Mahdism, a revolutionary doctrine

Participants at the Tehran-hosted International Conference on Mahdism enter the conference hall. (file photo)

By Syed Zafar Mehdi
Iran Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani told the recently held International Conference in Tehran that “a new Middle East is being formed as a result of the ongoing wave of Islamic Awakening”. The two-day conference, held June 24-25, was attended by a galaxy of scholars and intellectuals from across the world. A Christian scholar from Lebanon rubbing shoulder with a Muslim scholar from Morocco, discussing the various interpretations of the concept of messianism, is a sight to behold. A total number of 37 research papers were presented in four commissions during the conference.


Iran’s Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad Hosseini stated that a society based on Mahdism doctrine is a society where justice, welfare, progress and knowledge prevail.

The idea of a messiah or savior or redeemer is common to all major religions and traditions of the world, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity.

In Islamic context, the concept of messianism (Mahdism) revolves around an eschatological figure who will rise and establish a system built on the foundations of justice, peace and social order. In Iran, the concept of Mahdism is deeply entrenched in the popular politico-religious discourse.

The concept emerged as a phenomenon in Iran in the 16th century under Safavid rulers. Since then, it has played a dominating role in shaping the religious and political dynamics in the country.

The Mahdism Doctrine conference, now into its 9th year, seeks to engage with the world on the thought-provoking concept of Mahdism and its relevance in the present times.

The philosophy of Mahdism has tremendous influence on the Iranian foreign policy. To borrow the words of British Marxist historian Eric Hosbawm, the concept can be broadly divided into two categories: passive and revolutionary. In the passive Mahdism, you immerse yourself in prayers and hope for the savior’s reappearance from occultation.

In the revolutionary Mahdism, you stand up and participate in the process of change. Iranian concept of Mahdism, as propagated by Imam Khomeini and later by Imam Khamenei, has revolutionary contours. It calls upon believers to strengthen their faith, individually and collectively, and set the ground for the savior’s reappearance.

In unequivocal terms, The Holy Quran and Prophetic traditions have predicted the glorious triumph of the forces of right over might and the establishment of a society built on the foundations of justice and righteousness. The wait and anticipation for that bright tomorrow continues, and as Imam Sajjad (as) said, “The greatest success is to wait for the reappearance of Imam”. (Al Ihtejaj vol.2 Pg.154. Kamaaluddin vol.1 Pg.320)

Awaiting or anticipating is primarily the result of two main conditions: not satisfied with the status quo and expecting things to change for good. A waiter is never tired of waiting because he knows the wait, however prolonged and distressing, is worth it.

He keeps waiting with an elixir of hope to see and participate in the process of change. But, merely being disgruntled with the status-quo is not sufficient. A person has to step out of the comfort zone, strive hard and prepare the ground for visible and fertile change to happen.

In the present circumstances – with the moral bankruptcy, endemic corruption, grinding poverty, scourge of illiteracy, ignorance, misrule and barbarism reaching the climax – what should an awaiter await for? In more precise terms, what are the responsibilities of a person waiting for the turn-around?

It is important to enjoin others to pursue good deeds (amr bil maruf) and advocate against sinful practices (nahi anil munkar). Extending the helping hand towards poor and marginalized in our society and bridging the yawning gap between haves and have-nots is an essential part of mahdism. We have to be aware of the sinister plots and conspiracies being hatched by the enemies of humankind. An important part of ‘awaiting’ and ‘preparing’ for messiah also includes non-cooperation and resistance against tyrant rulers and corrupt regimes world over.

There is a clear instruction in Holy Quran for believers waiting for the change. “And say to those who do not believe that you act as much as you can. We are also trying. You all wait and surely we all are waiting.” (11:121-122)

But, what does this wait entail and what are the believers waiting for. The narration attributed to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) makes it amply clear. “The world will not perish until a man among the Arabs appears whose name matches my name.” (Sahih al-Tirmidhi, V9, P74)

Looking at the state of affairs today, the discourse around the reappearance of Imam Mehdi (as) and the areas of ground-setting responsibility has assumed lot of significance.

