251 / March 25, 2024

Sanjeev Sanyal UNFILTERED – Kolkata’s Downfall & Bihar’s UPSC Craze

41 Minutes

251 / March 25, 2024

Sanjeev Sanyal UNFILTERED – Kolkata’s Downfall & Bihar’s UPSC Craze

41 Minutes
Listen on

About the Episode

This week’s episode is once again in discussion with PM Narendra Modi’s Economic Advisor who talks about Kolkata’s Downfall, Bihar’s UPSC Craze & The Indian Dream as we welcome once again, Sanjeev Sanyal to the Neon Show!

The Reason Behind India’s Rapid Growth

The West’s Problem With India!

Why Did Jyoti Basu Get Elected As CM?

What Led To Bihar’s Downfall?

All these juicy topics and more in this UNFILTERED conversation about India’s growth story. A dive into the “poverty of aspiration” that has limited India in the past till recently & why it is now a country that is to be reckoned with… Tune in NOW!

Watch all other episodes on The Neon Podcast – Neon

Or view it on our YouTube Channel at The Neon Show – YouTube

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:00

Hundreds of 1000s of people from Kolkata replied that I’m from Kolkata and I can relate to it. It is getting murdered in front of my eyes.


Sanjeev Sanyal 00:06

I’m trying to rebuild a civilization. I’m not building just an economy. So building a highway and rebuilding the Ayodhya Temple are part of the same agenda.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:15

Why did people elect Jyoti Basu, as a socialist government?


Sanjeev Sanyal 00:18

People elect all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons. The question is why did they re-elect him? In my view, why shouldn’t Indians be billionaires? We have 1/6 of the world’s population. 1/6 of the world’s billionaires should live in India.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:29

I was recently in the US in Los Angeles. There’s a summit called Montgomery Summit held by the Montgomery family, which is a billionaire family. Every slide had India at the forefront.


Sanjeev Sanyal 00:37

Absolutely. So that is a change. We could have done this a generation ago, maybe two generations ago, but we didn’t because our aspiration was that we would stay poor. If you must dream, surely you should dream to be Elon Musk or Mukesh Ambani. Why did you dream to be Joint Secretary?


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:52

Are you not dreaming of being Sachin and Binny Bansal of Flipkart?


Sanjeev Sanyal 00:54

I still think way too many young kids who have so much energy etc. are wasting their time basically trying to crack the UPSC. If they put the same energy into doing something else, we will be winning more Olympic gold medals. We’ll be seeing better movies being made. You’d see better doctors, entrepreneurs, scientists and so on. So I would say it’s a waste of time.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 01:17

This is Siddhartha Ahluwalia. Welcome to the Neon Show. Sanjeev Sanyal sir, so good to have you back on the show.


Sanjeev Sanyal 01:23

It’s a pleasure.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 01:24

Thank you so much. Your first episode on Neon Show received tremendous response. Almost 800,000 views on the main episode, few shorts have crossed 1 million each. And the audience wanted you back on the show. Thank you so much for coming back. I’m so glad that we could make it happen.


Sanjeev Sanyal 01:39

It’s a pleasure.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 01:40

Sir would like to start with what are the different things that you’re now part of? It’s been almost four, five months since our last conversation.


Sanjeev Sanyal 01:46

So I mean, obviously, my day job, which is my primary activity, is running the economy. So as you know, I’m the economic adviser to the prime minister. And so that takes up much of my time. I also have an interest in writing history books, as you know, so although I’ve not written a book recently, but I have to give lectures and so on, and one of those books, Revolutionaries, is being converted into an Amazon Prime series. So that is something on the side. I’m also trying to build a wooden ship, okay, based on a fifth century AD design, which was a Gupta era design of a ship, from the Indian Ocean region. And it will be built on the original sort of concept, so there’ll be no nails in it, it will be stitched together. And it will have obviously all the seals and it will not even have a rudder it’ll use a trailing over. And the idea is to build this which is being done in Goa as we speak. And the next year when it comes on stream, then with the help of the Navy, I’m going to attempt to sail this first to Oman and then to Indonesia.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 02:59

