Book Reviews

The Quest for an Indian Paradigm of Management

When the hosts of Lucifer, son-of-the-morning, greedily swooped down on the celestial apples of paradise,

They, fondly thinking to allay 
Their appetite with gust, instead of fruit 
Chewed bitter ashes.

Centuries later that Miltonic image is revived when, writing of the psychic penury and emotional frustration of the 20th century, T.S. Eliot speaks of "The bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit". The question is not merely what shall it profit a man if he should gain the world and lost his own soul-for to modern man such insubstantial things are of no consequence, even though quantum physics shows him that what he asserts to be corporeal is not so at all ' but rather that desire is an impulse that is insatiable, that craving us a Charybdis which sucks in however much you may pour in howsoever fast. In the period after the Second World War, management of business has been perhaps the most powerful concept emanating from America, sweeping across the globe, with Internet and the World Wide Web bypassing all national barriers. In the context of the motto that this has launched ' "Create More Desire" (a full page advertisement in The New York Times, 12.7,1949) ' and the foaming consumerism thrown up in its wake (S.M. Davis 2001 management formula, "anything, anytime, anywhere"), it becomes necessary for the two ancient civilizations that are still living ' India and China ' to step back and take stock of whether they are not to be swept off their feet, suffer a tragic crisis of identity, and join the dusty remains of Sumer, Egypt, Greece and Rome.

S.K. Chakraborty's books perform precisely this seminal task. Every few years he has been sharing his research, delving deep into India's psycho-spiritual heritage and applying his findings to modern management and living. Starting in 1985 with Human Response in Organisations, he wrote Foundations ofManagerial Work in 1989, Management by Values: Towards Cultural Congruence in 1992, Ethics in Management: Vedantic Perspectives in 1995, and now Values and Ethics in Management: Theory and Practice. The common thread linking all the books is the assertion that our own culture provides more than adequate foundations for building up an indigenous management ethos that will enable and support sustainable development of the nation and its people, whereas blind imitation of foreign models will only led to speedy burn-out and long-term disaster for the individual, the environment and the country.

The American system of management cannot be wished away, but we also need to realise that in the USA imitation of the Japanese model of management has come a cropper, as it happened in Sweden copying the American style. The European nations have evolved styles of management which are integrated with their own ethos. It is only in this subcontinent that, "servile in imitation with a peculiar Indian servility", as Sri Aurobindo wrote in Vande Mataram, "we have swallowed down in a lump our English (replace it with 'Western') diet". Ours is a persistent compulsion to ape what is foreign without assimilating it to evolve a system that is holistic and sustainable, being home grown. This "shadow mind", as Chakraborty terms it, is possibly a legacy of colonisation. Its inevitable consequence is the "shadow fruit" Eliot writes of. And yet, throughout history, India's speciality has precisely been the unique capacity to assimilate and integrate all that has invaded her, permitting it to fertilise her soil and bring forth that nourishes her children's body, heart, mind and soul.

In Ethics in Management Chakraborty had carried forward the thesis he had propounded in his earlier work that just as the Asian tigers have moved towards the Confucian management ethos, away from the Judaeo-Christian Protestant roots of Western management theory, similarly it is necessary to develop and follow an authentic Indian management paradigm. The roots of this Indian ethos he discovered in Vedanta as rediscovered for the modern Indian by the brilliant quartet of Mahatma Gandhi, Gurudev Tagore, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo. Instead of patching together a coat of many colours, Chakraborty urges managers and academics in India to ground themselves firmly in the psycho-spiritual practices that made India's prosperity the envy of the world for millennia. Dispelling the misconception that India's is a world-denying heritage, he shows that our greatest rulers and leaders have been those who were simultaneously seers and kings, at once raja and rishi (Janaka, Ashoka, Milinda), that profound wisdom was not achieved merely by world 'renouncing hermits but householders too (Vashishtha-Arundhati, Agastya- Lopamudra, Yajnavalkya-Maitreyi, Vidura, Krishna and, though one would dispute this, Bhishma) who plumbed the pellucid depths within to draw sustenance and power for transforming the chaotic world without into a thing of beauty and joy for fellow humans.

After all, it was not a poverty-ridden country that was repeatedly invaded by successive hordes of foreigners! Rigorous self-discipline centring around management of the unruly, grasping ego and unremitting austere striving for welfare of others (sadhana and tapasya) are shown to be the methods whereby charismatic and inspiring leadership evolves. Time and again the Indian needs to look at the words uttered by the teenager Nachiketa, na vittena tarpaniyo manushyo (wealth provides no real satisfaction) and the wife Maitreyi, yenaha amritam syam kimaham tena kuryam (what shall I do with all this if it does not lead me to immortality?). In his dawn talks at Shantiniketan--compiled in two volumes of that name-Gurudev Tagore had, time and again, reminded his audience of these eternal clues to holistic living.