With the world sinking into the proverbial abyss and people across the world grappling with myriad self-inflicted worldly problems, the responsibility on our shoulders increases manifolds. Imam’s occultation, however, does not mean he has abandoned us or that we must despair about the present state of affairs. Imam Ali (a.s.) said: “Await for the reappearance and do not despair of the divine mercy. Because the best deed in the eyes of Allah, the Great and the Mighty is to wait for the Reappearance. It is the duty of those who are believers.” (Al Khisaal, vol2, Pg616)

We are witnessing social, political and cultural disorder across the world today. Morals and ethics have diminished alarmingly. Nagging poverty and financial difficulties have resulted in poor quality of life. Illiteracy and educational backwardness has sent us back to dark ages. The forces of imperialism have become menacingly stronger than ever.

Human rights abuses have become the order of day. Weak and voiceless continue to be oppressed and subjugated by mighty and powerful. In such a depressing scenario, when the darkness of despair prevails everywhere, there is an elixir of hope. The hope lies in the divine intervention.

The hope is the divinely guided leader. ‘Awaiting’ is not a stagnant or sluggish phenomenon. It means constantly striving for perfection, trying to raise the standards of living, trying to fight the demons inside us, trying to fight the monsters in society, and working hard to prepare a fertile ground for Imam’s arrival.

Allah (swt) says in Holy Quran, “O’ Muhammad (pbuh), you are but a warner, and for every community, there exists a guide.” (Quran 13:7). There will always be a divinely gifted guide for people in every age. For us, the people of present age, it is Mehdi, the messiah, the saviour.

What are our responsibilities and duties as believers to prepare the ground for his reappearance? A tradition attributed to Imam Hasan Askari (as) exhorts people of present age to remain vigilant and aware and participate in the process of educational change. “Be aware, if somebody teaches an ignorant, guides a misguided, instills the teachings of Ahlebait, then on the day of Qiyamat, he will be with us. We will give him a seat next to us wherever we may be.” By this narration, it is amply clear that during the period of Imam’s occultation, among the biggest responsibilities on our shoulders is to teach and train ourselves and others and bring reformation in society.

Such ‘reformers’ enjoy a supreme position in front of Allah. Imam Ali Naqi (a.s.) extols the virtues of these ‘reformers’. “Had there not been such scholars in the period of occultation who call people towards the Ahlebait (a.s.), guide towards them, defend their religion with the proofs of Allah, protect weak believers from the devilish designs, deception of the tyrants and tentacles of the enemies of Islam, then surely all would have deviated from the religion of Allah.” (Mahajjatul-Baizaa, Vol. 1, Pg. 32)

Now, there are certain strategies and approaches one must adopt to work towards awakening and progressive change. The strategy has to be simple and well-defined. Grooming children from the elementary level, teaching and training them in the basics of religion and science, imparting lessons in Islamic ideology and philosophy, developing scientific temper in them, making them understand the purpose of existence and the rights and responsibilities as members of the community, explaining how Islam is not just a religion but a complete way of life, stressing on the need to pursue quality education, the need to analyze and interpret unreservedly, the need to inquire and argue fearlessly, the need to debate and discuss passionately, the need to exchange ideas generously, etc.

The approach has to be thoughtful, forward-looking, progressive and result-oriented. It must ensure the gains of education are properly utilized to raise children who are educated, informed, aware, enlightened and active. The objectives of this education and reformation have to be long-term and clearly defined. It must lead us closer to our God, closer to the ultimate truth.

Considering that we are anxiously waiting for someone who is a righteous and virtuous messiah; it’s important that we familiarize ourselves with the ideals of deliverance and act on them in letter and spirit. To prepare the ground for his reappearance, we have to develop a reformist spirit in ourselves and others so that the society undergoes change.