Amazing. We will look forward to it. Sir, our audience loved our conversation about Kolkata last time, and they’re all asking more details on it. Like last time, you mentioned the word ‘Kolkata didn’t die. It was murdered.’ And the audience just latched on to it because hundreds of 1000s of people from Kolkata replied, sharing comments that, ‘I am from Kolkata, or I have visited Kolkata. Stayed in Kolkata for 20 years. And I can relate to it. It is getting murdered in front of my eyes.’ right? So just want to go back to the history of it, where it all started with maybe Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, and in 1947, as you mentioned, in a few interviews, it was the largest hub, the largest city, across Asia, like after Japan, maybe.


Sanjeev Sanyal 03:41

So, yeah, I mean, when I was born, as I mentioned, Kolkata was even in 1970, it was India’s biggest city, it was the biggest commercial industrial hub. It was culturally & politically a very vibrant place. Indeed, before independence, even more important because it, of course, was a capital till 1912, actually effectively into the 1930s because even though the capital shifted, it continued to be the main hub. And it produced all these greats within a few generations. I mean, Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Netaji, Rabindranath Tagore. And by the way many of these people knew each other very well. So it’s within a couple of generations and this huge and by the way, they were a huge industry— Bengalis, by the way, were famous as scientists, as businessmen.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 04:37

The original Marwadi—


Sanjeev Sanyal 04:38

Originally Marwadi success came from Kolkata, not from the original homeland Rajasthan. The Birlas originally made their money there. So this was a real driver, and then it all fell apart. And this is important to understand because when one thing falls apart, which is let’s say, you decide that you know, you are going to for whatever socialist kind of reasons you’re going to wreck the economy, be very clear that everything else gets wrecked as well. So there is no such thing as a vibrant cultural hub, which is not also an economic hub. So this is important because this is also in the context of, you know, many people ask me, Why do you work in so many areas? Why are you working in history? Why are you building this ship? Why are you also working on the— Why don’t you just focus on this? They have completely misunderstood what we are trying to do. In the end, I’m trying to rebuild a civilization. I’m not building just an economy. The economy is a part of it. But the overall purpose is rebuilding civilization. So building a highway and rebuilding Ayodhya temple are part of the same agenda. And they cannot be understood separately from each other. And by the way, all civilizations that go through a renaissance or a rebirth, have this phenomena.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 05:57

Europe for example, you talked about it.


Sanjeev Sanyal 05:59

Yes. So if you look at the late 1300/1400s, what happened in Europe. In northern Italy, not even in all of Europe. In a small area, northern Italy, a whole small group of relatively small towns go through this explosion. And you have Florence, for example, producing this amazing art. Venice produces amazing art. But in fact, neither of those is actually… The real business is not art. It’s actually in the case of Florence, it’s finance, right? Banking, what is the great invention? It is not art. It is actually double entry bookkeeping. Venice’s great successes are maritime trade. It’s the stock exchange. And so all the art is actually a sub thing that sort of happens on the side as a result of this.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 06:46

When you have wealth, these things are the side-effects—


Sanjeev Sanyal 06:48

No, that is precisely what I’m trying to tell you. That is the wrong way to think about it. What really is happening is an opening of mind and opening of aspiration, which is manifesting in different ways. So the same people who were funding the art, were also doing the banking and also sailing the shore. And by the way, this entire phenomenon that I just mentioned, starts from northern Italy, rapidly spreads. It goes to the Netherlands. It goes to Britain. It goes to Spain. So the same people who are listening to Shakespeare, write his plays, and his first actual Shakespearean play is done for the first time. Elizabethen England are also the people who sank the Armada. Francis Drake must have watched those Shakespearean plays. He also is the guy who circumnavigated the world. It’s the same people who set up the first East India Company. Same thing is going on meanwhile, in the Netherlands. So what I’m trying to say is, it is not surprising that Kolkata was the hub of everything, because it very often were the same people doing all these different things. They knew each other. So it’s really an opening of mind that happened. And it’s called the Bengal renaissance in the same way as you talk about the European Renaissance. So when it went into decline, it was a closing of mind. And the closing of mind didn’t just happen in business and in commerce. It also happened in science at about the same time. It happened in culture. It happened in every sphere of human activity. So, it is extraordinary that not only did you know the Birlas and all these people leave Kolkata and set up shop in Mumbai and other places. It is also the case that Kolkata has never produced again, somebody of the caliber of Satyajit Ray, or Rabindranath Tagore, or Swami Vivekananda or Netaji Subhas Bose or Sri Aurobindo, or Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose, or any number of other names I can give you. It just didn’t produce anybody of that caliber. Once things began to unwind everything unwound.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 09:04

