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"?

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