Greg Chappell is right; our culture does not produce leaders
Let me confess: as a die hard supporter of Indian cricket and all things Indian, I strongly dislike Greg Chappell. Most unbiased observers agree that his reign as coach of the Indian cricket team was disastrous.
# His stint effectively cut Sourav Ganguly’s career short by two or more years.
# He played havoc with the confidence of players like Virender Sehwag, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh.
# And he wanted Sachin Tendulkar replaced in the team by Suresh Raina.
It is evident from the above list that he couldn’t deal with established players with minds of their own and wanted to groom a crop of youngsters who would do his bidding without question.
His machinations could have been forgiven if the team had done well under his care. But here, too, his report card is awash in red ink – from a cricketing perspective his stint as coach is best remembered by India’s shock first round exit in the 2007 World Cup.
Finally, it reportedly took Tendulkar’s intervention to send him packing.
Since then, Chappell hasn’t had a nice word to say about Indian cricket. That is perfectly all right. His credibility in this country is so poor that no one takes much notice of what he says. And when they do, it’s mostly to dismiss his views as biased and irresponsible.
So, I was a little surprised when his recent remarks – about Indian culture not encouraging leaders to emerge – made it to the front pages of most newspapers and to the prime time slot in most TV news channels.
A second confession will be in order here: much as I dislike Chappell and despite considering most of his views on India as garbage, I actually agree with what he said.
“The culture of India is such that if you stick your head out, somebody will shoot it off. So they learn to keep their heads down and not take responsibility… They lack leaders in the cricket team because they are not trained to be leaders. From an early age, their parents make all the decisions, then their school teachers, and then their cricket coaches,” he told co-author Malcolm Knox in a chat at the launch of his autobiography Fierce Focus.
This, he added, was a result of the education system put in place by the British.
I can see nothing wrong with that statement. From childhood, we are brought up to be risk-averse conformists.
Just look around:
# Why hasn’t India produced a single Steve Jobs or Bill Gates?
# Why are there no Indian companies among the most innovative corporations in the world?
# Why can’t the next Facebook develop in the dorms of our IITs?
# Why can’t our domestic scientists invent things that will be the envy of the world?
# Why do our leading management gurus have to teach at American universities before they are taken seriously at home?
# Why do we need retired foreign players to coach the Indian cricket team?
The answer is simple: because we do not produce enough leaders.
And how do we treat innovators?
Dr Subhas Mukhopadhyay, who created the world’s second (and India’s first) test tube baby in Kolkata using in-vitro-fertilisation, was hounded by jealous colleagues and a callous West Bengal government. He wasn’t allowed to share his research with the international scientific community and harassed at home as a fraud. Dr Mukhopadhyay committed suicide in 1981, three years after what should have been his finest hour.
Indians are justifiably proud of the Indian Institutes of Technology. They produce engineers who are second to none in the world. Silicon Valley and the world’s largest technology companies have a disproportionate number of IIT grads in their ranks.
But how many of them have filed patents for breakthrough technologies? Compared to, say an MIT or a Cambridge, how many IIT alumnus have won Nobel prizes.
These are uncomfortable questions and the answers may not be easily palatable to readers who have got used to thinking of India as a technology superpower.
Here’s a reality check: India files far fewer patents than even China. It means China is far ahead of us in research and the chasm between the two countries is widening.
Blame this lag on one person: Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay. His minute on education, written in 1835, remains the bedrock on which the entire edifice of Indian education still rests.
All of us, at some level, owe our education to what Macaulay wrote 177 years ago. We’ve been independent for 65 years. It is time someone wrote another minute that will inform Indian education in the 21st century. Unless we break decisively from the legacy of Macaulay, Indians will continue to languish in the leadership sweepstakes.
Let us turn our attention back to cricket.
# How many times have you wondered why the hell the Indian captain is not posting a third man to stop the dozens of edged fours?
# How many times have you wondered why he is not keeping a man at silly point and/or forward short leg even as a new batsman
struggles to get going?
# And how many times have you seen the opposition captain do precisely those things to put India under yet more pressure?
All this happens because, as Chappell rightly points out, we aren’t trained to become leaders from childhood. The rare Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, MAK Pataudi, Ratan Tata or Amartya Sen we produce is in spite of the system, not because of it.
So, let us not behave like ostriches when a mirror is held up to our faces. Unless we take urgent steps to replace our culture of conformism with a culture of innovation, the window of opportunity – to own this century as the US owned the latter half of the 20th century – will close forever.
Let us take note of Chappell’s observation – even if we don’t wish to alter our views of him.