||This essay, which uses two related concepts consciousness and communication, is in two sections. The first part defines the various concepts created by existing work done in the field while the second uses them directly or indirectly to examine and comment upon the communications put out by leading corporations in India on their web pages – in the ‘About Us’ section. It gives us some idea of the common factors coming into play when Indian corporations provide an understanding of their self-images through the way they are communicated to their potential clients and employees.
Communication and Consciousness
The terms ‘Communication’ and ‘Consciousness’ have received a lot of scholarly attention from academic disciplines such as theology, philosophy, literature, medicine, biology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, linguistics, communication, engineering and manufacturing, information technology, and other allied disciplines. While the two terms sometimes seem to be enmeshed, emerging as a conceptual pair comparable to subject-object, content-form, signifier-signified, the paper aims at an understanding of communication and consciousness by drawing from various disciplines rooted in philosophy, social psychology, the social sciences, historical and human sciences, fiction, but not so much from the neural or biological sciences - as the effort is not to ‘anchor’ these two words in science, but to treat them as related concepts needing interpretation. The current paper moves in this direction in order to locate the conceptual terrain of Indian corporations. In this exploration the research has used data from corporations available in the public domain, primarily from their own websites. The effort has been to read corporate literature which presents each corporation’s profile and its business dynamic as a large business entity in India. The list of corporations includes the Aditya Birla Group, Reliance Group, TVS, Essar, Piramal, Bajaj, and Bharti among others. As a means of situating the analysis of these corporate texts, the strategy used is metaphor analysis. Ricoeur’s work on the metaphor allows an understanding of how metaphors can be linked to texts and how metaphors can help in understanding the whole work itself. Ricoeur says, “From one point of view, the understanding of the metaphor can serve as a guide to the understanding of longer texts, such as a literary work. This point of view is that of explanation; it concerns only with that aspect of meaning which we have called ‘sense’, that is, the immanent pattern of discourse” (Ricoeur, 1981, 171). Using Ricoeur’s hypothesis for testing the canvas of the corporation’s literature will help in an explication of the corporate texts, analysing the flows of communication and consciousness in the Indian corporate realm.
Thomas Nagel defines consciousness as ‘what it is like to be something’ (Velmans, 2009, 7). ‘Substance Dualists’ such as Plato, Descartes among others identified consciousness as that which is opposed to material stuff and said that the stuff of consciousness is associated with the soul or spirit. Velmans notes that ‘Property Dualists’ such as Sperry and Libet identify consciosuness as a nonphysical property which emerges out of the complex physical brain, while Dennett and Crick are reductionists who propound that consciosuness is nothing more than a state or function of the brain (Velmans, 2009, 7). From a social-psychology perspective, George Herbert Mead proposed that, ‘Inner consciousness is socially organized by the importation of the social organization of the outer world’ (Carreira da Silva, 2011, 57). Extending his position, Mead says that, ‘There is much to support this view in the early history of the race as we catch glimpses of it in the remains of cult and myth, and in the growth of child consciousness, much that supports the idea that the earliest form of reflective consciousness was social and that our consciousness of physical objects is an abstraction from an experience that is primarily social’ (Carreira da Silva, 2011, 188). It can be noticed that Mead positions the experience of the social as one that determines the mental make-up of an individual and the resultant of this continual process is what give rise to the conscious mind or the state of consciousness. However, it should also be noted that isolating the social from the historical, political, cultural or economic realms will add little to the analysis and negate the anchorage of the theoretical approaches borrowed from interdisciplinary methods, articulations and advances.
German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey while talking about the importance of experience in shaping the mind-constructed world says that the smallest units of memory, pictures of various forms, shapes, interactions, relationships, hopes and fears form Erlebnis, the lived-experience (Mueller-Vollmer, 1985, 152-153). The concept Erlebnis propounded by Dilthey can be seen as an equivalent to the conscious mind, a mind which has been constructed based on the surroundings it gets exposed to, engages with, understands and then reconstructs based on those engagements and explications. Dilthey here is talking about the consciousness rooted in experience - experience which includes the human’s engagement with the natural and the social at diverse points of interaction, and with one realm generating the understanding of other and vice versa. Within these negotiations are produced life-expressions, an epistemological production of analysis based on the lived-experience. Each individual, Dilthey says, produces these life-expressions which intend something or seek to signify something. Dilthey’s equation positions life-expressions with communication and lived-experience with consciousness. An army person wearing a particular uniform not only communicates to himself/herself the nation-state’s behavioural and disciplinary consciousness through that uniform but also communicates about himself to the people he/she comes across regarding this behavioural and disciplinary consciousness, while attempting to induce the same consciousness in the other subjects of the nation-state. If the army uniform is the communication arising out of a certain lived-experience of living in a nation-state which produces a socio-political regime by using the armed forces to discipline the people, the understanding of the army, for the witnessing publics, as agents of discipline arises out of the life-expression of the use of the uniform. Consciousness and communication can be seen in a symbiotic relationship which varies with, and also produces the variations taking place in the socio-political, cultural, or economic realms. This is, however, unlike the classical Marxist point of view which looks at the base as reeling under the tutelage of the hierarchical other, is not to submit that the army or the people are devoid of any capacity to reject the nation-state’s status quo and that therefore are at the mercy of decisions taken at the super-structural level. The capacity to accept or resist also comes from this particular complementary relationship between communication and consciousness and that diversity of identities is the evidence of the negotiations which emerge continually between the various lived-experiences of the populace, uniformed or civilian, conscious or otherwise. For Dilthey, there is a fundamental relationship between expression and mental content. It can then be said that there exists a fundamental relationship between communication (the expression) and consciousness (the mental content). It is consciousness that gives rise to communication and that consciousness also emerges from communication. This then becomes the platform on which communication can also be interpreted – by studying, examining, and analysing the expression in relation to its mental content. A person with disabilities uses particular methods of communicating the life that he/she experiences and it is that particular expression of ideas and thoughts of the disabled person which form the root of analysis by a disabled or an able person. The forms of understanding of this life-expression will then vary based on the lived-experiences of the person(s) who is/are in the process of understanding. Consciousness, its construction and production, then, has to be determined by the existing social, historical, political, and cultural conditions at a given point of time in a given space.