And what caused like, like, why did people elect Jyoti Basu or the socialist government in the first place?


Sanjeev Sanyal 09:11

So you know, people elect all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons. Yes. The question is, why did they re-elect him because having elected him it was quite obvious what he was doing. Yeah, I even remember his first term, which was, I think, ’77 to whatever ’82 or whatever, the first term whenever he got elected. He had already carried out the Marichjhapi massacre. He had already begun to shut down the businesses. He already was mismanaging electricity supply. So that you know, I remember growing up doing my homework essentially by lantern and candle light. You know, people have this thing that ‘My father was very poor.’ and then he would sit under, you know, would do his homework by a kerosene lamp and all that. I also did my homework using a Kerosene lamp. Not because I came from a poor family. I came from a solidly middle-class family, but because there was no electricity, and this was before the days of when generators were commonly available. So, the question is, why did they keep bringing him back despite lack of performance? You know, you can try out anybody once. Why do you keep re— Now some part of it was, of course, electoral malpractice, booth capturing was converted into an art form.

Sanjeev Sanyal 10:31

But I would argue that even more important than that was a poverty of aspiration. If your society aspires that the highest form of life is a union leader, or a, you know, an order intellectual, what in Kolkata is called an appeal. And, you know, that is your aspiration, that you are sitting around smoking and having a sip of your old monk and, you know, passing judgment on the rest of the world rather than doing anything and smoking throughout the day. Yeah, I personally have no problem with either of them, your health, but pointing them out is the aspiration of society. If Mrinal Sen movies are the aspiration of your society, then do not complain that that is what you get.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 11:22

And suddenly, from being the aspiration of society to being a scientist, right, by electing a— You mentioned, it’s a complex world, once you elect the wrong kind of government, you set wrong kind of aspirations. And still—


Sanjeev Sanyal 11:33

No, it’s the other way around. That’s the point I’m making to you repeatedly. It is not the government that causes this problem.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 11:40

It is a poverty of aspiration.


Sanjeev Sanyal 11:41

It is a poverty of aspiration that leads you to these governments. Ultimately, every people get the leader they deserve. And if you deserve, if you want to elect a Lalu Yadav then do not expect anything else as the outcome.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 11:59

And where do people get this poverty of aspiration.


Sanjeev Sanyal 12:03

So this is a huge debate. A sociological debate. Other people can work on it, but it happens to every people at certain points in time. So some cycles are short, some are long. But if you look at, say, the West. There was a time whether you like it or not, they did conquer the whole world. Okay, brutal as it may have been, it is also quite extraordinary that a small country, like Britain, ruled over us. Yeah, and you had even more tiny country, Netherlands controlled Indonesia, and South Africa and all kinds of other places, Sri Lanka, so you have to grant it to these guys that they were willing to take these things. These huge risks, and they had this sort of scale of thought. The Europeans did create much of modern society. The scientific breakthroughs and so on. And the same thing happened with America in that in much of the 20th century. They aspired to go to the moon. They aspired to create all the technologies that we today create. Then at some point in time, their aspiration shrank to which gender they wanted to have. And so I can assure you that the politics you’re now seeing in America is a direct reflection of the poverty of their aspirations.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 13:23

And I can completely now relate and understand what you’re trying to say. First people choose their heroes, and then they create their societies.


