Saturday, January 3, 2009

Is the Vedic Class System or Varnashrama the reason for the wonder growth of India?

In his recent column "Why inefficient India worries China" Gurucharan Das has mentioned

"What really perplexes the Chinese, he said, is that scores of nations have engaged in the same sorts of economic reforms as India, so why is it that it’s the Indian economy that has become the developing world’s second best? The speed with which India is creating world-class companies is also a shock to the Chinese, whose corporate structure is based on state-owned and foreign companies. I have no satisfactory explanation for all this, but I think it may have something to do with India’s much-reviled caste system. Vaishyas, members of the merchant caste, who have learned over generations how to accumulate capital, give the nation a competitive advantage. Classical liberals may be right in thinking that commerce is a natural trait, but it helps if there is a devoted group of risk-taking entrepreneurs around to take advantage of the opportunity. Not surprisingly, Vaishyas still dominate the forbes list of Indian billionaires."

Mr Gurucharan Das has brought out a very interesting point in his article. It's really a wonder that despite the dismal condition of India's political class and the government India continues to grow at a rate that's among the highest in the world. The evolution of the corporate culture in India is also quite commendable. Suddenly the world has also started appreciating the management and leadership traits of Indians. People had more faith on Ratan Tata than the other bidders for Corus. Lakshmi Mittal could also turn the world around in his favour during the acquisition of Arcelor. Mr Gurucharan has attributed the business skills of Indians to the fact that Indian culture had a dedicated class called Vaishyas for the sole purpose of doing business. I believe not only the Vaishyas, but the entire class system or the Varnashrama, which has been distorted to horrid proportions at later times, of the Aryan or Vedic civilization did play a great role in shaping up the Indian intellect.

A successful management strategy is to distribute various roles to different people with the right skill. The traits required for sales and marketing are widely apart from that of exploring new business opportunities in orthogonally different areas. The skills required in managing human resources are also totally different from managing the finances of a company. All management courses have specializations based on relevant skills required for a particular type of job. It’s important to have dedicated people for different jobs than having the same person to do everything. It’s also equally important to identify the right person with the right set of skills to do the right job. The success of a company is totally dependent on the selection of the right people. A few thousand years ago the people of India did appreciate the need of such division of work.

We understand today that a nation should be run like a corporation. The premier of any country should be like the CEO of a company. The Brahman class was entrusted with the education of rest of the people. That’s very much like a dedicated team for R&D responsible for all the research, training and imbibing the right skills required by everyone in a company. Everyone had to compulsorily spend the initial years of life at the Brahmans’ houses for education. Each and every king and prince had to follow this custom without any exception. This discipline played a very important role in shaping the intellect and future of the people who would later become leaders.

Perhaps the existence of a dedicated class like this resulted in the high level of philosophy and science in the Vedic and later early days of Indian civilization. Everyone understands that the R&D of any company can’t be held under the guns of the sales team with a predefined revenue target. R&D has a creative aspect and should be left alone without much interference. The Brahman class was meant to be aloof from the day to day operation of the country, which was handled by the Kshatriyas. The ruler, very much like the COO, used to be mostly from this class. The other most important aspect to sustain any country is the trade and commerce, for which there was the class called Vaishyas. There were off course other classes like the Vaids, or the doctors and others based on the specific jobs they used to do. All the classes were equally important for the prosperity of the nation.

The fact that ancient India has been very prosperous for a very long time can be very well attributed to the corporate nature of ruling the nation. It’s no wonder that the earliest book on management was written by Chanakya long before management became a subject in the business schools. Even the management traits used by Krishna became a topic of much interest to the business schools. The evolution of non violence by Mahatma Gandhi is also not by chance. Ashoka had used the same tactic and was able to create one of the biggest empires of the region. Non violence can also be seen as an efficient strategy to manage millions of people. All these strategies have evolved over thousands of years of maturity and study which was surely influenced a lot by the class system.

I’d like to end with a comment about the existence of one more class called the Shudras, which is often considered as the source of all untouchability in Indian society. In Discovery of India Jawaharlal Nehru mentioned that the Shudras or the inferior class consisted of the native people or the earlier residents who’d been defeated by the incoming Aryan people over several years. Throughout the history the victor class has always slaughtered the defeated. It’s a natural chauvinism associated with the victory. So the fact that the Aryans considered the defeated people inferior shouldn’t be considered in any special derogative way. 

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