Max Weber in his work ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ (1992) suggests that it was Benjamin Franklin’s adherence to religious ideals of Calvinism that were the trigger for his writings on money and the virtues associated with men who earn, spend and save money wisely. Weber says, ‘Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs. The reversal of what we should call the natural relationship, so irrational from a naive point of view, is evidently as definitely a leading principle of capitalism as it is foreign to all peoples not under capitalistic influence. At the same time it expresses a type of feeling which is closely connected with certain religious ideals. If we thus ask, why should “money be made out of men”, Benjamin Franklin himself, although he was a colourless deist, answers in his autobiography with a quotation from the Bible, which his strict Calvinistic father drummed into him again and again in his youth: “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings” (Prov. xxii. 29). The earning of money as it is done legally, the result and the expression of virtue and proficiency in a calling; and this virtue and proficiency are, as it is not difficult to see, the real Alpha and Omega of Franklin’s ethic, as expressed in the passages we have quoted, as well as in all his works without exception” (Weber, 1992, 18-19). It can be noticed that Weber’s method of studying Franklin’s autobiography (life-expression), to arrive at a certain understanding of a capitalistic ethos residing in Franklin’s mind (lived-experience), in relation with studying Franklin’s mental development in his youth (consciousness) which later produced his writings (communication), a process of analysis and examination emerges which combines both these concepts, communication and consciousness into a symbiotic whole where one cannot exist independent of the other. It can be said cautiously, that these two concepts are the non-identical twins of the parent called life. Born to a parent undulating between parthenogenesis and intercourse, the other parent will then be the existing conditions that aid in producing an understanding – of and for the parents as well as the twins - of life through the process of evolution of the twins. These twins are attached to each other through an emotional bond but in their course of evolution develop separate identities and assertions.
Proposing their idea of collective assemblages of enunciation, Deleuze and Guattari say, “There is no individual enunciation. There is not even a subject of enunciation. Yet relatively few linguists have analyzed the necessarily social character of enunciation. The problem is that it is not enough to establish that enunciation has this social character, since it could be extrinsic; therefore too much or too little is said about it. The social character of enunciation is intrinsically founded only if one succeeds in demostrating how enunciation in itself implies collective assemblages. It then becomes clear that the statement is individuated, and enunciation subjectified, only to the extent that an impersonal collective assemblage requires it and determines it to be so. It is for this reason that indirect discourse, especially “free” indirect discourse, is of exemplary value: there are no clear, distinctive contours; what comes first is not an insertion of variously individuated statements, or an interlocking of different subjects of enunciation, but a collective assemblage resulting in the determination of relative subjectification proceedings, or assignations of individuality and their shifting distributions within discourse. Indirect discourse is not explained by the distinction between subjects; rather, it is the assemblage, as it freely appears in the discourse, that explains all the voices present within a single voice, the glimmer of girls in a monologue by Charlus, the languages in a language, the order-words in a word. The American murderer “Son of Sam” killed on the prompting of an ancestral voice, itself transmitted throught the voice of a dog. The notion of collective assemblage of enunciation takes on primary importance since it is what must amount for the social character” (Deleuze & Guattari, 2004, 88-89). It can be read from the statements of Deleuze & Guattari that enunciation in itself is not an act that occurs in isolation. The fabric of enunciation has a social character to it which in turn is made up of multiple social dimensions. The task then, is to investigate, dissect, and exhibit these social dimensions to formulate the form and content of enunciative manifestations. Only through this process of arriving at the socio-historical foundations of collective assemblages or consciousness, will we be able to arrive at enunciation or communication.
