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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It is all about charisma

Have we as a nation properly understood the theory of charisma as originally proposed by Max Weber (1864-1920) in his ‘The theory of social and economic organisations’ or are we merely confused between charm and charisma.
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The [Congress] party which considers the nation a family heirloom never hesitated to destroy democratic institutions to cling on to power. Jawarhalal Nehru had the constitution amended to circumscribe the inconvenient freedom of speech. His daughter Indira wished to do away with the fundamental rights including the right to life. For the current crop ruling the nation by proxy, the constitution appears to be a mere nuisance. Its more important objective is coronation of its prince in 2014, banking on the premise of charisma. 
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The following article, entitled, It is all about charisma, appeared in The Hans India of January 17, 2012. (Emphasis added.)
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Thomas Jefferson, the third president of America is credited with the aphorism: A politician looks forward only to the next election; a statesman looks forward to the next generation. One of the founding fathers of the American nation, he played a major role in its expansion and consolidation beginning with the acquisition of Louisiana.   

The wise men who drafted the Indian constitution envisaged the concept of affirmative action to bring certain disadvantaged sections of the society on par with the rest. The provision of reservations in legislative bodies, employment and education was to be a temporary measure even in the case of the most disadvantaged classes such as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The original Article 334 of the constitution limits the provision of reservation of seats for SCs and STs in legislative bodies to sixty years. Additionally, the first part of Article 335 has a curious proviso. It states that the claims of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making of appointments to services and posts… Unfortunately, India has been condemned to be ruled by politicians - not statesmen - for whom the next election has always been more important than the next generation. Compelled by the politics of competitive populism they have not only been extending the provision of reservations thus negating the original sunset clause but have been bringing in more and more sections into the ambit of reservations.

As an ideologically bankrupt Congress party falls back on the family ‘charisma’ to return it to power in UP in 2012 and eventually at the centre in 2014, it has come up with another round of reservations as an electoral sop. 

The party which considers the nation a family heirloom never hesitated to destroy democratic institutions to cling on to power. Jawarhalal Nehru had the constitution amended to circumscribe the inconvenient freedom of speech. His daughter Indira wished to do away with the fundamental rights including the right to life. For the current crop ruling the nation by proxy, the constitution appears to be a mere nuisance. Its more important objective is coronation of its prince in 2014, banking on the premise of charisma. 

Have we as a nation properly understood the theory of charisma or are we merely confused between charm and charisma?

The theory of ‘Charismatic Leadership’ evolved from ideas originally proposed by Max Weber (1864-1920) in his ‘The theory of social and economic organisations’. Weber, known as an economist and historian in his time may be said to be the father modern sociology. He was the first to use the word ‘charisma to describe ‘leadership’ that emerges in crisis situations. 

In Greek, the word ‘Charisma means ‘divinely inspired gift’. Charismatic leadership is neither traditional nor based on formal authority but based on followers’ perception that the leader is gifted with exceptional qualities. A charismatic leader, as conceptualised by Weber is gifted with a radical vision that offers solutions to crisis situations. He attracts followers who believe in his vision. The followers experience success that makes them trust their leader’s vision as attainable. This makes them perceive the leader as extraordinary.

What then are the traits of a charismatic leader? Literature on leadership defines precisely the attributes, traits and behaviours of charismatic leaders. Thus charismatic leaders have a strong need for power, high self-confidence and conviction in their own beliefs and ideals and are able to influence the attitudes and behaviours of their followers. But first a charismatic leader must have a vision that is both ennobling and appealing. 

The leader must be able to make his followers visualise the ennobling vision by expressive language and communication. The leader must be able to take exceptional personal risks and make self-sacrifices to attain the vision. The leader must consistently communicate his confidence in and high expectations from his followers. The leader must consistently ensure that both he and his followers observe role-modelling consistent with the vision. 

The leader must be able to build identification with the vision and finally he must be able to empower the followers to achieve the vision.

