Could the CIA be aiming for a weak central government? Revisiting the AAP Connection

Ashwini Upadhyay, who recently resigned from the AAP National Executive has brought serious charges of CIA involvement against AAP.  I am generally inclined to dismiss these as conspiracy theories of a disgruntled member, though the CIA does have a long record of political interventions throughout the world, interfering in democratic processes for its own objectives and for “regime change.” So I decided to dig into its plausibility of these charges from someone who, until recently, was an AAP insider.

There have been prior allegations of Ford Foundation funding for AAP which AAP has rebutted on its website. The AAP website rebuttal of the Ford Foundation charges states that it has never received funds from Ford Foundation and points instead to Gujarat government initiatives   Gujarat Ecological Educational & Research (GEER) and Gujarat Institute of Development Research (GIDR) as receiving Ford Foundation funds.

First we need to understand the grant giving of Ford Foundation.

The CIA uses philanthropic foundations as the most effective conduit to channel large sums of money to Agency projects without alerting the recipients to their source. From the early 1950s to the present the CIA’s intrusion into the foundation field was and is huge. A U.S. Congressional investigation in 1976 revealed that nearly 50% of the 700 grants in the field of international activities by the principal foundations were funded by the CIA

Ford Foundation and the CIA, James Petras, Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghampton University, New York.

Ford Foundation has a large presence in India.

FF’s developmental activities continue under the heading “asset-building and community development”, but it has added two other heads: “peace and social justice” and “education, media, arts and culture”. This is in line with changes in foundation/funding agency policy worldwide, whereby, since the late 1970s, a new breed of ‘activist’ NGOs, engaging in social and political activity, have been systematically promoted. [5] (Italics in original)

AAP’s rebuttal of Ford Funding on their website ends with a denial of direct funding by Ford Foundation while pointing to funding for Gujarat government projects.

“So Mr. Modi, his Government and the BJP are happy to take $$$ from Ford foundation but accuse AAP which has not taken one penny from Ford or any other foreign donors.”[10]

This is deceptive in what AAP chooses not to reveal. While pointing at Gujarat governmental organizations supported by FF, it fails to reveal the deep involvement and funding to its National Executive  members through FF funded  NGO’s.  This is also true in Kejriwal’s direct interview denying Ford Foundation funding from AAP but choosing not to reveal Ford Foundation repeatedly and consistently funded him through  his NGO’s. AAP cannot be funded directly by Ford Foundation since it is a political party; rather the Foundation works by creating long-term assets through NGO’s and a large number of AAP national executives have been part of such NGO’s.  This deception worries me because AAP, rather than being straightforward is trying to mislead with  an oranges to apples comparison – “no funding to AAP, but funding to Gujarat NGO’s”.

AAP and BJP are political parties. The question is not of AAP getting funded directly by the Ford Foundation. That would be clearly illegal and neither AAP and, especially not the Ford Foundation, are that stupid. Ford Foundation’s work with the CIA is naturally clandestine.  Also the example given by AAP of Ford Foundation giving to Gujarat governmental organizations is a diversion. There is a big difference between giving to governmental or semi-governmental agencies versus small private NGO.  Also, if everything that Ford Foundation did was CIA business it would blow its cover. It needs to have a reasonable front.  It must include legitimate  grants mixed in with small NGO grants where it cultivates long-term “strategic assets” over a period of time.

The system of private patronage was the pre-eminent model of how small, homogenous groups came to defend America’s—and, by definition, their own—interests. Serving at the top of the pile was every self-respecting WASP’s ambition. The prize was a trusteeship on either the Ford Foundation or the Rockefeller Foundation, both of which were conscious instruments of covert US policy, with directors and officers who were closely connected to, or even members of American intelligence. [6]

These grants are to small NGO’s and a disturbingly large number of prominent AAP members were recipients of this kind of Ford Foundation patronage. Has the Ford Foundation put together its strategic assets when it needed to?

Why did AAP not come clean on its website about these links of their founding executive members to the Ford Foundation? If it spoke about funding to semi-governmental NGO’s in Gujarat, shouldn’t it have revealed grants to its members from Ford Foundation through NGO’s they ran, precisely the kinds of grants the CIA uses to cultivate strategic assets? Why is AAP not honest and upfront about these linkages to its sincere and committed support base that are looking up to it as an honest party?

Now let us look at some of the notables in AAP who have been involved with FF-funded NGO’s.

Sab bike hue hain? Kejriwal and associates’ funds from Ford & Rockfeller Foundations—partial list [1][2]

Person Amount NGO Foundation
Arvind Kejriwal $80,000Rs. 74,54,706 ParivartanKabirRamon Magasasay Award Ford FoundationFord FoundationRockefeller Brothers Fund
Manish Sisodia Rs. 74,54,706 Kabir Ford Foundation
Yoginder Yadav ICSSR Ford Foundation
Meera Sanyal Pradan Ford Foundation


The Ramon Magsaysay Award is also a strategic award funded by these US foundations and comes with a history [8, See Notes]. Now, we are not suggesting that all these individuals are crooks, though Manish Sisodia in under a cloud for misuse of the funds and Kejriwal is alleged to have illegally started NGO’s and received funds while still a government employee. Many of these people may be quite sincere and I do not want to suggest that they are all knowingly acting on behest of the US, simply because of being funded by the Ford Foundation. US soft power is exercised in many ways, including having people feel that they are all working for a good cause and using the language of “human rights” and “people’s rights.” But when principals of these agency funded NGO’s later start running for parliament, it is bound to raise eyebrows.

What is the strategic interest of the US here?

The question is why would the US have activated its assets? The US is also not a monolith. There is a part of the US that wants to see India as a counterweight to China. There is another that does not want another strong player on the international stage. Even as a counterweight to China it would prefer a weaker and more pliable India, something that a strong central leadership with a clear mandate may not be.

It is frightening when you realize that an unstable coalition and mid-term polls are exactly the results that AAP is shooting for,  having convinced thousands of its well-meaning, sincere, patriotic Indian supporters towards this aim as an antidote against corruption.

Maybe all this Ford Foundation involvement is in the past and it is a coincidence that a bunch of Ford Foundation awardees happened to congregate in AAP.  I am sure there are plenty of Ford Foundation grantees in India who are not sold out. But, it gets even more frightening.  Ashwini Upadhyay recently resigned from the AAP National Executive and is bringing forth even more direct and serious allegations, the extent of which is difficult to imagine.

According to the Ford Foundation website, Kavita Ramdas “ serves as the representative for the foundation’s office in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, where she oversees all of our grant making in the region.” It is one thing to be a recipient of Ford Foundation funds through NGO’s.  But it is difficult to imagine that the head of Ford Foundation India would not be complicit in US state department and intelligence objectives in India. So when the head of the Ford Foundation (or people close to her) is participating in the strategy meetings of a party that may be king maker in the upcoming Indian elections, there is serious cause for concern for every AAP supporter and thinking Indian.

Anna Hazare, Ramdev, Kiran Bedi, Kejriwal and others had created a big movement that had inspired all of us. People like Anupam Kher had jumped in to lend it star power. Kejriwal did not have the start power or following compared to Anna., Ramdev, Kiran Bedi or Anupam Kher. He is also the most implicated in his continuous relationship with the Ford Foundation through various NGO’s that funded him to leave his government job.  Most of these notable people that we respect that formed the popular anti-corruption movement explicitly dissociated themselves from AAP and have also accused Kejriwal of using them to launch himself.

I have myself gone from a I-am-Anna topi-wearing supporter to cheering the Delhi victory of AAP, to being skeptical about their plans, to being deeply concerned about what they are up to as all clear-thinking Indians should be, most of all AAP supporters who are investing their time, emotions and money into this.  Former RAW Officer RSN Singh also provides evidence of agency funding to manipulate elements of Indian media that may be working in conjunction with this plan. [2]

AAP supporters should ask AAP to come clean and ask them:

  1. Please reveal the details of all the NGO’s that members of your national executive, office bearers and election nominees have been involved with.
  2. Reveals the details and amounts of funding from Ford Foundation, Rockfeller Foundation, HIVOS and any other foreign donors towards any of these associated NGO’s, including an salaries of expense reimbursements you got from these NGOs.
  3. Respond to Ashwini Upadhyaya’s serious allegations of Ford Foundation executives and their family members being involved in strategic planning for AAP.
  4. Come clean about their post poll strategy—what are you aiming for and whether you will be willing to support existing political parties and which ones so that your supporters know what you are working towards. AAP’s election plans appear murky even to your supporters who are not able to articulate your end game in the Lok Sabha elections.
  5. Explain how your close association to CIA-linked foreign foundations would not compromise National Security.

AAP supporters, your dedication and concern for the country is amazing and something that I share deeply. But please, please be very careful that your vote, idealism and patriotism does not get misused for its exact opposite result and does not play into the hands of destabilizing forces.  Currently all we have is the word of AAP that they are fighting corruption. How they will actually act if they come to power is completely unknown. So far their words and actions have been inconsistent. Those people whose only platform is a fight for transparency must start by demonstrating that they are fully transparent themselves.