Building his critique on Freud’s proposition that consciousness is not given but a task, Paul Ricoeur says that, ‘Since Freud, it has become necessary to speak of consciousness only interms of epigenesis. That is, the question of consciousness seems to me to be bound to the other question of how a man leaves his childhood behind and becomes an adult. While strictly reciprocal, this other question reverses the question asked by the analyst, who shows man as subject to his childhood. The bleak vision which he proposes of consciousness as subject to the three masters of the Id, the Superego, and Reality defines the task of consciousness in an obverse sense and the route of epigenesis as negative. Yet we run the risk of falling back into an introspective psychology by simply uttering the phrase “consciousness as epigenesis.” Thus I think that we should at this point reject entirely any psychology of conciousness whatsoever’ (Ricoeur, 2004, 106 ). Ricoeur’s rejection of any psychology of consciousness stems from the idea that it is impossible to equate consciousness with knowledge of the self and thereby ignore or reject the processes of the unconscious. While this may hold ground, the idea that is emergent and is relevant for the current research is Ricoeur’s mention of the biological phrase epigenesis and its relation to consciousness. Continuing from his position that consciousness is not a given but a task, it is the process of epigenesis that requires the processes of communication for the child to become an adult. Communication thereby involves all the affiliated processes which enable this process of psychical evolution of the human. Communication then takes the place of the Superego or the symbolic reality regulating psychical processes and attitudes between the Id and the Ego. The processes of communication which become the new key signifiers for the child to emerge as an adult, transforming an Id-led life to one whose consciousness is situated in congruence to the social establishment. Any incongruence would lead to psychical processes which will be eventually judged by the same social establishment as that which is delirious, neurotic, terrorizing, sick, and antagonistic to the existence of the ‘conscious’ being and the functioning of the establishment. Though not explicitly mentioned either by Freud or Ricoeur, it does seem that the processes of consciousness are closely related to processes of communication and through the negotiations of these two concepts with each other and the processes of the socio-historical establishment lies the processes of epigenesis, the psychical train of a human.
Explaining the relevance of Social Constructionist approach for researching organizational communication studies, Brenda Allen writes, “Social Constructionism seems tailor-made for responding to issues, given the fundamental principle that knowledge construction is specific to historical and cultural contexts... A fitting topic for social constructionist research on organizational communication is identity. Applying a social constructionist approach enlarges the growing body of studies on identity that concentrate on a range of social constructions. This will allow us to concentrate on how specific organizations appropriate, reproduce, and/or transform social discourses in and through everyday communicative processes that enable and/or constrain how members enact identities” (Allen, 2005, 49-50). In the context of organizational communication research what Allen is proposing is also an approach which is very close to and runs parallel to the idea of the synchronicity of consciousness and communication. It is evident in her writing above that social processes give rise to knowledge construction of not only the self, which is the identity, but also the society, which is the organization.
In India, separation of the socio-political consciousness from caste and community communicational practices can only provide an ineffective perspective while dealing with communication and consciousness. It has been/is a common for members belonging to the ‘upper-castes’ such as Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vyshyas, to involve their children into observing their own caste-based practices and any behaviour by the children or young adults from these upper-castes which is deemed unbecoming by their elders is/was often followed up by the mocking use of caste terms to insult and indoctrinate recalcitrant children/youth within the hierarchical practices of their own caste. At the same time, Dipankar Gupta notes that each Caste is proud of its adherence to its own practices and did not see itself as inferior to other castes in any ‘hierarchy’, but each caste “valued itself very highly and had deep pockets of ideological inheritance from which it could draw continuous symbolic energy for both political activism and economic competition” (Gupta, 2004, x-xi). Caste may be expected to play a part in corporate communication through genealogy although this may not be explicitly so. ‘Tradition’ is also a useful notion since it is a way of avoiding the contentious issue of caste hierarchy. But this alone may be insufficient in the global age since caste and genealogy are local markers which will not be grasped outside. The corporate whose communications are examined below address the global by associating themselves with the nation and its socio-political history in one form or another, something an American enterprise might not be required to do.
Tradition, the Nation and the Neo-liberal Global
Corporations originating in India, whether owned by people from the Marwari, Kshatriya, Brahmin, or Shudra communities, invoke certain notions of the traditional when they describe the purpose of their business. This section examines how different communities invoke their caste-community ideals in their communication, and thereby justify their existence and their operations to potential employees as well as a clientele.
Another family owned and driven corporate proud of its tradition in the business sector, is the Piramal Group. The web page mentioning its profile in the Who We Are page15 and Our Journey page16 outlines a discursive story of how its chief architect built the company from scratch to its current standing of being a world-renowned conglomeration, the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ and business outlook of the owners being mentioned copiously signifies their commitment to ally with their traditional calling in the field of commerce, trade, and industry. The transfer of business from father to son becomes exemplary – Gopikrishna Piramal starts Morarjee Mills in Mumbai but passes away shortly, after which his elder son Ashok Piramal takes charge. Unfortunately, he too passes away after a few years leaving the business to the next male in the family Ajay Piramal. Currently, Ajay Piramal is the Chairman of the Piramal Group with his wife, son, and daughter holding key positions in the various subsidiaries and units of this business corporation. Ajay’s son Anand is already holding the position of the Executive Director, Piramal Group. The values, core ideas, and the logo of the group will be taken up for analysis in the next section as it is more of a cultural assertion than a traditional one.
