A British friend asked me a simple yet deep question: “I haven’t seen any other society where wealth (Lakshmi) is actually worshipped. How come India is socialist, then? Where did you guys lose your way?” It indeed is an acute observation.
Communism has failed. Capitalism has failed. Well, at least to deliver the widespread prosperity it promised. With both these contrasting ideologies failing, any variant or hybrid is also bound to fail.
As nations fall and rise, it presents them a unique opportunity to present ideological models of their own.
With Brexit, the US-China trade war, and dwindling financial muscle of the European Union, India has a unique opportunity to present an economic ideology of its own. May I suggest that we dig deeper into our civilisational wisdom to chart a new world order?
A British friend asked me a simple yet deep question, “I haven’t seen any other society where wealth (Lakshmi) is actually worshipped. How come India is socialist, then? Where did you guys lose your way?” It indeed is an acute observation.
The very idea of “Shubh-Laabh” (Prosperity & Profit) is that profit is not pariah but at the core of human endeavor. That social-prosperity and business-profit cannot exist in isolation from each other.
Mythological references aside, Indian businesses have always clubbed Riddhi and Siddhi together, thereby internalizing that expertise and success cannot be decoupled.
Centuries Of Impoverishment
In 1863 Charles Cooke wrote about India’s thriving banking ecosystem in pre-colonial India. Dadabhai Naoroji later wrote “Poverty of India” (1876) documenting how India was systematically impoverished.
This wasn’t the first time India had been a victim of colonisers and mercenaries.
Let’s not forget that Christopher Columbus was looking for India, when he lost his way to America. Funnily, in his “letter of first voyage” (explaining why he was looking for India), he mentioned the word “gold” 17 times, while mentioning “Lord” and “God” only once.
The Mughals and the British actually got to India — and enriched their coffers for centuries. So in short, India’s wealth and heritage have been the subject of civilisational plunder for ages.
The intellectual onslaught that continued post-independence (especially the edification of Marx, Keynes, Müller and the likes) has dented our civilisational perspective. India-based “intellectuals” that prostrated before the Western lens, have forcefully curbed indigenous context and wisdom.
Take the “Hindu Rate of Growth” as an example. The self-deprecation in itself isn’t the problem. The lack of factual evidence to support the claim is. I go so far as to say that “Hindu Rate of Growth” is the most successful disinformation campaign of our times.
Sri Aurobindo summarised it better than anyone could: “These socialists do not know what socialism is.”
“Valley State Of Mind”—A Chanakya Redux
India has suffered the consequences of command-and-control economics for decades. In contrast, the valley-state-of-mind nurtures an individual’s pursuit; the path of “seeking” (the next big opportunity, in this case) if you will.
No wonder, many valley-honchos shun Western religions and the prescriptive approach that comes with them; and instead gravitate towards Dharmic principles that encourage seeking your own path.
This refusal of central authority, and openness to non-linearity makes Dharmicism a more natural fit to the rebellious nature of enterprise.
Centuries before the phrase “monetisation” was coined, Chanakya had said: “In the absence of fruitful economic activity, both current prosperity and future growth are in danger of destruction.”
Ages before “asset utilisation” was coined, he had said: “The value of land is what man makes of it.” He also laid down very specific rules and rates for taxation (focusing on being, above all, fair and just), the government’s responsibility towards prudent use of that tax, and social goals this revenue would drive.
Compared to the uni-dimensional understanding of wealth in capitalistic societies, the Vedas identify eight different types of wealth:
Adi Lakshmi (Primary wealth),
Dhana Lakshmi (Monetary wealth),
Dhanya Lakshmi (Wealth of Grains),
Veera Lakshmi (Wealth of Courage),
Gaja Lakshmi (Wealth of power and prestige),
Santana Lakshmi (Wealth of offspring),
Aishwarya Lakshmi (Wealth of affluence), and
Vijaya Lakshmi (Wealth of victory).
Clearly there is a wealth of wisdom that is yet to be tapped.
Corporate Social Responsibility: Old Wine In Western Bottle
The idea of “daan” (charity), and “punya kamaana” (literally, earning merit-points, ostensibly to offset the negative impact on ecology and society) is centuries old. Sounds eerily similar to the ‘modern’ carbon-credits, doesn’t it?
While the world was still denying climate-change, India had the Chipko (literally “hug a tree”) movement decades ago. Kings, courtiers, & traders, and more recently, the Tatas, Birlas, and Ambanis have built social institutions of great prominence —townships, schools, temples, rest houses, and hospitals.
More recently, Akshaya Patra stands as a shining example of corporates’ social-contribution, funding the world’s biggest soup-kitchen.
This sense of Dharma is not limited to the top one per cent alone. Even a simple pansaari (micro-scale grocer) leaves a bowl of water outside for birds to quench their thirst. Exactly like his forefathers did.
Some experts contend that mandated contributions, and demonization of wealth-creators, have actually pushed corporates away from making any social contributions, which were naturally a part of their DNA.
The Cost Of Capitalism
Stagnant wages, inhumane work conditions, rising student & homeowner debt, and plain simple misery have made capitalism a bane for the “other 99 per cent”. Communities, nations, even the planet pays the price in a winner-takes-all model.
The quarter-to-quarter pressure is killing the long-term sustainability view that businesses should be taking. Sustained, balanced, longevity is being sacrificed at the altar of the financial markets (who are on life-support themselves).
This isn’t just an anti-capitalist, dreamy, bohemian rant. The rise of “conscious capitalism”, “impact investing”, “the giving pledge”, etc., point to, perhaps, the guilt-ridden, reparative approach that capitalists realize they should take.
The Keynesian “animal spirit” is now being tamed with humaneness.
Shooting For Vishwaguru
Narendra Modi is clearly shooting for statesman status. Yoga, Bollywood and Turmeric Latte are all good but have limited ‘percoratability’; and they will fall drastically short of earning the “Vishwaguru” tag that the PM seems to be shooting for. India needs to offer more.
Nations are formed with brute force. Civilisations are formed on ideas, on concepts, on models.
The United States of America is “cool” because they’ve exported their cultural model to the world. The United Kingdom drew its strength from exporting its model of governance. Germany and Japan are relevant because they’ve exported their idea of a professional work ethic.
I submit that it is time for India to get ambitious and export our own economic model. One that is rooted in our ancient wisdom and tested over time. The induction of career economists, who also have a strong understanding of history, should hopefully signal a beginning of capability-building (for the idea) within the government.
The “Idea of India” should also include our indigenous economic model – Dharmicism. Am I suggesting we blindly follow archaic wisdom? No. Am I claiming there won’t be chinks in the process? Absolutely not.
However, it is indeed time to acknowledge that civilizations are only strengthened when they build on continuity.
It is time India sheds the western lens and stops importing failed economic models. It is time to realize that the Vishwaguru status cannot be attained without pushing our own indigenous economic model – Dharmicism.