Tuesday, April 09, 2013

“Public Policy and Philanthropy in the U.S.A and India” Text of lecture at The Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, on 21 February 2013 **__**

Many thanks to Professor Mahbubani and the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Public Policy for kindly inviting me to speak, and to Dr Ashish Lall for graciously consenting to chair the session in Professor Mahbubani’s stead. It is an honour and a pleasure to be here, and I am glad to have the possibility of dialogue with you today.

Let me begin with the USA: in our deeply sceptical times, it is worth reminding ourselves that philanthropy (or what they would probably have called “brotherly love”) marked the early settlement of the North American continent by Europeans – so far as the majority, that is the Puritans and other Dissenters from the British and Continental European systems, were concerned. At least that was so in their relationships with each other – though their record in relation to the native Americans may be mixed . The Puritans and other Dissenters faced an unfamiliar, sometimes hostile environment, and had fled persecution and oppression in the Old World: that was the result of public policy in Europe in relation to a philanthropic people.

Not surprisingly, the colonial society of the New World was marked by a culture of collaboration, or what the French observer Alexis de Tocqueville later called “voluntary associations…private initiatives for public good”. He pointed out that the unique experiment in history which was and is American democracy cannot be understood without developing an insight into voluntary associations in the USA. Americans did not rely on government or aristocracy, or indeed any established religion, to address social problems; rather, they addressed the problems themselves jointly. In other words, philanthropy was characteristic of American democracy, and was, until relatively recent times, entirely centred on their non-established and highly competitive churches. One of the first, if not THE first association was also the first American government: the Mayflower Compact of 1620. The Pilgrims, still not quite landed for the first time on American soil, declared that they “solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation”. The very first corporation in the USA, Harvard College, founded in 1636, and now the undergraduate part of Harvard University, was a philanthropic association, created to train “the English and Indian youth of this country” to become preachers and ministers (clergy or priest is the wrong terminology: “preacher” says what the person does, while minister or “servant” indicates the right attitude; and those terms themselves tells you one key difference between the Radical Protestant understandings of religion which these Pilgrims brought with them, versus the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Mainstream Protestant understandings of religion, from which they had fled). Three of the leading English colonies of the time – Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia – were called “Commonwealths”; that is, they aimed to be idealistic societies in which each and every member contributed to the “common wealth”, the public good. Here philanthropy and public policy were intended to coalesce. The main promoters of this ideal were of course the spiritual leaders of these communities, and we must remember that Puritans dominated America for at least the first 100 years. One of the leading preachers, Cotton Mather, established a multitude of societies for community projects, and published more than 400 works, among them, in 1770, a book so widely read that it became an American classic, Bonerfacius, or an Essay to do Good, which urges the financing of useful publications, and the founding of schools, libraries and hospitals. The book was not addressed to rich people in order to encourage them to help poor people; no, the book was addressed to every reader to encourage everyone to help others - “each for all, and all for each” as the Biblical idea is expressed by the traditional Swiss motto, much more bruited abroad though the phrase was by Alexandre Dumas’s later novel, The Three Musketeers. Prominent Americans, such as Benjamin Franklin, deeply influenced by Mather’s book, deliberately oriented their lives around public service; and charity, philanthropy, voluntary organisations and mutual respect marked the generality of Americans, at least in their relations with each other: Franklin’s political rival, John Adams, said publicly in France that there was hardly anyone who did not consider Franklin “a friend to humankind” (oh that such generosity were a mark of relations between political opponents in the USA today!). In Philadelphia, Franklin created what was probably the first inter-denominational organisation for philanthropy in America, modelled on self-organising christian congregations which created that culture in America. Franklin’s Junto or Leather Apron Club had 12-members chosen for meeting four criteria, one of which was “love of mankind”. They met each week to discuss moral, political, and scientific topics, and to exchange intelligence on business affairs. Franklin used the Club to generate and test philanthropic ideas, while he used his newspaper the Pennsylvania Gazette to interrogate and mobilise public support, raise funds and recruit volunteers. That modus operandus produced America’s first subscription library in 1731, followed soon after by a volunteer association to fight fires, another to provide fire insurance, still another developed into the American Philosophical Society, yet another was an “Academy”, which eventually became what is today the University of Pennsylvania, there was a hospital for which funds were raised by means of what may have been the world’s very first challenge grant, similar associations paving and patrolled public streets, and the financing and construction of a town hall was also a volunteer effort. In 1747, when the Pennsylvania Colony was affected by conflicts with Native Americans in the west and with French-Canadian privateers in the lower Delaware River, at a time when the government was Quaker and hence pacifist, Franklin published Plain Truth, which pointed out that Pennsylvania was defenceless unless people were willing to take matters into their own hands by means of a “military association”. His appeal raised the then-enormous sum of £6,500, the association was formed - and not only was the pacifist Town Council persuaded to approve of the association, but the pacifist Council President was even persuaded to commission its officers!

