I wish Raghuram Rajan had spoken about his experiences in his IIT-Delhi speech

Sanjeev Nayyar
Sanjeev NayyarNov 05, 2015 | 14:28

I wish Raghuram Rajan had spoken about his experiences in his IIT-Delhi speech

Once again Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan has spoken his mind on issues that former governors have rarely spoken about. Had this speech been made a year ago, the pearls of spoken wisdom might not have got intertwined with the prevalent political discourse of the day.

At the outset, I must state that whenever IITians are spoken about, a question that I wish someone of Dr Rajan's intellect answers: why is it that many IITians end up selling soap, detergents and being in the financial services business? Would it have been better for India if these seats were given to students who wanted to pursue a career in science and engineering? 


The constituent assembly debates are enlightening. Why have the quality of debates in India suffered especially in the last 30 years? I wish to provide some answers and refer freely to key points made by Dr Rajan:

1. Why India's tradition of debate and an open spirit of enquiry is critical for its economic progress.

I wish our schools imbibe this profound statement. Instead, as Maharishi Aurobindo said, "The easy assumption of our educationists that we have only to supply the mind with a smattering of facts in each department of knowledge and the mind can be trusted to develop itself and take its own suitable road is contrary to science, contrary to human experience." (sic) It is because of India's tradition of debate that, in the eight century, Adi Shankara defeated Mandana Mishra in a classic debate rather than by an army.

Dr Rajan's reiterating the importance of "spirit of enquiry" is noteworthy. The Hindi word is "jigyasa". (As a management trainee at Hindustan Levers, the spirit of inquisitiveness was ingrained in me for which am forever grateful to my mentor.)

2. At the same time, groups should not be looking for slights any and everywhere, so that too much is seen as offensive; the theory of confirmation bias in psychology suggests that once one starts looking for insults, one can find them everywhere, even in the most innocuous statements.


This is a message to all Indians.

Why do NDA supporters feel victimised whenever the government is criticised? Is it a result of pent up anger against the media and the sense of empowerment by social media?

The answer lies in this example. Followers of dharma were hauled up by the media post-Godhra riots, but has anyone used "the spirit of inquiry" to ask why were 59 children and women burnt alive? Be it post-Godhra riots or others, Hindus have always been blamed, but deaths in and sufferings of a community are overlooked. It was followed by a personalised campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make it sound as if the 2002 riots were India's first riots.

This article gives you a list of major riots since 1967 and key bomb blasts since 1993, including the number of people dead as well as name of the party and chief minister in power at the time. Read "Not just Modi, guide to communal riots before 2002 and after"

3. So what does an educational institution or a nation need to do to keep the idea factory open? The first essential thing is to foster competition in the marketplace for ideas. This means encouraging challenge to all authority and tradition, even while acknowledging that the only way of dismissing any view is through empirical tests.


As a cross cultural trainer often hears foreigners saying that Indians are averse to challenging authority... While I appreciate the point, is challenging authority and tradition the only way to foster ideas?

Instead, is thinking from a "zero base" [ie without any samskaras (impressions of the past)] another way of stimulating creativity. Zero is "shunya", and the word comes from "shunyata", which means nothingness, or emptiness.

According to Swami Vivekananda, "The mind of the students has to be controlled and trained through meditation, concentration and practice of ethical purity." All success in any line of work, he emphasises, is the result of the power of concentration. How many educational institutions teach mind control?

4. What this rules out is anyone imposing a particular view or ideology because of their power.

For nearly 70 years, India was governed by those with Left-leaning ideologies, whose views on economy and history were imposed on Indians. The results are for all to see. NDA was the first government in 30 years to get a clear majority because people were unhappy with the old ways of ruling. Please respect the 2014 verdict.

Now there is major friction between NDA and Congress intelligentsia. Is it because the latter see their decade-old privileges being taken away? Masses want development, not endless friction.