References & Notes

1.  Mr. Mohan and Prof. Vaidyanathan, “Is India Safe—What is Ford Foundation?”

2. Singh, RSN, (former military intelligence and RAW officer), “Kejriwal, India’s biggest Scam.”  This has a lot of detailed documents, must read.

3. Ford Foundation, a philanthropic façade for the CIA

4. Education or Domination? The Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford Foundations Developing Knowledge for the Developing World.


6. Saunders, Frances Stonor (1999). The cultural cold war: the CIA and the world of arts and letters.

7. Negi, Rajender Singh, “Magsaysay Award: Asian Noble, not so Noble”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 43, No. 34 (Aug. 23 – 29, 2008), pp. 14-16

8. It is also worth noting that the US-funded Ramon Magsaysay award comes with a history.  The American installed president of Philippines Ramon Magsaysay, “brutally out down dissenting voices and allowed America to pull the strings of power in his country”[7] and is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and general promotes US strategic interests. Like everything else, this does not mean that every recipient is under US control; notables like sitarist Ravi Shankar,  Kiran Bedi and M.S. Subbulakshmi have been recipients, but  there is need for caution when this award is given outside the Arts and Culture fields.

9. Blum, William, Killing Hope. U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions since World War II. Common Courage Press 2003.




The English Class System

Is English medium education helping in India’s economic progress or does it hold India back? Also see for a new language policy for India.


VOL.XVII. No. 1, January 2007
Original PDF of the article:The English Class System

  1. English-medium education and economic good

The language policy debate in India has centered on two issues—of a common national language or link language and of the language formula to be adopted in primary and secondary education. The debate about the common national language has often split between those that advocate Hindi and those that support English as this common language. The Hindi advocates base their plea on cultural and nationalistic reasons while the English supporters base their stance on pragmatism – arguing for the economic necessity and global inevitability of English use.

Two aspects of English adoption and usage have, however, not received sufficient academic attention. While mounds of printed material have been produced on caste hierarchy in India; the English language class hierarchy, commonly encountered in everyday urban India, has hardly merited academic attention. The relative scarcity of studies of the sociology of the English-based Class System in India—social stratification based on knowledge of English and spoken English “accents”—with corresponding social differentiation and discrimination—is striking.

Secondly, while English medium education has been vaguely related to economic good there is little scientific research that actually establishes the causality of English medium education and economic good. For instance, does the spread of English-medium education in India help or hinder GDP growth? While there are numerous studies that attempt to relate literacy rates and universal primary education with economic good, there are scarcely any that specifically look at the medium of instruction and its relationship to other economic data.

This article makes some preliminary observations on these two aspects of English-education in India with the hope that it may be a catalyst for more rigorous appraisals of these questions.

1.1 The economics of language

When English becomes the official language of a country, does it help or hinder economic progress? To study how economics impacts language, we compared countries by GNP and official language – and came up with some surprising results.

Let us take a look at the top and bottom countries in the world by GNP per capita and examine its correlation with official language. In using per capita measures countries with a very small population may lead to less meaningful results, so we filtered out countries with populations less than 5 million. Then, we sorted the results by per capita GNP and looked at the top 20 and the bottom 20 countries.

1.1.1 Twenty Richest

Table 1 Richest countries by GNP per capita*



GNP per capita ($)

Mass Language(s)

Official Language(s)

1 Switzerland


German/French/Italian German/French/Italian
2 Denmark


Danish Danish
3 Japan


Japanese Japanese
4 United States


English English
5 Sweden


Swedish Swedish
6 Germany


German German
7 Austria


German German
8 Netherlands, The


Dutch Dutch
9 Finland


Finnish Finnish
10 Belgium


Dutch/French Dutch/French
11 France


French French
12 United Kingdom


English English
13 Australia


English English
14 Italy


Italian Italian
15 Canada


English/French English/French
16 Israel


Hebrew Hebrew
17 Spain


Spanish Spanish
18 Greece


Greek Greek
19 Portugal


Portugese Portugese
20 South Korea


Korean Korean
*Population greater than 5 million only1 Raw Data Source: Encarta Encyclopedia

The mass language(s) in this table is the identified first language of the most numerous groupings of people. There is a wide variety of languages found in this list, dominated by European languages. More pertinently, in none of the top 20 richest countries is the language of official business (and the primary medium of education at all levels) different than the native language used by the general population. In cases like Switzerland, which has multiple common languages, the medium of primary education follows the dominant linguistic group on a per-canton level with multiple official languages reflecting the major linguistic groups, without an inherent class structure privileging a colonial language. Also, in all of the countries above, the highest level of education is available in the mass languages. The pursuit of higher studies proceeds perfectly well in a large number of non-English native languages, since only 4 out of the top 20 countries of the world ranked by GNP per capita have English-based systems. The top 20 are also not restricted to European languages alone – Japan and Korea have done perfectly well economically by using their native languages as the medium of education, including in the sciences, over choosing a non-mass language such as English. Switzerland and Israel are both multi-lingual countries, but different significantly from India in that they do not suffer from a similar class system and perceived superiority of a foreign language, spoken only by a minority of people. The case of Israel’s choice of language is particularly illuminating and we shall look at it in greater detail further on.

1.1.2 The twenty poorest

Let us look now at the other table, the 20 poorest countries in the world.

Table 2 Poorest countries by GNP per capita*



GNP per capita ($)

Mass Language(s)

Official Language(s)

1 Congo (DRC)


Lingala, Kingwana French
2 Ethiopia


Amharic Amharic
3 Burundi


Kirundi, Swahili French, Kirundi
4 Sierra Leone


Mende, Temne, Krio English
5 Malawi


Chichewa English/Chichewa
6 Niger


Hausa, Djerma French
7 Chad


Sara, Arabic French/Arabic
8 Mozambique


Emakhuwa, Xichangana Portugese
9 Nepal


Nepali Nepali
10 Mali


Bambara French
11 Burkina Faso


Sudanic languages French
12 Rwanda


Kinyarwanda Kinyarwanda/French/English
13 Madagascar


Malagasy French/Malagasy
14 Cambodia


Khmer Khmer/French
15 Tanzania


Swahili English/Swahili
16 Nigeria


Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo English
17 Angola


Bantu Portugese
18 Laos


Lao Lao/French/English
19 Togo


Ewe, Mina, Kabiye, Dagomba French
20 Uganda


Ganda, Luganda English
*Population greater than 5 million only2 Raw Data Source: Encarta Encyclopedia, World Factbook

We find many of the same European languages in this table as in the table of the richest countries. The difference, of course, is obvious. In over half of these twenty countries the common languages used by the people are not even recognized as official languages. Even when they are officially recognized, such as Chichewa is in Malawi, official business and higher education is often conducted in the colonial language. For instance, The University of Malawi, is the foremost university in Malawi among the total of just four major universities in the country. On its website it lists the requirements for the University Entrance examination that is “used to examine the students’ aptitude for university work.”3 The first criterion it lists is “Language skills”, explaining that this is used to “measure students’ aptitude in English Language Skills.” Apparently university aptitude can only be demonstrated by knowledge of English—those fluent in Chichewa, the “official” language of the country and that of the common people, need not apply. The University of Malawi website does not even mention Chichewa anywhere in its contents.

By contrast, Technion, in Israel is one of the foremost technical institutes in the world. Its website clearly states4:

“The lingua franca of the country is Hebrew and this is also the language of instruction at the Technion. … Visiting Students accepted for Winter or Spring teaching semester programs should attend the Technion’s intensive five week Hebrew language course (‘Ulpan’) before they begin their studies.” (emphasis in original)

Technion is a world-class institute of technology, yet it strongly promotes Hebrew medium education. Israel is one of the top twenty countries in per capita GNP and a leading technology state. Yet the poorest countries have internalized this fallacious notion that English, and English alone, is the path to development.

The vast majority of the list of the poorest countries in this table has a class system similar to the one in India, where the language and culture of the colonial masters is considered superior to the native languages. Much of higher education, business, government and judiciary are transacted in this colonial language, often different from the languages spoken inside the home by the majority of people. The elite attend “colonial-medium” schools and use those terms and concepts to understand their own experience and those of the “natives” that they look down upon.

Note that there are 6 countries in this list of poorest 20 countries which have their official language—and that of higher education—as English, while this was the case only in 4 among the richest.

1.2 What does this data say?

We are not suggesting that all these countries are poor simply because of this language class-separation. Correlation does not establish causality. To look at the direct causality we may not need to look far — 19 out of these 20 poorest countries were colonies of exploitation by European powers, the 20th being a protectorate. That is undoubtedly one of the important casual factors.

Nonetheless in this study of colonization, studying the slavery of language, with its resultant class-separation and long-term economic and social consequences, is clearly an important issue. This language-based class separation hurts the people in multiple ways: (1) It privileges a foreign culture over the native culture, thus eroding self-esteem and a basic belief in people. (2) It disconnects the intellectual and policy discourse of the country, often carried out in the colonial language using a colonial worldview, from broad participation by the people. (3) It imposes the cost of re-education of an entire population into a different language for the purpose of higher studies, thus creating a glass ceiling for progress for those educated in the native languages, and it hold up the colonized elite classes as the standards for the rest to aspire to.