Franklin’s record presents to us the prototypical US approach to philanthropy: individual initiative, drawing together a band of people (in his case deliberately diverse), to support the initiative, taking up what the government was not expected, able or willing (for whatever reason) to do, but going well beyond that to being willing to challenge the government. In the way that he invested in and used the Pennsylvania Chronicle and The Pennsylvania Gazette, Franklin along with his business partners can be considered one of the first social entrepreneurs, at least in the US.

We could go on to detail the whole history of the relationship between American society, volunteerism, and philanthropy, the role of Protestant preachers in creating a sense of national identity, and the founding and commencement of the what eventually became the USA that we know today, what with the Minutemen, the Colonial Army, the Sons of Liberty, with the Declaration of Independence being modelled on Luther’s 99 Theses both in its initial mission statement and in its concluding personal pledge, we could look at Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Papers, and so on . But at present, I will only say this: every public policy reform movement in the history of the United States – whether against slavery, or for women’s suffrage, civil rights, education reform, peace movements, judicial reform, public housing, healthcare or environmental conservation – had its root in philanthropic instinct , and each was brought to birth by an institutional means: voluntary philanthropic associations. However, a different kind of institution, charitable foundations, came into prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, endowed by people who had utilised the opportunities for making unprecedented wealth through business . Starting with the very first foundation in the US fully dedicated to addressing major national policy issues, the Peabody Education Fund in 1867, such foundations have been involved in much more systematic attempts to shape public policymaking, using the influence of their elite boards, moulding public opinion by campaigns of public information and education, creating demonstration projects, using their own funds to leverage public funds, direct lobbying, and exploiting legal mechanisms as necessary or useful. By the middle of the 20th century, such charitable foundations had increased greatly in number, in wealth, in activity and in impact. Moreover, the Sage, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Rosenwald and Commonwealth Foundations had a new focus: trying to make philanthropy both more efficient and more scientific – as a result of which they had to engage much more directly with government. So much so, that the entire history of the public sector is impossible to understand if we don’t keep that in mind. Indeed the development of what Ellen Lagemann called in 1989 “the politics of knowledge …crystallised… as knowledge of various kinds became more and more essential to economic activity and to the formulation, implementation and evaluation of public policy” . The historian James Allen Smith put it this way: “Foundations … played an essential role…, building institutions and shaping the fields of knowledge that have a bearing on policy decisions, giving prominence to individual experts and to groups working in particular policy domains, structuring the lines of communication between experts and the public and, through training and education, fostering access to those knowledge-producing elites” . These philanthropic developments had a symbiotic relationship with the emergence of the large-scale national state at the end of the nineteenth century .

In spite of all that, foundations have been regarded with suspicion, right from the time of America’s Founding Fathers, who warned about privately endowed associations . In the twentieth century, the Walsh Commission on Industrial Relations in the 1910s probed the power and influence of the Rockefeller foundation; in the 1950s, there were the congressional inquiries of Cox and Reece; in the 1960s Congressman Wright Patman of Texas presided over nearly a decade of hearings that resulted in the Tax Reform Act of 1969, which has been criticised for raising the cost of compliance, and of being based on expectations of an unrealistic rate of return on foundation capital. That, and subsequent legal and administrative changes (including what followed upon the 9/11 attacks) have apparently not been enough for the opponents of philanthropic foundations, and there is, as some of you will know, right now a fresh effort to squeeze non-profits (including churches) for taxes, if possible. Where that move goes, remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the Tax Reform Act of 1969 itself needs to be seen as part of a wider change in the US: something radical happened around the 1970s to change the nature of America's - and eventually the world's - economy and society. Jeff Faux, in his book , The Global Class War: How America's Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future (New York: Wiley, 2006), put it this way: Essentially, America's super-rich (the top one per cent or so of the population who can live on investment income alone) found a way to conspire with the political class and the chattering class to attack democracy and exploit the rest of society. The revolt began in the 1950s, led by William F Buckley, Jr, who financed The National Review and gathered around him the devotees of Ayn Rand, Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and Milton Friedman. They were revolting against the earlier social compact represented by the New Deal, according to which the rich got a fair share of the profits while providing a minimum social safety net for the poor in terms of income, medical care, and education.

The right-wing revolt gained political and cultural respectability when the Republican Party was able to draw into its tent not only these economic neoconservatives but also morally and socially conservative activists. The Party was then able to hide "the fundamental contradiction between the interests of social conservatives and corporate investors. The former wanted to use government to limit the freedom of individuals to pursue their hedonist instincts. The latter wanted the government to facilitate the stimulation and commercialization of the same instincts. The organizing genius of conservative Republicans was to compartmentalize the two opposing value systems so they reinforced each other against what was perceived as a common liberal enemy. The social conservatives would bring grassroots energy. The corporations would bring the money”.