5. The fantastic developments in e-commerce, ranging from the creation of electronic marketplaces to new logistics networks... When the RBI governor appreciates creation of electronic market places, it could be perceived to approve the legal structure of some e-commerce companies. Note that "Indian law doesn’t allow FDI in retail e-commerce or multi-brand retail".

However, it allows selling through the marketplace which acts as a medium for the seller and buyer. The government of India hasn’t decided what the term online marketplace means and what it constitutes in retail and wholesale trading on such platforms. The Delhi High Court has recently issued a notice to the central government asking to clearly define an FDI policy for the rather controversial e-commerce business in India. 

6. Everything should be subject to debate and constant testing. No one should be allowed to offer unquestioned pronouncements.

This statement can be construed to be directed at the collegium system that was upheld by the Supreme Court while striking down the National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC) Act. This was done without any willingness to suggest improvements or test the efficacy of a system approved by Parliament and majority of state legislatures. Read "When judicial verdict becomes the problem"

7. Protection, not of specific ideas and traditions, but the right to question and challenge, the right to behave differently so long as it does not hurt others seriously.

So well said sir. Till some time ago, anyone who chose to walk a different path was looked down upon. It will not be out of place to laud the contribution of working women who allow their husbands to take risks and nurture ideas.

8. The right to question and challenge can be argued in favour of all those who question Indian secularism.

This article tells you about the European origins of secularism, its definition and benchmarks practices with other countries. Read "Why Secularism is Not an Indian Concept". 

9. Should ideas or behaviour that hurt a particular intellectual position or group not be banned?

The problem arises when bans are selectively imposed.

Historian and Sahitya Akademi Award recipient Vikram Sampath recently said, "Just in the last two-three decades, several books have been banned by various state governments and the Union government: Early Islam by Desmond Stewart (1975), Nehru: A Political Biography by Michael Edwards (1975), Who Killed Gandhi? by Lourenço de Salvador (1979), The Satanic Verses (1988) and The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995), both by Salman Rushdie, Dwikhandita by Taslima Nasreen (2003), The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2006). 

10. It is far better to improve the environment for ideas through tolerance and mutual respect.

This could be a message to beef-eaters to respect the sentiments of those who constitute more than 80 per cent of India's population and to mosques where volumes during azaan, starting about 5.15am, disturb the neighbourhood and violate the 2005 Supreme Court order on the use of loudspeakers.

11. Tolerance means not being so insecure about one's ideas that one cannot subject them to challenge - it implies a degree of detachment that is absolutely necessary for mature debate.

So well said. Indians have to accept that most humans will have logical flaws unless one is a yogi. Unfortunately, very few have this acceptance, hence both sides attack each other aggressively.

When you understand this fact, you seek a debate with others who you think will help identify your logical flaws and strengthen your point of view by forcing you to see those flaws. If your entire premise is faulty, you have to be graceful enough to say that this is a bad idea and I need to go back to the drawing board.

The importance of detachment is stressed in every Indian scripture.

If we feel insecure and protest violently, how are Indians different from those elsewhere? Having said that, the continuous onslaught on the followers of dharma, through billions of dollars remitted by the Church and from the Middle East, have contributed to strained relations between communities.

To know the magnitude of foreign funding and the names of key donors/recipients, read "Foreign Funding of Indian NGOs"

12. But if I do not react predictably, and instead ask button-pressers to explain their concerns, rebels are forced to do the hard work of marshalling arguments.

These words are a must follow for every student of life. Use intellect to create powerful arguments and defeat your opponents.

NDA supporters must realise they are being provoked with allegations, true and false. Every response allows opponents to set the agenda and prevents you from doing constructive work. Reflecting, responding selectively and pressurising the government to perform is the way to go.

I wish Dr Rajan had shared experiences and learnings from his distinguished life. Since our educational system does not teach us how to deal with life, such insights would be valuable to all.

As chief economic advisor (CEA) in the ministry of finance, Dr Rajan was part of the most corrupt government in post-independent India. What advice would Dr Rajan give students henceforth? "Should one join a corrupt organisation (even if personally honest) or look elsewhere"?

Last updated: November 05, 2015 | 20:05
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