In Conversation with Iqbal Quadir

In Conversation with Iqbal Quadir

In a conversation with Amit Kapoor, Iqbal Quadir shares his views on the progress developing countries are making and the post colonial effect still prevalent in many of them.

“My thinking is that being strong has its own headaches, which is to remain strong and manage others, as simple as that.”

“A lot of people pontificate about how the world should be run, how the world is run, but they don’t have to have worry about money and I think that is really an ironic point.”

You have voiced specific views on how countries and states need to be managed with a strong argument supporting your line of thought. On this topic, I was wondering if you have read Noam Chomsky?

No, I don’t read Noam Chomsky.  We happen to live in the same town as he does.  I don’t know enough of him to be able to say I jive with him or not. I have a different take to be honest.  He is usually very critical of the United States on this and that and he is very good researcher. He finds all the loops to backup his argument.  I am not necessarily critical of the United States.  My point is if United States was China or Britain, it probably would have the same problem.  There is nothing specific about any particular country in my thinking.  My thinking is that being strong has its own headaches, which is to remain strong and manage others, as simple as that.  In order to manage others this is the devices it has created.  It’s not necessarily for any kind of pernicious reason; it is not for any perverse reasons.  I don’t, to be honest, know enough about Noam Chomsky. I have read one or two of his books but what I am saying is my general sense that he is very rigorous and critical of the West or the United States.  But my point is bigger than that to be honest, my point is, not that there is something peculiarly bad about any country.  They are all kind of subject to the circumstances they face so there is a general human pattern. I am 58 now, much older than you.  I have decided to contemplate about these things.  Let’s say I am an entrepreneur, I am struggling to make money, this and that and I somehow get lucky or unlucky. Then I failed and people don’t have to worry about me but suppose I do get lucky and then I made big money then my thinking changes because then my point, strategy is how do I preserve what I am, then I have to manage others. So this is a reason I don’t believe in character of a person.  The character is quite capable of changing.  A good person is somebody who self-polices himself but not that the bad person is one who is not self-policing.  The desire of that person may change because he is in a different economic circumstance.

What is your view on how global regimes look to manage progress at the developing world level?

That doesn’t mean that they are succeeding.  Some are escaping from it, not that they were voluntarily let go.  The point is many have escaped, in the East for instance, but there are historical details in my mind why they managed to escape.  This is very consistent with any country, let’s take Europe, the Monarch try to manage his country and he try to constrain it as much as possible for his own good.  But the country managed to escape from it.  You look at the very clear example of England and by little extension UK, but in England the Monarch repeatedly try to control the country but fail to control. That’s an important point that failure is an important ingredient of progress.  So he was not necessarily thinking of collective growth he had to think about his own and that by the way does spill over for collective growth because if he maintains control in his own interest, if he maintains stability that does contribute to the progress of his kingdom.  So of course if he maintains the stability at the expense of everything else then it would collapse but he didn’t manage to do that, he was not that good.  And by he I mean many rulers over 800 years.  And in fact sometime there were contest between the two, at least one English King was executed publically, while he was a king, 1649.  This was when English people were already trading in India.

What you are talking about has a huge sovereign implication as well. Can you share your specific thinking on this matter.

That’s what I was saying, I was not necessarily into private sector versus public sector.  I am talking about the society as a whole but what happens, one of the problems I personally face is that the world is so boxed up into “Oh! he wants to talk about public sector, go ahead, he wants to talk about private sector, go ahead”.  My point is, unfortunately I don’t find myself in these boxes and therefore I have a tendency to withdraw from them.  But every now and then people see something and they ask me. I like to be true to myself and I manage to create a major company, at least I have given the insights. I believe in insights, not necessarily that insights will solve all the world’s problem, no.  What I am trying to say is that I believe I am good at it, therefore I am unleashing them if I can. Some insights may be harmful to poor countries or to the world, but what I am saying I try to unleash them nonetheless.

Please tell us about how countries in our region like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka are impacted.

It’s a colonial legacy we inherited in Bangladesh because after all we were subject to the administrating machinery of the colonial powers so that kind of left a thinking that that is how things should be done and as the human mind is sufficiently fertile there is almost anything that can be rationalized. Once that existed there are lot of people who rationalized it as the way to go.  You will see the greatest irony in Prime Minister Nehru who was of course a very dominant figure, very prominent or dominant figure, he was from a wealthy family, if Plato had anybody in his mind as a philosopher king, it was Jawaharlal Nehru.  Usually other countries are not so lucky to have such a well-educated person, but he is only a human being, he made his mistakes.  He hated profits but he personally profited. Here is another interesting trend, the people who are against profits tend to live on profits made by other people including Nehru whose parents were wealthy.  A lot of people pontificate about how the world should be run, how the world is run, but they don’t have to have worry about money and I think that is really an ironic point. 

One of the biggest scourges our nation faces is poverty. Please share your view on how India can solve its poverty problem?

We are so good at justifying what we do, we are very good at it, so anything can be explained in this world. We can say oh there is a lot of poverty because all these business people have tortured poor people or something but it’s also possible, and so the State becomes self-justified that we need to solve this inequality problem.  There is a joke about the difference between communalism, capitalism and socialism.  In capitalism, men exploit, in socialism, it is just the opposite.  Man exploits man, if you put in the opposite of that, what do you get?  Men still exploit men. That’s the joke that it sounds opposite but it is actually the same thing.  Now here is the thing, this joke is my favorite joke since my college days which is 25 years ago, what we miss is, we are very good in justifying things.  So, Hillary Clinton justifying her position, Donald Trump is justifying his position but they are kind of opposite positions.  It is possible to say the State needs to come in place because it needs to create greater equality, it needs to address this inequality but unless I am allowed to create some wealth for myself I cannot address the issue. See there is another way to look at it. I cannot give some to others and in order to give them I have to employ them, right then it will automatically give rise to progress in other people. You can have too much government but you cannot have too much business, too much government is North Korea, right, everything is run by the government. Suppose you have too much business, everybody is creating business, then they will come and create a government because they cannot protect their wealth without it. 

Would you agree that non-government in India would probably mean that they became part of the governance system?

I have touched upon an important question, why is it so, and it is so much in the air we don’t even think about it.  It’s almost like when slavery existed here we didn’t question it.  It was just part of the system.  But these fundamental questions needs to be asked, what I am saying is, why in America we call these organizations non-profits.  We don’t call it a non-governmental organization, we call it a non-profit organization.  In India whatever organizations are non-government, you know, go back to my old observation, that we thought they will prosper in this world through entrepreneurship businesses, etc. If that doesn’t work and if profit does not work we pursue certain activities which may not allow profits which is perfectly fine.  Then we want to try non-profits, right.  In India, we must first try government, if that doesn’t work the option is non-government, so it goes to the original route with the original thinking, this one will be done by profits, that will be done as non-profits.

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