That is possible only through wholesome education. To protect and safeguard our society from social infirmities, ethical degeneration, cultural disorder, ignorance, misrule and anarchy; it’s important to educate ourselves and others around us. If we remain trapped in the vortex of ignorance; social anomalies, cultural dilemmas, and orthodox beliefs will continue to hinder our personal growth and that of the society. As Allah says in Holy Quran, “You are the best nation brought forth for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah”. (3:110)

Once the ground is set, the seeds of the promised rule of Mehdi (as) will sprout in such a society and our agonizing wait shall end.


Hopes dashed, dreams shattered

Syed Zafar Mehdi

I can vividly recall that bright summer day many years back when I dropped in at this enchantingly statuesque shrine with my mother. I was a small boorish kid – running, jumping and frolicking inside the shrine. My mother held my hand and helped me tie a sacred thread on the beautifully hand-carved wooden pillar inside the main hall. That was my maiden rendezvous with Pir Dastgeer Sahib Shrine and thereafter I became a regular visitor.

Every time, that exquisitely garnished wooden pillar would solicit my attention. The air and aura of the shrine was enough to give one goose bumps. I would sit inside the shrine, against that pillar, for hours and feel rejuvenated. That pillar was reduced to ashes in the massive embers that engulfed the majestic shrine recently. The small thread I had tied many years back was also consigned to flames and smoke.

Speculations are abuzz about how the fire erupted. Official version claims it was short-circuit but the shrine officials have already rubbished the claim, saying there was no electricity when the devastating fire started from nowhere. There are some reports suggesting a foul play by trouble-mongering vested interests, which cannot be ruled out. The fire tenders arrived on the scene late when the shrine was already gutted and devastated. Some trigger-happy supporters of local MLA raised lot of hue and cry, after the cavalcade of MLA was attacked by angry mob. A bunch of youth even bashed up a prominent separatist leader Shabbir Shah, often compared to Nelson Mandela of South Africa.

The shrine of Sheikh Sayed Abdul Qadir Jeelani (r.a), popularly known as Pir Dastgeer Sahib, was constructed in 1806 and housed the rare relics of this world-famous Sufi saint. It was more than an architectural wonder and 200-year heritage site for the people in Kashmir. It was a silent and powerful witness to Kashmir’s turbulent history. It was a beautiful castle of our hopes. It was a symbol of our resistance. Those hordes of forlorn lovers, students appearing in examinations, desperate job seekers, newlyweds, and small-time business entrepreneurs, all of them took refuge in this shrine. Now, the shrine has been decimated to rubble. Our hopes are dashed. Our dreams are shattered.

As tweeted by the techno-savvy Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, State Wakf Board will come up with a brand new, state-of-the-art structure soon. In all likelihood, the foundation-laying ceremony would be attended among others by white-collar babus, top cops and perhaps some influence-peddling netas from New Delhi. The work of course would be completed on war-footing and the structure would be dedicated to the ‘peace-loving’ people of Kashmir, with a sugar-coated appeal to forgive, forget and move on.

But nothing can compensate for this monumental loss. No amount of engineering can return us our shattered dreams. Nothing can give us back our abode of hope. How did the fire erupt? Why did the fire tenders arrive late? Why did government sleep over warnings on vulnerability of wooden shrines, and failed to put up fire extinguishers at these shrines? There are many uncomfortable questions for government to answer.

Just when the people in Kashmir were struggling to come to terms with this catastrophic loss, another tragedy struck them just a week after. A shocking incident was reported from Gund Hassi Bhat Lavaypora, a village on the outskirts of Srinagar, where some ‘shadowy’ miscreants burnt Holy Book and Alam Sharif (a sacred relic for Shia Muslims). The sequence of these events is not just tragic but deeply disturbing. These are the desperate attempts by vested interests, the trouble-mongers wearing masks, to play the spoilsport.