What is more remarkable, however, is the paucity of analysis on this subject. There is a sense of inevitability among the elite regarding the adoption of English. Even India’s recent economic growth and the success of its software industry have often been linked to the adoption of English.

1.3 Is business and professional success linked to English?

English-medium education is often touted as one of India’s competitive advantages and a reason for its recent economic progress. These pronouncements parade as obvious truths, so obvious that no study need be done to establish their basis in fact.

Is global business success linked to the knowledge of English? Hardly. If the economic tables presented earlier do not raise serious doubt on this account, let us examine a few specific examples.

The major East Asian economies—Japan, South Korea, Taiwan—are all non-English speaking. Business schools, just like other higher education in these countries, are conducted in Japanese, Korean and Chinese, not in English. Yet these countries have produced global multi-nationals in everything from automobiles to consumer electronics—Honda, Toyota, Sony, Samsung and numerous others. Of the top 1000 companies in Asia 792 are from these 3 countries (India has 20) with combined sales of nearly 4.5 trillion dollars (India’s combined total is not even 2% of these).

A child from a village in Japan, South Korea or Taiwan can aspire to be a doctor, an engineer or a business leader without having a debilitating forced language medium shift for higher education. This allows the talents of the entire nation to be harnessed, unlike in countries with a high degree of language-class separation. In a recent study of village schools in India, we found a school in the village of Khandodra in Haryana where nearly 33% of the children in the school scored above the 90th percentile on the intelligence test that we administered. The children were all studying in Hindi medium. The principal of that school described the debilitating effects of the transition to English based higher education on these talented kids. He spoke about the issues of language – “Hamara grameen kshetra hai – agar higher education se touch hai tab hi baccha safal ho payega. Jab vo 8th class pass karta hai, 10th tak jata hai, usme English ki aisi ek heen bhavana aa jati hai, ki upar jata hai—competition mein bhi English medium hai.” (Ours is a rural area; to succeed these children need to be in touch with higher education. However when the child passes 8th class, goes into 10th, he experiences a feeling of inferiority in dealing with English; to go higher the competition is in English).

Similarly, the idea that India’s software success is due to the knowledge of English bears examining. If it were true, then English-speaking countries must display this advantage consistently. In particular, countries like Kenya, with comparable histories to India of colonization, an English-based colonial class system and a large English work force, must also be disproportionately successful in software. This turns out to not be the case. Furthermore, this theory also fails to explain why Israel, which follows largely Hebrew and Arabic-medium schooling, is a notable software success.

People in Israel migrated from all parts of the world in the twentieth century. These people spoke many different languages, yet Israel chose Hebrew, not English as their official language, reviving for modern times what had been declare a “dead” or classical language. This would be the equivalent of India choosing Sanskrit as its official and link language, instead of the colonial choice of English.

For all its heralded software India’s software exports totaled $6.5 billion (2001 figures). Israel, a country with a population less than a hundredth of India (in fact, less than half of New Delhi’s population) had software exports of over $2.5 billion in the same period. It is worth noting that Technion, one of the world’s premier engineering institutions is Hebrew medium. When I visited the Microsoft campus in Haifa, Israel I was surprised to find that they used Hebrew-based keyboards and used Hebrew as the language of communication within the Microsoft office.

As a software manager for Microsoft, I often flew in and interviewed candidates from across the world in an unending quest for talent. Some of the people I sought out were flown in from Russia—and they were certainly not hired for the knowledge of English. In many cases, their knowledge of English was so rudimentary that I arranged for a Russian speaker to interview them. They turned out to be some of the best software engineers I hired.

With India’s fixation on English-based higher education, it is able to leverage the talent of a far smaller percentage of its population. Thus India acts like a country with a talent pool which is less than a tenth of its population. The bright children from the village of Khandodra in Haryana, invariably hit against the glass ceiling of English in their quest for technical and professional education in India. This is not because of some kind of professional inevitability of English use, but a direct result of official state policy.

The Common Admission Tests for entrance to the Indian Institutes of Management is not only in English medium but English language verbal ability and reading comprehension form a significant proportion of the test. English is mandatory to be a lawyer or judge in the state High Courts or the Supreme Court in India. To become a doctor or an engineer, the best state-funded institutions remain exclusively English medium. English remains a mandatory qualifying subject for the Civil Service Examinations that selects India’s bureaucrats.

Thus the English Class System exists not only in the social domain but as state policy. The message is clear and consistent. Indian languages are “lower”, English is “higher”. You can practice in lower courts in Indian languages, but high courts require English. You can become an ordinary soldier or jawan in the army by giving the test in an Indian language. To become an officer, the test is in English.

The colonial mindset and discourse transforms officially sanctioned discrimination and the class hierarchy of language into narratives of the global “inevitability” and the natural superiority of English. To argue otherwise would be to argue for backwardness over progress; for trenchant nationalism (or regionalism) over obvious economic good. Yet this economic good is far from obvious. Imposing a mandatory language shift for higher education for the vast majority of Indians has significant economic costs—it fails to develop the talent of vast numbers of Indians for the new economy and becomes a severe axis of discrimination and continued impoverishment. English, then, can be more accurately identified as the language of India’s backwardness rather than as its progress.

1.4 Conclusion

English adoption has often been decried for its cultural costs in the extermination of native languages. However its use has often been justified on pragmatic economic grounds. Quite apart from the cultural devastation in the wide-spread adoption of a foreign language, the economic basis of the argument for English education needs to be examined with greater skepticism.

The advocacy of English often relies on arguments of the “inevitability” of its adoption for development and progress. Part II of this essay examines the relationship of these arguments of inevitability to the hierarchical English Class System prevalent in Indian society as well as its historical origins.

2. English in India: the colonial mind

“In schools and universities our Kenyan languages – that is the languages of the many nationalities that make up Kenya – we associated with negative qualities of backwardness, under-development, humiliation and punishment. We who went through that school system were meant to graduate with a hatred of the people and the culture and the values of the language of our daily humiliation and punishment”. Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o, Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature.

The Indian intellectual elites and bureaucracy, often schooled in English-medium schools and colleges, are taken by the “obvious inevitability” of English-medium professional and higher education. The facts enumerated in the previous sections are not hard to find. Yet, the very idea that someone would become a competent doctor, engineer or business professional studying in Hindi or Tamil medium just as they can in Japanese, Hebrew or even Turkish seems somewhat inconceivable in contemporary Indian discourse.

This notion of the superiority of English also holds sway in Indian social interactions where the “accent” of spoken English has become a key marker in the social hierarchy. “Convent-school” English accent is the highest in this totem pole, followed by “less-refined” private or government school English, down to those that are uncomfortable in the English idiom—and are easily condemned as uncivilized or illiterate. College graduates without “convent-school” English that I interviewed complained of this bias in the job market; even though they may be quite competent in performing the required job. Not surprisingly then, there is a spiraling demand for English and “convent” education. As we discussed in Part I, at least some of this demand is unnaturally created—with explicit bias in state policy in favor of English language higher education.

To be clear the issue is not about learning English or even speaking it well. The problem arises when medium of education itself is switched from the common mass-languages to English; when spoken English accents become a marker of class hierarchy; and where pervasive bias exists in professional and higher education as well as in the job market against the mass languages. While the Japanese may queue up to learn English as a second or third language for the sake of business or travel or to feed their fascination with America, English speaking does not become a social class marker in interaction within Japanese society; nor do they turn English learning into a whole-scale shift of higher and professional education into English medium.

2.1 The “Masks of Conquest”

Historically, India had very well developed systems of education and written and oral literatures in Indian languages. In pre and early British times, according to data painstakingly collected from colonial sources by Dharampal in his book, “The Beautiful Tree”, primary, secondary and higher education were widely prevalent in India. Based on a detailed examination of early British records available for Madras, for instance, Dharampal(1995: 20) concludes that “School attendance especially in the districts of the Madras Presidency, even in the decayed state of the period 1822-25, was proportionately far higher than the numbers in all varieties of schools in England in 1800. The conditions in which teaching took place in the Indian schools were less dingy and more natural; and, it was observed, the teachers in the Indian schools were generally more dedicated and sober than in the English versions.” Colleges used regional languages as well as Sanskrit and Persian; higher education included studies in subjects such as Medical Sciences, Astronomy and Law.

How then did we come to acquire a picture of our educational backwardness and the backwardness and unsuitability of Indian languages for higher and professional education? Gauri Vishawanathan of Columbia University, in her book “Masks of Conquest”, has done a study of the establishment of English language and literature in India. The establishment of the English-speaking elite in India took a 3-pronged approach:

  1. The destruction and/or denigration of native education
  2. The requirement of English for becoming part of the governing elite
  3. The establishment of English only, i.e. English medium schools, along with the cessation of teaching English as a language in native-language schools.

