Showing posts from October, 2018

Getting back to Gandhi

Gandhi is this incredible historical figure who is inspiring and absurd at the same time. He is a towering Jesus-like figure, who lives on in the street names and statues in his native India and memes on the Internet, exhorting us to be the change we want to see in the world. But he is also this absurd, saintly and irrelevant figure, distant from everyday realities and offering no concrete possibilities of confronting our disappointments. We have learnt to live with Gandhi the saint, who has an alluring other-worldly appeal and absolutely nothing to do with modern political life.  This is perhaps what it ought to be. Though Gandhi was very much a practical political man leading a mass movement, the nation he helped to create deified him. His legacy was cast aside as spiritual and moral rather than practical and political;  he was celebrated as the Father of the nation, one who exited conveniently early in the life of the Republic. He was designated to be treated, more like

Strategy and Culture

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, Peter Drucker observed. And indeed so: Strategy's rational aims and goals are all too often frustrated by ways of seeing and doing things in an organisation. Yet strategy gets so much attention and effort - and, indeed, one hires those fancy strategy consultants - while culture is seen as that soft thing that one can't really define, one can't really measure and ultimately, one can't do anything about. But culture comes from somewhere. It is not a given, an environmental factor that one has to live within. This is possibly the second misconception about culture, that it is an extension of the host society. Indeed, there is that influence of the host society, but an organisation's culture is just that and no more. While the host society supplies some of the precepts, an organisation's culture is a man-made thing, driven by the Founder or Senior Managers and shaped by the 'strategy' of the subordinates to live wit

On the pursuit of happiness

Many of Jefferson's ideas have a lasting legacy, but perhaps none more so than the pursuit of happiness. That has become the essence of the American dream and the point of middle-class existence worldwide. This, rather than all the men are born equal, have become self-evident.  However, the celebration of the pursuit of happiness obscured complicated questions on how to be happy. We may assume that the answer is straightforward, that happiness comes from the acquisition of more: Bigger houses, cars, clothes, jewellery and the like, along with more and more power over others. But both scientific explanations and our everyday experience point to the opposite. Happiness, we know, comes not from Dopamine, a hormone that gets released when we 'achieve' something, but from Serotonin and Oxytocin, those which get released from making others happy and bonding with them. The kick from buying something bigger only lasts until someone with even bigger something turns up, which

A University for Subject People: The story of the foundation of Calcutta University

I have traced the development of Indian Higher Education under a series of posts under two sections - The Road to Macaulay and Since Macaulay. This final post is about the formation of the Calcutta University, which is a unique university as it was formed solely with the purpose of granting degrees which would qualify the recipients for government jobs. It followed the University of London model, but in the limitations of its purpose, it was rather unique. However, it was not inconsequential or a temporary affair, but, I think, the first consumer university in the world. Here is the story of its foundation.  -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Lord Hardinge’s administration enhanced the bureaucratic-educational connections further  by making English education as a qualification for government employment in 1844 .. it is highly desirable to afford it every reasonable encouragement by holding out to those who have tak

Since Macaulay: 'To never teach subjects to rebel’

Macaulay’s minutes were accepted by Bentinck readily and the government resolution of 7th March 1835 plainly stated His Lordship in Council is of opinion that the great object of the British government ought to be the promotion of European literature and science among the natives of India and that all the funds appropriated for the purposes of education should be best employed on English education alone. Bentinck’s plans were not to close any pre-existing institutions,but to stop funding new ones, abolish the unprofitable translation projects and withdraw the stipends granted at Calcutta Madrasha and Sanskrit Colleges. But this ‘all destroying’ edict met strong resistance, from just from powerful Orientalist scholars in the General Committee but also through petitions from Muslim and Hindu communities. James Mill passed away in June 1836 and Bentinck left India soon after issuing the legislation, on 20th March 1835. While Macaulay continued as the President of the General Committ

Since Macaulay: 'New' University of the mid-nineteenth century

At the time when the expansion of Company state in India brought about political, economic and social changes that led to a rapid transformation of Indian education system, the idea of a University was also rapidly undergoing a change in Europe and North America. Curiously, the history of Indian education has been conventionally analysed without reference to these developments, except for the obvious parallels between the newly established London University and the University of Calcutta, as the latter was based on the model of the former. But even such a parallel was conventionally used to highlight operational similarities rather than philosophical ones. However, the discussions in Indian higher education during the formative years of the Company administration was always global, as the British policy-makers brought with them the ideas and practices of the mother country, British parliament sought to influence policy in line with its ideological persuasion and educated Indians l

Is 'The world's most important living economist' wrong?