Unfortunately for New Delhi based run-of-the-mill news channels, these incidents were not ‘big’ news. A child stuck in well for 86 hours on the outskirts of Delhi was discussed by loud-mouthed anchor of a popular news channel with an expert panel on prime time show. The fire that broke out at the Mantralaya office in Mumbai kept news channels engaged round the clock. The news about eco-friendly toilets launched in Orissa was splashed across the media.

But the burning down of the shrine and the desecration of religious relics was treated like a routine incident of violence. Skimming through the posts on Facebook was again atrocious. While some mourned the burning down of a shrine that had stood the tests of time, some others were engaged in blames games, mudslinging. One of my journalist friend in New Delhi thought it was the handiwork of people themselves. What a senile argument at the time when people in Kashmir are trying to cope with this terrible loss.

When the popular movement poses an ominous and existential threat to the ruling establishment, they resort to such dastardly acts, creating a nonexistent conflict between peoples and communities and pitting them against each other. It is clearly aimed at creating a wedge among people to divert their attention from the bigger issues and bigger struggles.

It will take a long time for us to come to terms with this catastrophic loss. It is hard to imagine Khanyar chowk without Dastgeer sahab’s shrine. I always used to anxiously wait for winter break to go home while studying at a boarding school in Aligarh and later at a university in Delhi. A visit to the shrine was something I never missed. Now it feels a part of me has died.

(First published in The Daily Times, Pakistan)

Combating corporate frauds

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Despite myriad challenges, companies are proactively combating fraud and developing a culture of ethics at workplace

Business ethics are of paramount importance in the present scenario, as many top organisations continue to be marred by umpteen scandals and frauds. It is an incontrovertible and firm commitment to ethical behaviour and practice that ultimately translate into organisational success.

Corporate frauds and bungling have wide-ranging implications. Business suffers in terms of reputation, value and market capitalisation. It is alarmingly prevalent across countries, and across sectors of the economy. In the last few decades, with the advent of sophisticated technological tools, corporate frauds have assumed terrifying proportions worldwide. From petty employee frauds to big financial scandals, organisations are battling with this menace on many fronts.

In India, corporate frauds have a long, chequered history. Ethics have been a grey area in Indian companies for decades. According to a case study by IBSCDC, corporate fraud is a major area of concern with almost 42 per cent the companies experiencing it, incurring a direct loss of $1.5 million. The suppliers’ kickback, it says, is the most prevalent form of fraud. Companies have put in place a slew of measures – employee registry, biometric identification, background check – to deal with the scourge of corporate frauds.

However, a pertinent question is: why are corporates still struggling to combat fraud when there are ample measures in place? Are these measures not amply comprehensible and adequate to rid the system of this menace?

The alarming trend and the denial

Over the years, as the competition has got fierce, the organisational structure has become increasingly decentralised, leading to weak internal control within organisations. It has in turn spurred the incidence of big and small corporate frauds. There is a growing feeling that early detection is critical in combating this menace.  According to PWC survey, 99 per cent of the respondents have incorporated internal controls, internal and external audits, compliance programmes and code of ethics to control fraud.

Corporate frauds in India have witnessed a sharp climb in past two years, and ironically enough, companies consider it inevitable. This trend, according to a global consultancy firm KPMG’s biennial, ‘India Fraud Survey 2012’ is ‘dangerous’ as it forces organisations to exhibit a tolerant approach towards the cases of fraud. “Close to 55 per cent of respondents indicated that their organisations experienced fraud in the last two years vis-a-vis 45 per cent in 2010 edition of our survey,” the report said.

In March 2012, Ernest & Young (E&T) carried out its first survey of corporate fraud in India, titled ‘Fraud and Corporate Governance: Changing Paradigm in India’. The survey highlighted the callousness of top leadership in Indian companies and their willingness to sweep things under the carpet. Only 35 per cent of respondents said their employers take legal action against fraudsters. “Companies typically prefer to avoid reporting any economic offence to a regulator because of a perceived threat to their reputation,” concluded the survey report.

