India Insight

India’s rich too green for grand giving?

March 28, 2011

INDIA-GATES/With the Gates-Buffett give-it-away tour just in India, many have been questioning if the country’s rich are up to such philanthropy. Gross exaggerations of wealth and poverty are on display every day in India – the BMW next to the bullock cart or the coiffured Jimmy Choo-wearing woman waiting for her driver as the shoeless human mule shuffles past with two oil drums on his back. With millions malnourished and uneducated, with ancient monuments crumbling, with indigenous art, theatre and music unsupported and fading, why can’t the uber rich give to the country that helped them so?

India is a country with a long tradition of charity, whether Samadhi (the last stage of life when, after having sought prosperity, one gives away all possessions as a step to enlightenment) or giving alms and tithe (giving ten percent of your income away to the poor). There is also a strong culture of giving to one’s immediate family and supporting the families of domestic help. It would be unfair to say that many of the rich in India don’t donate to countless charities and religious institutions. They do and without the generous tax incentives offered in many other countries.

But in a place with six industrialists on Forbes.com’s list of the world’s top 50 billionaires, where are the grand Gates-and-Buffet-esque acts of beneficence, aside from Azim Premji’s $2 bln donation, which was so exceptional it proved the rule? Where are even the generous offerings that India’s own 19th century tycoons made? Cowasjee Jehangir Readymoney built hospitals, colleges, Mumbai University’s Convocation Hall and artful public drinking fountains. Banker and cotton trader Premchand “Cotton King” Roychand built Mumbai University’s iconic library and clock tower. David Sassoon built one of the city’s largest libraries. And the ubiquitous Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy built hospitals, schools, art institutes, and even a causeway when the government wouldn’t. And before that there were many benevolent Rajas and Nawabs that have left the land peppered with architectural gems.

So why not now?

Did the violence from partition, the population boom and a famine take its toll not just on the economy but the psyche too? When there is so much poverty around, does that make people hold on to their wealth — large or small — more assiduously? Building new monuments and caring for old ones also understandably gets pushed aside when there are millions to feed and educate. Moreover the embrace of socialism, for all its noble intentions, too often results in the ethos: the state must provide, so why should I? And finally, it can be argued, industrialists do a better service to society concentrating on nurturing successful companies that provide jobs and build up the economy.

But maybe even having said all that, there is another notion that could be in play.

While some of India’s billionaires have inherited their wealth, most are first or second generation and it’s only been in the past ten years that India’s rich have noticeably spent big. And most often on what? Fast cars, flash homes, lavish parties and looking beautiful.

Don’t we all when we first get money and have the freedom to spend as we like?

- When we’re first given pocket money from our parents, we buy candy and toys.
- When we get our first job we spend on fun: music, movies, partying and looking good.
- Then if we’ve really saved up, we buy… a car.
- Then a house.
- Then along come kids, so finally we don’t only spend on just ourselves.
- We spend on our children’s education and our health.
- Then we turn to culture – we must expose the kids to museums and monuments, concerts and theatre.
- And when we’re really comfortable, we might spend generously on our spirituality or that which really tugs at our reflective, mature (and maybe fearful of eternal damnation) hearts: à la charity.
- The post-script, when all else is taken care of: we spend on our legacy.

Many of India’s rich recently joined that club. The newspapers are filled with stories of super yachts, lavish parties and grand homes. Aren’t they a little too green to give in a grand way? Even Warren Buffet said he waited till his old age to be philanthropic, using the convenient but solid rationale that it’s better to give away billions than millions.

So maybe we shouldn’t be too despondent. After all, there are many industrialists-backed hospitals and educational trusts already and several Indian tycoons have released plans for universities too. Maybe more museums and theatres will propagate and precious monuments will find generous patrons to help maintain their upkeep. Maybe the grand Gates-Buffett-esque gestures in India are just a season or two away.

Comments
7 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

“why can’t the uber rich give to the country that helped
them so ? ”

This is the problem. Nobody thinks that the country has helped them become rich. Most actually believe that they have become rich ‘despite’ the country and its politicians.

Posted by IAF101 | Report as abusive
 

A confused, rambling post if ever there was one. Consider the following donations:

1. Grandhi Mallikarjuna Rao (head of GMR) donated $340 million for education in the poorest parts of India (March, 2011).

2. Anil Agarwal donated $1 Billion of his own funds to start Vendanta university (in 2006). It was the largest private donation of its kind anywhere in the world at the time but got little coverage in Western media.

3. The Tata Trust gives nearly $100 million in grants a year to non-profits, poverty initiatives, etc.

4. Shiv Nadar, head of HCL, pledged to give 10% of his wealth to charity (this is in the 10′s of millions) (Sept, 2010).

What do all of these donations have in common? They weren’t covered by the author of this biased, misleading blog. If someone in Italy, the UK, France, etc. made a donation like this, people would be singing their praises. Why does the West ignore them when they’re Indian?

Posted by jferdy5 | Report as abusive
 

Socialistic (or uniform) distribution of infrastructure

In USA, you travel to any part of the country (urban or rural), you will find roads, schools, higher education institutes, health care, hotels and other basic infrastructures available. The quality and distribution of such infrastructure is uniform.

This I call “socialistic distribution of infrastructure”.

***

I gathered some data for north-eastern UP (Gorakhpur and surrounding parliamentary constituencies, more than 15 of them) which has population of more than 5 crores. (almost 5% of India)

This region has got just 1 Government engineering college and 1 Government medical college, that too, only in Gorakhpur. Basti, Gonda, Deoria, Azamgarh, Ayodya, Faizabad etc have NONE.

