In nineteen nineties, Gurucharandas published, “India Unbound”, an important book that traces events leading to opening up of Indian Economy and the unfolding of the process of wealth creation that followed in its wake. It is an insightful study of how Indian economy responded to the economic reforms and how that led to unleashing of a powerful process of wealth creation. More importantly, it was a sociological description of a people who , after getting used to socialism for quite some time, were exposed to free market capitalism which combines two contradictory principles: one, enjoyment of ever increasing new wants and two, rigors and pain that accompany the process of wealth creation.
This book and the subject itself are both very ponderous issues and present great challenge to the author. Gurucharandas is sometimes clear and at times very vague in coming up with a concrete framework in which we can hope to resolve these ethical issues. There are two major issues that he presents with reference to a number of case studies :viz. the subtle concept of Dharma and the process through which the individual discharges his obligations in accordance with the perceived Dharma. He says that the concept of 'good' itself is very subtle and that it is very difficult to lay down a very concrete model or framework for ethical resolution of issues.
Dharma is nothing but the whole gamut of roles, responsibilities and duties that a human being is supposed to discharge as he holds a position. There are often contradictions in various roles and responsibilities. Man does not have only one role to perform. He is simultaneously performing a number of roles, some private and some public. He is simultaneously a member of a family, member of an organization, member of local community, a national citizen and a citizen of this world and lastly a human being. Each position has some duties, responsibilities and a reach of values that circumscribe his role. These roles are often overlapping and yet a man has to ponder and think intensely on his position several times before he makes a decision, for some of his decisions may be very complex. When the CEO of a company manages the company, he does so on behalf of a number of stakeholders and interest groups and still the company has certain responsibilities to the society and the world outside his company. He holds a position of a trustee and more importantly, he cannot use that position for advancing his own personal interests at the cost of the company. Such decisions and the process that leads to a decisions cannot be concretely laid down in a framework. And hence he Gurucharandas says that Dharma and the concept of Good are very subtle. Gurucharandas presents a number of instances and gives examples from the Mahabharata to illustrate his point. At times he goes back and forth on the merits of the Mahabharata in an attempt to provide a concrete ethical framework.
At other times, however, he somewhat brings himself to convince that Mahabharata does have an important message for our age and says that the Mahabharata presents its message in a negative way. He says that Mahabharata demonstrates bad effects of bad actions; by presenting a series of disasters, it teaches what one should refrain from doing.
But I would not blame Gurucharandas for this. Like all important issues in life, ethics in our public and corporate life also would require subtle discernment and insights. But more than this one wonders whether ancient traditions anywhere and in any part of the world can provide straitjacket answers to the present day complex problems and issues, especially ethical issues. Traditions are an important source to resolving such complex issues, for it is the departure from the proximate tradition or accepting new social structures and values and the tensions that result from the confrontation between the tradition and the modernity that many ethical issues stalk in our face. A good way to resolve such issues could be reformulating the problems and examining them in the dynamics of the evolving modernity. And in this exercise of reverting to traditions and sometimes even to ancient texts becomes inevitable. But the problem with the ancient texts such as Mahabharata is that they themselves, as a part of the tradition of the people of this country, have evolved over time. Each epoch has its own way of attributing meanings to the stories and the actions of the actors in the stories in accordance with the ethos of the times. Under these circumstances looking for ready-made solutions and algorithms in the Mahabharata that can resolve the ethical issues of modern hybrid capitalism as practiced in this country is a very difficult proposition.
Of course this is not to say that what he has written is of no use. He studies the Mahabharata carefully and closely. And there are some meaningful insights that he shares with his readers. He cites good scholars on Mahabharata and we must admit, mentions a few things that may be new and fresh. However, he has lost a good opportunity of formulating the question of ethics in our social, political and economic life today. Sometimes he is discussing the Mahabharata, and at other times the present day corporate world with its ethical issues. But the reader who follows him through finds himself more confused as he proceeds further.