The end of my journey to facilitate reform in India
Some people claim they want something but then the moment the time comes to DO something about it, they baulk as if it was someone else's business. These people haven't thought through the steps of what it takes, and really don't mean what they say. I suggest they should not make aspirational statements! And in particular they should not be writing things in the national media, attempting to fool all people in the country!
For example, in May 2002 Parth Shah wrote in The Economic Times (see http://www.ccsindia.org/people_pjs_lparty.asp) "Wanted: a Liberal Party":
"Liberals of all persuasion should be able to come together under the banner of the rule of law and fair, transparent, and accountable governance. They may disagree about economics but they can stand united on politics, which is the need of the hour. They can also demonstrate that a clean, candid, youthful political party that itself adheres to democratic norms is possible."
I raise a question now: was he exhorting some imaginary people "out there"? Is the writer of such a statement a distant observer, giving unsolicited wisdom to the country for someone "out there" to implement? Is the writer not obliged to do something about this, too? I suggest to Parth to not talk about a liberal party, ever, unless he puts in the effort needed to make it happen.
Over seven years of work on this concept, I was led to understand that having an Indian liberal party was the desire of at least some Indians whose intellectual positions I respected. But I found much talk and no action. Apathy and inertia. Someone was once criticising Indira Gandhi strongly, to which she retorted, if you have so many objections against what I'm doing, why don't you form your own political party, get the people's support and do the right thing?
As Indians we definitely get the government they deserve. Of this there can be no doubt. If we cannot get 50 good people in the population of one billion to even start some work on an ethical, liberal political movement, then I guess it is best for people like me -- who believe we can and should do better, to leave, no matter how unsavoury it is for me personally to arrive at such a decision.
I'm afraid, my Indian journey has ended. I gave the dream of building a team to bootstrap India into the modern world, a go. Seven years of work. I failed. My personal cost is lifelong damage to numerous muscles and nerves leading to unbelievable pain and numbness. Was it worth it? I believe it was better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. My body hurts badly but my mind is at peace. Now it is for others who wish to pursue this dream to do what they can.
I will continue to finish the book/s I had wanted to write. And maybe 20 years later, there will be people willing to stand up for what they believe in. Total personal integrity means that you always stand up for what you believe in, irrespective of the cost.
- Sanjeev 17 July 2005 (modified slightly, 31 July 2005)
A month after having decided to end my efforts to organise a liberal political movement in India, I find myself in an unhappy state, almost like personal mourning. It does not seem possible to really de-link oneself from what happens in India, and yet one has to remind oneself that if those who are intellectually ready for the challenge of rising and providing an ethical alternative to the people, are simply not willing to come forward and put in the necessary work, then the task is so much beyond one's capacity that it is best to withdraw.
I do not bear a sense of grievance. I do not blame anyone for my failure to raise their level of awareness and to build initiative. Everyone I came across did what they thought was the best for them. I do not blame myself either. I did what I could. Sometimes things are simply not ready for actualisation.
A journey as long and difficult as this needed people who were willing to work through the many steps needed to achieve the outcome. I was unable to motivate people to work for this cause. An outcome that needs many hundred successful candidates in elections, each candidate being suitable and appropriate for the task of representing their constituency in a liberal, ethical manner, does not happen without a very long process and a lot of work.
Without enthusiastic members willing to put in significant voluntary work to build this outcome in an incremental, phased manner, and attract the necessary resources, this effort had no potential. Most sensible people would not have even started this effort. I'm obviously not very sensible in that sense, and often I would much rather do all that I can and then actually determine if it works, rather than not attempt it in the first place.
There has been a huge personal cost to me of this effort, well beyond merely the financial. I would not consider this to be a sacrifice. It was definitely not my duty. There is nothing like duty, only choices. I did this because it was the only thing that I wanted to do at that point, given my experience, knowledge and understanding. I did it for myself, not because of some absurd personal ambition, but because it was crucial that I express my distaste of current Indian systems and attempt to set up an alternative model. I see no difference between being a janitor and a prime minister. Both are exactly equal as human beings, and both contribute what they can or would like to contribute. Personally, I would have liked to contribute in a political role, but if that is not an option, then I will contribute in other ways that I want to.
I am hoping that I will be able to reconcile soon to the necessity of mentally stepping out of the political effort and move on to other things. It is sheer folly to hit one's head repeatedly against a brick wall.
- Sanjeev 31 July 2005
A brief history of this journey (draft of 17 July 2005)
Early 1998 (February, I think)
At the foot of Kaprielian Hall, University of Southern California, I was having a conversation with a South Korean fellow student, Jeonghoon Ahn.
He wondered why despite having extremely competent individuals (as he saw them, based on the performance of Indian students in the Ph.D. program at the university) why was it that India was so desperately poor while South Korea, which was on par with India three decades ago, had become such an engine of growth.
With the experience of working within the Indian political and bureaucratic system, it was obvious to me that the incentives for corruption and distortions of market forces were the basic cause of this failure. If suitable changes were brought to the system, it was no reason why India could not flourish equally as South Korea.
The question was how does one change the system.
Later that evening, it struck me that there was no real choice if one wanted a reformed and successful India, but to actually change the system. Clearly, being a mere bureaucrat would not suffice. It had to be political reform - a reform in the types of leaders we are prone to get, and a reform in the political process.
