daughters of India who have done India proud: Emperors Asoka and Akbar, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, C. V. Raman and S. Chandrasekhar, to cite a few names by way of illustration.
There have been a number of instances of entrepreneurship, institution-building, turnarounds, jugaad, and conflict and crisis management within India itself but they hardly figure in the case studies used by management institutions.
Indian traditions, tenets and values are almost totally ignored in the teaching methods of B-Schools as also in the running of organisations.
Consultancy firms too are heavily biased in favour of applying the nostrums and notions from abroad which either do not fit Indian conditions, or, worse, are apt to cause positive damage to institutions which invite them on payment of an astronomical amount.
For a minuscule fraction of that cost, a properly selected indigenous consultant, knowing Indian cultural ethos, would be able to suggest practical and relevant solutions which may yield far better results.
Every culture and every system have their good points, and there can be no objection to adopting and adapting the best in them.
The problem arises only when they alone are regarded as the bench marks or binding propositions for guiding the educational courses or management of organisations, to the exclusion of what is best, or even superior, in one’s own culture. And if such a colonially inspired attitude leads to lasting subversion of the minds of future generation and makes them ashamed of themselves as Indians, then the danger of total loss of identity and not making it to the top becomes very real.