This seemingly impossible coalition achieved its crowning success with the Reagan revolution, whose purpose "was clearly not to eliminate government influence on the economy. It was to use government in order to shift the distribution of income and wealth upward, and roll back the power of popular democracy to constrain the prerogatives of the corporate elite. As for social conservatism, it had never been high on the agenda of Ronald Reagan (who was after all a product of Hollywood—the heart of the hedonist beast). Reagan's primary target was the unions. By breaking the air traffic controllers' union in his first year in office, he signaled to corporate America that the post-World-War-II accommodation [between] labor and capital was over. It was now open season on organized labor. The other target was postwar social safety nets."

As Faux sees it, the most radical idea sponsored by President Reagan, later promoted by George H.W. Bush was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, covering Canada, USA and Mexico), which was designed for the express purpose of escaping "the constraints of democracy.…(It) promoted privatization, deregulation, and the freedom to pursue profit anywhere in the world [in order to] trump the cause of building a just society at home. . . . The purpose of NAFTA was not to make the constituent nations more competitive (or wealthy). It was to make North America's corporate investors more competitive (and wealthy) by giving them access to cheap labor and . . . government assets (across the region)”. (parentheses mine)

Though neither Reagan nor the elder Bush, during their respective Presidencies, was able to push NAFTA through Congress because it was Democrat-dominated, it was Democratic President Bill Clinton who pushed NAFTA through, reneging on his electoral promise to oppose NAFTA if it did not have adequate social and environmental protections. Why did Clinton "deliver the Democratic Party to a business agenda" and support "NAFTA rules, designed by his political adversaries, to allow their constituencies to get more, and his (own) to get less?" (sic.) Because Clinton had gone out to raise money from business for the 1992 elections, for which he received at least $853,295 from the financial industry alone, and thus began to identify with the agenda of the elite. Once Clinton was in the White House and started delivering on that agenda, "the coffers opened up for him and for his party. In the campaign of 2000, the Democrats raised $340.3 million from business (while) Labor's contribution to the party was $52.4 million." Clinton's betrayal of the American people thus "reflected the complex interaction of money, ambition, power, and ideology that drives both Democrats and Republicans to try to shape the future of global society around a social model in which the corporate investor is king”.

What NAFTA established was "common protections and rights for multinational corporate investors", including "patent protection, banking regulations, and the right to challenge environmental laws" while the provisions on labor and the environment,were little more than admonitions to each nation to enforce its own laws. No common standards were set; any of the three nations could . . . eliminate the minimum wage, outlaw unions, dismantle health and safety standards, (and) loosen restrictions on the industrial pollution of air and water at will." NAFTA, thus entrenched a "division between those who could make money by investing somewhere else, and those whose job, business or concern for society or the environment, was stuck in America."

For Faux, Clinton’s contempt for democracy is evident from a “Gallup poll (at the time, which) showed 65 per cent of Americans opposing the agreement, and only 28 per cent in favour”.

Not surprisingly, NAFTA has been a resounding success—for NAFTA's elite. It has also been a substantial success for the next nine per cent or so of NAFTA-area's population, while the middle classes have lost so slowly that they didn’t notice it till the crash of 2007-8, fed as they were the illusion that they benefitted by rising house prices while the real purchasing power of their incomes declined. The usual position of the right wing is that inequality is the price a society must pay for increased social mobility, arising from greater economic opportunity. "The governing class never seems to tire of telling Americans how lucky they are compared with the citizens of Western Europe who are so protected from competition that they have no incentive to succeed. Yet, although the United States has the highest level of income inequality among all advanced societies, a child born to poverty actually has a greater chance of moving up the class ladder in Western Europe and Canada than in the United States." The U.S. and Britain, writes Faux, stand out as the least mobile among rich countries. France and Germany, by contrast, which are "regularly ridiculed by the American elite for economic policies that supposedly discourage ambition, actually provide more room for mobility than does the United States. Canada and the Scandinavian countries, home of high taxes and generous welfare”, are, according to the numbers, even greater lands of individual opportunity. You may be able to become a billionaire more quickly in America, but "your chances of living a longer, more secure life, with a higher-quality education for your children, and time for your family and friends, free from the anxiety of economic ruin if you get sick, are much greater in Western Europe”. The immediate cause of reduced economic mobility in the United States has been the closing off of avenues of escape from low-wage jobs. The traditional job paths into the middle class—unionized industrial jobs and unskilled government service—have shrunk. While opportunities for further upward mobility have declined, rising costs have priced people with lower income out of the market for a college education, which was traditionally the springboard for the next generation. In the recent past, there has been a spate of published material agonising over crony capitalism and the limitations on social mobility in the USA .

Though any single explanation of complex social, economic, and political matters is rarely adequate, is it possible that illegal immigration, the ubiquity of drugs, and the fall in real wage levels in all three countries are directly linked to NAFTA's deliberate avoidance of antitrust considerations, minimum wage legislation, and environmental protection?