The languages and literature of a nation is a major carrier of its culture. In turning a nation away from their languages and literature, the colonial encounter bred ignorance and contempt of the native experience, while placing the idea of the “perfect” Englishman, carried through the English literature, on the native pedestal. This created a class of native “brown sahibs” more comfortable with the English idiom and values than with their own and the establishment of a literary and cultural elite that identified with the English and looked down upon the non-English speaking “natives” as Englishmen would.

“Charles Trevelyan, brother-in-law of Macaulay and one-time president of the General Council of Public Instruction, proudly exclaimed that the educated Indians “speak purer English than we speak ourselves, for they take it from the purest models, they speak the language of the Spectator, such English as is never spoken in England.” If Calcutta citizens spoke the language of the Spectator, it was by no means accidental, for editors of Calcutta journals and newspapers deliberately wrote in an Addisonian style under names like “Candidus,” “Verax’ “Oneiropolos,” and “Flaccus’ and on subjects having not the remotest bearing on Indian life, such as the fashions of the day in England, and on imagination, etiquette and morality.”(Viswanathan, 1998:115)

The same slavishness, in different form and degrees is to be observed amongst the “convent-educated” classes and English-language writers in India today. When many English-language writers present the Indian experience, it is often presented like exotic anthropology, looking down from above on native customs, completing the slavery of the mind.

The aim of English education was manifold – one was to secure a “buffer zone” of trained bureaucrats who could be controlled and who would rule over the masses, and further more to use education as a means of establishing intellectual hegemony over this class by a mix of denigrating and exoticizing the native culture – more importantly, to have this elite class identify with the values of the conquerors rather than the conquered.

The extent to which this mission succeeded in the formation of the present-day elite makes for a fascinating study. Some “Orientalists” protested against the extinction of native state literatures, and the explicit creation of a language-based caste-hierarchy, based on state policy:

“By annihilating native literature, by sweeping away from all sources of pride and pleasure in their own mental efforts, by rendering a whole people dependent upon a remote and unknown country for all their ideas and for the very words in which to clothe them, we should degrade their character, depress their energies and render them incapable of aspiring to any intellectual distinction.” 5

Nonetheless, the Orientalists, despite their professed study of Indian literature were equally complicit in establishing British hegemony. According to Vishwanathan(1998:167), “… a curriculum may incorporate systems of learning of a sub-ordinate population and still be an instrument of hegemonic activity… both the Anglicist and the Orientalist factions were equally complicit in the project of domination, British Indian education having been conceived in India as part and parcel of the act of securing and consolidating power.”

Note that British administrators forbade the teaching of English as a language outside of English-medium schools. By the 1835 English Education act, the teaching of English was taken out of native language schools – because learning English as a language, while retaining the native medium of education would allows the natives to understand the British on their own (native) terms. This is because a native brought up thinking in their own language and merely learning English as a foreign language, would be able to objectively study the British, outside of the colonial framework presented to them as objective and neutral. Thus the change of medium, and the establishment in the native mind of an English based class structure,
was a necessary part of the colonizing mission.

2.2 The role of the contemporary Indian University System

The establishment by the British of colleges and universities, organized on the lines of the London University, for training an intellectual class in the colonizer’s worldview was very much part of the colonizing mission. Macaulay’s successor, Charles Cameron who campaigned vigorously for a centralized university system, “went so far as to call for the total exclusion of the classical languages of India—Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian—on the grounds that they were inextricably bound with system of ‘pagan theology’.”(Viswanathan, 1998:113)

Even when studies of classical Indian languages and texts were carried out under “Oriental studies” this was part of maintaining a hegemony of power and control. While the Orientalist Horace Wilson argued for the preservation of native languages, he recommended co-opting the maulvis and the pundits as teachers and translators of Western tests. Viswanathan(1998:113) suggests, “Wilson refined the ‘Trojan horse’ strategy of destruction from within, to urge that the traditional men of learning of India also be co-opted as ‘additional instruments in our power’.” Even while accepting Wilson’s arguments up to a point, “under no circumstances was the Bentinck administration or any other administration following his willingness to support Oriental learning if it meant the perpetuation of Oriental languages and literature as the source of intellectual values, morals and religion.”

Along with the destruction of native literatures, “an increasing number of British administrators … discovered a wholly unexpected ally in English literature to maintain control of their subjects under the guise of a liberal education.” (Viswanathan, 1998: 85)

The success of the systematic efforts of the British administrators in creating an elite English class in these universities who trace their intellectual roots solely in the Western civilization can easily be observed today. Having internalized the negative stereotypes about their own roots, their only psychological defense remains to distance themselves from these roots as much as possible by attacking them as their conquerors taught. When the colonized identify with the mental worldview of the colonizer, the slavery of their mind is complete. This attitude of the mind, above everything else, is what we speak of in talking about the “colonized.” This experience is not limited to India, of course—so let us take a trip to Africa for additional perspective.

2.3 Ngũgĩ waThiong’o: Decolonizing the Mind

World history that is taught in Indian schools usually limits itself to European or American histories. To shed light on the contemporary Indian experience, it may be far more useful for us to study the histories of Africa and South America and their experiences with colonization, than to study the history of Europe. African intellectual Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o decided to break out of the colonial mold in Kenya.

Thiong’o is a popular Kenyan writer, who started off writing in English, but realized the impact of what he called the “culture bomb” and decided to switch to writing exclusively in his native language Gikuyu. “Decolonizing the Mind” is one of the last books he wrote in English, in which he describes the “culture bomb”:

“The biggest weapon wielded and actually daily unleashed … is the culture bomb. The effect of a cultural bomb is to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland. It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves; for instance, with other people’s languages than their own.”(Thiongo, 1986)

Thiong’o (1986:7) describes the “acceptance of ‘the fatalistic logic of the unassailable position of English in our literature'” – a logic that immures an entire class of people from reading nothing other than the colonial literature, and writing in none other than the colonial language. Even when the “native’ culture is included, it is done with the aim of presenting to the conquerors for approval or for shock as exotic museum pieces, in much of the genre that goes by Indian writing in English. Thus native culture is used for the pleasure of the colonial master, either as a symbol of contempt or as an exotic amusement that will not deeply challenge the master’s worldview. As Thiong’o emphasizes, writing in English enriches the language and literature of the English world, not of the native languages. This literature thus continues to steal from the native culture to enrich the masters’, symptomatic of what Thiongo’ calls “demands that the dependent sing hymns of praise with the constant refrain: ‘Theft is holy’.”

Thiong’o (1986: 28) describes his schooling in English-medium schools and universities in Kenya, where the mother tongues of the children were literally beaten out of them – children would be punished for speaking anything other than Englis:.

“In schools and universities or Kenyan languages – that is the languages of the many nationalities that make up Kenya – we associated with negative qualities of backwardness, under-development, humiliation and punishment. We who went through that school system were meant to graduate with a hatred of the people and the culture and the values of the language of our daily humiliation and punishment.”

Thiong’o speaks of the relationship between culture and language. Language serves two roles—as a means of communication and as a carrier of culture. While English can serve as a means of communication, it is not the primary carrier of native culture. This is something that was keenly realized by the British administrators in India as well when they noted, for instance, that English education was “replete with Christian references” just as the vocabulary of Indian languages was imbued with their basis in Indian philosophical and religious thought. Edward Thornton, British parliamentarian went as far as to say – “As soon as [the Indians] become first-rate European scholars, they must cease to be Hindoos.”6 While Indian culture is still struggling with this bold assertion, the efficacy of this cultural denigration and destruction is evident in academic, journalistic and fictional India writing in English.

No surprise, since, as Thiong’o (pg 15) continues, language is an image-forming agent in the mind of the child. “Language as culture is thus mediating between me and my own self; between my own self and other selves; between me and my nature.” While language is universal, the particularity of a language and the sounds and symbols it chooses, reflects the particularity of a cultural experience. “Thus a specific culture is not transmitted through language in its universality but in its particularity as the language of a specific community with a specific history.”

A colonial child is forced to live the dichotomy between their outer and inner worlds – the language spoken at school and at home, the language of spoken expression and the language of external writing, till the child slowly and surely starts to think and perceive his world through the eyes of the colonizer. As Thiong’o (pg 17) states “For a colonial child, the harmony existing between the three aspects of language as communication was irrevocably broken. This resulted in the disassociation of the sensibility of that child from his natural and social environment, what we might call colonial alienation. The alienation became reinforced in the teaching of history, geography, music, where … Europe was always at the center of the universe.”

Thiong’o (pg 28) suggests that the ultimate impact of using a foreign medium as the primary medium for study is a deep colonial alienation on a personal and societal level.

“Colonial alienation takes two interlinked forms; an active (or passive) distancing of oneself from the reality around; and an active (or passive) identification with that which is most external to one’s environment. It starts with a deliberate disassociation of the language of conceptualization, of thinking, of formal education, of mental development, form the language of daily interaction in the home and in the community. It is like separating the mind from the body so that they are occupying two unrelated linguistic spheres in the same person. On a larger social scale it is like producing a society of bodiless heads and headless bodies.”

