Along with China, India is one of two emerging Asian giants. It is a country which is both modern and archaic. In fact, Indians say that for whatever is true about India, the opposite is also true. That is why India can only really be understood through on-site immersion.
Just back from the first four days with them, our Gothenburg Executive MBA programme cohort of 2018-2020 is right now spending 11 days immersed on-site in Bangalore, India. Together with our partner university, the internationally renowned business school Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB), and our host there, professor Ramnath Narayanswamy, we design for these days to be a head-spinning introduction to a broad range of facets of Indian business life and life in general, called Understanding India in transition. The cohort will also enjoy a Creative Leadership programme module while in Bangalore.
Through daily facilitated reflections during our stay, heads will stop spinning and valuable lessons will be learnt on how to understand and how to work with India. Any successful business initiative will require knowledge of business culture and of ancient traditions so vividly alive to this day.
Born as an independent nation in 1947, modern India builds on a civilisation several millennia old. The country re-invented itself in 1991, when a post-war Soviet like public governance model was swiftly and profoundly liberalized. Since then, for 29 years straight, India has seen continuous economic growth.
In 2019, however, that growth has slowed down to an estimated 5%, below the 7,5% considered necessary to sustain a growing population of a stunning 1,37 billion Indians. The accuracy of GDP figures is affected by the huge size of the informal sector, which is estimated to make up 45% of the economy. It remains to be seen if the government led by prime minister Narendra Modi, who secured a landslide victory and was re-elected for a second term in 2019, is capable of pulling through reforms long overdue of the administration at union, state and local levels, as well as of the educational system (The Economist, Special Report India, Oct 26, 2019).
Against this backdrop, let me give you three personal observations of how India embraces modernisation, while maintaining habits of the past or respecting ancient traditions:
Swedish streaming service Spotify finally launched in India in February 2019. Cutting its launch time subscription fee, the monthly fee is now the equivalent of 1 USD/month under the all-you-can-eat 21st century business model. Within traditional Indian music, however, musicians spend 15 years from early childhood in un-paid apprenticeship with a music guru, perfecting their skills in playing traditional instruments like the sitar, violin, drums or flute – but with highly uncertain outlooks for ever making a living from music. Their reward is the passion for their art.
India is pushing ahead with an ambitious space programme of its own and with nuclear energy deployment (there are seven nuclear power plants and more planned). At the same time, the appalling lack of public and private toilets poses both a huge sanitary and a night-time security problem (predominantly so in the countryside).
And finally, the numbering system: obviously, India uses the decimal system. But superimposed onto it, you find an archaic system for large numbers, representing a heritage from the ancient Sanskrit language: one lakh (L) is equal to one hundred thousand (100 000). Using a particular Indian digit grouping, it is written as 1,00,000. As an example, 150 000 rupees becomes 1,5 lakh rupees, written as Rs 1,50,000 or INR 1,50,000. For even larger numbers, one crore (cr) denotes ten million (10 000 000). Using Indian digit grouping, one crore is written as 1,00,00,000. So, there are 100 lakhs to a crore.
In daily written or spoken language the notions of crore and lakh are consistently used, at least for large amounts in Indian rupees. When asked, even Indian professors need to think twice before translating those rupee amounts into millions or billions.
So, modern and archaic, side by side, that’s India for you!
GU School of Executive Education