Big corporate frauds in India and abroad

In 2009, New York-listed Satyam shocked the corporate world with a startling disclosure. The company’s profits had been incorrectly exaggerated for years. About 94 per cent of the cash presented on papers was fabricated, as confessed by the company CEO Ramalinga Raju. The fraud was undetected due to the brazen manipulation of funds. The Satyam scandal opened a new chapter in the history of corporate frauds in India.

Earlier, Daewoo Motors India was referred to Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) in 2003 on the charges of financial irregularities amounting to over 1000 crore. The findings of internal corruption probe forced Walmart to take a re-look at its India operations. Reebok India alleged the fraud of Rs 870 by a senior supervisor in September 2012.

Outside India, the corporate frauds and embezzlements have been even bigger. A former Chairman of Nasdaq stock exchange had to face the embarrassment when FBI arrested him and frozed his assets in December 2008 on securities fraud charges after his $50 billion Ponzi scam was exposed.  A former Tyco CEO was convicted in 2005 of siphoning more than $400 million from company funds, and sentenced to eight years term in jail. Co-founder and former CEO of WorldCom was convicted of fraud and conspiracy in the largest accounting scandal in US history in 2005.

Chief Financial Officer of Targus Group International was impeached in 2001 on over two dozen counts of fraud, laundering, and conspiring. Director of Smith Technologies was arrested in connection with a big income tax fraud in 2001, resulting in a five month prison term. Former head of a US based company Computer Associates International was sentenced to 12 years in jail in 2006 after being charged with serious fraud related to securities and obstruction of justice following a lengthy period of investigation into the case.

Initiatives by GOI to check fraud

Despite the myriad challenges, Government of India has been proactively dealing with the scourge of corporate frauds. In December 2012, the Corporate Affairs Minister Sachin Pilot said the ‘cosy’ relations between management and auditors of a company more often than not lead to cases of fraud. This was perceived as a veiled warning and a wakeup call for corporate honchos in the country.

To combat the corporate frauds, the government has committed to establish National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA), a quasi-judicial body that would look after the quality of audits and check the discrepancies, if any. At an ICAI annual function last week, Pilot said there is no going back on this proposal that seeks to bring in work transparency. The proposal to set up NFRA is part of the Companies Bill, 2012, which has already got an approval from Lok Sabha

SFIO, the investigation wing of the Indian government’s Corporate Affairs Ministry, recently ordered the high-level probe into alleged fraud by 83 companies in the last four years. The companies in the dock include Reebok India, Vaishnavi Corporate Communications, Satyam Computer Services, Ambuja Cements, Ultratech Cement, ACC and Sesa Goa.

Business ethics and whistle-blowing

It is a widely recognized fact that efficient corporate governance is rooted in the ethical behaviour of the top leadership in the organisation. One of the important ways of introducing a culture of ethics and values is a whistle blower policy. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) mandates a whistleblowing mechanism in Clause 49 of the Listing Agreement that deals with corporate governance norms. In effect since 2003, however, it has not been as helpful as desired.

The Public Interest Disclosure Bill, 2010, has further augmented the awareness about whistleblowing activities and the need to provide adequate protection to whistleblowers. But, there is still lot of work to be done to prevent or detect the increasing cases of corporate fraud. A report by Singapore Press Holdings Limited reveals that almost half of the Asia-Pacific companies are confident of their internal fraud controls. However, according to a report by PriceWaterhouse Coopers, only 16 per cent of economic crimes in the region are detected by risk-management systems. The vast majority of incidences of economic crime, says the report, are detected by accident, tip-off, internal and external audit.

Ethics in selection and recruitment

Ethics play a central role in the recruiting and selection process. Since the workplace is a melting pot of different characters and cultures, it is the ethics of an employee that help in safeguarding the integrity of the workplace. “Expectations of ethical behavior are typically communicated to employees through a code of conduct, policy, training, and the role model behaviour of top management,” writes Saiyadain in his book Human Resource Management, 3e. He believes that the HR management should be the starting point of the ethical programme.

