Though recovering from an acusticus neurinoma operation and still severely handicapped, I took the risk of flying to Hong Kong (the lure of that city was just too strong) to participate in the World Hindu Economic Forum on 30 June and 1 July. And I haven’t regretted it for a moment.
Conferences of academics, especially in the field of religion and Asian Studies, tend to be disappointing. Everybody reads his very own paper while nothing actually happens. Well, I can live with that as it is the occupational hazard of scholarship. But academics should be pursuing truth, and in my field, truth is often absent from the meetings. And in some of the questions I specifically pursue, I see rather too many colleagues making fools of themselves. Here, it was different.
First of all, by composition this was not the kind of conference I am used to. Though a few professors of Economics participated, most people present, even among the speakers, were businessmen. They were businesslike and meant business. This starts with the keeping of time. Whereas I have witnessed panels where one of the scheduled speakers ended up not speaking due to shortage of time, i.e. because the chair had allowed the earlier speakers to go on and on, here everybody effortlessly kept to his allotted time-span. The businessmen also got their website ready, and donated money to get their organization running. That’s different from the complicated situation prevailing in academia. It also had to do with the sense of initiative of the local Hindu (mainly Sindhi) community and of the conference’s no-nonsense originator, the Vishva Hindu Parishad’s General Secretary Swami Vigyananda. Of course the Sangh Parivar (“family” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) can get things done, but this man was getting something very good done.
Hindu businessmen are not like Indian academics. They have succeeded, not by greasing the right palms or conforming politically, but by their own initiative, inventiveness and work. That success was what for once I got to see here. To be sure, I had seen Hindu businessmen – at conferences meant to be academic, where they had donated money to make the conference possible and in return got some speaking time (and used it to make fools of themselves by giving their opinions on things they didn’t understand). But here they spoke on their own achievements, and that was more impressive. Many existing and new projects were presented. Space, the environment, banking, and of course ICT, Indian businesses are active everywhere. A very optimistic speech was also given by Anil Kumar Bachoo, deputy PM of Mauritius, who invited Indians to settle in his country and accelerate its progress.
Profs. Subramaniam Swamy, Gautam Sen, R. Vaidyanathan and Subhash Thakrar had their speeches printed in the conference book. The economists developed a postcolonial framework for India’s regaining its rightful place in the world economy. As a Westerner, I should note that the speakers were not impressed with the advantages America still has, and they laughed at Europe with its crisis. One reason for their optimism was demographic, another was ethical. Among the major economies, India has the youngest population, but it also has an ancient system of morals and of cosmology that works better than Western individualism.
You want some criticism? Well, here goes. This conference was full of patriotism, which is allowed, but sometimes they overdid it. “I am the richest man in the world – because I am a Hindu”, said a Mister Alpesh Patel from Oxford. At a time when so many poor Hindus succumb to the lure of conversion to Christianity, the statement seemed unduly triumphalistic. Some of the non-speaking attendees gave their opinion at the table and I found their antipathies to the West less than realistic. Thus, I heard a few people fumbling about Western conspiracies against India, when I know for a fact that Westerners generally don’t care about India; and those few who do, see India as a bulwark against China and the Islamic world, worthy of our sympathy and support.
And of course, the proceedings of the conference only were what we got to see. Speakers who announce that they will donate so much money to a good cause are a familiar sight. But I know Hindu organizers who remain skeptical till the money is in, because people seek prestige and photo opportunities and therefore make such announcements without meaning them (or meaning them sincerely but later getting influenced by their families to be more careful with the family assets), so the actual giving never comes through. However, this being a business conference, these fears may be unfounded, and the money may have really materialized. At any rate, they came across as very successful and very Hindu.