In any case, NAFTA was only the proving ground for a wider attack on democracy around the world in the shape of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which similarly entrenches corporate rights while neglecting environmental and minimum wage requirements. "The NAFTA financial model—liberalization of trade and finance leading to a speculative bubble, a subsequent crash, and the protection of investors from the consequences of their own actions—was repeated in various forms in the 1990s . . . in Thailand, Brazil, Bolivia, South Korea, Indonesia, Russia and Argentina." We all saw a repeat of this performance following the global crash of 2007-8, which is not surprising, since the aim of preserving the system in a way that rescues financial risk-takers from their misjudgements has been a bipartisan affair among the economic and political elites. There are such things as structures of freedom, of equity and of justice – and there may be such things as structures of sin.

We can argue about whether it was such possible structures of sin that led to the unprecedented global boom which had its bust in 2007-8, but the fact is that that bust led to a retreat from globalisation, resulting right now in the tensions over currency devaluations because everyone with even a modicum of knowledge of economics or history understands that currency devaluations are a sort of last gasp which, if they fail, leave only the final option, which is war.

Faux’s book places before the intelligent American philanthropist uncomfortable questions: should philanthropists implicitly or explicitly support the policy aims of the economic elite or should they rather help to shape a global order that embodies something that is minimally just for everyone and extends "citizens' rights to minimum levels of health, safety, conditions of work, transparency in government, education, food free from contamination, and minimum levels of clean air and water "?

Meanwhile, we must recognize that the amount of giving in the USA continues to go up in spite of all the difficulties of the last 6 years or so - up to $298 billion in 2011 (the latest figures that are available to me at the time of writing this paper). The current mission, led by the likes of Buffet, Gates and Bono, to make large-scale philanthropy the fashion among the super-rich has just (as reported yesterday) won a dozen new converts. Forbes records 1,223 billionaires in 2011, of whom 102 (just under 10%) have now signed up to give away at least half their wealth. But as important as the simple commitment to giving is the question of what they are giving to or FOR. While Bono, Buffet and Gates focus on other wholly admirable humanitarian objectives such as fighting disease, you would expect others, such as George Soros, because of personal background, to understand very easily which class went to war, with what strategy, and won, with what effects, and the nature of the crony capitalism that has emerged in the USA – crony capitalism that one does not expect to see in any developed country, but only in banana republics or third world dictatorships. Was it a sort of moral collapse in the US which led to the global collapse of 2007-8 from which we have still not escaped? If so, will anything short of a moral revolution among the elite reverse the trend in the US in any decisive fashion? But those sorts of questions are not being engaged with, perhaps not even being seen, by US philanthropists at present .

Dear colleagues, that is all I have time to cover in considering the trajectory of a nation founded idealistically, which struggled with the realities of settling in a continent in the face of numerous challenges, and of creating the world’s first free nation out of two fundamentally opposed organising principles, selfishness and philanthropy, idealism and realpolitik, what benefits everyone versus what benefits primarily a certain class or group. At present, the forces of selfishness, of realpolitik, seem to be dominant. However, US history has seen the pendulum swing from one conglomeration of attitudes and philosophies to the other, and back again. The USA is still the lead economy and society of the world, so what happens there is not merely of interest, or even a portent, it is still a decisive influence on what happens all over the world. So we must wish them well, and pray that moral and humanitarian attitudes will rise there once again, but we must also understand the character and nature of the humanitarian forces which made the USA, and in order to do that, I recommend to you Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World (Thomas Nelson, 2011).

I now turn my attention to India. This year, 2013, is the 150th anniversary year of Swami Vivekananda’s birth, an appropriate time to state what has so far not been stated in the scholarly literature of which I am aware: i.e. that Vivekananda’s influence helped to entirely transform Indian philanthropy.

Indeed, it may not even be appropriate to term as “philanthropy” what we had in India up to that point in history: daana (or giving), was directed principally towards gods, temples and priests . After Swami Vivekananda’s impact, India’s giving has slowly but increasingly turned, instead, to needy human beings, starting with disaster relief in times of famine, plague or flood, and working its way through orphan care, hospitals and schools – specifically the education of lower caste boys– though it is clear that the establishment of Vivekananda’s organization, the Ramakrishna Mission owed a huge amount to the moral and financial support of India’s British rulers at the time – a fascinating story which has not been properly explored so far in terms of: what arguments were presented by the British ruling class in India for and against such support, who the respective exponents of these arguments were, why the sympathetic lobby won, how much was actually given, and so on.