You can imagine the effect of such a distribution of infrastructure.

***

Now imagine if each parliamentary constituency (total approx 550) has an Engineering, Medical, Law, Management institutes (or 1 university with these departments or schools).

This single act will transform India in such a big way that any Prime Minister who does it, will be remembered for centuries in coming times.

Posted by ranjan1sri | Report as abusive
 

The rich do give huge donations in India. And mostly these “acts of beneficence” are towards there political benefactors.

Posted by Windturner | Report as abusive
 

India’s philanthropic ways must be seen from the historic
perspective.

India is a strange mixture of feudal systems: born of Maharajah-Praja tradition(meaning royal rule over commoners), followed by over century of colonial rule by Britishers, the old caste system and religious practices, and now the rule of powerful businessmen, bureaucrats and politicians.

In each case the pedigree, the political position, and the wealth have been symbols and means of success. The powerful do not feel powerful unless others are powerless. The rich do not feel so rich unless others are poorer. For centuries, the people have known that the best way to survive is to be recipient of some one’s favors. The newly rich middle class treat their servants and subordinates, the same I-am-the-boss-way, as they and their parents were treated i.e. unequal and not free. In fact their family structure is patriarchal and every one must follow the head of the family.

Many Maharajahs were revered for their philanthropic acts but they were always considered superior human beings entitled to their power by pedigree. You always bowed to them when you encountered them. British administrators were teated the same way although they never did any benevolent acts. Mahatma Gandhi brought some egalitarian ethos. The License-Raj, after partition in 1947, brought enormous power to political parties. The industrial activity was tightly controlled and bureaucracies so entrenched in the nation that one could make more money buying favors in Delhi than by creating a productive enterprise. The political corruption and day to day bureaucratic corruption at every walk of life was the rule and unfortunately even after introduction of market economy and economic boom, it too has grown exponentially. In such environment one had to be seen ‘big’ to move ahead.

So what is the place of philanthropy in today’s social and political environment where one must flaunt to gain respect? The $1 billion charitable work is not as visible as a $1 billion flashy house. Still, lot of charity takes place every day from free hospitals, free clinics, free education, free orphanages, volunteer campaigns to attack major problems of poverty, illiteracy, and diseases like AIDS. But in the context of enormous Indian population of 1.2 billion, nothing is enough, and for many well meaning philanthropists, the task overwhelming. Religion, and family continue to be chief beneficiaries of everyday philanthropy.

To succeed the philanthropy needs to be institutionalized
by creating showcases of successful charities that can inspire the average upper middle class person. He or she could then achieve recognition in society that now comes now only by flaunting wealth. If the uber rich support creation of such showcase-charities, and media do their bit and feature them, India can see enormous philanthropic impact.

Indians have the money, the heart, the desire but unless the charitable activity gets recognized, becomes visible and effective – meaning institutionalized – the rich or the upper middle class will not embrace it. I know a rich individual who is trying just that south of Mumbai but we need 100 more like him.

How to go about creating charity-infrastructure is a subject of another conversation.

Posted by indusnb | Report as abusive
 

Most of the communities in India (such as Bengali), are succumbed in ‘Culture of Poverty’(a theory introduced by an American anthropologist Oscar Lewis), irrespective of cl-ass or economic strata, lives in pavement or apartment. Nobody is at all ashamed of the deep-rooted corruption, decaying general quality of life, worst Politico-administrative system, weak mother language, continuous absorption of common space (mental as well as physical, both). We are becoming fathers & mothers only by self-procreation, mindlessly & blindfold. Simply depriving their(the children) fundamental rights of a decent, caring society, fearless & dignified living. Do not ever look for any other positive alternative behaviour (values) to perform human way of parenthood, i.e. deliberately co-parenting of those children those are born out of ignorance, real poverty. All of us are being driven only by the very animal instinct. If the Bengali people ever be able to bring that genuine freedom (from vicious cycle of ‘poverty’) in their own life/attitude, involve themselves in ‘Production of Space’ (Henri Lefebvre), at least initiate a movement by heart, decent & dedicated Politics will definitely come up. – Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, 16/4, Girish Banerjee Lane, Howrah-711101.

Posted by siddharthamithu | Report as abusive
 

Most of the communities in India (such as Bengali), are succumbed in ‘Culture of Poverty’(a theory introduced by an American anthropologist Oscar Lewis), irrespective of cl-ass or economic strata, lives in pavement or apartment. Nobody is at all ashamed of the deep-rooted corruption, decaying general quality of life, worst Politico-administrative system, weak mother language, continuous absorption of common space (mental as well as physical, both). We are becoming fathers & mothers only by self-procreation, mindlessly & blindfold. Simply depriving their(the children) fundamental rights of a decent, caring society, fearless & dignified living. Do not ever look for any other positive alternative behaviour (values) to perform human way of parenthood, i.e. deliberately co-parenting of those children those are born out of ignorance, real poverty. All of us are being driven only by the very animal instinct. If the Bengali people ever be able to bring that genuine freedom (from vicious cycle of ‘poverty’) in their own life/attitude, involve themselves in ‘Production of Space’ (Henri Lefebvre), at least initiate a movement by heart, decent & dedicated Politics will definitely come up. – Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, 16/4, Girish Banerjee Lane, Howrah-711101, India.

Posted by siddharthamithu | Report as abusive
 

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