That evening I decided that we had to have a new political party that was built on ethical principles, and on the defence of the best economic policies. I wrote a one-page outline of what the party would look like and placed it on a web site. Driven by a nationalistic spirit, I called it the Victory of India Party. In a couple of weeks it had reached the stage represented in this archive (except for a couple of changes which were made later).
I searched the web and found a small group calling themselves the BDP (Bharatiya Democratic Party) wanting to create some kind of reform in India. These people were located in USA. I spoke with them and soon started some discussions. I had serious doubts about these young people - some of them fresh from IITs in India and working in USA, regarding their knowledge of the Indian political and economic environment, and their proposed solutions.
I suggested to them that before we agreed to work together, let us formulate a manifesto of the proposed political party. I started a mailing list shortly thereafter, involving anyone I knew, and inviting others, to help start the process of formulating a manifesto of an ideal political party for India. If we were to agree on the manifesto, then we could frame the constitution. If we were to agree with both we could then form a party.
These efforts are available at this location.
Over the year, a lot of people were contacted and many of them got involved in this process. The original participants from BDP found this process to be too transparent and uncomfortable for themselves, and most of them left. But there were some excellent new participants, some of whom agreed to start a new policy institute. That is how the India Policy Institute came into being (a new website was purchased in September 1998 and the institute was formally registered in Hyderabad in June 1999).
RSI strikes me! - by end 1998, I started suffering from severe and unending pain initially in my forearms, then all across the upper arms. - all this caused by the enormous typing in setting up and running mailing lists, web pages, and doing a PhD. I was at the computer for close to 16 hours a day at times. The symptoms are too painful to describe here. Due to bad advice from local doctors at the university, this has now become a permanent and worsened problem for me over the years.
Consequent to the physical disruption I was forced to limit my work on the possible political party in early 1999. I also had to finish my PhD by May of that year.
In June 1999, I proposed the need for such a party at a get-together of super-rich India-born CEOs in Palo Alto, California - members of TIE (courtesy of Parth) - and showed them the People's Manifesto we had developed at the India Policy Institute; not only was there no demand for such a party, but it was clear that the IIT and engineering based entrepreneurs somehow kept harping on population as the problem in India, and failed to see that bad governance and bad policy leads to a blowout in an illiterate population. They did not seem to care for much logic, being so successful in their own little worlds, which meant to them that they know it all.
I returned to India to take up a senior position in the government of Meghalaya.
During the one year and three months I worked in Meghalaya, I spent time analysing and researching numerous policies for India, and some for Meghalaya. I had access to the senior most managers in the Finance Ministry, Planning Commission, Election Commission, etc., and I was able to get relevant public documents to support this research. Some of my work of the period is available here.
I discussed these drafts widely with various senior officers both in the government of Meghalaya and in the government of India, but found a consistent theme: either a sense of helplessness of a sense of apathy. Some took the Indian environment as granted - a thing that could not be changed and therefore where change was not worth exploring. Others wanted to change and were willing to discuss, but were completely sure that nothing would happen.
Some time that year, I decided firmly to resign and migrate. I kept exploring to the very end, both for the possibility of kickstarting a political party, or for a serious piece of policy work being allocated to me such as a project on native income tax.
In early 2000, I convened a meeting at the CCS, Delhi (courtesy of Parth) with four liberals whom I highly regarded - and who felt that we needed a new political party, but the effort did not go anywhere. Had it succeeded, I would have stayed back in India.
I then left India in December 2000 and resigned my job in January 2001.
By the time I was firmly convinced that the only role I want to play in India is in the political arena; being a civil servant was completely unsatisfying and inadequate in terms of delivering the kind of improvements India needs.
While I forfeited all benefits including pension I'm happy that I took that decision, for I have learnt significantly over the past 4 years, working in a government in a developed country. I do of course proudly retain my Indian citizenship. [Note: On 1 July 2005 I have applied for the Australian citizenship]
Serious physical pain and problems arising from that had kept me away from any work in this area till early 2003. In early 2003 I was able to recover some minor ability to communicate over the written media - through a speech recognition software.
Consequently, in 2003 I initiated and organised an effort (Word document) in which about 25 of us met in Delhi in Jan 2004 for 5 days. We decided to support the Swatantra Bharat Party of Sharad Joshi.
This effort did not go very far, though it seemed at that time to me that the "flame" had finally been lit. The key issue was that Sharad Joshi was not willing to consult with party members from yet taken significant money, and was unwilling to publish audited accounts of the funds he had collected. More than that, I felt that many of those who committed to doing different things, simply failed to rise to the occasion.
On 12 April 2005 I quit SBP as it simply was not going to be the party I had in mind. I then floated the Liberal Party of India and called for charter members.
This time I was much more cautious and determined to do it well, or it won't work anyway. I called for at least 50 (ideally 100) members were ready to sign off on excellent and permanent, historic, documents, with detailed rules of business, and hold formal elections for office bearers who have a burning passion and 'fire in their belly' - and capacity to attract resources and grow the party.
I was proposing a major convention, not a get-together like the workshop of 2004 but the First Annual Session of the new national party.
By 26 June 2005, it became quite clear to me that we were not going to get even 50 people to come together to form an ethical, liberal party in India. We had 9 charter members including myself and two were my cousin and father! If seven years of work leads to this outcome, then it was best that I abandon further work at this stage.
I have now decided to take Australian citizenship.