This does not mean that there was no philanthropy earlier in India. Vivekananda’s ideas go back not, as is ignorantly assumed, so much to his guru, Ramakrishna Paramahansa, but rather to Sasipada Banurji, who had an early commitment to social service (Swami Ramakrishna Paramahansa had no such commitment and, in fact, mocked attempts at social service – famously in the case of his encounter with the 19th century Bengali luminary, Kristo Das Pal, the Editor of the weekly Hindoo Patriot). Banurji, the actual inspiration behind Vivekananda’s efforts, had become a member of the organisation for Hindu reform, the Brahma Samaj, in 1865, and later (in 1873) established the Sadharan Dharma Sabha which moved beyond religious reform to prioritising social service. That was just before Vivekananda made his own first real commitment to social service (in 1874). At this point, I ought to note that members of the Brahmo Samaj, who define themselves as emphatically NOT Muslim, Christian or even Hindu, pioneered extensive religious and social change but primarily in relation to the customs of Kulin Brahmins, and in relation to Indian marriage customs. They also supported related efforts towards change pioneered by others, e.g. Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar’s movement which promoted widow re-marriage. In fact, Vidyasagar proposed and pushed through the Widow Remarriage Act XV of 1856 - though 150 years after that, the pitiable position of many widows was documented, against extraordinary social opposition, in the 2005 film Water, directed by Deepa Mehta and scripted by Anurag Kashyap.

In any case, when I say that Vivekananda’s efforts transformed Indian philanthropy, I mean that what was, before his time, the quirk of an individual or clique, increasingly came to mark, as a result of his efforts and the efforts of his followers in the Ramakrishna Mission, the thinking and philanthropic actions of more and more Hindus. Historians of ideas regretfully often make the mistake of being so besotted with where an idea first appeared that they forget to ask the sociological question: when did an idea first become popular? We could draw a parallel with the theory of evolution, which is an idea common to ancient Greek, Middle Eastern and Indian thought, but it is only with the advent of universal education after World War II based on modern evolutionary ideas that evolutionism has taken hold of initially Western and now global culture. In recent times, the concept of a tipping point and of a meme have become popular in the history of science though perhaps not yet in wider history.

However, let us cast an eye back to some of the historical milestones that led up to the Swami’s transformation of Indian philanthropy.

In our a-historical or non-historical culture it is common to imagine that Indian culture is eternal, that things have always been the way they are now. But this is simply not true: even those who have lived only to my age (64) have seen enormous changes first-hand specifically in our religious and cultural traditions, and if our parents have shared even their least important memories on such subjects with us, then it will be clear that there has been a sea change in our spiritual life even within the lifespan of two generations.

Further, there is the evidence of our own religious texts, from which we know that Vedic religion consisted principally of singing hymns in praise of God (or one or more of the gods), and of making non-vegetarian sacrifices and inebriating liquid offerings in order to seek their blessing – and by blessing was meant wealth, power and fame, along with victory in battle with the loot consequent upon it. At some point was added the idea of occasional charity or alms-giving.

However, the Vedic or brahminic tradition, which has a transactional relationship with the Divine, was challenged by two forces.

On one hand, it was challenged by shramanics - we call them yogis or ascetics today - who rely primarily on self-effort by austerity or some normally painful or at least physically challenging limitation or contortion, which we call tapas - though the idea of the grace of the gods may be involved too, particularly in the later versions of shramanic traditions. Apart from the establishment of yoga which was eventually co-opted by the brahminic tradition in the late nineteenth or even twentieth century, the developing shramanic traditions were in almost every way opposed to the brahminic tradition, and led first to the establishment of what is Jainism, which, so far from begging material favours for enhancing prosperity and happiness on this earth, locates the notion of spirituality in the total abnegation and abandonment not only of prosperity but even of life itself. Jain prayers are decidedly not for wealth, power, fame or other worldly things, as are Vedic prayers. The Jain emphasis is on humility, introspection, kindness, self-fulfilment through service of others, forgiveness, and other internal or inter-personal qualities.

The other direction from which the Brahminic tradition was challenged was by the highly commonsensically-, pragmatically- and psychologically-oriented tradition originating with the Buddha, which emphasized and emphasizes the Middle Way between, on the one hand, obsessive orientation towards victory in battle and this-worldy prosperity presented to us by the Vedas, and, on the other hand, the extremely life-denying philosophy of Jainism. Though it was Jainism that originated many of the ideas such as vegetarianism and care for animals, it was the middle way of Buddhism that produced in the reign of the Buddhist emperor Ashoka (3rd century BC) the first large-scale (possibly empire-wide) examples of care for the environment, care for animals, tree-lined roads between major towns with reasonably- and regularly-spaced facilities providing drinking water for travelers, and so on. There was also much more widespread education than had been the case in Vedic society, and Buddhist education (unlike Vedic education) did not discriminate on the basis of caste, in the ancient Buddhist universities, such as Taxila, Nalanda and Odantapuri .

Now the interesting question is this: Was the care for the environment, for animals and for humans a case of royal philanthropy or was it merely sensible state policy? In any case, this marks the first case in Indian history of the convergence of philanthropy and public policy – and there are a few other cases known to myth, legend and history, for example of the emperor Bharata (after whom India is named in our classical language, Sanskrit).