It is perhaps due to this dissociation that multitudes of bureaucrats and academics can write volumes about “social problems” in India; but those social problems remain forever incorrigible. In practice the academics are completely dissociated from the society in their study. When they do study the society, they do this under colonial categories from a colonial viewpoint, disconnected from an authentic personal experience. These studies are often used to craft government policies, administered by bureaucrats in a colonial setup, and by misguided activists and NGO’s, leading to persistent despair about the “problems of Indian society and its backwardness”, where the problems may well lie in the gaze—the way the society is viewed and problematized and the particular mindset that crafts the solutions to these problems.

Thiong’o (pg 28) succinctly captures the current attitudes of the colonized elite class with regards to colonial institutions and languages, summarizing that “it is the final triumph of a system of domination when the dominated start singing its virtues.” This indeed is the case in India, where everything of value is automatically attributed to the “civilizing force” of the European conquerors, just as economic success is to English; while all the problems are decried and caricaturized as resulting from the indigenous culture—forever the source of shameful backwardness.

India still lacks a Thiong’o—a popular writer in English who switched to doing his entire writing in his native tongue. At a recent event in Seattle for the release of his new book “Wizard of the Crow”, Thiong’o mentioned that the best three words in his book was the inscription in the beginning “translated from Gikuyu.”

2.4 De-colonizing the Indian mind

Even though this essay is about the impact of English education, we do not intend to imply that English-language elite education is the sole reason for the class divide or the only source of the class divide. Nor will we automatically connect with our cultural roots simply by switching the language and translating the educational material currently written in English into Indian languages.

There is a critical distinction between the learning of English as a language for external communication to using English as a primary language in elite schools and higher education. While learning English as a language subject can today be an empowering tool and needs to be encouraged, when it is turned into the primary medium of elite education its destructive effects in the creation of a disconnected elite class far outweigh any putative benefits.

This state of affairs has been brought about as a result of conscious state policy, and thus conscious state policy is required to remedy this. Colonization is perpetuated through the state-supported institutions that are the legacy of British rule and it is these institutions that will need to be changed to remedy its effects. While it is not in the scope of his essay to examine a comprehensive new language policy, we explore here some ideas for discussion.

Recent models of switching state institutions and the medium of education out of English, such as the example of Malaysia can be a useful study. Changes must begin as a “pull”—where access is increased for Indian languages, rather than as a “push” where people are forced to learn Indian languages while access, into higher and professional education and jobs, continues to be denied to them.

In the pull model a comprehensive study can be done of examinations, such as that for selections of officers into the Indian armed forces and IIM entrance examinations that perpetuate the English bias. Similarly, Malaysia implemented a wholesale change of its court system away from English. In India the High Courts remain English-based, rendering those with fluency in Indian languages unable to practice in them. The compulsory qualifying English paper in the Civil Services examination can be dropped—to the extent English proficiency is a job requirement it can be part of the post-qualification training for civil servants (similarly for army officers).

Management, engineering, medical and other professional education needs to be made available at the highest level in Indian languages. The barrier to entry to professional and higher education is a major reason why demand for English education at the primary and secondary level is growing. Unless the problem in higher education is fixed—again a situation largely perpetuated by the state—forcing Indian languages at the primary level is going to do little good.

A further step would a requirement for converting all English-medium schools into, at the very least, dual-medium schools, through changes at the central board level in CBSE and ICSE. In particular, there is very little reason that social sciences need to be studied in English. This will allow writing proficiency to develop in Indian languages that will increase demand for written materials in native languages.

Many of these steps may be seen as “going backwards” by the elite Indians. As this essay has argued, this backwardness is in the mind. The issue, instead, is of going forward by creating broad-based access to the modern economy from all sections of society and through all languages and unleashing the creative potential of many rather than the few. While incessant attention has been paid to the issue of caste-based access in India; relatively little has been paid to linguistic access that may, in fact, be the bigger determiner of social and economic class in India today and a bigger barrier to broad-based societal access and prosperity. The obsession with caste as the problem to access is itself a result of the colonial gaze—the same gaze that fails to study the problems of the English-based class system and of linguistic barriers and prejudice. Participating in the modern global economy does not require English-medium education. Rather the requirements of English-medium, imposed by state policies and private prejudices, create a barrier to participation in this economy for the vast majority of Indians.

The study of humanities and social sciences in Indian languages, particularly in higher education, also needs to be systematically privileged. The departments of humanities and social sciences in colleges and universities in India are the refuse of colonial policies, and have had little, if any, measurable positive contribution to Indian society, other than in producing new generations of disconnected neo-colonized who exhibit contempt and disdain for indigenous culture and traditions. As a result there is very little net value being created in these studies in Indian universities. The state should examine current funding to these institutions and knock down a few ivory towers. In particular, Indian language and Indian classics study requirements need to be made part of any advanced degrees in social sciences. State funding for higher education in social sciences needs to be examined for its efficacy and positive impact on real-world social issues. At the same time, scholarships should be made available to those who choose to pursue these studies, and write their dissertation in Indian languages and that draw from Indic roots.

Distinguishing a language learnt as a communication tool from a foreign language that usurps the role of a primary medium, a suitable language policy should support the teaching of English as a 2nd language while eroding its influence as a primary language.. In particular, jobs for teaching English as a 2nd and 3rd language should be created in rural communities. This would provide employment to the multitudes of English-language teachers, while serving to break down the debilitating institutional elite class-structure that has been created by privileging the knowledge of English in India.


  1. Raw language, GNP and population data from Microsoft Encarta®, 2002.
  2. Raw language, GNP and population data from Microsoft Encarta®, 2002.
  5. From Horace Wilson, “Education of the natives of India,” Asiatic Journal (1836). Quoted from Viswanathan (1998:41).
  6. Edward Thornton, Parliamentary papers, 1852-53. Quoted from Viswanathan (1998:23)


Dharampal. 1995. The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century, Other India Press

Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. 1986. Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature.

Viswanathan, Gauri. 1998. Masks of Conquest, Oxford University Press

A Spiritual Entrepreneur

By Sankrant Sanu.

Art of Living is a spiritual foundation. Started from scratch by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar about 25 years ago, it now has a presence in over 140 countries, with over 20 million people worldwide having taken its programs. Even by the measure of entrepreneurial success alone, that is an amazing story. 

Sankrant Sanu (SS): Art of Living is an example of a very successful entrepreneurial organization. How was this success achieved?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (SSRS): The success of any institution is in the efficacy of the product. When the product is very useful to people, it brings benefit; success, then, is natural. That is one aspect. The second aspect is that of philosophy. There are many people who “talk the philosophy”, but don’t “walk the philosophy” That has very little impact on people. But when you walk the talk, that makes a lasting impact—and it helps people walk the talk, too.

SS: Is there an aspect of marketing in the way you are spreading ideas?

SSRS: Actually, we are very low in marketing. We don’t need it, and are not interested in it.

SS: This is because the product [speaks for] itself …

SSRS: Yes. Moreover, we can’t cater to the demand as of now. We are unable to find quality teachers; we need to train more and more teachers. And we are already busy doing that.

SS: There has been some criticism about Art of Living charging for its programs, because it’s a not-for-profit organization.

SSRS: People expect charitable organizations to do charity work. And they want the charity work done by taking charity…

SS: By asking for charity…

SSRS: By asking for charity, which we don’t do. Art of Living charges a small amount for its programs, and whatever money comes from that, it spends on charity. Charity cannot happen from an empty bowl—it needs funds. There is no point in taking charity to do charity. We believe in working, earning, and doing charity from that.

SS: There is a notion that Indian traditions are world-denying and earning wealth is bad. Is that a misplaced notion, or is it true?

SSRS: Not at all. Lakshmi, wealth, is regarded here as a devi, as part of divinity. So here, wealth is always worshipped, honoured. We have never said that wealth is bad. We need to create wealth. This notion is the result of an impact from the outside; it is not in the Indian ethos. When you give blessings, you say, dhandhandya smridhirastu (which means, “Let there be an abundance of everything.”). Our country’s wealth has been plundered so many times in its history; in spite of this, it is really marching ahead. If Hinduism believed in poverty, it would never have had so many riches.

“There is no point
in taking charity
To do charity.
We believe in
Working, earning,
and doing charity
from That.”

SS: So the businessmen engaged in wealth creation should, in fact, feel good about their part in society?

SSRS: Definitely. That is their dharma. If you are in business, you have to create wealth not just for yourself, but for the whole society.

SS: Is there any message you would like to give entrepreneurs as they are creating this wealth?

SSRS: Entrepreneurs should also support the buying power of people.

SS: What does that mean?

SSRS: The buying power of people has to do with corporate social responsibility, or CSR. This has been a part of our ethos for thousands of years, but these words have been coined only now. Almost every business house you see has always been engaged in charitable work—they have built schools, tanks, dharamshalas, temples.

SS: So are you saying that, traditionally, CSR has always been there?