Sanjeev Sanyal 13:31

Yes, absolutely. You ultimately become the heroes that you choose. So if your heroes are you know, union leaders, and you will get union leaders. If your, you know, great economists are basically glorifying poverty then don’t complain that you get poverty, but because in each one of these things, an economy arises out of it. So you will get an you know, an entire povertarian system will emerge out of it. You will get NGOs that will fund research that talks about certain kinds of poverty. For that, money will come then that money will be utilized. Now, supposing it begins to actually solve poverty, that’s a problem, because your business model is based on perpetuating poverty.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 14:19

It’s like, I remember, there was a theory that Englishmen used to pay snake herders or people who used to catch snakes. So now people have started breeding snakes.

Sanjeev Sanyal 14:31

Yes. And so I’ll give you one example on which I have written about myself very recently. A newspaper article appeared recently in a leading newspaper in India, and then it was carried in similar kinds of ways and others as well. That many millions of kids in India are zero food kids, okay, zero for an infant. So the baby is basically six to 12 months old. Six to 24 months or whatever. They were called Zero food infants, okay, and there are so many millions of them. And then there was this thing that was based on a study that was published, which also mentions, you know, zero food. So I wondered, look, if there’s so many millions of kids who are getting zero food, then they shouldn’t be alive even. So how are they even alive? So I dug into this. And by the way, I’ve written this as an article in the Swarajya. So other people who want to read it can. So what I discovered was that it wasn’t actually zero food. What was going on was… so there were these babies, who, in the 24 hours before the survey was taken, had not been fed anything other than breast milk. Now, breast milk is food. In fact, we have a huge campaign in India to encourage mothers to breastfeed their kids. Okay, now, suppose a child who’s seven months old, mostly is fed on breast milk. But for the previous 24 hours has not been fed whatever, porridge or something, then according to this survey, he or she would be zero food baby. Now, of course, there are millions of such babies in this country. Right? Is it a bad thing? No, in fact, we encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies, and yet this was being set up in a way that was suggesting that there is mass starvation of babies in the country, which is absolutely not the case. I mean, there may be nutritional problems, but mass starvation is not the problem and yet you are setting this up. So, I looked into this whole thing. So this whole thing is a well oiled machine. One of these billionaire foundations will go and fund these studies, then those studies will show either a lack of nutrition or vitamin D deficiency. Whatever is the latest thing that you want to sell to India, and then it will be then next stage will be, it will come out even more sensationalized in the press. So what will happen is that public perception will be built up for a certain povertarian narrative, and then that pressure will be used to carry out certain policy interventions, which you know, are useful to whoever was the original funder of the project. And so you will be sold medicines. You will be sold baby food. You will be sold all kinds of things. And by the way, there is a very long history to this. This is not a new phenomenon. This has been going on, at least from independence.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 17:32

And we know that all the baby food companies are American companies.


Sanjeev Sanyal 17:37

Yeah, but you know, I can tell you that this thing is a very old thing. And there are many well-known phenomena in India, which have their origins in this ecosystem of research funded by these foreign agencies, and then certain outcomes, which are then interestingly, those outcomes are then criticized by the same funding agencies for other purposes.