In any case, the contributions of Buddhist and Jain traditions appear to have been undone by two developments, first by the rise of Tantra and second by the rise of Shankaracharya’s Non-dualism (Advaita). Shankaracharya, 8th or 9th century AD, was the main force (intellectual, organisational and probably physical) that dis-established Buddhism as well as Jainism in India, enfeebling these powerful religions. If the world around us is an illusion, as Shankara’s philosophy asserts, then there is no incentive to try to understand its functioning or to derive empirical knowledge from it. “This logical corollary may have been in part the cause of the pedantic intellectualism which became characteristic of the … centres (founded by Shankaracharya) in later centuries” as the Indian historian, Romila Thapar, puts it. In any case, as a result, the Indian kingdoms were now ready to fall to Muslim and other invaders.

Muslims themselves arrived in India initially as traders, and then as marauding parties which attacked temples and monasteries wherever they might have hoards of gold and stores worth attacking . At a time when the ideological assertion of neo-Hinduism of the type advocated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is reaching new heights, it is worth emphasising that the motivation of the invaders, whether pagan White Huns from Russia or Muslim Mongols, Afghans, Persians, Central Asians or Turks, was not ideological or religious (they did not destroy, for example all the small temples they came across, which would have cost them almost nothing in terms of time and effort). Rather their motivation was purely material – they concentrated on urban centres and on the large temples and monasteries where gold and other treasures were concentrated – as witnessed down to our own day: you may recollect that the vaults of the 16th century Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum, Kerala, were discovered to have gold, diamonds and precious stones possibly worth USD62 billion, whose existence had till then been known to only a very few among the temple priests and trustees. The Tirumala temple in eastern Andhra Pradesh state is reported to have 3,000 kilograms of gold alone, a third of which it deposited with the State Bank of India in 2010. The total wealth in all our temples has never been computed .

Whatever we may think about the continuing impact of Vedic or brahminic religion in terms of the accumulation of gold, diamonds and precious stones in our temples, and whatever may be our attitude to the destruction of these extremely wealthy temples and monasteries by marauding hordes from the 8th century onwards, India was in equal measure blessed and cursed by having Muslim kings and emperors from about that time, most outstandingly of course the Mughal rulers of India from the 16th century . Under the religiously tolerant Akbar, the country flourished materially and culturally, primarily due to sound fiscal, monetary and infrastructural policies (roads were built,there was a stable currency, and sensible policies regarding taxation and expenditure). As was the case under the Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd c BC, philanthropy appears to have been unnecessary in Akbar’s reign in the 16th century AD. Akbar’s rule was a contrast to the very intolerant Islamic policy followed by his great grandson, Aurangzeb, from whose adventures the empire never recovered. However, it is also worth reminding our contemporary Hindu zealots that the Mughal Empire was not finally destroyed by Shivaji and other Hindus (most of whom were very happy to collaborate with the Mughals and indeed with all other invaders, including the French and the British!), the Mughal empire had its death blow at the hands of a fellow-Muslim, the Afghan, Ahmad Shah Durrani, and the coup de grace was eventually delivered by another group of foreigners, the British.

Meanwhile, Islam had become thoroughly established all over the country, and its impact on philanthropy in India has never been properly studied, though there have been magisterial studies of Muslim philanthropy in Egypt from medieval times to the present (three centuries of Mamluk rule in Egypt have been graced with A. A. Sabra’s Poverty and Charity in Medieval Islam (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), and the situation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by Mine Ener’s Managing Egypt’s Poor and the Politics of Benevolence, 1800-1952 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003); the institution of the Waqf in Central Asia over 400 years has been explored in R. D. McChesney’s book from Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991); politics and charity in the Ottoman empire are analysed by Amy Singer in her book, Constructing Ottoman Beneficence: An Imperial Soup Kitchen in Jerusalem. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002); even in relation to our own times, we have J. Benthall and Jerome Bellion-Jourdan’s The Charitable Crescent: Politics of Aid in the Muslim World (London: I.B. Tauris, 2003); or, more comprehensively, Poverty and Charity in Middle Eastern Contexts, edited by Bonner, M., M. Ener, and A. Singer, eds. 2003. Albany: State University of New York Press.

The collapse of the Mughals provides a convenient point at which to transition to the first phase of the British engagement with India, up to roughly 1813, which was characterized by none other than Lord Macaulay as equivalent to a “gang of public robbers” – in other words, the British up to 1813 matched if they did not outdo all the previous robbers, pillagers, and exploitative rulers the country had known, whether native or foreign. The East India Company Act of 1813 transformed the company from the aforesaid “gang of public robbers” into a civilizing force because of the efforts of the British Evangelicals. The Act provided for freedom of thought in allowing missionaries into India for the first time in 200 years of their rule, and it provided public funds for education, and separate funds for a revival of Indian literature, and yet other funds for the promotion of science. We may or may not agree with Evangelicals, but it was their philanthropic efforts which led to changes not only in public policy but in the entire character of the British Raj in India. Eventually it is to the Evangelicals, supported by the Orientalists and the Utilitarians, that credit is due for the introduction of modern education in India, the place of English in India, the Constitution of the country, its judicial system, and the creation of a merit-based Indian Administrative Service which served India so admirably till Mrs Indira Gandhi’s Emergency from 1975-77 systematically subverted it. Ultimately, the very Independence of India was foreseen by the Evangelicals, and the ground for Indian independence was prepared by them . Of course, Independence was not given to India as a gift by the Evangelicals, whether those in India or those in Britain, but they did help, along with the Utilitarians and the Orientalists, to lay the foundations which led to the creation of a sense of national identity, and ultimately to the struggle for independence.

