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Dialogue with Radhakrishna Pillai

December 23, 2013 divider image

India continues to be an enigma not only for the foreigners but also for Indians. With a rich heritage and history of more than 5000 years, India has wealth of knowledge. Ironically this was lost and/or forgotten in past 500-1000 years of foreign invasion. Reclaiming India is a mission where few individuals are treading on different path. One of them is Mr Radhakrishna Pillai, the author of best selling book ‘Corporate Chanakya’. In a freewheeling discussion with Team GO over lunch, he shared his thoughts on different topics from economy to politics on which Chanakya is considered as master. Following is the excerpt.

Team GO – Why suddenly there is so much interest in ancient Indian text such as Ved, Ramayan, Mahabharat or Chanakya and its application in present context?
RP – When temperature reaches 100 C, we see water boiling, but that doesn’t happen in a flash. First it becomes lukewarm then warm, hot and finally reaches boiling point. Similarly these ancient texts were being studied for a long periods of time. How they can be applied in present political and economic environment and whether they are still relevant were debated. Post independence nobody in the world thought that there could be a concept called Indian Management mostly due to image of India as a poor country. Till may be 1960/70’s people were skeptical. By 80s they at least acknowledged that there is Indian Management philosophy. 90s saw development of this theory. This decade saw the growth. It is just that these timeless principles are now being widely acknowledged all over the world. We have seen the fantastic response ‘Corporate Chanakya’ then there is Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi that is very well appreciated by all sections. We now come across various management Gurus, spiritual leaders with scientific bent of mind extensively using Indian text. This to me is very encouraging trend. But to say that this is recent phenomenon would be wrong. Probably I am lucky to be at the right place at the right time but essentially these texts itself are timeless and we are fortunate enough to be at the time when the story is unfolding. I have no doubt that this trend will gather speed in times to come.

Team GO – Unfortunately Indians need affirmation from west to readily accept even if that concept is truly Indian eg Yog. It’s the case of ‘Ghar ki murgi dal barabar’. In this background what has been your experience when you propagate Chanakya’s idea in India and outside India?
RP – With such a rich legacy it’s but natural to be proud of that. But unfortunately we stop there. It is always good to be proud of ones heritage but don’t just glorify your past. Question is how best we can implement that in current environment. Surprisingly contrary to general perception, Indians are more adaptable to ideas of Chanakya than foreigners. One reason could be we already know who Chanakya was, how he helped an ordinary person become a king. We know that his tenure is considered as the golden age in Indian history. Somewhere the goodwill of Chanakya works!! Foreigners offer different angle to these concepts. The acceptability and the adaptability are low but they make up with huge amount of curiosity. So in a way it suits me since I’m able to spread the message to foreigners and make Indians adapt these eternal ideas.

Team GO – The way business or government used to function during Chanakya’s days are entirely different from modern age. Now we are in a globalized economy, operate in multi currency, taxation structure and national agendas. Do you think his principles are relevant even today?
RP – There are principles and there are trends. Even in a household a grandmother will wear a nine-yard sari, mother would prefer five-year sari while the younger one prefers jean. Wearing cloth is important; the form can change from generation to generations. E.g. modern political studies say that the role of government is to make last man in the last village happy. Chanakya said the same thing in his book. Today there might be hundred departments for tax collection; in his time there were just around 18-20. The source of taxes may vary, number may increase or decrease but Chanakya has written how to impose tax. Taxman, according to him should be like a bee, who take just enough honey from the flower that will make him happy and at the same time keeps flower fresh and fragrant. Now nobody will dispute this principle and that’s the beauty of Chanakya’s Sutra. So to answer your question, yes; the principles are very much relevant, we have to use our judgment to adapt to modern context.

Team GO – There is contradiction. Indians, in general think that it is important to forgive and forget. Chanakya on the other hand suggest complete annihilation of enemy. How do you view this?
RP – It is always a good idea to have emotion but don’t get emotional. Modern Indian history is filled with numerous events where we have suffered due to our inherent ability to get swayed by emotions. Maharana Pratap to 1971 war, even in victory we portrayed ourselves as weak or may be accidental winners. We must appreciate the fact that winner has to behave like a winner without sounding arrogant. The reason to completely annihilate enemy is simple. Even doctors suggest complete removal of limb if it is decaying. If not; it will soon destroy full body. If we can do this to our own body why not enemy?

Team GO – On the topic of Wealth Creation, it can happen only if there is an investment. In current economic environment this is sorely missing. No industrious person/nation is willing to invest in India? What’s the thought of Chanakya in these circumstances?
RP – Investment will come. Chanakya has clear ideas on how to attract investments. Money has to find place where it is put to productive use. Today nobody is looking at India for whatever reason. But we are not in a hopeless state. There are I’m sure ample opportunities to make money. Problem is, we are not able to offer conducive investments climate. But we have other attributes that can be used to attract money. Our culture is one very strong point; our soft powers are another pull factor. We just have to direct them to right people/nation. Chanakya says when in distress; go to friends, don’t go to bank. Similarly India has to look out for friends rather than rich investor. A rich investor will come only from commercial view. Japan for example could be an excellent partner in our progress. They are fascinated by India. They are also close to us culturally and importantly they have money to invest. Once the cycle of investment starts wealth creation happens provided we have set house in order.

Team GO – Can you share Chanakya’s view on corruption? How it can be eliminated?
RP – Corruption can’t be eliminated. It can only be curtailed. Even countries that score high marks in Transparency International ranking on corruption can say that there is no corruption. Toothache gives constant pain, cancer on the other hand may not be painful always but it certainly brings death. Corruption however is both a toothache and a cancer. It pinches us day in, day out and also causes death!! According to Chanakya there are two types of corruption done by three types of people. The government needs to put proper checks and balances at all levels and all people. Need based corruption where person indulges due to emergent requirement. This according to Chanakya is ok but must be checked else it become Greed based corruption. This is certainly a no-no. Similarly corruption by a thief, by bureaucrats and politicians. Police should deal with a thief indulging in corruption. However there should be strict watch on corruption by bureaucrats and politicians.

Team GO – On a lighter note, what would have been the suggestion of Chanakya to Arvind Kejriwal?
RP– No, its very pertinent question. Chanakya has defined certain traits of a leader. A leader has to take a decision. It may turn out to be incorrect but leader can never keep it pending. A good leader will take decision and own the responsibility of its consequences. A decision can be arrived at either by; taking opinion of people, taking experts advise and finally gut feeling. The first option will have limited scope since a leader cannot go to people for all and sundry matters. Arvind Kejriwal on being posed with tricky situation has to decide soon and not keep it pending. (By the time of this interview, AAP has already conducted referendum)

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