Understanding Indians and their Politics

I am not speaking of Indian Politicians here. Whatever Rahul Gandhi (or his speechwriter) , the ruling party in the state or the central government has always been a perennial source of bemusement to me, unlike the rest of my fellow Indians who keep fighting wars on Facebook and Social Media. Indeed I am surprised by the complete lack of conversation on politics when I am in North America, and a fellow friend of mine confirmed it, Europeans and Indians do talk more about politics than North Americans. Part of the reason is ideologies are much less pronounced between the extremes of political spectrum and  the general culture is to be polite and avoid controversial debates (which explains lack of politics as a dinner topic in the North American West)

I am speaking of politics as I have seen it practiced in Indian companies, startups and educational institutes. The level of politics is much higher than in USA or Canada, and the rudeness and crudeness is much more. Note I have interacted with people at extremely senior levels  (thanks to my blog and consulting) and junior levels (thanks to my teaching).

Without getting into anecdotal details and impose my projections as the New World Order on you- this is what I feel drives Politics between Ordinary Indians (the ones who never get figured in Newspapers)

  1. Insecurity drives politics- Prosperity and luxury is barely half a generation old. The economic insecurity of success is what drives politics in many institutes and institutions. People think- if someone else succeeds I will not get a slice of the pie. That’s because we all came from a socio-economic status where the pie was so small. How small ? Well when I was a Kid, we had one channel on Television, and there were waiting periods for a car for many years. Telephone was a luxury. Even though new India has many malls, many mobile phones and many luxuries, the trauma of childhood endures and ensures educated Indians use sharp elbows at the workplace to grab a share of the bonus or the pie or the economic success on offering
  2. Mistrust drives politics- Mistrust is driven by the different way Indians treat lying compared to North Americans. What is vilified as lying or cunning is treated as being chalu (smart) or jugaad ( innovative) in dodging questions, giving non-clear answers, or plain untruths. Why give promises you cannot keep. That is the Indian way of doing business. Why do people delay payments for vendors. That is both power politics and part economics. In addition a very slow legal system ensures people reach compromises on their own
  3. Saving Face- A big chunk of energy wasted by Indians is to save face, to avoid saying they failed. Everyone fails and everyone learns from their failures. But few people like to admit to mistakes and failures, and the culture in India is vindictive. Saving face is the number one reason people try to harass other people in workplaces when they are trying to leave. They ignore future relationships for the current need to save Face.
  4. Different Ethics– Some people point out to how people joke in Indian workplaces about women as misogny. That is universal. Men treat women badly in North America and are reigned only by legal system and that society. Some people point to hiring people only along state lines (North India, family members, South Indians, Bengalis, Mallus etc)  as regionalism. Midler forms of that racism exist in the US too. No we just have different ethics here. We treat mediocre old people with respect and treat brilliant young  people with condescension. Protestant ethics are different from the ethics of arguementative Indians

What is the solution? One solution is greater intermingling between people of different countries for Indians to learn about the best way to balance your personal ambitions with your professional needs. I recommend Canadians as the politest people among any country I have seen. Maybe we should invite more Canadians to settle in India rather than the other way around!


Author: Ajay Ohri


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