SSRS: Yes. Traditionally, it was always there. Hospitals, schools, tanks and dharamshalas have always been built by these institutions. I would like them to continue doing that, and keep 10 percent of their earnings for education, health and social welfare.

SS: How can the Art of Living programs help entrepreneurs?

SSRS: To be an entrepreneur, you need to have creativity and intuitive power. Art of Living can provide both—creativity and intuition. Meditation and pranayama bring out these two [qualities] from within.

SS: There is a shift seen in young people today, from being job-seekers to wanting to do something on their own.

SSRS: This is what we need to provoke in them, to create in them. Usually, people want to be in the comfort zone, so they seek out a job. Once they get comfortable in a secure job, their creativity dies. Then, there is no enthusiasm left in them. That is how people get into depression. Here, [at Art of Living], we encourage people to stretch out of this comfort zone and see the Spirituality gives you the strength to stretch out of your comfort zone and be an entrepreneur.

© 2010 Sankrant Sanu, all rights reserved.

Opportunities Beyond English

To liberate Indians from self-imposed colonial shackles.

A few weeks ago I was giving a talk at a college in Gurgaon in Haryana, India, when a young student raised her hand. Urvashi was visibly nervous; I could see that it took a lot of courage for her to speak up in Hindi. “Where can I take computer classes in Hindi-medium?” she asked. I had no proper answer, but I had come across similar questions in rural settings, though not in the heart of the neo-urban metropolis of Gurgaon. On the one hand, we credit India’s success in software to our knowledge of English, on the other we fret about India’s relatively low level of Internet penetration relative to China. Looking beyond English in India provides opportunities to social and business entrepreneurs alike. But first we must take off our English tinted glasses.

A recent Supreme Court judgment on the Right to Education Act suggested that we are falling behind China since “children in China are learning English”. This is a fallacy—the Chinese may be learning English but they are not switching their medium to English—all higher education takes place in Chinese. The obsession with English-medium education, particularly for technical and higher studies, is keeping millions of Indian children behind. The top business and professional schools in India remain English-based—their entrance exams are not only in English but specifically test English-language skills. A child in China, or for that matter, Japan or South Korea, does not have to deal with debilitating switch in medium to go to engineering, medical or business school. Yet, this has not prevented these countries from creating some of the largest multinationals in the world—all on the basis of higher education in local languages of higher education in local languages. As demand for education in the rural and semi- urban markets picks up, it is worth remembering that only four of the richest 20 economies in the world, by highest per-capita income, are English-based. Universal education, not English-medium, is what gives China the advantage over India. Over 300 million people use the Internet in China—in Mandarin.

It is also a fallacy that our software success is built on knowledge of English. Israel’s population is half of Delhi’s, yet its software exports rival our own. It is true that many people in Israel do know English, though not many know it well. When I was a manager for Microsoft visiting my team in Haifa, I was surprised to find that the medium of communication—written and oral—within the Microsoft Israel office was Hebrew. In this office of a major multinational, internal communications were all in Hebrew, as is Technion, Israel’s top engineering college. A culture that values knowledge—similar to that in India—not the medium of education, has driven Israel to create some of the most innovative software companies in the world.

“it is worth remembering that only
four of the richest 20 economies
in the world, by highest per capita
income, are english-based.”

However, every mismatched supply-demand situation creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs. Here are some obvious ones. The first is there is a market for technical education in Indian languages that is under-served. Some weeks ago someone from Tamil Nadu sent me a proposal for creating technical education institutes. “Make sure you offer Tamil-medium,” I suggested. While initially these classes may need to have lower fees, over time there is a much larger base of students to tap. It is up to us to respond to that opportunity once we start looking beyond English.

The second opportunity is in hiring. When I was working at Microsoft, Redmond, we flew software engineers from as far away as Russia for interviews. Some of these people did not speak a word of English—I interviewed them through interpreters and they were some of the best hires I made.

Yet, in India, we may overlook talent if we insist on conducting interviews for technical candidates only in English, rather than the language they would be most comfortable speaking. The goal—to evaluate them based on their technical proficiency, rather than their knowledge of English.

The third opportunity is to spread back office operations from the large cities to smaller towns and semi-rural settings, affording lower cost and access to a broader talent base. Again, flexibility and openness about language use will allow this opportunity to be tapped. If specific language skills are required, these can be imparted as part of on-the-job. Why restrict ourselves to the English opportunity alone? BPO and call centres from France to Japan beckon. The opportunity to get a complete education in our mother tongues, combined with the ability to learn any language as a skill as needed, will bring greater, more-broad based economic opportunities and liberate us from self-imposed colonial shackles of English. This will help to propel us towards a developed economy—and lift all entrepreneur boats—in which every Urvashi can participate.

© Sankrant Sanu., all rights reserved.

Passion and Entrepreneurship

What it takes to follow your dreams

Many years ago, I attended a seminar in Seattle called Source. It was taught by Mike McManus, a colourful personality. He had been a bartender, a jazz pianist, a school teacher, a men’s suit sales- man, a corporate executive, a Washington state senator, and was now a seminar teacher. In Source, Mike taught people how to find and follow their passion. His dictum was that most career analyses are done on the basis of skills, rather than interests. It would be far more satisfying—and successful—to do what you love. The skills and rewards will follow.

Mike’s advice is equally useful for entrepreneurs, as the following stories will underline.

On a recent flight to India, I met a Dutch architect called Rein Jansma. He owns an architecture firm in the Netherlands and has been chartered to design a township near Pune. Jansma loves puzzles and the visual and 3-D medium. When he was 15, Prof. Moshe Zwarts, a renowned professor of architecture, visited his home. The two got into an argument about the number of possible variations a 3-D puzzle can have. Prof. Zwarts insisted that there were six variations; Jansma saw one more. Eventually Jansma ended up building a model to prove his answer. And there began a friendship that would last for many decades.

Jansma went on to join an architecture college, but became dissatisfied with its conventional pedagogy and dropped out after six months. However, he continued to experiment with different kinds of 3-D designs. When he was barely 30, he was invited by Zwarts to be an equal partner at a new architecture firm he was starting up. Their firm, Zwarts and Jansma Architects, has designed grand sports stadia, office buildings and major townships across the globe; it has an annual turnover of nearly Rs. 30 crore.

My friend Steffan Soule is another source of inspiration. Steffan is Seattle’s fore- most magician, performing for companies such as Boeing and Microsoft. He was also the creative director of Seattle’s longest running magic show at Illusions. Steffan has never done any other job in his life. He started performing magic when he was five, did his first paid performance at 14, and has never looked back since. He didn’t go to college, yet he makes more money in a year than most college graduates. But that is not the point. He loves seeing the wonder and excitement in his audience when he performs. He loves the idea of connecting people with a sense of mystery. It’s not all easy, though—performing magic to perfection takes hard work. He practices for hours a day so that the moves on stage would be smooth. But he would be doing the same thing even if no one paid him to do it—much like Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft and, incidentally, went to the same school in Seattle as Steffan did.

But this column is not about dropping out of college. It is about following your dream. A college student wrote to me recently about an entrepreneurial idea; I advised him to build on it while pursuing his college education, rather than drop- ping it. Develop the passion while you have a job or while at school. If you were ready to drop out, you wouldn’t need to ask. At some time, you will need to make the decision to go full-time. There is no simple answer for when to do that—except when you have mustered up enough self-belief and faith in the idea to take the leap.

Mike, in his Source seminar, also used to talk about the idea of ‘simultaneous activation’. We are often in the habit of postponing dreams: I will do it after I retire or after I have this much money, or after the children grow up, etc. Mike spoke about acting on all areas of one’s life simultaneously. It is a misplaced notion that we lack time. Instead, we lack energy, because we are not doing the things that give us back energy. We get stuck in unrewarding jobs and drop our childhood dreams—to be a singer, a drummer, a writer, even a good friend—and forget to nurture ourselves. I learnt from Mike that I could be an entrepreneur and, at the same time, take voice lessons in Hindustani classical music, practice my Aikido, do my Kriya Yoga every day, write a regular column, and take my children to watch live theatre. These activities increase rather than take away time, as they bring back manifold energy. In simultaneous activation, dreams are lived today.

You may end up making a lot of money as an entrepreneur. But if you count your rewards only by the amount of money you make, you will be poorer for it. Entrepreneurship is a journey of self-discovering, of learning, of stretching one’s limits. When you do it because it is what you want to do, and you follow your passion, the work becomes its own reward. Everything else is a bonus. And don’t forget to take that guitar for lunchtime at the office. As Mike would say, if you are passionate about it, you will learn to get good.

Originally published in Entrepreneur Magazine

© Sankrant Sanu 2009-2010, All rights reserved.

The State, Entrepreneurship and Culture

Culture and success of a venture—or indeed, of a country—are inevitably connected. India’s dysfunctional systems that hamper rather than enable growth are so often pinned down to cultural problems. Is this accurate, and is there a way out?

