Let me begin with a much-cited story about the characteristics of Indians. It is like this: Once a newly appointed captain of a merchandise- ship that was transporting a lot of crabs saw crabs from different countries being kept in different boxes. He noticed that except in one, the lids of all boxes were tightly closed. He asked one of his assistants why it was so. The assistant replied, “Sir, the open box carries Indian crabs. It does not require any lid because Indian crabs do not have any unity; if one of them climbs up to escape, others will be so jealous that they will do everything to pull it down back into the box. This will never happen to crabs from other countries. In case any one of them manages to reach out to the top in an open box, they will support it to escape away.”
This story is often said in an innocuous manner, but it, nevertheless, conveys a very powerful message. And that is the fact that one Indian rarely tolerates and appreciates another Indian’s success. This apparent lack of disunity has been responsible for thousands of years of our subjugation by the foreigners. And this hatred towards success is the reason why we and our leaders often glorify poverty. See the way our governments go on distributing largesse to, or subsidise, the poor in the name of social justice, whereas the best way to serve them is to empower them (by enabling their capacities) so that they do not remain poor. In other words, the common mentality is that we are not successful and we will not allow any one else to be successful. We will not do anything ourselves, and we will not allow anyone else to do something.
I think that the crab- story is relevant while reflecting upon Baba Ramdev, who dominated the news last week, and Dr. Achyuta Samanta, the man of our cover story this week. They may be diametrically different from one another as far as their respective vocations are concerned, although each of them would like to be described as a social activist. But they share a thing called “success’, for which they are being increasingly maligned at.
Baba Ramdev’s has been a remarkable rise. Born in poverty and with paralysis, he is now one of the most powerful men in India. He overcame his hurdles with sheer determination and hard work. And then he earned his name and fame by popularising yoga (he brought the practice of yoga, hitherto an elitist preserve, down to the ordinary mass level) and Ayurveda (he and his colleagues taught how many ailments had household solutions). One can only admire his capacity to engage and captivate the audience by making his teaching interactive.
Baba has been a marketer par excellence. Realising the enormous power of media, he has been excellent at leveraging it. TV channels such as Sanskar and Astha have really “made” him. He has displayed his skills as “a businessman” too, evident not only from the fact that his Ayurvedic products are doing well but also due to his realisation that his long-term success is dependent on both the audience and money. All these features are manifest in some form or the other in Baba’s recent foray into what is called politics. First, he laid emphasis on fighting the menace of black money. Now he is also talking of removing corruption. Anyway, both corruption and black money are inter-related.
Now, what are his critics saying? And here, I am not including the UPA government and the Congress party among these critics. In fact, any fight against corruption will be targeting the government and party in power. Ramdev critics are in plenty among our chattering classes in general and the “secularist”—Left-dominated intelligentsia and media in particular (I have put secularist within inverted commas because, in reality, they are among India’s most communal people). Their first objection is that being a “Baba”, Ramdev has no right to raise political demands. Secondly, Baba is a communal person as he wears Saffron and lays emphasis on Hindu-practices. Thirdly, Baba is corrupt himself, given the fact that he now runs an empire having bases all over the world.
Now, where is it written that sannyasis cannot talk of politics? In fact, our Parliament, right since its inception, has had quite a few of them as members. Secondly, if we have accepted the arguments of our Muslim and Sikh brothers that politics and religion are inseparable, why cannot we grant at least the right of political protests to the Hindu religious leaders? Secondly, if Ramdev has earned his money through unfair means (He, apparently does not have a personal bank account), I do not think that the present central government, which, like never before, has blatantly used the CBI and other enforcement agencies to silence its critics, would have allowed the Baba to move as a free man so long. Ramdev has not broken any laws as yet. In fact, the other day one saw a news item that the income tax department would soon change its rules vis-à-vis Ramdev’s trusts by withdrawing tax-rebates (that are available to all the trusts) with retrospective effect and impose heavy fines. If true, nothing can be more perverse than that, although, in the process, the Manmohan Singh government will add to the fame, popularity and power of the Baba.
This is not to suggest that I am supporting Ramdev and his cause blindly. There are some legitimate questions about his method and goal. I personally think that his suggested remedies on black money (such as doing away with the currencies of 500 and 1000 denominations) are not practical enough. I would love to read and hear his critics more on his prescriptions than on his character assassination. We should seriously discuss why Ramdev draws crowds in his tirade against black money. Is it due to the fact that our political class and system have failed?
As far as Dr. Achyuta Samanta is concerned, I, personally, do not know him much, although I have met him briefly on few social occasions and exchanged pleasantries. But as our cover story suggests this week, his, like that of Ramdev, has been a journey from extreme penury to achievement. By withstanding the vagaries of circumstances, he has built an educational empire in a backward and poor state of Odisha. It is an empire that has caught the attention of not only India but also the whole world. In fact, it will be not wrong to say that Dr. Samanta has brought glory to Odisha, not otherwise. And despite the fact that his empire is mostly his individual creation, he does not own it. As is the case with Ramdev, he is only one of its trustees. Like Ramdev, he also does not have any personal bank account and property.
Dr. Samanta, like Ramdev, is also controversial and has innumerable enemies who accuse him of being a land-grabber, unethical and corrupt. In the absence of hard evidence and the fact that he has not been proved guilty as yet under country’s existing laws, I do not pay much importance to it. After all, it is a globally known fact, and more so in India as the crab-story suggests, that it is extremely difficult to build an organisation/ institution in a volatile environment dominated by unscrupulous politicians, unsympathetic bureaucrats, over-scrutinising media, critical citizens and scarce resources. That Dr. Samanta has built an empire in spite of them is a tribute to his skills. In fact, he should take comfort from the fact that people all over the world appreciate, in the ultimate analysis, what the great institutions do and tend to overlook how they gained that capacity and how they came about. It is true with our Ambanis and Fords and Rockefellers of the United States, not to mention the world famous Harvard University and its controversial origin.
On the other hand, as a dispassionate analyst I would ask Dr. Samanta how he is going to turn his organisation or empire into a great institution. The two are different. Creating an organisation is one thing, but to sustain it as an institution is another. Sustenance does not mean only a healthy cash-book. Equally important is the record of performance for the purpose for which the organisation has been built. Unlike an organisation, an institution proceeds when an effective practice gives rise to a norm of practice—in the quality of the management, education imparted and educators—that is acceptable to all its stakeholders. A successful institution is the one which has distinct norms, providing it a distinct identity that is appreciated, accepted, and trusted.
In other words, history will judge Dr. Samanta’s KIIT and KISS not by the magnificent structures that they are but by the norms that will emerge out of them.
By Prakash Nanda