The process of territorialisation of individuals and communities comprises of extending the professional capabilities of their kindred within the cultural, socio-political, and geographical territorial contexts they come from. As extension of caste-community networks and its manifestations nests in the rationale of being and having to be ‘traditional’ – i.e. coming from a justification and consequence of an event which occurred at certain historic-mythical juncture(s) – this process of territorialisation, in the neo-liberal framework of corporate existence, becomes a process of re-territorialisation for the ones identifying with the idea of the traditional which the corporate is invoking. The production of metaphors invokes a scheme of tradition resonating with ideas of nationalism, cultural nationalism, masculine egocentrism, cultural fraternities, and an ambiguous relationship oscillating between antagonism, sociability and ideas/ materializations of modernity. Does communication play a role in this process of re-territorialisation and identification with tradition? What kind of effort goes into coding communication with metaphors pregnant with ideas invoking notions of the past? If communication does play a role, then would its text reveal these codes, these metaphors, these notions coming from the historicization of tradition, intended as a manifestation of that tradition to realize a particular future? And then can this text be studied to arrive at a certain understanding of not only the proliferating notions of tradition but also the design for the future? Wilhelm Dilthey in his work Gesammelte Schriften, Vol, VII, (p. 21) says, “Because our mental life finds itself its fullest and most complete expression only through language, explication finds completion and fullness only in the interpretation of the written testimonies of human life”. (Makkreel & Rodi, 2010).
While the process of explication involves scrutiny of the socio-political and historical context of the explicator to arrive at a certain understanding of not just the text but also its reader, the larger concern is, however, with identifying the written produce as a testimony of the producer. A close reading of each corporation’s literature reveals an explication which rests on the notion that the very presence of literature which inclines towards producing an identity for the business corporate by iterating its origin, its emergence as what it is, its ‘journey’ towards being a ‘legitimate’ corporate entity, and its ‘vision’ and ‘mission’ towards contributing to the geographical space it thrives on, is itself a signification that commits itself as a testimony - a written sermon serving as an existential testimony, and an existential testimony serving as an existential proposition to the ones seeking to work with the corporate as employees.
The Aditya Birla Group (i) is a family-run business organisation which has been operating from the Indian region for over a hundred and fifty years. The family owning and predominantly managing the business from its initial days to its current form are the Birlas – a Baniya community placed third in the hierarchy of the Hindu caste system, originating mainly from Rajasthan and Gujarat. Also known as Vyshyas, the individuals and communities belonging to this stratum of the Hindu social order have traditionally1 pursued professions involving commerce, trade, banking and money lending, pawn brokerage, commodity trading, accumulation of capital, and entrepreneurship. The Birlas have followed this religious scheme rigorously. In their About Us page on their official website, there is a link called Heritage2 . This particular link says:
‘The roots of the Aditya Birla Group date back to the 19th century in the picturesque town of Pilani set amidst the Rajasthan desert. It was here that Seth Shiv Narayan Birla started trading in cotton, laying the foundation for the House of Birla. Through India's arduous times of the 1850s, the Birla business expanded rapidly. In the early part of the 20th century, the Group's founding father, Mr. Ghanshyamdas Birla, set up industries in critical sectors such as textiles and fibre, aluminium, cement, and chemicals. As a close confidant of Mahatma Gandhi, he played an active role in the Indian freedom struggle. He represented India at the first and second round-table conferences in London, along with Gandhiji. It was at Birla House in Delhi that the luminaries of the Indian freedom struggle often met to plot the downfall of the British Raj. Mr. Ghanshyamdas Birla found no contradiction in pursuing business goals with the dedication of a saint, emerging as one of the foremost industrialists of pre-independence India. The principles by which he lived were soaked up by his grandson, Mr. Aditya Vikram Birla, the Group's legendary leader’.
The prominent metaphors which emerge from what the business group is saying about itself, are these – an adherence to a sense of belonging to an Indian region which emerges from the usage of the word ‘roots’; the notion of invoking the patriarchal idea of the family in mentioning the male members of the family as the flag bearers of their run in the business; the claim of association with a complex nationalist social movement; and the tracing of the tradition to the idea of Dharma by mentioning the genealogical continuity of the ownership pattern of the company. The use of the word ‘heritage’ itself raises the metaphor of belonging to a particular space, a particular time and a particular community, thereby exhibiting their ‘traditional’ identity. In the same way, other big business corporations in terms of revenue generated and people employed such as the Bajaj Group3 , the Reliance Group4 , the Essar Group5 , the Piramal Group6 , the Hinduja Group7 , and the Bharti Group8 among others are family-run organizations which come from a Baniya community background (the Hinduja Group owner’s are Lohanas who also trace their origin to a mythical Kshatriya9 ancestry). In the respective corporations’ web sites the focus of their About Us page is clearly indicates their commercial and familial genealogies.