Sanjeev Sanyal 18:10

And I’ll give you one example, which is fully documented. So, I want you to know this, because it is a fully documented thing. We all know that even now, but till very recently, we had a serious problem with gender selective abortion. And because of which, particularly in some of these Northwestern states, there was a serious imbalance in the number of boys being born much in excess of the number of girls right? Y’all know this. And India has been much criticized for this. Haryana particularly, Punjab, Western U.P. This is basically the zone where this happens. And basically, we are told this is because of, you know, our inborn culture, patriarchy, evil Indian customs, etc. Now, let me tell you the actual origin of this. Back in the 1960s, 50s and 60s, there were a series of articles in western journals, talking about how non white populations were growing very fast, and then they would overwhelm the world. So it was purely, I mean, quite offensively racist. They didn’t realize we would read them today. But they’re quite blatant about the fact that their main problem is that non white populations are growing very fast. So it was decided by various departments, at that time, geopolitical powers of that time that something had to be done about this, because otherwise the world would be taken over by these brown looking people. So, a huge effort was made to intervene in these countries to have population control. So how are they going to do this? So they decided that look, the number of men does not actually matter. It is the number of women that matters because you can have only one man and you can still have population growth if a number of other women are there. So therefore, we need to do something about reducing the number of girls being born. So here came the thought that what you can do is to weaponize son preference in traditional societies. All traditional societies have son preference. Nothing new. Even the West, before they developed, had a preference for sons, which is, you know, they are needed for work. They’re needed for war, and so on. So there is a son preference, but it’s quite different from what happened next. So basically, they came to India and sold this idea to the Indian authorities in the 19, late 60s and 70s. Of course, in the emergency we had nasbandi etc. But the thing in which they really focused was something quite different. Basically, these whole bunch of Rockefeller, Ford, even some UN agencies were involved in this. And they basically imported their funding ultrasound machines. And they basically said that, look, this is great. Why don’t you allow parents to actually choose their child? So now you’re weaponizing a son’s preference, and they know why they’re doing this. Yeah. Then the first several 1000 of these sex selection abortions happened in AIIMS. The doctors who carried out those operations with full support from these international agencies, they’re still alive. And this is all well documented. And then in the late 70s, and early 80s, they began to spread this message. So they began to, you know, these so-called NGOs, got into their cars. In those days. SUVs were quite rare. So they were the only people who used to have these large SUVs and their white colored SUVs. From Lodhi road, they drove out in different directions. And if you then look at where the gender imbalances were the worst after that in the 80s, 90s, and so on. It was along those highways leading out of Lodhi road. Now all of this is very well documented. There’s a book called Unnatural Selection by Pulitzer winning journalist Mara Hvistendahl. You can get her book on Amazon. All of this is well documented that this, this whole sex selection operation was funded by these agencies in India. These ultrasounds were brought in. The doctors were trained. The operations actually happened in AIIMS. And when it began to cause this imbalance in birth, who was blamed? Indian culture. Okay, and then the same agencies now have entire departments telling us how, you know, we should have better x y z for women. So, what did they manage to do? They were first of all manipulating our population. They were creating a market for their ultrasound machines. So, the same thing happens when you hear you know, there is, you know, a huge problem with vitamin D deficiency. Always be very suspicious about where these studies are being conducted, because essentially what is happening, you are being manipulated. And going back to earlier points, your aspirations are also being manipulated.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 23:33

And so we really don’t know right, where this poverty of aspiration, it can be a theory. It might have come from the West.


Sanjeev Sanyal 23:39

No, no. So some part of it is of course, I mean, you are told that you should not aspire to have billionaires, right? You’re told, ‘Oh, my God, look, you have such poverty. You should not have billionaire.’ Adani, Ambani. Nowadays Adani, Ambani. 20 years ago, 30 years ago, when I was growing up we used to hear Tata, Birla Right. But my view is, why shouldn’t Indians be billionaires. We are 1/6 of the world’s population. 1/6 of the world’s billionaires should live in India, right? After all, all the NGOs that scream so much about this billionaire problem. All of them are actually funded by Western billionaires. Soros’s open society, Omidyar, Ford, Rockefeller, who are they? They are all billionaires. The problem is not with white billionaires. If the billionaire is white, it’s perfectly fine. It’s with brown billionaires that they have a problem. Why do they have a problem with brown billionaires?


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 24:36

I can give you one example right, which is closer to the venture capital world. The Omidyar established the Omidyar fund, back like 15 years ago to fund the poor population of India. Recently, they closed the fund in India and went back and they had huge like 50-100 employees for a fund. It’s large. And the reason was that India doesn’t need us. It’s not that India doesn’t need us. India has stopped listening to their narrative.


