Aakar Patel has an interesting piece questioning the entire hoopla around Indian economy.
He says in this country of job seekers, we just don’t have enough job creators. He does not look at usual stuff around which sector etc will push growth. But discusses the role of entrepreneurship and caste in job creation:
One aspect of India’s march to economic greatness has escaped me. My question is: if we are to build a giant modern economy, who is going to do it?
The Spanish writer Salvador de Madariaga sketched a portrait of Europe in which he classified nations by character. The “natural reaction towards life in each of these three people is: for the Englishman, action; for the Frenchman, thought; for the Spaniard, passion” and so on. What about us Indians? Which aspects of our national character will kick in to bring us superpower status?
The Indian urban middle class is not entrepreneurial. These ‘upper’ castes are conservative job seekers almost to a man. Uninterested in physical activity and, therefore, in invention. And with no real confidence or courage to try their hand at a business, whether old or new.
There is no space here today to do a count-up of tech billionaires and their castes but suffice it to say that even the new economy is dominated by Agarwal gotras — Bansal etc. All less than 1% of the population.
The fact is that in a nation unable to escape the culture of caste through individualism, our talent pool is limited. North India has the Agarwal, Oswal and Maheshwari. Add the Gujarati Vaishnav Bania (Ambani) and Jain Bania (Adani) and maybe the Lohana (Kotak, Premji). That’s about it in terms of top-tier talent. The rest of us Gujjus, Patels etc, are not in the same class. ‘Gujarati culture’, of course, doesn’t mean anything and we are all lumped together in one mercantile-vegetarian identity that is reductive and false.
Elsewhere, we have the Punjabi Khatri and Arora, and the southern mercantile communities like Chettiar. They are reasonably competent as raisers and managers of capital but, truth be told, not of the same caliber as the Bania. I am not talking about genes because this has nothing to do with that. I am talking of ability and confidence as spawned by family culture.
Further, large states (Bengal, Maharashtra, Odisha) can be written off as having no competent mercantile castes at all in their native populations. So, to return to the question, which Indians among us are going to build this fine new economy?
This produces another, related problem. We are told that such an economy really must be built on the back of manufacturing. Here even Banias have no history of success. Banias were and remain essentially traders. They came to manufacturing only in the 1920s (GD Birla in Calcutta being the first to own and run a factory). That’s less than a century of experience. Yes, the Gujaratis running Ahmedabad’s textile mills took off before that but they are today all wiped out. It is the physical communities, interested in machinery, like the Parsi Tata, who have done best at manufacturing. And we have almost none of those left.
Hmm.. Though Aakar clubs all Banias as one as well. Even Bania culture can’t be lumped together to be entrepreneurial class etc. There are lots of shades in there.But yes, the broad point is there.
Being an Agrawal, what can I say than just ponder where and how things went wrong? Infact, one has been discussing this with his fellow bania friends (similar job seekers) why aren’t we like our predecessors? Why do we care for jobs when we actually created some of them in the past?
I think somewhere down the line one of the key reason is our education system. It stresses way too much on degrees and getting that fancied job.
There was a time when most bania families took much more pride in their internal education system. Thus system taught basic elements of accounting, measuring risk, opening new businesses etc etc. One was trained across various functions which mattered to business like accounting, sales, strategy etc. These were not fancy departments but one learnt the traits from certain individuals who knew these basics based on years of experience. One was paid an internship amount for working in various such roles. This was all given to the person on attaining adulthood which became like a seed capital for venturing into similar or new business.
But this model was discarded long ago. In order to compete and be global, one is taken more and more away from the roots. Now it is all about ivy league degrees which just changes the paradigm completely. Much of MBA programs in the west are around job seeking and hardly about job creation. Those who enrol into Indian programs also end up learning the same ropes.
There are lucky few who already have a large business at home and can join that to grow their businesses further. Rest whose businesses are no more dominant, just take up jobs. This culture of entrepreneurship has also become eroded with all this education. We just hardly think of these issues. It is a pity as reading business histories tells you how all dinner conversations of even small businesses was about growing the same. Now all this is missing. Both formal and informal education are all around getting that coveted job.
Now I am not saying that we need to go back to older education model. It looks difficult given today’s times even if it is relevant. After all formal education hardly teach you things which years of experience teach you by sitting in shops and learning the tricks of the game.
These are really important issues. But hardly discussed. I mean who after all will create jobs?