The Bajaj groups mention their family patriarch Jamnalal Bajaj, and harps on the business corporation’s history from the colonial times. The web page mentions10 , ‘Founded in 1926, at the height of India's movement for independence from the British, the group has an illustrious history. The integrity, dedication, resourcefulness and determination to succeed which are characteristic of the group today, are often traced back to its birth during those days of relentless devotion to a common cause. Jamnalal Bajaj, founder of the group, was a close confidant and disciple of Mahatma Gandhi. In fact, Gandhiji had adopted him as his son. This close relationship and his deep involvement in the independence movement did not leave Jamnalal Bajaj with much time to spend on his newly launched business venture. His son, Kamalnayan Bajaj, then 27, took over the reins of business in 1942. He too was close to Gandhiji and it was only after Independence in 1947, that he was able to give his full attention to the business. Kamalnayan Bajaj not only consolidated the group, but also diversified into various manufacturing activities. The present Chairman of the group, Rahul Bajaj, took charge of the business in 1965. Under his leadership, the turnover of the Bajaj Auto the flagship company has gone up from INR.72 million to INR. 120 billion, its product portfolio has expanded and the brand has found a global market. He is one of India’s most distinguished business leaders and internationally respected for his business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit. To be noted here as well are: the emergence of metaphor having to do with India as a territory, association with the nationalist movement against colonial rule, and the patriarchal genealogy of the company. And most importantly, the drawing of attention to the pursuit of a profession based on Caste-Community calling i.e. entrepreneurship as the Baniya’s religiously driven dharmic quest.
The Reliance groups belonging to brothers Mukesh and Anil Ambani also invoke the notions of nationality and a celebrated patriarchal tradition. While the web page11 of Reliance Industries Limited belonging to Mukesh Ambani says: ‘The Reliance Group founded by Dhuirubhai H Ambani (1932-2002), is India’s largest private sector enterprise, with businesses in the energy and materials value chain. Group’s annual revenues are in excess of US$ 66 billion. The Flagship Company, Reliance Industries Limited, is a Fortune Global 500 company and is the largest private sector company in India.’
Anil Ambani’s Reliance ADA group’s web page12 says, ‘Few men in history have made as dramatic a contribution to their country’s economic fortunes as did the founder of Reliance, Sh. Dhirubhai H Ambani. Fewer still have left behind a legacy that is more enduring and timeless. As with all great pioneers, there is more than one unique way of describing the true genius of Dhirubhai: The corporate visionary, the unmatched strategist, the proud patriot, the leader of men, the architect of India’s capital markets, and the champion of shareholder interest. But the role Dhirubhai cherished most was perhaps that of India’s greatest wealth creator. In one lifetime, he built, starting from the proverbial scratch, India’s largest private sector enterprise. When Dhirubhai embarked on his first business venture, he had a seed capital of barely US$ 300 (around Rs 14,000). Over the next three and a half decades, he converted this fledgling enterprise into an Rs 60,000 crore colossus—an achievement which earned Reliance a place on the global Fortune 500 list, the first ever Indian private company to do so.
In the preceding eulogy of the corporate, the mentioning of the father figure and its implication in the profile of the corporate, the emphasis on revenue and wealth creation, the featuring of terms such as ‘legacy’ and ‘economic fortune’ draw attention to the metaphors used by the earlier mentioned corporates except for the nationalistic sentiment. This is probably because the founder of the Reliance group the late Mr. Dhirubhai Ambani was in his teens during the events that led to 1947 and probably could not contribute to it as much as the earlier mentioned patriarchs of the Baniya business families. However, the mention of Dhirubhai being a ‘proud patriot’ illustrates the Ambanis’ need to align themselves with the nation in the Indian regional context.
The Etymology of the Essar Group’s name comes from its Chairman’s name Shashi Ruia and Vice Chairman Ravi Ruia. By combining the S from Shashi and the R from Ravi, the name Essar was coined. A family run business with interests in shipping, telecom, realty and outsourcing, the Essar Group on its web page12 says, ‘Essar was founded in 1969. The 21st century, for the company, has been all about consolidating and growing the businesses’. Though this corporate does not mention its roots or that it was built on a traditional foundation, its emphasis of using a separate web page13 , points to the obligation of drawing significance to what it calls its ‘entrepreneurial spirit’. The page says, ‘Essar has been foraying into new international markets, and exploring new business areas in a bid to keep its entrepreneurial spirit alive, and to keep growing’. Further, on the same web page the ‘Vision’ statement says, ‘We will be a respected global entrepreneur, through the power of positive action’. This emphasis of being an organization in order to primarily realize entrepreneurial and business achievements only draws attention to its traditional roots of being a business entity answering traditional calls of duty that a Vyshya is supposed to do as per the Hindu religious code.
