The Bharathiya approach to economics has always remained unique since the ancient periods. Based on her long experience and spiritual orientation towards life, the Indian approach towards economics and business has been different from that of the other countries. Though making money was necessary for business, ethical principles and value systems guided all the activities. Rabindranatha Tagore noted: “Our Laxmi is not the Goddess of the cash balance in the bank, she is the symbol of that ideal plentitude which is never dissociated from goodness and beauty”
Evidences show that India remained the most prosperous region since the earliest periods. Recent studies by Angus Maddison reveals that India was the most powerful economy during the last two millennia, till the British started destroying our native systems. The sages and saints of our country have been emphasizing higher values and the scriptures and texts exhorted people to follow them in their day to day activities, including business.
The noted sage from South India Thiruvalluvar allotted one full chapter entitled ‘means of wealth’ in his book Thirukkural to advise people as to how the higher ideals should guide them while creating wealth. He cautioned people to avoid earning wealth through wrongful methods and underlined that wealth should be earned through ethical means. Arthashashtra prescribed rules for fair practices in business. Business organisations and associations evolved their own codes of conduct. In the earlier days there was type of business organisation called sreni, similar to the modern-day corporations. They had sreni dharma to guide and regulate their activities.
The foreign merchants preferred to do business with the Indians for their good character and helpful nature. In the context of western India it was noted: “The character and conduct of traders in western India generally receive high acclaim from foreign travelers. Al Idrisi tells us that a large number of Muslim merchants visited Nahrwara ( Anahilavada) because the people of the town were ‘ noteworthy for their excellence of their justice, for keeping up their contracts, and for the beauty of their character’, and adds that the people of the region practiced truth and abhorred falsehood. Marco Polo bestows yet more generous praise on the merchants of Lata, …….. He says, ‘you must know that these Abraiaman are the best merchants in the world, and the most truthful, for they would not lie for anything on earth,’……. These observations of the foreign travelers may reflect the general ethos of the mercantile community in western India.”
The businessmen were advised to follow ethical principles not only in earning money, but also in using them. There was a moral compulsion to distribute wealth for good purposes and share it with the less privileged. It is unfortunate that the social and administrative systems that were in place were seriously disturbed by the Britishers during their period of domination.
But in spite of the severe disturbances to our native economic and models, the basic value systems still dominate the economic and business transactions, especially at the non-corporate levels. Studies conducted in different parts of the country reveal that higher features such as goodwill, faith, helping tendency, norms and fair practices remain the basis of business transactions across the country.
In the modern context, business is competitive and hence it is the duty of businessmen to eliminate competition. But the Indian reality is different. In all the business and industrial centres, entrepreneurs take pride in nurturing and developing more and more new entrepreneurs. Successful entrepreneurs encourage their relatives, friends and even employees to become entrepreneurs. In many cases, the employees request their employers to keep their weekly/monthly salaries with them so that after a few years when they promote their units, they would get a lump sum amount. Besides the ex-employees commence their businesses through the first transaction with their erstwhile owners and both of them are proud of it.
This is the situation from Surat in Gujarat to Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu. As a result, entrepreneurship has been growing in India over the years through networks of relationships and the higher idea of helping acquaintances to emerge as businessmen in their lives. This attitude cuts across the narrow caste and other boundaries that define the popular public discourse of the post-independent India. Sankagiri in Tamil Nadu is the largest lorry transport centre in India. A scheduled caste person was working with a majority community lorry owner as a loyal driver. After a few years, the owner bought him a lorry as reward and made him an employer. Besides, there are many persons from diverse backgrounds engaged in businesses as owners without any difficulties. In places like the top knit wear export centre Tirupur, the businessmen come from many states of our country.
Money is the most difficult commodity to part with. But in India, sharing money for someone promoting and doing business is very common. Studies reveal that the entrepreneurs in the business and industrial centres mobilise a major share of funds through their relatives, friends and acquaintances only. A study among the Rajkot entrepreneurs showed that many of them mobilised their initial capital through their village connections. Thus villages contribute funds to their boys to become entrepreneurs without much personal expectations.
World Development Report 2001, published by World Bank notes that the community practice of helping their people in times of need has helped exporters in Tirupur to compete and emerge successfully in the international markets, as they get funds at cheaper costs and not at the market rates as in the case of other countries. London Business School had estimated earlier that India has more than 85 million entrepreneurs, perhaps the largest number in the world. One of the major reasons for this is the higher idea of helping others that prevail in our society.
The value systems find demonstrations at different levels in economic and business activities. There is a company called Habasit Iakoka in Coimbatore, engaged in textile belts manufacturing. It has a unique system of encouraging family values. Apart from its annual family day, it encourages its employees who live with their parents and parents in- laws with higher monthly salaries. For those who live with their parents, a higher salary compared to others are given. For those lady employees who live with their parent-in-laws, a still higher salary is given.
Business units operated by communities respond and rectify their mistakes when the public point out to them in the larger interests of the society, without bothering about their revenues. There is a cinema theatre in Paalamedu near Madurai in Tamil Nadu, owned by a community. At one point of time, there was a movie in which there were obscene scenes. When the viewers pointed it out, the community immediately removed the movie from the screens and appointed a committee to pre-view movies and approve only decent ones thereafter.
The higher value of helping the ordinary and the underprivileged sections remains the major objective of the corporate sector. In the western world the medical facilities are very costly that it is not possible for many to get treatment easily. But in India there are many hospitals conducting their operations with a service motive even while running their hospitals successfully. Arvind Hospitals is one of the best eye hospitals in the country applauded by the top foreign universities such as Harvard University for its efficiency. It uses the most modern equipment available in the world and provides services at a very cheap cost compared to the international standards. A cataract surgery in the hospital costs only $ 50 compared to $3000-$ 3500 in the United States. Besides, it provides free services to 60 per cent its patients free of cost and only 40 per cent pay.
There is Narayana Hridyalaya Hospitals promoted by Dr.Devi Shetty from Bengaluru. His hospitals were estimated to perform about 12 percent of the heart surgeries in India and the largest number of surgeries for children in the world. The average cost of an open-heart surgery was $2000 compared to $20000 to 100000 charged by hospitals in the US. As a result, patients from more than seventy countries are treated for complex heart diseases. It has developed innovative schemes to help the ordinary people. Its micro-health insurance programme called Yeshawini, implemented in association with the Karnataka Government, provides health cover to farmers for a monthly premium of just Rs.10. Its tele-cardiology programmes using ISRO satellite facilities provides advice to thousands of patients free of cost.
Hence even the modern Indian corporate sector has its roots in the traditional Indian values. The corporate system in India is increasingly being recognized and appreciated by the west and the rest of the world in the recent years for its ‘Indian-ness’. A team of professors from the United States under Peter Cappelli of the Wharton Business School interviewed the senior executives of about hundred largest India based companies to find out how they drove their organizations towards higher performance. While presenting the reason for the superiority of the Indian approach, they note: “The Indian leadership approach arose from the unique circumstances of the Indian economy and society.”
Studies at different levels across the country show that a higher set of values prevail in the Indian economic and business systems even today. In fact, the emergence of Indian economy as a global power during the recent years has been fuelled and facilitated by the value systems prevalent in the society.
(Organiser, New Delhi, Vol.70, No.20-21, Nov.11&18, 2018)