Home / Opinion / Indians’ myopic selfishness

I was a student of V. Raghunathan at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad about 30 years ago. He taught a course called Managerial Accounting–I (MANAC-1). I may not have appreciated or understood his insights into managerial accounting then but I understood his angst against Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) expressed with passion and eloquence in his second open letter to Kejriwal in two months. It prompted me to check out his book, Games Indians Play, which has been on my bookshelf for several years.

The book traces India’s underachievement as a nation to Indians’ pursuit of supreme self-interest and the attitude of must win against all, all the time. The attitude of supreme self-interest may be superficially rational but it is stupid because it fails to take into account that most Indians take the same attitude and, as a result, everyone is both individually and collectively worse off than they would have been under a co-operative approach. Of course, the book does not say why Indians adopt this myopically selfish attitude persistently as opposed to a rationally selfish attitude. Bare Talk proposes a hypothesis to the end.

Sections of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership appear to be playing the games that Indians play. The party has apparently delayed selecting candidates and some of the candidates may have been chosen to lose. These two might be the difference between 180 and 240 seats for the BJP-led alliance. Speculation is rife in social media circles that some BJP leaders might be in cahoots with the Congress party to deny Modi a shot at becoming prime minister. In the event BJP and its allies secure less than 200 seats, they fancy the chances of one of them becoming prime minister, even if only for a short period, so that they would be called a former prime minister for life. The collective interest of the nation seems to count for little in the face of their unfulfilled personal desires.

One of the portions in Raghunathan’s book I liked the most is the message for our conduct in ordinary affairs that he draws from the Bhagwad Gita. Michel Danino, a well-known Indologist, once said that dharma was the unwritten constitution of India. It is a tragedy that leaders of the BJP who swear by Hinduism and its important texts do not live by the values those texts advocate. Their ambition is not dharmic since they had their chances and fluffed them. Indeed, their attitude is particularly poignant since most Hindus believe in reincarnation and in the consequences of one’s actions for many more births to come.

None of what is going on inside a political party would be of such paramount importance to country of 1.2 billion people in normal circumstances. There should be other options. Alas, Indians are not so lucky. India will have to deal with the legacy of the Congress party’s governance for several years, if not decades, to come. The mess it is leaving behind is not just confined to wasteful public spending, fiscal deficit, inflation and siphoning off public money. There is the matter of internal security, external relations, restoration of license-quota-permit raj and undermining of institutions. The AAP is a cruel joke on those who trusted them to offer better and competent governance.

The task of undoing the United Progressive Alliance and rebuilding India is so huge that India does not have the luxury of time to indulge several aged and ageing disgruntled politicians, and their petty ambitions. The unfortunate thing for India is that the BJP top leadership is not alone in having honed the practice of myopic selfishness into a fine art. India’s self-styled liberals have sprinted ahead of them. Seduced by the intellectual and financial patronage enjoyed under Congress dispensations, they have come to believe in their own unsubstantiated innuendoes against Modi as incontestable truths. They could neither hear, see nor smell anything wrong with the Congress in the past. Now the courtesy has been extended to the AAP despite evidence staring them in their faces.

Between cussed, old and yet ambitious politicians and pseudo-intellectuals, they have succeeded in reducing India into a socially dysfunctional economic rump.

If they succeed in stopping Modi from becoming prime minister after these elections, they will complete the task of making India an irrecoverable economic basket case. Restoring trust in the country’s leaders and institutions will be a lost cause forever if, even at this juncture, personal interests trump national interest.

There is one pending task. I promised an explanation for Indians’ myopic selfishness. Lord Krishna, who destroyed pretty much everything and everyone in the Kurukshetra war and beyond, may have a similar plan in mind for modern India too, and hence the myopically selfish Indian.

V. Anantha Nageswaran is the co-founder of Aavishkaar Venture Fund and Takshashila Institution. Comments are welcome at

To read V. Anantha Nageswaran’s previous columns, go to

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