But it was also Evangelical-induced public policy in India that created the pattern of Indian reaction which still marks India, and can be divided into four tendencies.

The first of these is clearly secularist, starting in the 1830s, typified by individuals who publicly discarded the sacred thread (the most significant mark of belonging to the upper castes), refused to swear by the water of the holy Ganges, established modern libraries, donated land for the very first institution of higher education for women in India, and caused a sensation by refusing to marry child brides as was the tradition. Today, by far the largest number of Indian philanthropists are, I hazard, secularists in their philanthropy, led among others by people who may be Muslim such as AzimPremji, Hindu such as Narayana Murthy, or Parsee such as Ratan Tata (actually all the Parsi business leaders, as the whole community had turned towards a secular or Protestantised direction by the middle of the nineteenth century).

If the secularists are the largest group to emerge from the impact of protestant modernisation, the second group (and perhaps the second largest) were and are those who wish radically to reform Hindu society in the light of Western moral and rationalist ideals. Such reformers range from the Brahmo Samaj and the Prarthana Samaj through Mahatma Jyotiba Phule the founder of the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of the Truth) and pioneer with his wife Savitribai of women’s education in Western India, down to Babasaheb Dr B R Ambedkar (the chief architect of the Indian Constitution), as well as to not only the various official Communist Parties in India (which have reigned from time to time in three Indian states) but also the dreaded Naxalites (followers of a movement that came to birth in 1967, influenced by Maoist thought and, according to VK Singh, the former Indian Army Chief, affecting, by 1990, 50 out of 640 districts in India but, as of January this year now affecting 270 out of 640 districts in the country – so well over a third of the country) .

Third, there are the defendants of the old traditions who are “tempered by reform”, such as the Arya Samaj, the Radha Soami Satsang, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev. In the RSS and the VHP we have examples of movements that are so totally tempered by reform that they wish to entirely remake Hindu society and polity in their own image, being unprepared to tolerate or even acknowledge the existence of other forms of Hindu thought and practice.

Fourth, there are those who wish to defend the old “in almost every particular”, who we may call “conservative defenders”. The first stirring of this new spirit of conservative defence started around Calcutta with the publication in 1872 of Raj Narayan Bose’s The Superiority of Hinduism over all other Forms of Faith. The next year, 1873, saw a group of Hindus forming, also in Calcutta, the Sanatana Dharmarakshini Sabha, or Association for the Defence of the Eternal Religion and, just a few years later, the Hindus of South India began to move in the same direction. However, the man who is really interesting in this context is Ramakrishna Paramahansa.

What distinguished his message from the teaching of others was (a) his defence of everything Hindu, and (b) his novel theory that all religions are true. This “gave his teaching a universalistic tinge, and provided the ordinary Hindu with a defence which he could use to meet (both) Christian criticism and (rising reformist movements such as the Brahma Samaj). The genius of his most famous disciple, Swami Vivekananda, lay in marrying the universalistic ideas of his guru with the strange (to us Indians at that time) idea of social service”. Thus Farquhar, writing in 1914, who also observed that: “The work of the Ramakrishna Mission has grown slowly since Vivekananda’s death. There have been no such results as one would have expected to spring from the unbounded enthusiasm with which the Swami was welcomed when he returned from America after his talk at the Parliament of World Religions in 1893. He summoned his countrymen to practical service, to self-sacrificing work for India. Had the myriads who acclaimed him really responded to his call, the work would soon have attained very great dimensions; but the truth is that ancient Hinduism does not teach the duty of service at all, and that all that the average educated Hindu wants is to get somebody to assure him that Hinduism is as good as Christianity, and that he does not need to become a Christian. Having heard this, amidst the flare of trumpets with which Vivekananda returned from America, the average man gave a sigh of relief, and returned to his vegetating life as an ordinary Hindu. Vivekananda’s call to self-sacrificing service was another of those troublesome appeals which they had heard over and over again from missionaries and Brahma leaders; and they paid no more attention to it. Only a few responded; and these continue to carry on the work” .