Sanjeev Sanyal 24:59

Absolutely, we stopped listening to the narrative. They were trying to manipulate us and they were called out. That is all there is to it. And the same thing is happening. So, going back to this point of zero food, please go and look at who funded it. That paper tells you who funded it. And they are the same people who fund similar studies and other things. And so, it is shocking that this not only is the problem of poverty of aspiration, very often this poverty of aspiration is slowly seeping into you through movies. Yeah, you look at the kinds of Indian movies that will be given awards. The same povertarian ones. You talk about poverty and you will be given the Nobel prize as well. This is basically fed back into you that we should aspire for poverty.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 25:52

Like Mother India was such a called out movie, though it was a brilliant movie. But it received international honors back in its day, because it showed the poverty of India.


Sanjeev Sanyal 26:01

No, at least in those days, we were that poor. Today, we are nowhere near that poor. And so this, this change that you’re seeing in India is a lot to do with the changes that are happening in our own heads


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 26:14

And the heroes we are choosing now.


Sanjeev Sanyal 26:16

Absolutely. So the changes in our own heads and the aspirations we have we now say that we will build a better parliament. We will build the world’s largest office complex. We will go to the moon and every stage notice the same people will come and tell you, ‘Arey you are a poor country. Why do you want to do this?’ Yes, we want to do it. In fact, you know, the average auto driver who is very poor, also feels a certain sense of pride that India’s sending satellites to the moon. Right? So why does he feel it, because his aspirations have changed. And so if you look at India, as a map, you will see, you can clearly see the difference of economic success is directly correlated to aspirational success.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 27:08

So I’ll tell you one incident. I was recently in the US in Los Angeles. There was a summit called Montgomery Summit. And it’s held by the Montgomery family, which is a billionaire family. On every slide— the first slide was presented by the family. There are 30 slides though every slide had India at forefront.


Sanjeev Sanyal 27:26

Absolutely so that is a change. That is a change. We could have done this a generation ago, maybe two generations ago, but we didn’t because our aspiration was that we would stay poor.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 27:38

And coming to a dichotomy right, which people call… We want to build the best temples in India, the largest magnificent temples, and the best government buildings now and we are tearing up our old government buildings. Why is that?


Sanjeev Sanyal 27:51

Same logic. So, if you go to Shastri Bhavan then you will understand the poverty of aspiration. These were built in the 50s. Now, the government buildings of the previous generation, which the British had built, look at the North block and South block. Whatever it may be, they had genuine imperial ambitions and they expressed it. Right? So you can disagree with their colonial policies and all that. But you cannot say that from their perspective. They were not ambitious, and that you know, they aspire to signal power and whatever it is that they were doing, they did what we aspire? We aspired to build these concrete, small concrete CPWD construction. Go to Shastri Bhavan or Nirman Bhawan or any number of other ones in Delhi and the central government. Forget about the state government ones. From 1947 till the now very recent building of the new parliament, tell me one genuine serious building that post independence India built. None right? They built only one in Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore right, which is okay, it’s a decent sized building, but you know, there’ll be the very few really you know, great buildings. It’s only in recent times that we have begun to aspire to build big. So this is the aspiration we have. So the same thing. When we tear down these old government buildings, what is the aspiration we have?There will be narrow lanes in which bureaucrats will be sitting and there will be an air conditioner which will be dripping. And then when you walk down those damp corridors you can smell the toilet from anywhere along. That is our aspiration. Right? So it’s not that people at that time didn’t know how to build better because just a generation earlier they had built North block and South block. These are the same people whose forefathers had built you know, the Meenakshi Temple and Taj Mahal etc. So it’s not like Indians didn’t know how to construct good buildings. So why is it that we built Shastri Bhavan? So the tearing down of Shastri Bhavan is the tearing down of a block in our head. And it’s an important thing to tear these buildings down. Because otherwise we were— we will be caught in that. And not only will we be caught in that, we will be also encouraged to think that that is all we can aspire to. And then, when we have not succeeded, rather than blame this poverty aspiration you will blame other things, you know. Even by the 70s our economic growth was quite obviously floundering. But who was blamed? Did we blame Nehru or socialism? No, we blamed Hinduism. Hindu rate of growth.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 30:53

And it’s a very interesting thing that the West is criticizing India for building the statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. They’re saying it’s not economically efficient. You could have realized taxes better. But now we have Bill Gates coming to India and posting a video in front of Sardar Vallabhai Patel. And now they’re praising it.


