Globalisation today is limited to economic activity and multinational corporations, their top officials and stock market gamblers have gained the maximum from it. Current policies are tutored by economists, business school faculties and Western thinkers, a significant number amongst them non-resident Chinese and Indians!
In November 2001, I was invited by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to present a paper at their conference on “Policies for economic and Social Transitions in the 21st Century”. My theme was very basic: “What is development of a society, and what is its yardstick?”
Some of us have always wondered about the validity of the current yardsticks of measuring national development in terms of GDP (strength of a country) or GNP (strength of people of a country). When it comes to countries like China and India, we thought this to be certainly inappropriate. Traditionally, Indians and Chinese understand that life is indeed not just about money, but all about the well-being of the people, with money being just one of its dimensions.
Our societies have never been money-centric as they are being moulded into today. Even then, most of us still believe that development of a human society in each of its aspects is related to the consequential change and development of the individual. In this sense, the development of a country needs to be measured on the basis of the percentage of people living with dignity and honour. Those who are learned and engage themselves in scholarly pursuits, have always enjoyed higher respect than the wealthy in both societies. Confucian philosophy hinges on showing the way to win this respect.
A modern Chinese scholar has suggested that the core Confucian teaching is contained in these words: “When men wished their virtues to shine throughout the land, they first had to govern their states well. To govern their states well, they first had to establish harmony in their families. To establish harmony in their families, they first had to discipline themselves. To discipline themselves, they first had to set their minds in order. To set their minds in order, they first had to make their purpose sincere. To make their purpose sincere, they first had to extend their knowledge to the utmost. Such knowledge is acquired through a careful investigation of things. For, with things investigated, knowledge becomes complete. With knowledge complete, the purpose becomes sincere. With the purpose sincere, the mind is set in order. With the mind set in order, there is real self-discipline. With real self-discipline, the family achieves harmony. With harmony in the family, the state becomes well-governed. With the state well-governed, there is peace throughout the land”.
Traditional culture teaches Indians and Chinese to pursue knowledge and wisdom in order to live in harmony with one’s surroundings and to try to contribute something of their own till they leave this world. One thus conducts life trying to be fully human. In Asia, there is traditional appreciation of a ‘wise’ person; someone whose wisdom is reflected in his behaviour rather than his utterances. Such a person is a fully developed person. Being informed, being knowledgeable and being wise are the steps in that transformation. No wonder that India and China together have given birth to most of the life philosophies and religions of the world! It also gave the world sages and philosophers in the 20th century such as J Krishnamurthy who has made a profound impact human consciousness giving new meaning and content to our life, going beyond the organized religions. Even for an Indian or Chinese commoner, a wise man is the one who knows what life is all about. The manifestation of wisdom is reflected in his simple living, his enjoyment in giving and living with the minimum. Wisdom, therefore, makes you consume less, derive pleasure in sharing, enjoy harmony and understand the futility of conflict. Harmony with nature is reflected in our traditional healthcare that uses nature to cure, and focuses on living healthily rather than treating the sickness. Rural life in both countries is beautifully entwined with local flora and fauna. Today all this appears unreal when one finds thieves ruling.
Many a times, I have wondered why Indians and Chinese have such similarities in perceptions of life. Somewhere there is a common thread that has conditioned our psyche throughout our history. Respect for parents, teachers, mentors, peers and all others who shape our personal development, comes to us naturally. Like our habit of saving, there are many other similarities in our behaviour and the values we cherish, which are far removed from Western civilisations.
As someone told me, is it because, in India and China, religions and thoughts developed in a more peaceful forest environment with plenty of water and natural food, unlike Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions that took birth in deserts, where survival was the only basic concern. Since ancient times, there was only mutual appreciation by scholars of both countries, never any talk of war. As one can very well see, Buddhism, unlike the Muslim religion, spread in China purely through love and understanding. Not only was there was no violence, it did not even upset Confucius’ teachings.
When I look at the economic development in India and China, I realised that both are striving to achieve human development merely through economic development. A minor portion, one can see, is through social development. Both seem to believe that money will help their political and social objective to achieve inclusive (in the case of India) or harmonious (in the case of China) development of their society. These policies are driven by those who want to push trade and commerce. Globalisation today is, therefore, limited to economic activity. Multinational corporations, their top officials and stock market gamblers have gained the maximum from such development. Social globalisation, like global poverty elimination, is limited to seminars and political speeches!
Two hundred years ago, the world was socially more global as there were no boundaries, passports and visas. Such barriers have increased during the last two decades. The current policies are tutored by economists, business school faculties and Western thinkers. In fact, a significant number amongst them are non-resident Chinese and Indians!
The prescription for economic development consists of increasing per capita consumption and writing economic policies that promote consumption beyond necessity. Businesses, especially multinational ones, love this and they weave media magic to promote it. All of this is done to meet the socio-economic objectives of both governments. There is resultant confusion here, since the chase of money and limitless greed is thought to be the elixir of human happiness and well-being.
To sum it up, in spite of our long-surviving democracy, India has not been doing well even though one can see financial growth in terms of GDP and a growing number of billionaires. Recently, a news item spoke of India scoring high on the happiness index; below the story was a picture of a smiling old beggar! The failure lies in the fact that 80% of Indians share just 20% of the GDP, and the rest 20% enjoy the balance 80%! Even though momentarily doing great, China too has an almost identical situation. In fact, India has had the rich and poor divide since centuries, and society has accepted this divide so far without conflict. In China, however, society has moved from an “all poor and deprived” society during over three Mao decades of PRC, to the Deng Xiaoping era where there is unbridled capitalism in a communist bottle. A select few getting extremely wealthy in a short span of three decades is indeed a little difficult to swallow for many Chinese. The sharp contrast within the population in China is, therefore, alarming.
(PS Deodhar is founder and former chairman of the Aplab Group of companies. He is also the former chairman of the Electronics Commission of the Government of India and was an advisor to late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on electronics. He also was the chairman of the Broadcast Council in 1992-93 that set in motion the privatisation of the electronic media with metro channels. He can be contacted at [email protected].)