However, even Farquhar concedes that, by that time, the impact of Vivekananda especially abroad but also in India, was that “the Hindu, the Jain, the Buddhist, the Parsee .and the Muslim are to-day filled with overflowing confidence each in his own religion; a confidence which tends to be hostile to spiritual life as well as to a reason able estimate of the old faiths. Many a man has a pride in his tone, and shews an arrogance towards outsiders, which are scarcely characteristic of health, whether religious or intellectual. The Modern Review, perhaps the best and most representative of the monthlies at present, frequently contains a good deal of bombast ; and the youthful graduates who speak and write on Hinduism have usually far too much of Vivekananda s swagger about them. Hundreds of men of the student class…believe that the ancient Hindus were as far advanced in the natural sciences as modern Europeans are, and that they had invented not only firearms and locomotives but telegraphs and aeroplanes as well. Yet the arrival of the new spirit was necessary for the health of the country” (pp. 430-431). In those few sentences, Farquhar reveals that Vivekananda’s influence was not confined to the Ramakrishna Mission but combined with and became the motive force of other Hindu revivalist movements, from the Vaishnava sects to the Saiva sects and even the Tantriks and the Smartas. Caste organisations and caste conferences were initiated or strengthened as a result of the awakening that took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

All those streams converged around Mahatma Gandhi who understood the potential and tensions of these tendencies intuitively. Master politician that he was, he attempted to steer a path between his conscience and these forces, to be able to do what was necessary to win independence for India. This sadly created the backlash of the Partition of British India into Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. India adopted a Constitution becoming a secular country, oriented against caste discrimination but, some 66 years after independence, it is clear from increasing reportage of incidents that the forces of reaction against such values are alive and well, while corruption dogs almost every aspect of life in the country.

Meanwhile, citizens inside India, as well as the vastly greater number philanthropic Indians abroad, do all the usual things from charitable activity to philanthropic activity. The amount of charity is growing by leaps and bounds (50% between 2006 and 2011, according to one analysis, though it is still only 0.6% of GDP, greater than charitable giving in the BRIC countries, but some several leagues below the 2.2% of GDP that is contributed in the USA, where 65% of the people donate money though 25% of those giving charitable donations are too poor to be taxed).

In India, there is an amazing and increasing amount being done to help the illiterates, the jobless, the ill-fed, the starving, the sick, the dying. Education is the most popular cause, but how much of so-called educational philanthropy is in fact land grab, how much is mere public relations or other “alignment with business goals” , and how much is capitalistic propaganda rather than sound and balanced study of economic and social truths? India has moved from nationalism through socialism to capitalism but each has been subverted by selfish people to their own ends. To a certain extent that happens everywhere. The question is to what extent it is now happening in India under the guise of philanthropy.

Even in the case of genuine philanthropists, there is a blindness to the key issues facing the nation (corruption, inefficiency, laziness, the politicisation of everything including corruption, rape, murder and caste-based atrocities, the stridency and increasing physical violence on the part of political competitors leading to what is now more or less policy and administrative paralysis in large parts of the country) which means that the most essential thing, the future of the nation as a nation, is escaping attention or is perhaps perceived as being too big a problem to be addressed.

We have seen that the move from charity to philanthropy took place in India starting around the 1880s and that it has moved more and more in the direction of philanthropy since then. Interestingly, that move from charity to philanthropy in India took place at almost exactly the same time as the move to what has come to be called “scientific philanthropy” in the USA. In the last two or three decades, however, philanthropy has delivered, alongside public benefit, a society increasingly divided between the rich and the poor, as well as between ideological extremes, and in danger of freezing into corporatism or, at best, into capitalism of a crony variety.

In India, too, philanthropy had a splendid start – creating the national identity, and financing the very movement that led to the creation of India. Most of the country’s achievements, from land reform to its membership of the nuclear and space clubs, as well as its striking achievements in information technology, can be traced back directly to the efforts of its philanthropists up to the 1960s. After a hiatus of half a century, in which nothing substantially new was achieved, we now see a fresh flowering of Indian philanthropy (according to at least one study, from 2.3% of the wealth of rich individuals in 2010 – HNWI – to 3.1% of their wealth in 2011 though that contrasts with rich Americans giving 9.1% on average), this time the flowering is not under the influence of Christianity but under the influence of modernity. Interestingly, that influence too has come principally from the USA.

The newly promising forms of Indian philanthropy have simply followed in the wake of developments in the USA and, as in the USA, may sooner or later also tend to strengthen the trend towards crony capitalism in India , and the question is whether it is possible rather that Indian philanthropy may take over global leadership of philanthropy’s civilizing mission where US philanthropy left off a few decades ago.

India has been roused from her slumber, prodded into action, and thoroughly tutored by the West. As the West seems to be headed off in the direction of inhumanity and immorality, the question is whether the West will return to the path of virtue and philanthropy; or whether India will perhaps throw off that ancient tutelage and, instead, accept the mantle to move in a different direction which, as it earlier put India at the head of the Non-Aligned Movement, will put India now at the head of philanthropy’s civilizing mission where US philanthropy left off a few decades ago.

Thank you. (A copy of the text with the footnotes is available on request) Sphere: Related Content