So what is the ennobling vision that a charismatic leader should have had and communicated to the people of a newly liberated nation? Why, it is the vision of a strong and resurgent nation, for the building of which the leader takes personal risks and makes sacrifices. A strong and resurgent nation, the concept of which every citizen identifies with and believes in. In order to be labelled charismatic did any of our leaders since independence believe in and communicate such ennobling vision? Did any of them take personal risks and make sacrifices for realising such ennobling vision? Does every citizen identify with and believe in such ennobling vision?

TAILPIECE: Malcolm Gladwell calls the misconception of ‘charisma’, the “Warren Harding Error” (‘Blink’, 2006. Penguin Books, New Delhi). Warren Harding was elected president because his electors could not distinguish between charisma in its popular misconception and charismatic leadership. The 29th US President (1921–1923) was tall, broad-shouldered and perfectly proportioned, had a bronzed complexion and a resonant masculine voice. Harding came to be described a ‘Roman’ for his good looks. He was affable and had an implacable desire to please. His father once told him that it was good he hadn’t been born a girl because, “You would be in the family way all the time. You can’t say no”. During his presidency, he busied himself with golf, poker and his mistresses while his cronies looted the exchequer in a variety of creative ways

Harding had the dubious distinction of being the second of ten ‘Worst Presidents’. Jay Tolson says that he was an ‘ineffectual and indecisive leader and his ‘claim to infamy rests on spectacular ineptitude’. (US News & World Report, February 16, 2007. Worst Presidents: Warren Harding, accessible from http://bit.ly/a3bRER).

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The versatile genius

If intimacy with Islamic scholars stimulated him to learn Arabic and Persian, kinship with Hindustani classical singers made him cultivate their style. The cultivation of the Hindustani style added a rare and unique hybrid timbre to his music not usually found in the rendering of Carnatic singers and won him many accolades including those from the Maharajah of Mysore and Rabindranath Tagore. This is because it was unusual for Carnatic singers to be able to sing Hindustani and vice versa. The hybrid style he developed left an indelible stamp on the progress of Carnatic music. It was adopted by later musicians including some of the greats of Carnatic music, marking it as the sui generis of Vizianagaram music. Eventually when Narayana Das became the first principal of Sri Vijayarama Gana Pathasala (the first music college in South India) it became part of the curriculum. The Maharajah of Vizianagaram established the Music College in 1919 to honour the Pandit and enable enthusiasts to learn music from him. The college produced many great musicians. Pandit Narayana Das inducted violin maestro Dwaram Venkata Swamy Naidu as a lecturer in the college. Dwaram succeeded Pandit Narayana Das as principal after the latter relinquished office in 1936.

The following article on Pandit Srimadajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das appeared in The Hans India of January 8, 2012. The original may be seen here: The versatile genius
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Sri Narayana Dasu
Sir Cattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy, eminent litterateur, educationist and founder Vice Chancellor of Andhra University described Srimadajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das (1864-1945) as a ‘university’. Sir Ramalinga Reddy was not exaggerating, for Narayana Dasu was a linguist with proficiency in as many as eight languages, poet, philosopher, writer, composer, dancer, actor and the creator of the unique art form, Hari Katha. 

It is well nigh impossible to find a parallel for him in the history of Indian literature. Adibhatla Narayana Das was the only scholar who had mastery over four classical languages (Sanskrit, Telugu, Arabic and Persian) and translated from Persian and English into Sanskrit and Telugu; the only litterateur who wrote a comparative treatise on the works of Kalidas and Shakespeare; the only writer-composer who translated into Telugu and set to music Rig Vedic hymns and the only writer-composer who composed a geeta-malika comprising 90 Carnatic ragas. As a writer-composer who composed music in all the 72 Carnatic ragas, he was next only to Saint Thyagaraja. 

His literary output was voluminous. He wrote over 50 books in Telugu, Sanskrit and Atcha-Telugu (Desyandhramu or Telugu unmixed of Sanskrit). His works included original story-poems (Kavyas and Prabandhas), Harikathas, prose works, musical works, dramas, translations, treatises in philosophy and Vedic studies and children’s literature. For want of space, only a few of his works are introduced here:

Navarasatarangini (1922): A study that compares, contrasts and critiques the treatment of the nine rasas or moods in the plays of Shakespeare and Kalidas. A voluminous work, with a lengthy preface, it vetted the entire of body of dramatic literature of the two writers.

Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiyam (1932): Narayana Das felt that Edward Fitzgerald’s English renderings of Omar Khaiyam’s Rubaiyat were not literal and did not do justice to the spirit of the Persian poet’s philosophy. In order to demonstrate his thesis, Narayana Das translated both the original Persian and the English renderings into Sanskrit and Atcha-Telugu. “Hyderabad Bulletin*, a prominent newspaper of the time felt the book merited a review - Here are some excerpts from the editorial entitled, “A Monument of Scholarship”: “[...] a careful perusal of the book fills us with admiration at the astounding scholarship of the learned Pandit […] In these degenerate days when scholarship has fallen on evil times, it is incredible to learn that a Hindu, with Telugu as his mother tongue, should have been so filled with admiration for a Persian poet that, after he had passed his sixtieth year, he took the trouble to master so alien a language, and translate the masterpiece not only into Telugu but into another classical language, Sanskrit.

Jagajjyothi (1942-43): It was his magnum opus in which he analysed, discussed and critiqued ancient Vedic lore and tried to apply his theories to everyday life. It contains the quintessence of Narayana Das’ philosophy and outlook towards life. In this he was at once heretical and traditional, rational and religious. He distilled all that is good in all Indian philosophies and brought about a synthesis and propounded a new philosophy of humanism. 

Dasavidharaganavati Kusumamanjari(1938): An outstanding musical work of unparalleled erudition, it is a Devi stotram comprising 90 Carnatic ragas. The first half is in Sanskrit and  the second half in Telugu. 

Vizianagarm of the late nineteenth century was a haven of literary and artistic talent and was - to borrow a phrase from renaissance literature - in a state of intellectual ferment. Narayana Das’ innate artistry blossomed and flourished. Narayana Das used  to absorb knowledge the way sponge absorbs water. If intimacy with Islamic scholars stimulated him to learn Arabic and Persian, kinship with Hindustani classical singers made him cultivate their style.

Gajarohanam at Singareni
The cultivation of the Hindustani style added a rare and unique hybrid timbre to his music not usually found in the rendering of  Carnatic singers and won him many accolades including those from the Maharajah of Mysore and Rabindranath Tagore. This is because it was unusual for Carnatic singers to be able to sing Hindustani and vice versa. The hybrid style he developed left an indelible stamp on the progress of Carnatic music. It was adopted by later musicians, including some of the greats of Carnatic music. Eventually when Narayana Das became the first principal of Sri Vijayarama Gana Pathasala (the first music college in South India) it became part of the curriculum. The Maharajah of Vizianagaram established the Music College in 1919 to honour the Pandit and enable enthusiasts to learn music from him. The college produced many great musicians. Pandit Narayana Das inducted violin maestro Dwaram Venkata  Swamy Naidu as a lecturer in the college. Dwaram succeeded Pandit Narayana Das as principal after the latter relinquished office in 1936.

Pandit Narayana Das’ literary and musical accomplishments left him peerless in his time. The literary and musical elite of his time joined to honour him with the title of “Sangitha Sahitya Sarvabhauma.” The musical maestros of his time honoured him with titles like “Laya Brahma” and “Panchamukhi Parameswara” for his ability to sing to five talas, beat with two arms, two feet and head. Five musicians used to keep time with him when he performed “Panchamukhi.” The versatile genius breathed his last on January 2, 1945. 
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*To read the editorial review of Pandit Narayana Das' Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiayam by Hyderabad Bulletin please click here: A MONUMENT OF SCHOLARSHIP

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Transforming Capitalism

Book Review

There were two diametrically opposing theses about business. The first assumed that the prime interest of business was mercenary and intended only to fatten its owners at the cost of the general public. The theory originated in an era when business meant only the production and distribution of goods in brick and mortar factories. The theory held that it would be in the larger interest of society if the state controlled the means of production and distribution of goods. This was the principle behind the ‘second world’ governance. It held sway for over seventy years beginning with the proletarian revolution in Russia in 1917.

