Working draft - Players and priorities in the Kurukshetra

Players and Priorities in the Kurukshetra
By Rajiv Malhotra

While 25 years ago I routinely faced serious resistance from our community when I discussed how our discourse is dominated by outsiders, today there is enough awareness of this problem. Despite this awareness, we have not yet achieved much by way of actually changing the discourse in the mainstream. One of the reasons is that too often our opinion leaders do not start with a clear statement of our goals in the mainstream; they tend to jump ahead to opine or start taking actions that might not be well thought through.

In this brief note, I want to focus one issue one: the relationship between deep structures and superficial discourse. From this follows my analysis of the types of players who are active and what prevents better coordination among ourselves.   

Can superficial involvement topple the deep structures?

There are many levels and sub-levels of discourse, but for my purpose here I will discuss the two extremes (namely, the deep level and the superficial level). My thesis is succinctly stated below.

  1. While mainstream media and pop culture tend to discuss things superficially, there lies a deep level of discourse that requires more specialized expertise to engage. This is where the intellectual power resides. One must drill down to this level to really know what is going on that matters.
  2. Our opponents have worked hard at the deep level for the past several generations. They have systematically established their ideologies, assumptions, loyal players, and the means of knowledge production and distribution. Often, they have not only conceded the superficial level to us as a way to make us happy and complicit, they have also actively helped us at the surface level to seem like allies. By now, very few among us are aware of what goes on at the deep level, and fewer still are concerned about this with enough passion and fearlessness to be able to make any impact. Most of us are negotiating their place within the deep structure controlled by others.
  3. We are micro-optimizing our position in the sense of short sighted improvements and benefits for a few. We are sacrificing the marco situation as a result. We have been doing this for many centuries. First it was the Muslims in control, then the Europeans, and now the Americans. 
  4. Over the past 25 years, there has been a groundswell improvement of public awareness of this predicament. However, not much has been achieved in the deep levels where the structures remain hostile to our civilization. We are fighting superficial battles even after becoming aware of the serious predicament we face.
  5. The deep structures cannot be disrupted by using superficial methods and superficially trained minds. This is where the crux of my issue lies.
  6. The deep level of work required is inherently tough, multi-disciplinary, risky, and there is no quick victory or personal gratification in the conventional sense. In other words, it is thankless work demanding high sacrifice and with high personal risks.
  7. Given the enormity of the deep level challenges, we need multiple experts each specializing in different kinds of issues. There is room for plenty of leadership without tripping over each other or trying to bring each other down. However, we lack such broad vision among many of the leaders. Why?
  8. There is too much opportunism, and this is because the easy/quick superficial levels are more enticing, and because most of our people reward the superficial work. It is a quick way ahead for many. This means there is neglect of the deeper levels, and to much glorification and limelight for superficial work. Many are turning the deep discourse into superficial level for quick fame. Who will do the heavy lifting then?
  9. My advice to individuals wanting to be deeply involved is to pick a movement and dedicate yourself to it.
  10. Match your work with your svadharma, and turn that into your yajna.
But first, I will give a simple overview of the different types of players in the battlefield. Then was can find ways to organize ourselves better to achieve the goal of toppling the deep structures and discourse that we have inherited from the past.

Categories of players

The simple view most of us have is that there are just two kinds of players in the intellectual battlefield, our home team and our opponents. My movement has been to fight those opponents who are the thought leaders, and not waste time fighting the ordinary ones. I choose those opponents where I can make a game changing impact, and especially where others on our ideological side have not taken up the fight yet, or at least nobody has done the heavy lifting required to spark such a fight. I am now doing this kind of pioneering work with Pollock, and I have earlier started similar movements against other heavy weights like Wendy Doniger.

Individuals on my home team are those supporting my strategy, identification of targets, plans and methods. In other words, they must be team players and must have enough tapasya and competence to be useful in pragmatic ways.

However, another major category of players is of those who are not on my home team, who are other pro-dharma leaders aligned with our ideals and fighting for dharma on their own. For example, I have great respect for leaders of dharma such as Dr. Subramanian Swamy and Baba Ramdev, and intellectuals like S. Gurumurthy, Madhu Kishwar and Koenraad Elst, who have each achieved their own independent impact in a substantial way. The diagram below shows these three types of players.

The point to appreciate is that these other dharmic forces (type 3) act independently of my work; but we appreciate each other’s work, try to stay in touch privately and help each other when we can. One can use the analogy of coalition partners – separate identity and organizations, but aligned strategically.

Focus: the type 4 nuisance

I wish life in the kurukshetra was this simple. Unfortunately, much of my energy is wasted on a fourth category of persons. The reason form writing this paper is to draw attention to this group. The other categories are mentioned very briefly just to locate the type 4 group and discuss them in detail.

This is a very large set of individuals acting in disruptive ways while thinking they are helping our cause. To put it simply, these are persons who are unwilling to fit into my home team (type 2) and are not competent enough or effective enough to have become high-impact players in their own right (type 3). I want to discuss this type 4 individual in detail. The diagram that follows shows all four categories I have introduced thus far.

