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Private Sector Arrogance
Is 'Civilisational'

By Chandrabhan Prasad

21 June, 2004
The Pioneer

The human species has some special, multiple capabilities which sometimes compliment each other, but often work at cross purposes. Accompanying this is another unique characteristic-arrogance. This is a mindset often having its origins in self-doubt about one's virtues.

While it is a universally acknowledged phenomenon, it turns calamitous when it acquires a class and caste identity. This leads to societies getting involved in a series of crises, causing inner tensions within masses and classes. In the end, all suffer. Class-based arrogance led to the doom of many societies during the medieval times. Most of them discarded it at the dawn of the modern age. Indian society, at the turn of the 21st Century, seems to have decided against relishing the fruits of modernity and democracy. This is a caste phenomenon and has its roots in self-congratulation over a few imagined glories in history.

This leads to another phenomenon, wherein the human mind turns overwhelmingly incompetent to differentiate between wisdom and guile. In such a terrible social context, the collective conscience of the society plunges into arrogance. The arrogance, in turn, becomes its very reason for existence. For instance, to representative Indians, their ancestors were pre-destined to invent the place value of zero, or the decimal system in the Fifth Century AD. If Dalit Diary were to remind them that the Chinese invented the decimal place system in the 13th Century BC, and the zero in the 4th Century BC, most would react the way captains of the Indian industry are reacting now to the United Progressive Alliance-sponsored "national level dialogue" initiative on private sector job reservations.

Howsoever mischievous the Congress party may have been in its agenda, the question proposed is a fine prescription to accord civility to India's corporate life and usher in an era of a social reconciliation. A noted industrialist screamed: "If the proposal becomes a reality, companies will lose their competitive advantage." Another said: "It will hurt the private sector's productivity, and its efforts to be internationally competitive." Most captains of Industry, barring the Videocon Group, were similarly toxic. In the grotesque eyes of Indian industrialists, the 250 million-plus Dalits must be born with some genetic problems which make them naturally "incompetent". The very existence of the shadow of a Dalit in a corporate office would make private industry lose its "competitive advantage" vis a vis the multinationals. The way the term "competitive advantage" is bandied about, an impression is formed that without Dalit "pollution", Indian industry is doing terribly well in world trade and giving MNCs sleepless nights. Till date no Dalit has ever presided over the Prime Minister's Office, the ministries of Finance, Commerce and Industry as either as a minister or secretary in-charge. Shouldn't it be a matter of civilisational shame if one were to point out that India's share in world trade is less than one per cent? The truth is that, India is expected to claim one per cent of world trade by the year 2006-07, whereas China, a belated entrant in global commerce, has virtually garnered five per cent. This singular truth should, in normal civic situations, drive captains of Indian industry to the nearest Banyan tree with synthetic ropes to hang themselves with.

Equally mythical is India's super power status in global IT. The private sector would like us to believe so. The truth is that, India's share in the world's IT trade is just two percent, and total IT exports add up to roughly the figure garnered from the foreign exchange inflow of the gems and jewellry sector. Now, this last named sector has flourished due to the skills and work culture of our humble artisans. Dalits make a sizeable section of this workforce. In the United States, Indian IT professionals are often described as blue collar workers, which, most unfortunately, is akin to our coolies. Indian IT companies are sometimes described as "global hawkers". One therefore wonders, what is this great "competitive advantage" which Indian industry claims to possess?

Take a look at India's basket of exports. Engineering goods, which require high technology and training, contributes to a mere 11.62 per cent of the total earnings whereas, the economic activities require just primary level education: Gems and jewellry (17.51 per cent), sea food products (3.32 per cent), handicrafts (2 per cent) and leather goods (3.71 per cent), contribute to 26.54 per cent of India's total export earnings. Thus, what is abundantly clear is the fact that the performance of India, a country of more than a billion souls and a rich natural resource base should shame any nation with pretensions about its industrial capability. But, these arguments can only be proposed to those possessing the remotest link with civility.

Imagine the irony. A person has to swim through the waters of stiff competition to get a measly clerical job in government. But rarely is there any transparent recruitment in the private sector. The attitude of India's private industry is just civilisational, as civilisational as prejudices against Dalits. What is missing in the arguments of the private sector is just "merit." What a paradox!