An article in a business daily some months ago claimed that Indians don’t give back to society because of the influence of Hinduism on Indian culture. A couple of months later, the author of that article wrote that the British left India too early (“because we could have learnt how to run cities”), so we could discount this worldview as coming from a traditional lackey for colonial rule. However, the role of culture in economics, entrepreneurship and management remains a worthwhile topic of study. Getting it right could make a huge difference in the success of your business.

Let’s examine the facts. As we look at the chaos in our cities, the venality of our public officials, the problems with getting things done with the government—and we see and hear of a relatively smooth-functioning system in the West—it is easy to ascribe this to an inherent cultural shortcoming in India. However, this analysis is superficial at best. Nothing succeeds like success. A couple of decades of high growth in India will have the same writers scrambling to analyze the “Indian model” of economic success.

After all, there was a reason why the Europeans were so keen to find a direct sea route to India. They coveted Indian goods; India was the land of riches. Europeans had little to offer in return, and the markups by the Arab traders on the land route were devastat- ing their economy. As late as 1700, India and China accounted for nearly 70 percent of the world’s GDP. Our towns and villages functioned well and were clean, while Europe was a cess- pool of dirt, disease and plague. Two hundred years of European colonial rule and, by the 1900s, our share of the world GDP had dipped to less than 1 percent. Our education system, our waterworks, our civil structures were in shambles. Worst of all, we had been taught to consider our culture, rather than colonialism, as the culprit.

Why, then, do our cities not function and our government system appears, most of the times, to be working against us? The answer is not so hard to find. The entire structure of the government—from the Civil Service to the District “Collector” to the centralized nature of our governance—is a creation of the colonial era. Post independence, we replaced the viceroy with the office of the Prime Minister, but there was no fundamental change in governance. The colonial state, of course, was never designed for service. It had a singular purpose—extortion—to extract tax revenue from the people while keeping them under control with the power of force. Little wonder, then, that the enterprising natives keep trying to find ways around a system that they don’t perceive as their own.

We can see these in the simplest of examples. While our government-managed cities are dysfunctional, our gated developments managed by co-operative societies of residents work reasonably well. While Indians are stymied at every turn by the government apparatus, Indians with the same cultural traits form the most successful expatriate communities in a relatively well-functioning system like the U.S. A few years ago, getting a telephone line from the government-run exchange was a nightmare; now, you can walk into a store and get a mobile phone number from umpteen private operators. Our culture did not change in this short time to start delivering phones—instead, the overbearing state, faced with an economic crisis of its own making, simply loosened some control.

A cultural trait comes into play here: our enterprising spirit that chafes under too much centralized control. In India, the power of the kings over the people in earlier times was very limited and taxation rates were relatively low. Local governance at the level of villages and jati groups wielded a lot of power; some of this power was pledged to a king. In our religious systems, too, we did not have an overbearing centralized church that told us how we must think; rather, we had the spiritual entrepreneurs, the gurus whose success lay in liberating the disciples who came to them, so that the disciples would be eventually independent— entrepreneurs in their own right.

The large centralized corporation, like the large centralized government, is not well-suited to Indian cultural conditions. The best models of the corporation would allow for enterprising individuals to share directly in business profits at every level. If people are able to use their jugaad to manage their mini-businesses within the corporate umbrella, “corruption” in a corporate context simply becomes performance-based rewards. Our social entrepreneurship, too, happens within family networks. For individual corporations, it is much harder to change culture than to adapt to it.

It is our state that has been a liability; it needs reform. Our culture is our strength. Management and entrepreneurship that operate in sync with culture have a better chance at success.

Originally published in Entrepreneur Magazine

© Sankrant Sanu 2009-2010. All rights reserved.

The Way of the Entrepreneur

Naveen Jain, CEO of Intelius, shares his unique, minimalist and highly
effective approach to entrepreneurship.

I was on my way to Naveen Jain’s office when I realized that I only had a vague idea of where his office was. Usually, when meeting with ‘big’ executives, a secretary or assistant would schedule the time and send me detailed directions; but Naveen and I had exchanged e-mails directly to coordinate the interview.

Naveen Jain is the CEO of Intelius, the new 800-pound gorilla in the U.S. identity and background check space. I tried to find a corporate number for Intelius, but the toll-free number led to a sales line with a 20-min- ute wait for an operator.

Desperate, I sent him an e-mail via my iPhone from the car, asking for exact directions. The reply was prompt and personal. As I would later find, he gets along well without any secretaries or receptionists.

Naveen has always been controversial and feisty, never one to hold back an opinion. In 1996, he had left Microsoft, where we briefly crossed paths, to start Infospace. By 2000, his 4-year old company sported a peak valuation of nearly $30 billion. Then, in 2002, he left Infospace to start Intelius in a space already crowded with thousands of small companies. By 2008, Intelius had over a $100-million revenue-run rate with a nearly 25 percent profit margin. It was named one of the fastest growing companies in America. How does he do it? My goal was to pick Naveen’s brain about entrepreneurship.

True to form, when I reached the Intelius office, there was no receptionist. Someone noticed me from a conference room behind the reception desk and called Naveen. It was a lesson on frugality. Later, Naveen would tell me, “Spend every [company] dollar as if it is your own.” We tend to let the idea of being aCEO or an ‘executive’ get to our heads. Having a personal secretary can become an ego massager, rather than a business need.

Even before I started the interview, then, I had learnt something about Naveen’s approach to successful entrepreneurship: pure business, pure bottom lines and no frills.

SS: What makes a successful entrepreneur?

NJ: The foundation of a successful entrepreneur is based on three things: integrity, education and humility. When you have humility, it is amazing how many people want to help you when they feel that desire, that openness, in you. The moment you say, “I know what I want, I know what I need. I am here for a specific purpose,” people say, “Get out of here.” So, humility is certainly part of the foundation. Once you have the foundation, you need certain other things to build the building:

1. Focus. Most startups die from indigestion, rather than starvation. Do a few things and focus on them.

2. Execution. Don’t get discouraged that 10 companies are already doing it. When we started Intelius, there were 10,000 companies doing public records. What I need to do is out- execute everyone; I don’t need to be the first to market. If I am the first to market, I wouldn’t know whether the market exists or not.

Let’s say you build a mousetrap and you start marketing them in Seattle, where there are 10 people selling mousetraps. Then you go to Portland and there is no one selling mouse-traps there. You are happy, because you are first to market [in Portland]. But the reason no one is selling mousetraps in Portland is because there are no mice there!

As an entrepreneur, it is very expensive to create a market, to change the behavior of people in a particular region. Your job, as an entrepreneur, should be to figure out what the pain points are and what your solutions to them are, rather than saying, “Here is my great technology. What can I do with it?” Find a problem that already exists.

3. Enjoy what you are doing. I have execution, and I have the focus. The next thing is to really enjoy what you are doing. You must have a passion to win. The idea itself may change, but the passion to win allows you to be both flexible and persistent.


SS: Is there a secret code to figuring out when to be flexible and when to be persistent?

NJ: Yes, there is a secret code:

Listen to your gut; be honest with yourself. You can fool everybody—your investor, your employees, your partner— but in your gut, you will know when it isn’t In a relationship, your heart tells you when it isn’t working.

But your brain tells you: she’s from the same caste, we have the same family friends, she is rich—everything is right. It should work, but it isn’t. Your brain has a tremendous veto power over your heart. That’s how it is in entrepreneurship, too. So, trust your gut.

SS: What’s the secret to execution?

NJ: The secret is to constantly learn and analyze the information you are getting. In the beginning, you have a certain set of information—the hypothesis or data. As you start to move down the path, you are constantly collecting new sets of information, constantly testing your hypothesis.

People are so focused on writing their business plans. To me, that is a fundamental problem, when you start telling everyone that this is your path without even knowing what lies ahead.

SS: You have to adapt, don’t you?

NJ: Constantly. You have to have a great vision—like you want to transform the real estate market. But when it comes to execution, you need a very narrow vision. Have a plan for the next six to twelve months, and don’t think about anything else. Execution becomes good when you slice a great vision into very narrow things; then start executing these small slices. If you start executing on your vision directly, you will never make it.

SS: this is true for life too, isn’t it?

NJ: Absolutely. Whatever you are doing in entrepreneurship really applies to your per- sonal life as well. But as an entrepreneur, your brain is designed to see opportunities where others don’t. That is a problem, because you are always seeing opportunity wherever you go. It causes you to lose focus. If you see an opportunity, you need to shoot down something that you are doing before you move on and execute the next one. That, by the way, we follow that to the word. There are times when people come to me and say, “We see a big market here.” I say, “Look, we have products that are mature, products that are growing, and products that are being nurtured. If you want me to nurture something new, we need to shoot down something that we have been nurturing. And we do shoot it down.

SS: that’s where the issue of flexibility vs. persistence comes in.

NJ: Exactly. When you listen to your heart and it says you have tried everything and it still isn’t working, it’s totally cool to move on. Another thing that’s really important is to find people you trust. You spend so much time with these people that you have to enjoy your time with them and trust them. If you are constantly watching your back, you cannot be moving forward.

