India is being widely recognised as one of the most exciting emerging economics in the world. Besides becoming a global hub of outsourcing, Indian firms are spreading their wings globally through mergers and acquisitions. During the first four months of 1997, Indian companies have bought 34 foreign companies for about U.S. $11 billion dollars. This impressive development has been due to a growth in inputs (capital and labour) as well as factor productivity. By the year 2020, India is expected to add about 250 million to its labour pool at the rate of about 18 million a year, which is more than the entire labour force of Germany. This so called 'demographic dividend' has drawn a new interest in the Human Resource concepts and practices in India. This paper traces notable evidence of economic organisations and managerial ideas from ancient Indian sources with enduring traditions and considers them in the context of contemporary challenges.
Over many centuries India has absorbed managerial ideas and practices from around the world. Early records of trade, from 4500 B.C. to 300 B.C., not only indicate international economic and political links, but also the ideas of social and public administration. The world's first management book, titled 'Arlhashastra', written three millennium before Christ, codified many aspects of human resource practices in Ancient India. This treatise presented notions of the financial administration of the state, guiding principles for trade and commerce, as well as the management of people. These ideas were to be embedded in organisational thinking for centuries (Rangarajan 1992, Sihag 2004). Increasing trade, that included engagement with the Romans, led to widespread and systematic governance methods by 250 A.D. During the next 300 years, the first Indian empire, the Gupta Dynasty, encouraged the establishment of rules and regulations for managerial systems, and later from about 1000 A.D. Islam influenced many areas of trade and commerce. A further powerful effect on the managerial history of India was to be provided by the British system of corporate organisation for 200 years. Clearly, the socio cultural roots of Indian heritage are diverse and have been drawn from multiple sources including ideas brought from other parts of the old world. Interestingly, these ideas were essentially secular even when they originated from religious bases.
In the contemporary context, the Indian management mindscape continues to be influenced by the residual traces of ancient wisdom as it faces the complexities of global realities. One stream of holistic wisdom, identified as the Vedantic philosophy, pervades managerial behaviour at all levels of work organisations. This philosophical tradition has its roots in sacred texts from 2000 B.C. and it holds that human nature has a capacity for self transformation and attaining spiritual high ground while facing realities of day to day challenges (Lannoy 1971). Such cultural based tradition and heritage can have a substantial impact on current managerial mindsets in terms of family bonding and mutuality of obligations. The caste system, which was recorded in the writings of the Greek Ambassador Megasthenes in the third century B.C., is another significant feature of Indian social heritage that for centuries had impacted organisational architecture and managerial practices, and has now become the focus of critical attention in the social, political and legal agenda of the nation.
One of the most significant areas of values and cultural practices has been the caste system. Traditionally, the caste system maintained social or organisational balance. Brahmins (priests and teachers) were at the apex, Kshatriya (rulers and warriors), Vaishya (merchants and managers) and Shwdra (artisans and workers) occupied the lower levels. Those outside the caste hierarchy were called 'untouchables'. Even decades ago, a typical public enterprise department could be dominated by people belonging to a particular caste. Feelings associated with caste affairs influenced managers in areas like recruitment, promotion and work allocation (Venkatranam & Chandra 1996). Indian institutions codified a list of lower castes and tribal communities called 'scheduled castes and scheduled tribes'. A strict quota system called, 'reservation' in achieving affirmative equity of castes, has been the eye of political storm in India in recent years. The central government has decreed 15 per cent of recruitment is to be reserved for scheduled castes, and a further seven and half per cent for scheduled tribes. In addition, a further 27 per cent has been decreed for other backward castes. However, the liberalisation of markets and global linkages have created transformation of attitudes towards human resource (HR) policies and practices (Khalilzadeh-Shirazi & Zagha 1994, Gopalan & Rivera 1997). Faced with the challenge of responding to the rationale of Western ideas of organisation in the changing social and economic scenario of Indian organisation, practitioners are increasingly taking a broader and reflective perspective of human resource management (HRM) in India.
This manuscript has three main parts. In the first part is provided an overview of important historical events and activity that has influenced contemporary managerial tenets, the second part of the manuscript describes the emerging contemporary Indian HRM practices and indicates some interesting challenges. Much of the second part is also summarised on four informative Figures. The concluding section, the third part of the manuscript, succinctly integrates …