Sanjeev Sanyal 31:12

No, no. The point of the matter is that they want us to go to America. Stand in front of the Statue of Liberty and take a selfie. If we do it in front of a building that we built, that is their problem. Even if you do it in India, it is okay to do it in front of Victoria terminus, because they built it. If we built it, do it in front of something we built, then there is a problem.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 31:34

And probably, I think it will take some time to get over brown billionaires.


Sanjeev Sanyal 31:39

No, I think it’ll happen faster than you think. After all, they quickly accepted Chinese and Japanese billionaires. They have no problem with Arab Sheikhs. So they’ll get used to Indian billionaires also. In fact, we need to get used to Indian billionaires. Our problem is not that of Indian billionaires. But our problem is you don’t have enough of them. I want more billionaires. New first-generation billionaires. They will generate the jobs. They will generate the energy, and there should be a continuous churn of them.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 32:12

Then it’s not just a problem of Bengal having the poverty of aspiration. Even Bihar and Kerala. Both of these states have followed the same and ended up having the same set of leaders.


Sanjeev Sanyal 32:23

Yeah, I mean, Bihar, as I said, just like being all aspired to pseudo intellectuals and union leaders, Bihar aspired to small time, local goon politicians.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 32:35



Sanjeev Sanyal 32:36

Or UPSC. Yeah. So in an environment where those are the role models, you can either become a local goon, if you don’t want to become a local goon, you don’t know your way out, is to basically become a civil servant. Now even that, although it’s better than being a goon, even that is a poverty of aspiration. I mean, at the end of it why even— if you must dream, surely you should dream to be Elon Musk, or Mukesh Ambani. Why did you dream to be Joint Secretary?


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 33:08

You’re not dreaming of being Sachin and Binny Bansal of Flipkart.


Sanjeev Sanyal 33:11

Yeah so that’s the point I’m making. So you need to, you know, think about how a society thinks about risk taking, and scale, and so on. So I think one of the problems of say, a place like Bihar is not that it had bad leaders. The bad leaders are a reflection of what that society aspires for. So if you’re aspiring for this, you will get it. So I think that what is happening, thankfully, is across the country, our aspirations are changing. Now, of course, not everywhere. I still think way too many young kids who have so much energy etc, are wasting their time basically trying to crack the UPSC. I’m not saying you don’t want people to take the exam. Yes, every country needs a bureaucracy, that’s perfectly fine. But I think lakhs of people spending their best years trying to crack an exam where a tiny number of few 1000 people actually want to get in, makes no sense. If they put the same energy into doing something else, you know, we would be winning more Olympic gold medals, we’d be seeing better movies being made, we’d see better doctors, we would see more, you know, entrepreneurs, scientists and so on. So I would say that the same energy is put into something else. So I would say it’s a waste of time and I Always discourage people unless they really want to be, you know, an administrator, they shouldn’t take the UPSC exam. I mean, if they really— because many of them have gone through it, then they get frustrated through the course of their career. In the end, you know, life and bureaucracy is not meant for everybody and large parts of it as with any profession, but large parts of it are largely dull and boring, and about passing files up and down. And unless you really wanted to do it, and you’re not going to be particularly happy with it.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 35:11

I’ll share one more anecdote with you right now. In India it was unheard of that both husband-wife, couples are entrepreneurs. That is now happening in hordes and hordes. So, Indian society as a whole is giving up security as a notion. Why we claim for UPSC or even 50,000 people lined up on a railway station for a few 1000 police jobs, which has been recently right like in Kanpur—


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 35:34

As you mentioned, right, our poverty of aspiration led us to cling on to Gandhiji. Gandhi said that doing business is bad or profit is bad.


