Art of Giving: Warren Buffet to be told

Below is an extract from R Vaidyanathan’s forthcoming Book India Uninc, published by Tata Westland.

The Indian ethos of giving has been much misunderstood and not stressed on sufficiently enough. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have been the recipients of much praise, while Indian pioneers like Dyal Singh Majithia are sadly forgotten.

The visits of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet a couple of years ago resulted in copious media columns being devoted to reporting not only their business and investment insights, but also their ‘charitable’ instincts.

It is important that both of them are educated about our system and the Indian ethos of giving which exists from ancient times and do not require lectures by business channels which live and even die for TRPs.

Buffett should know that the greatest hero of all times in India in our scriptures is Karna who gave away everything he had and his name is interchangeably used for the art of giving in many Indian languages. Harshavardhana, the ancient Indian Emperor was yet another individual fabled for his charity.

Ratan Tata may not want to point out to Bill Gates that the Tata founders bequeathed a considerable portion of their individual wealth to many trusts that they had created for the greater good of Indian society. So is the case with GD Birla and Jamnalal Bajaj. This may not be trumpeted by Kumara Mangalam Birla and Rahul Bajaj. As a perceptive blogger, Sandeep Singh says, as early as 1895 Dyal Singh Majithia bequeathed three million rupees for noble causes including new ventures by Indians. Actually, Majithia was an early ‘venture capitalist’ in India even though not many know too much about him.

In similar fashion, we find that Swami Vivekananda could not have gone to the USA but for local small business people funding him and medals could not have been won by boxers, weightlifters and wrestlers but for local traders financing their clubs in remote parts of Manipur and Haryana. Many may not have heard about Ekal Vidyalayas which are one teacher schools functioning in remote parts of India particularly in tribal areas. They are in as many as 35000 villages, educating more than one million children. Take the other example of the Satya Sai initiative to bring water to Rayalseema using private donations. The 9th Plan document of Planning Commission says, “The Sathya Sai Charity has set an unparalleled initiative of implementing on their own without any budgetary support a massive water supply project with an expenditure of Rs 3 billion to benefit 731 villages.”

Later this project was extended to Chennai costing more than Rs 600 crore. The Ramakrishna Mission runs around 200 hospitals serving nearly 1 crore people annually mostly in rural areas. It also runs around 1200 educational institutions serving more than 3.5 lakh students of which more than 1.25 lakhs are in rural areas.  The Nadar community in Tamil Nadu has funded hundreds of educational institutions and hospitals and so have the Marwaris, Chettiars, Kutchis, Bohras etc all over India.

An enormous amount of our education, health, art and literature and spiritual pursuits have been financed by businessmen who are loath to talk about it.  Herein lies the secret to the fundamental ethos of giving in India. It is done without advertisements and trumpets. Actually in our tradition the giver is reluctant to talk about it since it embarrasses the receiver. The fact that it could demean the receiver is reason enough for the giver to keep silent.  Remember the way Nitish Kumar reacted when the donation from Gujarat to flood relief in Bihar was advertised? Nitish recalled our tradition of giving without revealing to justify his returning the amount!

It is told in our ancient wisdom that one should give till the hand bleeds and one should not talk about it. The action will speak even centuries later. The upstarts of today write on every tube light their names before donating it to temples or call Press conferences to declare their ‘intentions’. That is the US culture. Everything from love making to charity has to be advertised and shown on prime time television.

But why this sudden wallowing in self-pity and whining about giving? It all started with the Indira Gandhi Prize being given to Bill Gates on July 25th 2009 wherein the Chairman of the National Advisory Council, Ms Sonia Gandhi read a speech on the need for Indian businessmen to give for charity [like Bill Gates] and it was published in full by the Wall Street Journal and a columnist in that paper prompted the “rich in India to open their wallets”. Leaders and the media in India who are clueless about Indian ethos are using Gates and Buffett to further pontificate to our business people. And the Alienated Metropolitan Rootless Wonders in India [AMROWs] are happy to be castigated by white experts!

It is interesting that Bill Gates who has operations in the Cayman Islands and in Reno in the State of Nevada to minimise or evade taxes to be paid to US Government is enthusiastic about ‘Giving by India Inc.’ Warren Buffett is planning to give his dollar assets to the Gates Foundation which will reduce his estate taxes in the future. Interestingly, both of them are some of the few US business barons supporting estate taxes.

Somebody should also tell Gates and Buffett that India Inc constitutes less than 20 per cent of our GDP and the real growth masters are small partnership and proprietorship firms which are deeply involved in giving. Actually, India Inc in our economy is like an item number in a Bollywood movie! Also can we suggest to Gates and Buffett that they stop investing in firms in tax havens since that sucks away billions of dollars of money from countries like India. If they really want to help India, then they should start a campaign to close down all these tax havens rather than having expensive company paid dinners at the five star hotels of our country urging Indian businessmen to ‘give’.



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