Eminent author Gurcharan Das talks about the dharma of capitalism

In a rush to garner degrees we sometimes miss out on the fine print which connects different streams of knowledge. For instance, hardly any maths teacher looks at rational and irrational numbers in arithmetic through the glass of ethics. Gurcharan Das has no such limitations. The eminent writer, who specialises in economic affairs, has brewed management and philosophy on the bed of Sanskrit. These days he is busy unravelling the link between dharma and capitalism.

After writing a book, “The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma”, Das is now hosting a television show, The Dharma of Capitalism, where he interviews young entrepreneurs like Fortis brothers, Malvinder and Shivinder, and the scion of the Bajaj empire, Rajiv Bajaj, on UTV Bloomberg.

“The idea germinated from ‘Mahabharat', where Draupadi asks Yudhishthir — why be good when good behaviour is not adequately rewarded? Can one be good and successful at the same time?” asks Das. He says it is wrong to say that the concept of capitalism is alien to India. “We have had markets from the time of the Indus Valley civilisation, and epics like ‘Mahabharat' present a world of moral haziness, which is far closer to our experience as ordinary human beings than the narrow and rigid positions that define debate in these turbulent times. Dharma is a complex word, but it is chiefly concerned with doing the right thing,” he elucidates.

On the show, he engages the young business minds in difficult questions like how they stand up to bureaucratic corruption. What is their answer to dishonesty when it brings visible gains? “I am happy this generation is not for short term gains and knows the value of reputation in the market. The basic point that I want to make through my writing and the show is, there is an underlying dharma of capitalism and there is a need for market discipline. Strive to strike a balance between entrepreneurial skills and transparency.”

Human greed

But isn't capitalism all about harnessing human greed? “Self interest should not be confused with greed. Socialism believes in selflessness, which is not a human trait. When a person goes to market to buy mangoes he has the right to look for best quality mangoes at the cheapest possible price. This is self-interest, not greed. Same is true for the mango seller, but when this self-interest goes over the top, it turns into greed. The seller should understand he can cheat for some time, but after that his reputation will take a beating.” So in a sense “Ramayan” depicts socialist thought! “In a way, yes. It is too idealistic.”

What about corporate governance? Satyam's employees were not cheating. It was their boss who was in the wrong. “True, Ramalinga Raju's case is like Dhritarashtra's dilemmas. As the family stake in Satyam was going down, Raju was apprehensive that his son might not succeed him. So he started withdrawing money from Satyam to launch other companies for his sons.”

Sometimes the short term gains are so huge and tempting that you don't mind losing balance. “It doesn't work in the long run. Your reputation travels. When foreign companies ask me to suggest Indian corporate houses that they can collaborate with, I can recommend Tatas and Infosys without any hesitation, but not many other companies,” sums up Das, who has worked with Proctor and Gamble in different capacities before retiring as its CEO.