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The corporate myth busted

By editor
Created 21 Oct 2012 - 00:00
Nandita Rao   Bullshit Quotient: Decoding India’s Corporate, Social and Legal Fine Print, as the name suggests, is a book that takes a macro view of India’s corporate, social and legal institutions and the modus operandi of people that captain these institutions to highlight the basic premise of the book — Indians, on account of our historic and religious background are fatalistic, naïve, often lazy and cynical who are capable of accepting unlimited “bullshit”.
Ranjeev C. Dubey’s book does an excellent job of dispelling certain myths that have dominated the political spectrum in the past few years with the anti-establishment space being taken over by an essentially middle class, anti-corruption movement. This movement has effectively drowned the protests of workers, women and dalits demanding structural changes from public view. And it has dominated the discourse with the idea that elimination of corruption in politics and government would ensure justice to all. Through the book, Dubey effectively exposes the myth that the corporate world is not what he calls a “shiny example of ethical high thinking”. He exposes the corruption, nepotism, subversion and blackmail that define corporate life. The second myth the book exposes is the wide gap in privilege, mindset, opportunity, sense of duty that exists between the different layers of the “aam aadmi”. Through a touching anecdote the author exposes this reality by showing us the willingness of his driver to risk poverty and starvation to return to his village and look after his father, with the refusal of his NRI relative to return to India and care for her mother.
Using his legal acumen and experience, having been a practising lawyer and partner at an all-service law firm for several years, Dubey makes a nuanced argument that apart from the misuse of the law as a blackmail tactic, including the misuse of “public interest litigations” by rival corporate groups to expose benefits that may be accruing to each other, the law itself is not neutral. Dubey argues this nuanced point through a study of the medical system and myths of medical insurance. He says that the law itself is often framed, by lobbying of certain corporates, to legitimise certain unjust conduct, unduly benefiting a certain group, thereby making the financial corruption in politics debate too simplistic.
In part 3, Dubey tries to show how corruption in politics is inevitable to foot the bill of “democracy” on account of the huge expense that winning an election involves. Though offering no solutions, the authorruns the risk of furthering the alienation and cynicism that may already be effecting the reader, but he does contribute effectively to the realisation that the problems that afflict the country and its various institutions will not get washed away in one stroke because the misuse has reached such a sophisticated avatar that often it is hard to distinguish the legal from the illegal, the irregular from the regular, even though in the pit of your stomach you know that all is not well!
The social critique of the book is probably the weakest section of the book, based on the admittedly top-down view of the author. Dubey sees Indians from the eye of “an outsider” as rustic, dominated by identities of the past and irreverent to the law. Though he refers liberally and repeatedly to the colonial past, it isn’t clear from a reading of the book how he thinks this past has affected the psyche of the people. Also, Dubey doesn’t manage to make an effective chain of consequences between religion and colonialism, both of which he argues affect the behaviour and social mores that people have today. His conclusion that “none of us urban elite deserves what we have today” which stumbles into a factual assertion that, “Yes, we have our problems, but the trick is to see it with perspective. India is progressing under our very noses and may have so radically transformed that, unseen, it is already unrecognisable to most of us” is in the words coined by the author himself, incomprehensibly incomprehensible.
Written in a conversational style, each point is sought to be buttressed, illustrated and often substantiated by Dubey’s personal anecdotes and experiences. The book is an easy read, the writing style is unusual and at times readers may feel that they are reading a transcript of an after-dinner, drawing room conversation of a family in south Delhi, after it has consumed the daily dose of expert views on the 24x7 channels.
The primary critique of Bullshit Quotient would probably lie in its premise that often in India, we accept very low quality of work (Bullshit!). Through this book, Dubey has made sweeping generalisations about India and Indians, our history, character and motivation. These generalisations, some of which may be partially true, are not backed by hard facts, statistics or any real evidence beyond personal anecdotes, which may leave the discerning intellectual reader feeling a bit short changed.