The major and almost insuperable obstacle the author and those embarking on a similar quest face is a wall of blind ignorance existing in modern Indian managers and management institutions. The Occident is seeking to find the secrets of sustenance from the philosophy of the Orient. Tragically, the Indian management don, unlike his Japanese and Chinese counterparts, prefers to look the other way and refuses to heed these warnings that stare him in the face. One need not, however, be taken aback by this. More than a century and a quarter ago Swami Vivekananda's younger brother Mahendra Dutta recorded about Bengali society of the 1860s the same arrogant ignorance regarding our own traditions, the same unquestioning worship of the West, the same obsession that being fashionable and educated necessarily means getting drunk and being amoral and atheistic:
In all affairs to deceive, to behave deceitfully, cheat widows etc. was the proof of intelligence. To deprive people of property through forgery was a task of bravery. Besides this what unspeakable crimes people used to commit cannot be stated here.

Pranam-ing was regarded a bad tradition...Performing shraddha was a superstition, as also worshipping deities, let alone listening to their tales...English priests were plentiful, addressing people at road corners and markets to vilify Hindu society and religion as pure superstition, for instance, bathing in the Ganges, bathing after oil-message, shaving [so we stopped shaving!]. Many did not have any idea what is Hindu religion. None had read much regarding Hindu religion and no book regarding Hindu religion was available then.... We did not know much about Shri Chaitanya and Vaishnava dharma. Gita and Upanishad no one had heard of.... We had only read some of the Bibles that priests used to distribute door to door. Atheism and disintegration prevailed in society... most of us neither liked Christianity, nor followed Hindu religion. We believed in nothing that was old, and did not know what new thing should be done. We could not decide what to grab hold of.

Today the only difference is that we are politically independent. And the real difference is that there is no Sri Ramakrishna present to bring society back on the rails.

Provocatively Chakraborty coins alternatives to the catchwords and phrases of western management thought, and presents models that stress wisdom, the emotions and the heart instead of only the intellect, information and the brain. Chakraborty quotes the revealing letter of Margaret Wilson, daughter of the American President Woodrow Wilson, to Sri Aurobindo in 1936: " I am conscious now of a terrible emptiness, that every word and act of mine is useless because not motivated from within by the Self, and I am convinced that I shall never again come under the illusion that the little self can be useful, except it be guided and activated by the higher Self." Is this not an echo of Maitreyi's anguished cry?

A couple of years ago the renowned management scientist Stafford Beer published articles in Interfaces, the journal of the Operations Research Society, showing how the Gita and Vedantic thought provide the best management principles for practising managers to follow. The world Bank started the Spiritual Unfoldment Society finding that employee-morale was nose-diving despite high pay. Rather late in the day for a Christian society to discover that man does not live by bread alone! More startling is the title of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party's 1996 plenum: " Strengthening of socialist spiritual culture". It emphasized the need to promote spiritual civilisation (Jingshen wenming) by invoking principles of ancient Confucianism and dwelt at length on the values to be inculcated, referring to the Buddhist trinity of Zhen, Shan, Mei (the Indian concept of Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram) to counter corruption, crime, drug abuse and growing crude individualism that turns its back on neighbours, co-workers or elders in the family. Discussions have been initiated seeking to combine material progress with ethical and cultural progress.

The resolution called for establishing a new society with noble values: human respect and dignity, care for others, enthusiasm in promoting public good, helping the poor and needy, opposition to Mammonism, Hedonism and Individualism, departmental selfishness, self-seeking at others' expense, pocketing public wealth, etc. Drives have been launched to promote patriotism and moral education among the youth. The media has been exhorted to help in securing a balance of material and ethical progress, governed by a moral-political code of serving the people and socialism. It sought to combat vulgar commercialisation in culture, art and media in general.

All this no present-day Indian takes note of. In the Epic of Epics Vyasa has a pronouncement that may jog the memory cells of our drifting intellectuals:
That man succeeds when, based firmly in the present, he faces the future on the strength of the past.'Udyoga Parva, 39.54

In the midst of the global worship of the Japanese miracle, Chakraborty has the courage to strike a different note. He points out that by utilizing spirituality for worldly aims only, Japan is possibly contribution no less to ecological damage than America, and may actually be accelerating this at a pace much faster than the West. How prophetic his warning is has been proved by the financial scams that have surfaced in Japan climaxing in the recent resignation of the prime minister. For India, Chakraborty has a Gandhian reminder: non-centralized functioning makes for simple living, small and autonomous work groups infused with cohesion and a sense of belonging are more humanely productive, as still seen in the unorganised rural and household sectors as opposed to the urban, industrial section in India.

In the book under review, focusing on the uncritical adoption of Western Organisational Psychology (OP), isolated from the moral dimension, by the Indian corporate leaders, Chakraborty points out that without a sound model of the Indian man at the centre it is fruitless to seek to revive values and ethics in organisations. He presents the Yoga- Vedanta model that interweaves the scared into the secular, the spiritual into the worldly, infusing the changing world without with a stable permanence at the core rooted within. Against the helpless servitude to the Heraclitean view of change (read "progress" for modern man) as inevitable, he presents the Vedantic realization that unless the permanent underpins the superficial change, man will be managed by change instead of managing change. Otherwise the frenetic pace of change will continue to be accompanied by ever-rising rates of unethical and amoral behaviour and top-executive diseases of body and mind.

