In the context of contemporary social ways and mores, there is an increasingly felt need for real leaders who can steer India towards glory, based on its ancient, accumulated wisdom. Swarajya speaks to the founder of Rashtram — an initiative to engineer the skills precisely required for this task — on the way forward.
Rashtram is an initiative by Vision India Foundation team. In the last five years, VIF’s Fellowship Programme has trained and mentored 30+ young and aspiring public leaders of India.
Now, it is starting Rashtram School of Public Leadership, a first-of-its-kind institution that nurtures and mentors future public leaders of India. With ‘learning’ at the centre of our philosophy, Rashtram’s founders say that the school is firmly rooted in the ethos of Bharat and intends to nourish its ‘Learners’ with Indic Knowledge Systems.
We talked to Shobhit Mathur, Dean of Rashtram School, on his vision for producing future leaders for India.
1. What does Rashtram aspire to achieve?
Rashtram's vision is to see a reawakened India, elevating global consciousness. We aim to populate the country’s institutions with competent leadership to drive systemic change. Rashtram will train young change-makers to become future public leaders in the domains of academia, civil society, and politics. These change-makers will then take up the mantle in leadership roles across institutions.
2. What inspired or motivated you to think of starting a school for churning out future public leaders?
The idea of Rashtram stems from the urgent need to generate advanced leadership in India. The absence of an institutional framework to train leaders for India has led to uncertainty around the competency of future leaders. This uncertainty along with the global shifts in the contemporary world are outpacing current education frameworks and institutions.
We need leaders born out of purpose and devotion to the betterment of people's lives; leaders who can connect to the nation’s ideas. Additionally, although there are dedicated institutions for engineering, medical, management, and design, there are no institutions focussed on creating leadership for India, which has resulted in a leadership crisis.
Rashtram wants to fill this vacuum and create a holding space wherein young change makers are nurtured to produce thought and action.
3. None of the top leaders in the world today have got specific schooling in public leadership. It’s true for even the developed countries. Can leadership be taught or honed at a school?
It is in the absence of formal training for leaders that we see so many of them hit the glass ceiling in their careers. This is true for leaders in all facets of public life. Consider an aspiring politician: their primary objective is to get elected in the upcoming election. Their thought and energy are invested in getting elected by raising funds for the campaign, reaching out to the constituents, and differentiating oneself from the competitors.
This requires interpersonal skills, public speaking, marketing and physical stamina, among many others. A successful campaign gets one elected and hopefully in the ruling party. Once in government and possibly in the executive, the role changes to governing — law making and implementation. This requires a completely different set of technical skills and behavioural traits — policy, economics and law understanding, working with career bureaucrats, addressing the media and international audience, etc.
This change is needed almost instantly. Old habits of making promises, mobilising people and criticising the opponent do not help in the new role. This is where most elected representatives hit a glass ceiling and very few make it through.
The same is true in academic leadership — skills needed to get a PhD are very different from those needed to teach in an undergraduate class and guide PhD students.
Excellent researchers can become lousy teachers and guides. Similarly, not many UPSC exam toppers go on to become the best bureaucrats. Although leadership cannot be taught, dedicated individuals can be imbued with the necessary, aforementioned skills that can help them thrive in a rapidly changing environment.
4. Are there any institutions which inspire you or give you confidence that Rashtram will be successful in achieving its objectives?
Throughout history, various countries have created institutions to nurture public leaders whenever they faced a crisis of existence. In the 1870 Franco-Prussian war, the French army was decisively defeated. The quick defeat of the French was attributed to their outdated military education.
Émile Boutmy, a French political scientist and sociologist analysed this defeat and created École Libre des Sciences Politiques (Sciences Po) as a response. The intention was to create an institution that will help France come out of its moral and political crisis.
This would be done by training the ruling classes of France to lead France in the right way. Today, Sciences Po has produced several French presidents, heads of government and international organisations and much more.
It has played a key role in pulling France out of the abyss and making it a superpower. The Matsushita Institute of Government and Management is a similar example from Japan. It was established in 1979 by Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic Corporation.
The vision was to create leaders who can envision an ideal Japanese society and work dedicatedly to make it happen. Graduates of the school have become leaders in various walks of life including the Prime Minister of Japan, members of the Japanese Parliament, mayors, academicians, and CEOs.
5. Some other institutions in India are working in the same direction — to train future leaders. How does Rashtram intend to stand out? What will be your USP?
Rashtram is grounded in the ethos of Bharat and nurtures its learners using Indic Knowledge Systems and a Meta-Skill based curriculum. Rashtram draws knowledge and wisdom from age-old Indian texts and calibrates it in a modern context so that it can help learners tackle India’s most pressing concerns. A Meta-Skill based curriculum ensures that our learners stay relevant in a rapidly changing environment.
6. What values does Rashtram hope to instill in its future leaders?
Integral vision, intellectual clarity, and a moral commitment to strive for solutions to the problems of global commons — undergirded by a deep-rooted understanding of Bharat and its mission for the world as envisaged by ancient and modern rishis.
7. When it comes to strategy and vision, the name of Chanakya features on the top. Will there be any specific focus on training Rashtram graduates in Indic Knowledge Systems?
Not just Chanakya, but the treasure trove of Indic knowledge sources from cosmology, linguistics, art, aesthetics, economics and statecraft, to theories of consciousness. However, our focus is not limited to just the Indic Knowledge System — we will examine all contemporary epistemologies as the objective is to produce thought and action to solve the most pressing problems such as xenophobia, loneliness, and other such concerns that we face as a planet and as a species today — It is our conviction that Indic Knowledge Systems synthesised with contemporary global paradigms provide the best trans-disciplinary groundwork for a 21st Century public leader.
8. Employment will be a key concern for many graduates. What are some areas that these graduates of Rashtram do you see working in after completing their course?
We have mapped the 'fields of play' for all the three domains. For Academia, we envisage our learners to go on to make a telling impact in spaces such as universities, think tanks, consulting and research groups. For our political track learners, we envisage a journey into mainstream electoral politics as well as backroom party and affiliated strategic areas or even start something new with a compelling vision.
Our social track learners will be equipped with the knowledge and skills to start their movements for social reform and social enterprises or collaborate with aligned NGOs and state-aided developmental projects.
The common thread across the three domains is a strong foundation in the Indian way and a civilisational vision in the service of humanity.
9. Which faculties have you been able to get on board for the Rashtram school?
Training future public leaders is no small feat and the guidance of current accomplished leaders is monumental to this effort. Rashtram has assembled a team of distinguished multi-disciplinary faculty for this purpose, including former MPs, diplomats, career academicians, bureaucrats, and Padma Shri winning social workers. Sh. Jayaprakash Narayan, Sh. P.D. Rai, Sh. Jay Panda, Padma Shri Awardee Mahesh Sharma, Padma Shri Awardee Phoolbasan Bai Yadav, Dr Mukul Asher, Dr Mala Kapadia, Dr K Ramasubramanian, & Dr R Balasubramaniam are a few names from the list.