The problem with such misfits can be understood by first appreciating the importance of any enterprise having a common strategic plan. A master chef has a well-developed recipe he wants to make with the help of others, but he cannot afford to allow helpers who have their own recipes no matter how good. Imagine that a chief town planner has developed the master architecture for a major project, complete with standards, methods, priorities and so forth. Then imagine some workers join who don’t want to follow these plans but have their own rival or conflicting ideas. Yet they do not want to go away and take responsibility for developing their own separate town somewhere else. They want to work here but not follow the narrative that has been put in place to guide the project. Any leader would find this behavior an obstruction and look for a way to get rid of such people. The same can be said for someone who joins a surgical team for a complex surgery, but who revolts in the middle of the surgery against the plan being carried out by the chief surgeon. A military commander would not tolerate some on his team that argues in the middle of battle and demands his own approach to battle be carried out instead. These are all examples we learn in the corporate world as team builders and leaders.

There is a time for brainstorming to make decisions, and a time to comply with the team’s playbook once that is set. Too often, I find that we Indians lack this kind of team dynamics and there tends to be internal fighting when the focus ought to be to unite against the opponents out there.

In my career as an entrepreneur, I used to offer such rebellious but otherwise intelligent individuals a chance to lead their own project, one in which they would be the boss. Many did take up such challenges and performed very well. They would be classified as type 3 in the above diagram – i.e. those cut out to be their own autonomous leaders. But many such rebellious individuals were not capable to lead their own ventures, because they lacked the necessary strategic thinking, leadership experience and risk taking. They were not cut out to take responsibility and be accountable for producing the results expected. Nor would they follow the lead of someone else. Such team misfits have to be removed after some attempts have been made to try and work with them. This becomes important for the sake of the health of the overall enterprise.

Many such individuals turn out to be opportunists who sneak in under the guise of wanting to help. But they want to quickly pick up some ideas or resources, and then go away to try their own mobilization. Some of them have the audacity of demanding that I should work for them. They try to impose their own scheme/narrative of how to do things and constantly argue against the approach I have developed over many years and one that works for me. After internal bickering which is unproductive, one has to ask them to leave us alone. This can turn into acrimony as the person feels insulted that their capabilities were rejected. Indians must learn more team work and accept that often a good individual worker might be a bad team member. For the sake of team performance, it become better to remove the individual. Anyone who has run complex projects knows what I am talking about.

Once such a relationship has become antagonistic, there is a range of potential outcomes possible. One hopes the person peacefully goes away. We can be friends from a distance, leaving each other alone. But too often the disgruntled person become a hijacker because by now he knows too many secrets.  I have had individuals try to blackmail me with warning that they will join my enemies. Many indeed have done so. Some persons vacillate between playing a positive role in one of my teams and turning toxic when we reject his or her ideas.

At some stage, one must recognize that the relationship cannot be salvaged and it becomes a matter of damage control. I see them as pests or hecklers that I must try to contain somehow. The diagram below has many signature qualities listed in bullet points under type 4. This might seem strange to readers who are inexperienced in this kind of work, because they assume that Hindus would come to seva with a spirit of dedication and surrender of the ego. In practice, this is not how it works.

In the recent clash with R. Ganesh, several type 4 individuals showed their true colors. I have this side of them for many years. Some are newcomers who tried marching in and demanding to take things over, and when politely asked to leave us alone, they turned hostile. I am not naming persons here, but if you look at the archives on some Facebook and others discussions you will find such patterns of behavior.

As for R. Ganesh himself, I never expected that he would want to work in my home team following our grand strategy. But it would have been nice if he had carved a niche in the kurukshetra and become a responsible leader of type 3. We could be friends from a distance while sympathizing and morally supporting each other. A sign of slavery of a defeated people is this silo mentality. To get out of this we need to put lacs of our youth through corporate leadership roles where they learn how to play roles from the big ones to the small ones, in harmony and with the use of diverse people with specialized strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, our education system does not emphasize leadership or management or strategic thinking skills.

The fifth type of person is someone who does not want to commit to concrete roles in a type 2 or 3 setting, and nor is ambitious as a type 4 activist wanting to do things his own way. Such individuals stay out of the limelight, and might do things like retweeting or supporting from the outside once in a while. They can be very useful because we have a large number of them and collectively they definitely matter. We cannot count on them to do big tasks, but nor are we concerned that they might turn toxic and destructive. Those who wish to remain passive readers in order to learn for the sake of self-improvement belong here as well. While many of them will remain here long term, several will migrate to one of the other categories.

Let me return to the challenge I posed earlier: How can we align the players and formulate priorities to topple the deep discourse? The simplistic grid like I have presented here, though far from perfect, allows readers to crystalize a view of the internal politics we must deal with deftly.

Unfortunately, many talented individuals are sitting and watching, some are splashing water to get attention, some are trying to trip the hard working leaders out of excitement or to get personal attention; some do this out of jealousy and spite.

Not only should you avoid becoming another type 4 destructive person, I suggest that you must actively engage in fighting the type 4 persons. Just as the body’s immune system defends it from threatening forces, so also we need help to fight off such disruptive forces even if they are micro-optimizing and seem to have good intentions on the surface.


  1. (5)s should align with (2) or (3) based on their interests and allegiances.

  2. thank you for giving the clarity on the players and the need to become strategic leaders with impact