Recruitment and selection requires meticulous decision-making and judgement to ensure that risks of corruption, nepotism and other unethical practices are reduced to bare minimum. The team of recruiters must be equipped with a wide range of tools and resources to take critical decisions. “The processes of recruitment and selection need to follow ethical parameters as well as robust sampling procedures,” writes Charlotte McDaniel in his book Organisational Ethics: Research and Ethical Environments.

The Way Forward

KPMG India Fraud Survey 2012 notes that corporate India’s unwillingness to see fraud as a strategic risk poses a grave threat to enterprises as they start experiencing frauds of the future. Cyber crime, intellectual property fraud, and identity theft are rated as the top fraud concerns for future in the survey, underlining a remarkable shift as fraudsters now increasingly target organisational knowledge and not physical assets.

“A one-size-fits-all framework cannot help mitigate emerging fraud risks. This is because each risk manifests itself uniquely. Companies need to be aware of the various possible modus operandi, perpetrators and gaps in internal controls. Only then can they develop an effective risk mitigation framework,” said Rohit Mahajan, Partner and co-Head, Forensic Services, KPMG in India.

The report suggests setting a clear policy on information assets, conducting regular training programmes, having an incident response plan, and setting up a separate specialist team with prior experience of handling frauds.

(First published in The Human Factor and 4Ps)

“Corporates have brought big difference to economy so CSR will play an instrumental role”

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Deepa Menon, Deepa Menon (VP- CSR & Corporate Communication) says Indian companies are more interested in philanthropy and less in sustainability, which is likely to change over a period of time.

Q1. In Indian context, how much importance does the business attach to CSR in its operations?
This whole terminology itself is being educated to all the corporates over a period. In Indian context, because of the way government operates and the way multi stakeholder ship still continues in most of the local communities, CSR will certainly play a very important role. The reason is that society has also awakened to the fact that the companies are not here only to make profit but to relate with the society for the profit.

So, it is not just that the companies will get into profit mode in any isolated community. It is going to deal with the same society where it is operating, where it is going to make profit out of it. In Indian context, it is subject to some of the sectors, like oil and mining companies, who have to play strong role to relate with the society. It is important from Indian context that we operate in a fair way so that the community which is around us is dealt in the right way.

Now if you consider the context of countries like Finland or United States, the governments are ensuring that the tax-payers’ money is being used for social causes, in terms of better education and health care facilities, which is not happening in India. The health care in India will take a long time to be subsidised to be readily available for everyone, and there are many issues going on in country in terms of dealing with it.

The issues related with poverty and education that are of utmost importance need to be dealt collectively, because somewhere down the line we all have to work hard to make country prosperous. Both education and poverty are inter-related. The rural migration to urban cities is primarily because of the lack of education. If they know well about their own agricultural property and if they are provided with tools to handle with it, we will be a prosperous country.

Over a period of time, corporates have brought a big difference to the economy and that is the reason why CSR will play an instrumental role and more CSR professionals to take to field. Many universities have started sustainability department to educate children about the world that needs to be sustainable. It depends on the whole collective approach of the government, civil society and various other stake holders and that is the beauty of Indian community that we are democratic and everyone has a say.

Q2. How critical is it for businesses to inspire and engage the employees in CSR activities to make a meaningful impact?
It is extremely important, and you will find some of the companies have really started working hard on it right from the beginning. This whole generation of employees trying to get engaged comes from multinational companies because they already have an international perspective of having sustainable approaches in their functions. Every core function, be it HR, PR, marketing, business has a sustainability head within the same function to engage the employees about the company. There are many MNCs that have already incorporated sustainability as part of their global programme.

That culture will slowly come in Indian companies when they will start realizing that employees have to be even more empowered than promoters over a period of time because they are supposed to run the company. If they do not have sustainability approach in place, it will only lead to narrow way of developing their businesses. If they really want to evolve, it is important that every employee is having that approach.