Trust goes beyond saying that I trust them to not steal my or the company’s money. Trust has to do with trusting them to do their job, without having to monitor them. For example, it took me a long while to realize that I don’t need to be in any meetings. If our management team needs me, they will ask me to join them.

Right now, there is a meeting going on where they are looking to acquire a company. The CEO of the [other] company is here. I didn’t even talk to them; I know that they will ask me for my help if they need it. The fact don’t ask me does not hurt my feelings. I trust that they will make the right decisions—and if they make the wrong decisions, it would be no different than me making the wrong decisions.

Another thing that I tell my managers is that they and their direct reports should never be in the same meeting. If you need to be there, let your direct report leave. If he is in the meeting, trust him to deliver; stay out of the meeting unless he asks for your help. That’s what I mean by trust: trust them to do their job, to ask for your help when they need it, to make decisions on their own.

SS: are there any institutional practices that should be ingrained in people who are starting and building new ventures.

NJ: I believe in following these five practices:

1. Think that every company penny you spend is your own money.

2. You will need more people in business and marketing than you will in technology. Many people start off with six people in technology and think that the CEO will take care of the whole business aspect. But I have seen many people fail because of that. Building a product is only 10 percent of the problem; 10 percent is luck and 80 percent is just marketing the

3. Know your weakness and find people whose skills will complement yours.

4. Manage the growth. There’s always the temptation to tell the world that you now have 50 employees. Never have that ambition. When I have seven people, I am happy with seven people—I don’t need an eighth person. When I need the eighth person, I will bring him in.

5. Keep the management structure as flat as possible. Don’t create hierarchy and titles. As far as possible, let the structure come into place when people demand it. VCs often make you create the structure—they ask who your VP of Engineering is or who your CEO is. If you are the CEO as well the CTO, so be it.

Originally published in Entrepreneur Magazine

© Sankrant Sanu 2009-2010. All rights reserved.


On Leadership and Government

Recently, I was privileged to hear Dr. Abdul Kalam speak at The Indus Entrepreneurs (TIE) event in Seattle on the topic “Entrepreneurs in a nation’s development: Vision 2020.” In the context of Vision 2020, his vision of a developed India, Dr. Kalam spoke on leadership and his ideas on how to counteract corruption in India. His thoughts on leadership are useful for entrepreneurs, who must also be good leaders—both by choice and necessity. His ideas on fixing the problem of corruption, however, I would respectfully dispute.

A leader, according to Dr. Kalam, must first have a vision. Dr. Kalam himself is an entrepreneur and a leader by this measure with his Vision 2020 document, a roadmap to a developed India by the year 2020. A central aspect of Vision 2020 is the concept of PURA (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas). The idea is to harness the entrepreneurship potential in rural areas by providing knowledge, electronic and infrastructural connectivity through centralized hubs. With some of these, PURA is starting to become operational, it is an important development for entrepreneurs to take note of. It provides new market opportunities for expansion into rural areas.

The second quality of a leader is the passion to translate ideas into action. Dr. Kalam himself travels around the globe and speaks tirelessly of Vision 2020, helping to galvanize people into action. I found it interesting how he appealed to higher ideals and didn’t shy away from getting the audience of hard-boiled business professional to repeat pledges and statements after him. It may have sounded odd, but his passionate enthusiasm was hard to refuse. Here, he was demonstrating a third quality—of forging a new path and dispensing with the clichéd speech- making we are accustomed to. Sometimes, faced with a new audience, we may feel sheepish about trying an out-of-the-box approach of presenting something. If Dr. Kalam can make a roomful of business leaders repeat pledges after him like children learning by rote in a rickety village school, we can certainly muster the courage to go out on a limb in our presentations to advance our ideas.

Of all the stories Dr. Kalam related at the event, one struck me as the most inspiring. Dr. Kalam highlighted an important quality of leadership by giving the example of his ex-boss, Dr. Satish Dhawan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Back then, Dr. Kalam was the project director for SLV-3, India’s satellite launch program. In August 1979, when the first SLV-3 launch was a failure, Dr. Dhawan called a press conference to accept responsibility for it. The following year, the satellite launch was successful; this time, he asked Dr. Kalam to address the press conference, rather than seeking the limelight himself. A good leader, Dr. Kalam noted, takes responsibility for failure and passes the credit for success to his team. As managers, we often do exactly the opposite. A leader must inspire his team to loyalty and commitment.

Dr. Kalam concluded his speech by touching upon the issues of transparency and integrity. The problem of corruption in India, he said, can be solved by teaching moral values at home. I completely agree that one should run one’s business with integ- rity—it makes you feel good about yourself and helps you sleep better at night. But it is simplistic to suggest that the problem of corruption in India can be solved with moral science lessons. In countries like the U.S., the average citizen faces far fewer problems of corruption while trying to get services from the local government. This isn’t because people in the U.S. are morally superior to people in India; it’s because our government machinery is fundamentally a continuation of the colonial setup. It was not designed to serve people, but to control them. The district official was called a collector, a reminder of his extortionist role.

Reducing the power of the government through increased privatization and redefining its role through structural reform is the way forward. Entrepreneurs would be the natural catalysts— and leaders—in this much-needed transformation.

Originally published in Entrepreneur Magazine

© Sankrant Sanu 2009-2010. All rights reserved.

Hit Pakistan army where it hurts — its funding

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Islamabad  and gave 6 million pounds (about Rs 433 million) to Pakistan’s government as a reward for the attacks on Mumbai, carried out by trained Pakistani militants. Not that Gordon Brown meant to encourage terrorism. Quite the contrary. The funds were given to Pakistan for counter-terrorism support. But in the equation of action and consequence, the Pakistan army would be happy to cash in another six million pounds. Every bit helps. But it is time for Western governments to ask whether the strategy of doling out dollars and pounds for terror has delivered the goods.

Being the ‘frontline State’ in the war on terror has netted the Pakistan army over $10 billion (Rs 500,000 million) in military assistance from the United States. The frontline of terror runs through the state of Pakistan — for its army it has proven to be rich vein of gold. Most of the military assistance from the US has helped the Pakistan army arm itself to the teeth against its ‘enemy State’ India [ Images ] and helped tighten its dominant economic and coercive control over Pakistani civil society. Fighting terror is such a profitable business for the Pakistan army that one wonders what they would do if they actually caught the terrorists.

Instead, the Inter Services Intelligence, another arm of the Pakistan army, is busy eliminating evidence to maintain a very implausible deniability. A journalist from the respected Pakistani newspaper Dawn interviewed captured Mumbai attacker Ajmal Kasab’s parents before a pall of secrecy descended on the town of Faridkot in Pakistani Punjab. Subsequent journalists noted the carpeting of the area by the ISI. Enough fear and awe was generated for Faridkot residents that subsequent visitors found their lips were securely sealed.

The evidence of Kasab’s testimony, including the very existence of his parents, needed to be swiftly removed before too many other nosey journalists came calling. When the army’s perpetual fig leaf, the need of India to provide more ‘evidence’, has become so tattered, every fibre is worth saving. Kasab’s parents may well have been made to disappear yet, according to news reports, Hafiz Saeed, leader of the banned Jamat-ul-Dawah, is plainly visible outside his house despite his official ‘house arrest.’

The more things change, the more they remain the same in Pakistan. A nudge and a wink, a few months of decreased visibility, and the terror apparatus will be back in business. The tactic of the carrot has not worked. Billions of dollars of US military aid has not led to a Pakistan that is any less an epicentre of terror than it was ten years ago.

Like a reliable cash machine, Gordon Brown went to Pakistan and coughed up some more money for terror. One wonders, what is the incentive for the Pakistan Army to change — what it has done so far is clearly working well to keep it well-fed and well-polished.

Just as a thought experiment — what if Gordon Brown had gone to announce that the International Monetary Fund is putting a stringent cap on defence spending in Pakistan? What if every terror attack having a link with Pakistan, caused the army’s budget to be slashed and compensation handed to the attacked country? One suspects that the pro-active willingness of the army to take care of terror emanating from its soil would be greatly increased. After all, this is an institution that has shown it can protect its own interests fairly well.

The cost of terror must be raised. Not for ordinary Pakistani citizens. Not for its largely impotent civilian government that has become a diplomatic attache of the army. Not even for the terror camps and its brainwashed participants that emerge from and merge back into the Pakistani landscape. Wispy ghosts, these appear and disappear at the whims of the powers that be. But the cost must be raised for the Pakistan army, the singular institution that is responsible for the creation of the terror infrastructure and must be held responsible for its dismantling.

And there is no better way to raise this cost than to hit the army exactly where it actually bleeds — from its pocket books. What the Pakistan army lacks is not resources but will. It needs a clarifying message that the support of terror will directly hit its interests rather than those of the over-burdened citizens of Pakistan or the forbearing citizens of India. Who will call the Pakistan army’s bluff and free the citizens of Pakistan, along with the rest of the world, from its yoke? If Gordon Brown is not up for it, will Barack Obama show some spine?

A version of this article was originally published on Rediff.

© Sankrant Sanu., all rights reserved.