Simultaneously it is necessary for the educational system, particularly the management schools, to help and facilitate their students to realize that an individual's right is exercised fruitfully only if others discharge their duties. The blind imitation of the Western celebration of individualism (why feel guilty to be selfish!) in Indian management teaching and training (sakama karma running riot) has developed serious imbalances in the social structure of organisations where respect for age, consideration for others, humility are scorned by MBAs emerging from the management institutes. Chakraborty presents a profound learning experience in the record of the reactions of 52 Indian and 23 Swedish MBA students to his course "Managerial Effectiveness & Human Values". He finds that they all feel the need to find concepts and processes for sustaining their innate moral propensities, and that they find mere intellectual fare cannot provide this.

The practice of a methodology to develop the Quality Self is felt to be necessary. In celebrating individual freedom, the manager, whether Indian or Western, is actually becoming a slave to his senses, Hence the phenomenon of swift burn-out that is causing much concern. If an organisation seeks to develop values and ethics that are sustainable, these needs must be founded upon a movement moving away from the grasping, grabbing lower self (rajaso-tamasic) to the giving, sublimating Higher Self (sattvo-rajasic). In managing change the touchstone is: does a change in the secular sphere help or hinder the sacred in man? Even in the USA the Washington Post has remarked in an editorial on the absurdity of public school education in assuming that without a moral-religious framework any character can be built up.

Chakraborty makes a powerful plea for developing wisdom-leadership by cultivating the Total Quality Mind, as a counterbalance to the mechanical Total Quality Management, using Indian psycho-spiritual processes to practise working without personal greed with the superordinate goal of lokasangraha for the world's welfare. In the Co-operative Movement he finds the Western parallel to this. This calls for the cultivation of the right-brain, the integrating, synthesizing part of consciousness, developing the "feminine" side in each of us which is other-fostering, holistic, what Dr. R.P.Banerjee describes as "Mother Leadership Style" (Wheeler Publishing, 1998). Tagore had provided a profound insight: " The masculine creations of intellectual civilization are towers of Babel, they dare to defy their foundations and therefore topple down over and over again...Has it not been sufficiently proved that her (science) material law of ruthless skilfulness can only commandeer the genii of power for her agents but cannot conjure up the spirit of creation which is the love of God and man?" Chakraborty calls upon leaders of industry and politics to embark on " a personal odyssey for transformation of the exteriorised, deficit-driven, hungering ego-self to the non-contingent, self-existent fulfilment of the Self" if mankind is to pull itself out of the Serbonian bogs of corruption and blind self-interest that is driving itself lemming-like to destruction. The Cartesian-Baconian-Lockeian world-view has led to self-destructive exploitation of nature and man. Manic consumerism and not the population of developing nations is the real danger to the world. Instead of trying to emulate the magician's tricks and committing gross errors, why not seek to understand the magician himself? Why not regard the world as a grand moral gymnasium for strengthening one's ethical, moral and spiritual self? This is the adventure of the consciousness that the millennial Indian ' MBA, politician, academic, bureaucrat ' is invited to embark upon.

The last part of this book bears out the sub-title "Theory and Practice". Here are as many as 15 case studies portraying ethical issues in management context. This collection is extremely valuable as it provides the management schools with real-life instances which can be used to develop insights in a way that students will find engrossing, instead of merely dull lectures. Taken together they form a powerful exhortation to management educators and practitioners to remember that what needs to be nourished above all is the human spirit and that the ingredients that nourish it are work, play, friendship, family and being rooted in one's heritage- these are what matter and this, alas, is what we have forgotten- the simplest things! A final nit-pick: for once the scrupulous scholar Chakraborty nods. He attributes to Duryodhana an appeal to Krishna, seated in his heart, to guide him rightfully. Mahabharata is innocent of any such plea.

The letter of Jamshedji Tata to Swami Vivekananda which Chakraborty quotes should become the watchword of our management education and practice: "If such a crusade in favour of) (not destroying but of diverting the ascetic spirit into useful channels).... were undertaken by a competent leader, it would greatly help asceticism, science and the good name of our common country." The Rigveda, mistakenly regarded as of only antiquary value, has this sound mantra for value-laden business that Chakraborty reminds us of:

Let a man think well on wealth and strive to win it
By the path of law and by worship.
And let him take counsel with his own inner wisdom,
Grasp with spirit still greater ability.

Hardly a world-denying philosophy! And the epic of epics has this exhortation by its creator, Vyasa that those who would create wealth and their educators would do well to ponder on:

I lift up my hands and I shout:
From dharma flow wealth and pleasure;
Why is dharma not practised?  


More by :  Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya

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