Q3. Your work mainly focuses on the deteriorating urban environment, sustainability issues of nature, environment and heritage. Tell us a bit about that?We work on two major issues and this has been carved out in last four-five years. Learning in CSR has been evolving over a period and these experiences have led us areas like urban sustainability and community initiatives. Being an Indian company, we have a simple approach of starting from our own local neighourhood. Before getting into global approaches, we try to put our own house in order. For us, it is important to have more meaningful approach around our operation areas using our community initiatives.

When it comes to urban sustainability, we are one of the largest companies with maximum consumer base. We have got a program called CineArt in our urban sustainability where we reach out to lakhs of children in government and private schools and work with them on sustainability issues on yearly basis. We also educate them through creative format using cinema and art on sustainability issues. We are doing a big social campaign on road safety with one lakh kids from over 100 schools. The idea is to educate these children on road safety measures through our creative workshops, come up with products made by them and take it forward as a big outreach plan from our side. As a company, it is important for us to talk about issues related to water, energy etc. It comes under urban sustainability, which is a very popular programme.

Another important thing is corporate initiatives. How we can have sustainable operations inside cinemas. We have lot of initiatives on water, energy and waste management. That is another area where we have technology interfaces to bring those initiatives and ensure there is no wastage of water and resources are well managed.

Q3. How powerful is cinema as a medium to initiate and induce movement of social change?
I think there is no better model than cinema and films for the simple reason that it is the most creative format with universal acceptance and appeal. If you are sitting in a room, dealing with five different people with different thought processes and you have just one cinema to give them that message, it is the power of the film that can enlighten them together. It is one model and one window that is amazingly scalable with no recession no rejection. For example, we are dealing with one lakh kids from 100 schools, and it is a difficult campaign to run in one year, so for us cinema model is the easiest one. Without this powerful medium, it will take us more than three years to reach out to each one of them separately.

Q4. For the sustainable societal change, you need support of all the stakeholders including government, corporates, RWAs etc. So, how difficult is it to get them on board?
It all depends upon what are you putting up to them, because it is important that all the stakeholders are educated about what we are putting up to them. Our model PVR Nest works only in partnerships. We do not believe in working alone for various reasons. When you do something together, the beauty is that all the stakeholders get involved. Like, we recently took the park re-development initiative in collaboration with CPWD and local RWA to re-develop a park that was in deteriorated condition. We took up the work and the whole park was re-developed, and it was a result of the collective effort. When you do it in partnership, there is ownership in the programme. When you do it alone, there are no owners except you, and in that case you can never call it sustainable.

Q5. There is a growing realisation that the culture of social responsibility needs to go deeper into the governance of the businesses. How has the concept of CSR evolved in India over the years?
The bill has already been passed by the parliament and corporate affairs ministry has also got an approval for CSR expenditure, so it is a matter of time before all the Indian companies get involved in it. When it comes to the evolution of the concept of CSR, it has a long history. MK Gandhi started it in late 1940s when he had a session with Indian companies that time. JRD Tata also played an instrumental role in taking the concept forward. Those were community initiatives and philanthropic in nature with no terminology like CSR. After that, few companies that were doing well and had the wealth to move around started working towards the development of the community. From 1990 onward till now, we have seen plethora of seminars and conferences on CSR.

Indian companies are more interested in philanthropy and less in sustainability, which is likely to change over a period of time. However, some brands, mainly in electronic segment, work on their own brand sustainability. They do not seem to be interested in community initiatives.

Q6. The horizon of CSR is expanding rapidly, how do you envision the future?
It is going to grow quite vastly and I assume there will be a significant expansion in terms of CSR operations, CSR professionals, CSR teams, CSR programmes of each company. The only challenge is how they are going to tie up each other, because the only problem and challenge I see here is the challenge of duplication. That is a matter of concern but nobody wants to spend money for the sake of it. They would all want to know where the money is being spent.

(First published in The Human Factor and 4Ps)