One of the news that most Indian news portals flashed persistently throughout today was about Mukesh Ambani and Laxmi Narayan Mittal being the richest Indians. We, the Indian readers, are supposed to be waiting for one of these men to become THE richest man in the world. Because that will strengthen our tentative hopes that India is indeed becoming a developed nation. We are in a hurry to overtake America and other Western societies. We want to be rich like them. We want to be like them in all aspects. And in all this we forget that one of the reasons, besides others, for them becoming rich was colonialism. They were able to find a way to boost their economies at the cost of other nations.* Ram Manohar Lohia (on whom I am sipping lately) had an interesting insight about this. He said that we can't be advanced like West unless we ourselves become colonizers.** Either we find colonies on other planets or "colonize" the people within our own country. The latter is indeed happening. Singurs and Nandigrams are examaples of this internal colonialism. We can stretch it further to Kazakhstan where Mittal was accused of slave labour. Mukesh Ambani did not want to think beyond his profit in last year's gas crisis, completely overlooking public interest. Of course, the issue also exposed the inaptness of the petroleum ministry. It's ironical that these men have become mascots of our national pride.
We want more and more to look like Westerners in the way we do our business and the way we evaluate it's benefit to our society and our people. Is that the only way? The recent global recession and, closer home, the Satyam fiasco, should propel us to look for alternatives.
(16 March 2010: Apparently that insight came to Lohia via Gandhi, who expressed similar thoughts in his journal Young India on 7 October 1926 [cited by Kishan Pattnayak in his Vikalphin Nahin Hai Duniya, New Delhi:Rajkamal, 2000, p 87.])
* One can counterbalance this with Max Weber's idea of puritan ethics and developement of capitalism in Western Europe but that's for some other time.
** Lohia also recognizes the fact that the 'greatness' of modern Western civilization owes to spiritual dynamics of faith, which has been ultimately undermined by an unbridled cult of 'industrialism'.