Though it began its operations as a registered business organization in India, the Hinduja Group shifted its headquarters to Iran first and then to London, its current location. However, this business organization continues its commercial operations in India apart from other countries in the world. On its home page17 is a picture of the Group’s founder late Parmanand Deepchand Hinduja occupying at least forty percent of the entire page’s space. Its page titled Our Group mentions a history of the growth and draws parallels of its emergence with the Indus Valley civilization. The page says18 , ‘The saga of the Hinduja Group started in Sind, the cradle of the Indus Valley Civilisation, where more than 5,000 years ago, the human race learnt its first lessons in organised business and banking. Parmanand Deepchand Hinduja, a young entrepreneur from the fabled town of Shikarpur, realised early in life that business was all about spotting opportunities, and seizing them wherever they surfaced. He travelled to Mumbai in 1914, and quickly learnt the ropes of business. The business journey, which began in Sind, entered the international arena with an office in Iran (the first outside India) in 1919. Merchant Banking and Trade were the twin pillars of the business and the Group remained headquartered in Iran, until 1979 when it moved to Europe. The Group has expanded and diversified its businesses, with significant social and charitable contributions, under the present leadership of Chairman, Srichand, ably supported by his brothers, Gopichand, Prakash and Ashok. Today, the Hinduja Group has become one of the largest diversified groups in the world spanning all the continents. The Group employs over 70,000 people and has offices in many key cities of the world and all the major cities in India. The Hinduja Family has always adapted to free-market reforms moving quickly in new markets that have opened, and capitalising on new economy opportunities. As a result, the Hinduja Group has now strategically positioned itself to contribute to old economy sectors such as Banking & Finance, Transport, Energy (Oil & Power) as well as the new economy of Technology, Media and Telecom’. Regarding its business philosophy prominently placed on the same web page as above, the Group writes, ‘Firm believers in traditional family values, the Hindujas have all along striven to inculcate the family concept in their business enterprises. Every member of the Group is encouraged to practice the Vedic principles of work: 'Service with devotion' and 'willingness to see fulfilment of one's self-interest in the active promotion of the interest of the collective'. This family-driven economic assertion, deriving its identity and sense of purpose from the mythological history of the region, invokes metaphors of land, fraternity between the male family members, adherence to a Vedic discipline, and aligning with the community’s ancestral calling of living up to the traditional structure.
‘Founded in 1976, by Sunil Bharti Mittal, Bharti has grown from being a manufacturer of bicycle parts to one of the largest and most respected business groups in India. With its entrepreneurial spirit and passion to undertake business projects that are transformational in nature, Bharti has created world-class businesses in telecom, insurance, retail, and foods’19 .Incidentally, the Bharti group’s web page describing its existence and mentioning its purpose, like other Baniya-Marwari corporations mentioned earlier, places emphasis on its entrepreneurial spirit as well as its progress (being and becoming). This particular entrepreneurial spirit that the Bharti group and the business groups mentioned above talk about, can be seen as a product of its caste lineage before colonial occupation and as the consolidation of a particular attitude replete with community assertions during and after colonial rule. Suniti Kumar Ghosh (1985) says that the Baniya-Marwari businessmen acted as conduits for the inflow and exit of money and thus rose as the comprador class with dealings in many industries and kinds of trade. The colonial phase gave much impetus to the Baniya-Marwari communities to fortify their caste-bound duty associated with entrepreneurship, an attitude that found legitmacy in the land in which caste-based professions originated. Hence, even if Baniya-Marwari businessmen collaborated with British rule in the commerce and trade areas, they were also anxious to prove themselves as being sons of the Indian soil by partly sponsoring and aiding a few nationalists negotiating with the British. The manifestation of this particular neo-bourgeois entrepreneurial spirit was manifest during the mid and late 19th century itself when the Baniya-Marwari communities under the aegis of the British rulers were conducting trade with countries abroad and making huge amounts of money paving way for a ‘neo-liberal’ economic atmosphere in tune with the times.
The prevalent metaphors arising out of the communication of these family-run, Baniya-Marwari owned corporations writing about themselves, and in effect articulating their testimonies display a conscious affiliation to their caste-community through their businesses, a devotion to the land of origin and operation, a celebration of patriarchal transfer of power as traditionally prescribed, and a claim on tradition rooted in religion-centric beliefs and practices.