Bill Gates calls Hernando Del Soto 'the world's most important living economist'. He seems to have the mantra - the elixir of the 'mystery of capital' - that can turn the fortunes of the developing countries around. But while his insights are being celebrated, it is worth looking closer into his ideas. Mr Soto's idea is actually quite simple: That property rights create access to capital. His point is that the developed countries are developed because their citizens have definite and secure property rights, which opens up access to capital, and therefore, enterprise and road to better life. In contrast, the property rights in developing countries are opaque, non-realisable and enmeshed in bureaucratic tangles. Therefore, the capital formation in these countries is weaker - and therein lies the roots of inequality. This is an insight with intuitive logic and easy appeal. It is easy to prove empirically too: Mr Del Soto's work is full of fascinatin

The Road to Macaulay: The Macaulay Moment

When he presented his Minutes in 1835, Macaulay’s mission was to align the educational funds, after its ten-fold increase, with the Utilitarian project of administrative and legal reforms. This was a break with the past, of all reverence towards any ‘ancient constitution’, but a reaffirmation of some continuities as well : The vision of a Military-Fiscal-Pedagogical state, a statement of moral confidence and recognition of a modernising mission. The Orientalist corpus of Indian antiquity supplied the idea of an antiquated India that needed to be transformed with European knowledge, just as Peter the Great effected on ancient Muscovy. The post-abolitionist confidence enabled Macaulay to transcend the fears of an reawakened Indian nation breaking off from the British, that constrained the thinking of earlier generations; rather, he celebrated such a possibility. Macaulay’s arguments were based on appeal to pragmatic reason, and part of his own project of creating Codes of Law for I

Road To Macaulay: Education and Utility

By the end of 1820s, the initial abortive efforts of Sir Thomas Munro in Madras and Mountstuart Elphinstone’s in Bombay to revive traditional Indian education were being replaced by programmes to introduce ‘useful learning’. Lord William Bentinck, whose Governor Generalship began in 1828, carried with him the reputation of  "a man of a violent and haughty nature, imbued with English prejudice and regarding the English constitution as the salvation of the human race," and an earlier failure, as Governor of Madras that ended in a recall after the Vellore Mutiny of 1806 (sparked by, among other things, attempts to change Sepoy dress codes and discipline). Bentinck was a reformer, deeply impressed by the Utilitarian ideas of Jeremy Bentham (Bentinck, who met Bentham before he left for India, reportedly told the philosopher, “I am going to British India, but I shall not be Governor-General. It is you that will be Governor-General”) and his appointment marked a clean break with

Road to Macaulay: The Renewal of Charter and Debate on Education

In 1813, when the Company’s charter came up for renewal, Company territories in India were already a vast empire and its supremacy, over all the regional rivals as well as the Mughal Emperor, had been decidedly established. The mercantile interests in England were a spent force and the combined demands of British and Indian merchants to abolish the Company’s monopoly and open the India trade were too powerful to be ignored again. The expansion of British manufacture made the demands for a reversal of trade flow - treating India as a market for the British products - the ascendant force against the quaint monopolist interests in Indian salt, tea and fabric. The Company Court duly resisted, but, unlike in 1793, it had to give up its monopoly (except for that on tea and China trade), setting in motion an economic transformation of India, opening its markets to the full force of competition from British textiles and other manufactured products. This economic change set off a new phase

The Road to Macaulay: Lord Wellesley's Oxford Of The East

The Company state was in the middle of a rapid transformation in the 1790s. It was to be engaged in wars, with local rulers as well as in the broader global war with the French, for the next quarter century. Starting with Cornwallis’ wars with Tipu Sultan followed by Wellesley brothers’ wider conflicts across India and the Anglo-Maratha wars, the wars expanded the Company territories across the Indian peninsula and established the Company as the preeminent power in India. There were other changes equally as significant: The rise of evangelical christianity and the English nationalism rekindled by the French wars led to a separation between the English and the Indians in a much greater degree. Cornwallis’ administration had excluded Indians from all important government positions. The more moralistic positions of these administrations discouraged gambling, drinking, cohabitation with Indian women and embezzlement of government funds. Also, the conflicts between Indian and English

Road to Macaulay: A Conservative Revolution

However, even when Hastings left Calcutta, forces that irreversibly altered India’s ‘ancient constitution’ were already ascendant. Paradoxically, the radical changes arose from the deeply conservative British attempts to preserve what they perceived to be the Indian culture and polity. The Asiatic Society of Bengal, an institution Hastings patronised, was established in 1784 and over the next half century, would take the lead in the production of ‘reliable legal knowledge’. William Jones, its Founder-President, with his colleagues and successors, would be engaged in a vast enterprise of translating ancient Hindu and Muslim legal texts, that would end up transforming India’s tradition and custom-based context-sensitive legal system (‘three thousand years of despotism’, as Macaulay would describe it in his speech) into an European-style legal code. In this ‘Orientalist’ enterprise, Jones and his colleagues were supported by Hindu and Muslim scholars, a collaboration that produced

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