In his much acclaimed book “Rearming Hinduism”, author Shri Vamsee Juluri argues that the world’s oldest civilization survived till date because of this unique feature – “Hinduism is about intelligence, more than anything else”.
Each person immersed in this civilization prayed every morning seeking only this knowledge and wisdom (gyan / enlightenment / intelligence), through sacred chants written in Vedas.
Survival of this civilization for more than five thousand years, along with its unique humanistic worldview, in spite of physical and cultural genocide from barbarians and imperialists of Islam and Christianity, is a remarkable feat in itself and an achievement of sorts. Though badly bruised, wounded and bleeding, this civilization is the sole survivor, among ruins of classical world in its neighbourhood, only due to reverence for quest of knowledge and wisdom.
Reverence of wisdom over wealth
We started our days with sacred chants of “Pavamana Mantra- Asto Ma Sadgamya….” and “Gayatri Mantra- Om Bhur Bhuv…”, seeking enlightenment and enhancement of our understanding from divine.
Knowledge and wisdom were at premium in the society throughout the history of this civilization. Even mightiest of the kings i.e Samrats washed the feet of those who possessed wisdom, and bowed in respect before them. It is this civilization where sages like Veda Vyasa, Patanjali, Charaka; mathematicians like Aryabhatt, Varahmihir; strategists like Vidur and Chanakya; poets like Surdas and Tulasidas are revered more than their contemporary kings, princes and noble men.
Even knowledge and wisdom seeking outsiders and travellers like Fa-hien were welcome guests. This feature was hallmark of this civilization, but of late it got replaced with an insatiable urge of accumulating wealth. Post-independence Bharat saw emergence of new icons who acted as role-models for society. Nature and thoughts of leadership changed. Simplicity and honesty of Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri and Shri Jaiprakash Narayan got replaced with over ambition & naked greed of a host of feudal leaders, who all bettered the corruption records of Congress in their own novel ways.
Material hoarding and survival instincts taking precedence
With imperialist invasion of Islam and Christianity later, both seeking to rob material wealth and destroy knowledge wealth from this civilization, the quest for wisdom and knowledge retreated in the background. It hibernated somewhere in isolated corners of society, while animal instincts of survival started getting glorified. We started getting influenced by psyche of invaders coming from societies where scarcity and deprivation abounded and loot & plunder were considered legitimate activities. Under influence of western values, over-exploitation of natural resources for unsustainable consumption became the new norm. Plundering of public entitlements for filling private coffers became a common phenomenon.
Skewed economic incentive system
New emphasis on tournament theory of achieving super normal returns on optimum effort and investment, further fuelled acquired culture of accumulating more material and wealth than needed, while ethos of respecting wisdom and knowledge hibernated in background.
A famous tagline of well-known television brand of yore “Neighbour’s Envy, Owner’s pride” perfectly captured this new aspiration that guided the behaviour of society. People were busy matching or surpassing the wealth of their neighbours without bothering to stop and reflect on means of achieving this. The end result became more important than the process itself. Someone who still bothered about righteousness of means was frowned upon and became a pariah in society. Upright economic and social behaviour was dis-incentivised and discriminated against.
An honest government servant would be reprimanded with punishment or isolation postings, lest he/she acts as a thorn in otherwise well-functioning dishonest system of bureaucracy.
An honest business following all norms of land, using finances from legitimate sources, paying all taxes would be outcompeted from market by businesses giving a toss to norms of land.
Perish or adapt was the new-age mantra for honest, finding whom was akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. We somehow started feeling comfortable in a society where rewards for disobeying the system and dishonest behaviour were super-normal.
A sincere effort for reversal of incentive system
The above situation that has prevailed for seven decades after independence remained unchallenged till the evening of 8th November 2016, when Prime Minister of Bharat Shri Narendra Modi demonetised higher denomination notes.
Demonetisation, in itself is a blunt and inefficient tool to tackle the malaise of a society that has long forgotten its basic values system. Used alone, it is incapable of changing the skewed incentive system described above, overnight. However it did send a message across society that this skewed system is no more cherished by the government of the day.
But this blunt tool, proved not so blunt in deep cleansing the nation from the entire fake currency and associated network for time being. This enemy supported fake currency was undermining the very concept of re-emerging Bharat as a knowledge economy.
At a subliminal level, a subtle message has been decoded by players thriving in informal economy by this action of government. This message is that either change with changing incentive system, or change the government itself, at next best opportunity. However, If government uses more tools to alter the present skewed incentive systems further, it would be prudent to change rather than becoming object of mockery by same neighbours who envied these players earlier.
On the side-lines, there are many questions raised about intentions of government for introducing Rs. 2000 currency notes during demonetisation. Here it would be pragmatic to recall options theory of finance. Options are as much valuable in finance as in other decision making situations. Howsoever blunt this demonetization tool is, retaining it for future possible use is a valuable option in the hands of government. A high value currency in market helps in sharpening edge of this blunt tool, whenever it would be used in future.
Finally, in democracy peoples’ voice counts. It is the peoples’ mandate in future elections that would tell if the original DNA of this civilization, highlighted by Shri Vamsee Juluri, has hibernated during adverse season, or has permanently decomposed while hibernating.
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