TV Sundaram Iyengar founded the TVS (named after the founder’s initials) business company in 1911in Tamilnadu, Southern India. The TVS group is currently a Brahmin family-owned business corporation with interests in automobiles, electronics, finance, information technology, and automobile components and parts. The Group’s website has the About Us link which is sub-divided into three parts called The Founder, The Beginning, and The Profile. On The Founder page20 can be found a picture of Mr. TV Sundaram Iyengar looking at the camera, wearing a white top with his forehead smeared with the traditional powder in a V shape - a mark characteristic of the Vaishnavaite Brahmins. Adjacent to his picture, is a quote from the Brahmanic patriarchal religious text Bhagavad Gita says, ‘That man sees indeed the truth who sees that vision and creation are one’. The connection between Vaishnavaite Brahmins and the religious book Bhagavad Gita is quite evident as it is believed that the male God Vishnu is the creator of the universe and the Brahmin males are his progeny. On The Beginning page21 the text reads out, ‘The TVS Group traces its origins to a rural transport service, founded in 1911 in Tamil Nadu, India. Today this renowned business conglomerate remains faithful to its core ideals of trust, values, service and ethics’. What are the ethics that TVS is talking about? Where are the values that TVS is mentioning borrowed from? By mentioning the terms faithful, trust, service, and ethics, this particular page demonstrates that the corporate is built on certain features which justify its existence and are representative of its being. On The Profile page22 , the corporate mentions that it is the common ethos of quality, customer service and social responsibility which unites its various businesses. Being a Brahmin-owned corporation the metaphors it is calling upon are those that are significant of an ethos that is based upon Vaishnavaite notions of tradition which focus on conducting business as a devotional activity. The ethos is centred on its community affiliation of belonging to a certain tradition of Hinduism which places responsibility on the Brahmin to mediate a society’s functioning based on the religious ideals of dharma. The Brahmanic text Bhagavad Gita also talks of pursuing one’s caste-community based actions to attain oneness with God and be liberated. Hence, TVS’ invoking of values and ethics can be associated with Hindu-Brahmanic religious ethics and its valorization of trust, service and quality. While the focus on customer service as its priority can be seen as a western capitalistic ideal, it is to be noted that in a neo-liberal context in which the corporate is not only working out of other countries in the world but also selling its products across geographies, it becomes imperative to selectively adapt to the demands of a global capitalistic ethos.
Maganlal Buch (1919, p 66) writing about Zoroastrian ethics says that, ‘The qualities of thrift, temperance, industry, moderation are deemed essential for a true Zoroastrian. So far, Parsi ethics appear as ethics of utility. The best spirit of the Zoroastrian moral attitude will be missed if it is supposed that the calculations of worldly profit and loss were what were chiefly dreamt of by the Iranian mind. A vivid appreciation of the higher and finer possibilities of the human soul grew up and a conspicuous place was assigned to altruistic virtues. Charity or goodwill, active philanthropy in all its shapes and forms and large-mindedness are a part and parcel of a virtuous organization’. Further, citing the need for Parsis, the followers of the Zoroastrian religion, to follow a practical, work-a-day philosophy detached from metaphysical conceptions of the world, thereby focusing on industry and pursuing goals related to industry and conduct of a work ethic as prescribed in the Parsi religious doctrine Buch (ibid.) says, ‘Man therefore must not only enhance his own physical and mental vigour, but also equip himself with all the necessary means and qualities instrumental in this struggle for more fullness of existence, both individual and communal. For this end marriage is recommended and children and wealth are recommended’.
Ardeshir Burorji Sorabji Godrej, a Parsi businessman from India, co-founded the Godrej Brothers Company along with his brother Pirojsha Burorji Sorabji Godrej in 1897. The About Us link on the company’s website has the page The Godrej Group23 which says, ‘Established in 1897, the Godrej group has grown in India from the days of the charkha to nights at the call centers. Our founder, Ardeshir Godrej, lawyer-turned-locksmith, was a persistent inventor and a strong visionary who could see the spark in the future. His inventions, manufactured by his brother Pirojsha Godrej, were the foundation of today’s Godrej empire. One of India’s most trusted brand, Godrej enjoys the patronage and trust of around 500 million Indians every single day. Our customers mean the world to us. We are happy only when we see a delighted customer smile......
‘With 7 major companies with interests in real estate, FMCG, industrial engineering, appliances, furniture, security and agri care – to name a few – our turnover crosses 4.1 billion dollars24 . You think of Godrej as such an integral part of India – like the bhangra or the kurta – that you may be surprised to know that 26% of our business is done overseas. Our presence in more than 60 countries ensures that our customers are at home with Godrej no matter where they go. With brands you can believe in, service excellence you can count on and the promise of brighter living for every customer, Godrej knows what makes India tick today. Today, we are at a point in Godrej’s history when our amazing past is meeting up with its spectacular future head on. Godrej is learning and relishing being young again’.