From each according to his ability to each according to his needs was (is) an indisputably lofty ideal but to quote an old cliché, ‘human nature being what it is’, simply did not work. This was because the first part of the dictum was immeasurable and the second part highly elastic! In the end, governance required mammoth bureaucracies which acquired dynamics (or inertia if you will) of their own. The state had to increasingly intrude into the private lives of citizens to make the system work, as Orwell so vividly depicted in his Nineteen Eighty Four. But still it did not work and the utopia of Marx’s dreams simply imploded.

Marx must be spinning in his grave in capitalist England but Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs amply explains the reason for the implosion. A human being, unlike an animal, can not simply remain satisfied if his most basic needs are met. After the basic needs are satisfied, there is a craving for needs in a higher plane to be satisfied. It was this upward spiral of ‘need, satisfaction & higher need’ that helped human evolution and development.

The other thesis is based on the principle of free market economy, on the premise that ‘wants are the prime movers of all economic activity’. The production of goods is to satisfy consumer needs. Therefore the premise of demand determines the sustainability of businesses. The incentive for the producer is the profit. But to sustain in business the producer has to understand the continually evolving and ever changing needs of the consumer. The system has its own checks and balances but is essentially based on individual freedoms. Theoretically anyone can start a business or exit from a business. It is the consumer who determines whether a business is successful or not. Sustenance depends on individual creativity and enterprise. But even successful businessmen who grow rich by virtue of their creativity, enterprise and may be luck are also part of the society. Are they free to enjoy the fruits of their labour irrespective of the vicissitudes of the lives of the others surrounding them? If they did, wouldn’t they be accused of vulgarity of greed and indecent exhibitionism? Wasn’t this – the huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots - the root cause of the proletarian revolution?

That even in the utopia of Marx’s dreams ‘some animals’ felt that had a divine right to be more equal than others, was a different matter. The recent march on Wall Street is a form of societal disapproval of the concentration of wealth in some individuals. As long as the common people were able to lead their lives normally they did not grudge the one percent of Americans owning (cornering?) eighty percent of the nation’s wealth. But after the collapse of the economic system when savings of a life time vanished overnight, when they suddenly found the future holding no promise and life insufferable, they suddenly woke up to find the grim reality of huge disparities. However it did not lead to America witnessing à la Russian revolution of 1917 because people are only too aware of what happened in that nation between 1917 and 1990. A revolution of the type was no solution. The harsh reality is, wealth not created can not be shared, no matter what the left liberal chatterati might crib about the inequities of the capitalist system.

What should businesses do to mitigate the situation?  As a tentative solution, Maira puts forth the opinion that ‘values are not measured by the wealth produced but by the means considered acceptable’? (p. 192) And more importantly managers should operate in two ecosystems: the ‘professional system of the business governed by the financial markets’ and the ‘wider system of people outside the company’s core activities’. (p. 91)

While the main thesis of ‘Transforming CAPITALISM is all about what businesses like to call Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Maira devotes a chapter to NGOs. The term NGO is loosely applied to all organisations from the International Red Cross to those funded by self-serving business and religious interests. The (Hindi) movie, Corporate provides a good example of how business interests fund and make NGOs subserve their not-so-honest interests. It might be bad manners to look the gift horse in the mouth but certainly one should err on the side of caution when looking at NGOs. Gulam Nabi Fai’s ‘Kashmiri American Council’ (KAC) was a respectable NGO which attracted quite a few Indian intellectuals till it was unmasked as a front organisation of the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI and Fai arrested by the FBI. Curiously while Indian intellectuals did not have any qualms about being wined and dined by an organisation like the KAC, which overtly seeks to promote secession of Kashmir from India, India’s largest and most patriotic NGO, the RSS is persona non grata!

Much of what Maira says in ‘Transforming CAPITALISM’ may not be entirely new but it is cogently argued and well-written. The book is certainly worth reading. Some of the chapters in the book appeared as newspaper columns earlier. 

Maira, Arun. 2011. Transforming CAPITALISM – Improving The World For Everyone. NIMBY Books. New Delhi. pp 210. Price Rs 295/-

This review is part of the Book Reviews programme at Blogadda.com