Sanjeev Sanyal 35:34

This is still happening, but I’m trying to say it is changing. At least in the middle class, it has significantly changed. People are taking risks and this is going back to my original point. This is an opening of mind which is not just happening in that little space of entrepreneurship. This is a change of attitude. And this change of attitude will manifest itself in everything it will manifest itself in science, it will manifest itself in music, in literature. There’s an explosion of Indian you know, Indian literature as well. There is the all kinds of innovation will happen because we will naturally live in this world where doing new things and so on is thought of being as a natural thing that you know, people do and it is encouraged, as opposed to what happens— Even in Indian intellectual life for example, one of the things that will strike you is true of Indian academia to this day, that when you go through a certain argument, the argument is not ultimately won by virtue of the logic from first principles or from the evidence you bring. Ultimately, the argument is won by quoting authority that Gandhiji said this, or Ambedkar said this. Whoever happens to be your favorite is great, okay. That is a society that is not thinking in an expanding way. It has already decided that the ultimate has been said already by somebody and that is the limits of knowledge.

Sanjeev Sanyal 37:04

Whatever it is. The point of the matter is that it is essentially a society that is not progressing. It is already jammed up, because you have already defined what is progress by some great whoever happens to be your great.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 37:35

And we have in the last 25 years, case studies of cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, obviously New Delhi, Gurgaon getting developed, but in the recent past itself, like Uttar Pradesh is changing its image dramatically.


Sanjeev Sanyal 37:47

Yes, so that’s why sometimes you need to actually do an external shock, so to speak, to begin to change that dynamic. And I think you are seeing that in places like Eastern U.P. Western U.P. like Noida has access to Delhi there anyway so they were coming out of that. But I think what is happening now is very visible in eastern U.P. Started, of course, with Varanasi, but now with, if you look at Ayodhya. New airport. A big new temple. And so the changing dynamics of that is quite, you know, quite visible. The highways that are going through. The train stations. You’re no longer thinking in small scale, you know, thinking in stuff that, you know, our great grandchildren will be proud to look at. That’s how we think about it now. First time.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 38:38

And Gujarat building the first GIFT city of India.


Sanjeev Sanyal 38:41

Yeah, so what I’m trying to say at every level, we try to do something. Not all of this will succeed. Not all of this will be great. Some of it is rubbish. It’s okay. And some of it will be pulled down. But you see, we don’t start with the thing that we are poor so we should remain poor so that we have broken out of.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 39:05

It’s wonderful to see right? Even the West is trying to pull India down. Let’s say for example, I don’t know whether it’s true or false. Hindenburg published the report on Adani—


Sanjeev Sanyal 39:13

Look there are people who will support India’s rise and the people who will find that threatening. That is the nature of being. We have to allow for the fact that we are changing the dynamics of the world. There will be people who benefit and they will applaud and there will be who will try to push us down. So, in the same country, there will be different groups and different things. So, if you go to the US for example, there are people who will, you know, who are enthusiastic about India. They will want to invest in India. They want to help us. There is an Indian diaspora, who is very excited about it. And then there are others who will find it threatening, including members by the way of the Indian diaspora who had created this entire ecosystem based on essentially milking India’s poverty for whatever projects and so on. There’ll be members of the old elite of India who no longer find themselves relevant, whatever it may be. So it’s not just that, you know, there will be members of our own who will feel threatened by this.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 40:15

Thank you so much sir. It’s been a wonderful discussion. I think poverty of aspiration is such a highlighted topic that we need to educate our youth on it right? Choose your heroes wisely. If you choose your heroes—


Sanjeev Sanyal 40:26

Absolutely the danger is that very often you will end up increasing like the heroes you choose.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 40:32

Thanks a lot sir.


Sanjeev Sanyal 40:34

Thank you.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 40:34

It’s been a pleasure hosting you for the second time on the Neon Show. Such an honour!

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