The emphasis on the founder(s) of the corporation, the nuanced usage of terms referring to their belongingness to the Indian region (as Parsis have been known to have migrated to the sub-continent from the Middle-Eastern region Iran), and the reference to its ‘amazing’ past are significant of invoking a certain tradition that the Parsis belong to. Though it is inappropriate to mention that Parsis have been following their religious ethics in the exact same way as it had been over the last few centuries, a broad understanding of their adherence to their religious roots can be arrived at by mapping the metaphors they use and the ideals which have been enshrined in their in their religious texts. Further evidence to their specific adaptation to the dominant Indian religion of Hinduism can be found from Mary Boyce’s (1979) work on the religious beliefs and practices of the Zoroastrians. With particular focus on the twentieth century life and times of Zoroastrians in Asia, and India in particular, she says, ‘Meantime the end of British rule in India in 1947 had brought great changes for the Parsis, threatening the ties which bound their community together. The 5000 or so Parsis of Karachi, Lahore and Quetta found themselves living in the Muslim state of Pakistan, and obliged to learn Urdu in preference to Gujarati. A number emigrated from there and from India, mostly to England, Canada and the USA; but the majority remained, whether as Indians or Pakistanis, and played a valuable part in the life of the two states, contributing (in proportion to the size of the community) a striking number of public figures - soldiers, airmen, scientists, industrialists, newspaper editors. (Public service had long been regarded by Parsis as a religious obligation, a part of their duty, each according to his ability, to care for their fellow-men.) India being a secular state, there was no planned discrimination there against Parsis, and that they suffered at all as a religious community was incidental. Thus measures begun for the economy during the 1939-45 war, and continued after independence, included a ban on all public banquets, and so virtually put an end to the age-old observance of communal gahambars. It also became difficult to import wool for weaving kustis (by now the task of priests' wives in India, and laywomen in Iran), and the Parsi Panchayat had to make urgent representations to obtain a special quota. Religious schools were obliged to open their doors to all corners, and so it was no longer possible to maintain a truly Zoroastrian atmosphere in the Parsi ones. Apart from such government actions, material progress continued its remorseless erosion, and as the hearth fires went out in Zoroastrian homes in Bombay as in Tehran (replaced by electricity, oil or gas) a centre for family devotions vanished with them, while the enticements of new interests and diversions encouraged increasing neglect of religion, an indifference more deadly than all the clash of controversy’. Boyce’s exegesis points to the fact that the Parsis engaged with the colonial government and the post-1947 Indian government differently. Damodaran (2008) says, ‘... the community which made the most out of colonial circumstances were the Parsis. Right from the late seventeenth century – when a majority of Parsis inhabited the Surat-Navsari stretch of southern-Gujarat as agriculturalists, artisans, small-time coastal traders and shipbuilders – they evolved a collaborative working relationship with the British, in which cultural factors played a considerable role. Being part of neither the Hindu nor Muslim mainstream, nursing no political ambition, and exposed to commercial influences because their proximity to the ports of Bharuch, Surat, and Daman, the Parsis seemed ideal for recruitment as native brokers, agents, and shippers.’ The need for the Parsi businessmen to adapt to the demands of products with ‘Indianness’ and for Indians arose primarily during the early 20th century and was even more post-1947 than during colonial times.
The first part of this paper was simply engaged in laying out the field before taking up the issue of Indian corporations and the twin notions of communication and consciousness in relation to them. The notions brought up included that of life-expressions and lived experience, the issue or enunciation and its social dimension, identity as socially constructed and the local issue of caste in India. The second part deals with corporations in India and the communications put out which suggest commonalities in their perceived levels of consciousness. While the original work on communication and consciousness may not be intended for application to corporations the examination of the ‘About Us’ page in the web sites of the corporations suggests that corporate entities are responsive to many of the same impulses. By all evidence corporations are conscious that they have identities constructed socially alongside the developing nation, that they owe this identity to their caste dharma, to a founding parental figure with the growth of the corporation from its origins resembling the development of a child from an embryo (epigenesis). The communication which is to be found in the ‘About Us’ web page is also in the nature of the enunciation which the child needs to make in order to become an adult.
Allen, B. (2005). Engaging Organizational Communication Theory and Research: Mutiple Perspectives. (S. May, & D. K. Mumby, Eds.) California: Sage.
Boyce, Mary (1979), Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited.
Buch, Maganlal (1919), Zoroastrian Ethics, Baroda: Mission Press.
Carreira da Silva, F. (2011). GH Mead - A Reader. New York: Routledge.
Damodaran, Harish (2008), India’s New Capitalists: Caste, Business, and Industry in a Modern Nation, Delhi: Permanent Black.
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (2004). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Chennai: Continuum.
Ghoshal, S, Piramal, G & Budhiraja, S (2001), World Class in India, New Delhi: Penguin.
Ghosh, SK (2013), The Indian Big Bourgeoisie: It’s Genesis, Growth and Character, Kolkata: Radical Impression.
Gupta, Dipankar (2004), Introduction: The certitudes of caste: When identity trumps hierarchy,
From Gupta Dipankar (ed.), Caste in Question: Identity or Hierarchy? New Delhi: Sage.
Makkreel, R and Rodi, F (2010) (Ed.), Understanding the Human World: Selected Works of Wilhelm Dilthey, Princeton University Press.
Mueller-Vollmer, K. (1985). Hermenuetics Reader. Oxford: Continuum.
Ricoeur, Paul (1981). Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, (Ed. John B Thompson), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ricoeur, P. (2004). The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics. London: Continuum.
Velmans, M. (2009). Understanding Consciousness. New York: Routledge.
Weber, M. (1992). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Routledge.
Prasheel Anand Banpur is a research scholar from Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad. His research interests are spread over semiotics, metaphor analysis studies, and post-structuralism among others. His current focus is on locating the rhizomatic terrain between Communication and Consciousness.