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An autobiographical essay (1996)

I found this short essay (below) among my papers today. It may interest no one, but a blog is a place for one's own notes: matters which interest me, whether they matter to others or not.

This 1996 essay interests me on two grounds: (a) I cite Schumacher as an influence, which is no longer true, and (b) I was reminded that since 1990 I had worked towards a manifesto for a political party to be launched in Assam.

My disillusionment with existing political parties had clearly started by then, and I was looking for solution: what would a good party do was the question I asked. If I find a copy of that initial manifesto of 1990, I'll put it up on my blog for whatever it is worth! Just memories to me, if nothing else.

In any event, that thought – of writing a manifesto – re-emerged in 1998 and led to the Victory of India Party and then to the India Policy Institute. This essay also reminded me that I never budged from my early aim (since about 15, I think) to be philosophically self-sufficient and to lead life the way I see fit.

There is a conflicting element in this essay: so, why was I preparing a manifesto in 1990 if I did not intend to join real politics (as I wrote in the essay)? I suspect I was not sure of my goals then; these things take time to evolve. But by February 1998, I had no doubt that I should join active politics, in a systematic manner. That aim remains good even today: though I had a setback in 2005, and I am only now recovering my interest in this goal, again.

Sanjeev, 7 Jan 2009

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ITEM 14. AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY

(submitted as part of an application for the USC College of Arts and Sciences Pre-doctoral Merit University Fellowship on 22 January 1996)

My family background has been relatively exceptional in terms of Indian norms. Though my parents are Hindus, they are extremely liberal, and did not interfere in my attempts to determine my own opinions through a vast reading of Western and Indian philosophy from the age of 12. Despite not being too well off, my father encouraged me to purchase any amount of second-hand books that I could lay my hands on. When I declared at 13 that I was not a Hindu, and began to offer various proofs of my atheistic contentions, I was not curbed in my expression of dissent. I have considered humanism as my religion since the age of 16. Later, I worked out stern ethical principles for my own reference, and attempted to write a book on philosophy at the age of 19. The book is far from completion (a hand-written 3000-page first draft was penned down in 1979-81), but the two years of work put into it opened my eyes to the complexity of issues involved, and enabled me to leap headlong into public service from the age of 22 with a determination to do something positive for my fellow human beings who were relatively under-privileged. Voltaire, Bertrand Russell, R.W.Emerson, Vivekananda, M.K.Gandhi and E.F. Schumacher have been some of the key influences in my intellectual development. In many ways I therefore represent a modern, liberal, independently thinking human being who could be found anywhere on the globe.

Today, I am thirty-six years old – an age when it is rather uncommon, at least in India, to be reverting to university education for one’s personal development. I have extensive financial pressures living in USA, which will get worse as both my wife and I attempt to complete a Ph.D. degree here. The salary back home will stop in August, 1996, as I move to extra-ordinary leave, and there will be a steep drop in funding available to my wife. I also have important commitments of time to my family with two children – with a daughter being born only 25 days ago, on the 29th of December, 1995. It was therefore definitely not necessary for me to have returned to higher study, or, having taken a break of two years to study for a Masters degree, to attempt a Ph.D. program. Back home, the challenging job, power, prestige, large house, servants, chauffeur driven cars, and other perquisites, are sufficient to prevent most IAS officers from leaving India for a student life. In terms of job satisfaction, also, my work was very fulfilling. But by 1989, I had began to realize that personal hard work and dedication were of not much avail if economic policies were “defective” in the first place. This meant a re-consideration of many of the economic premises which I functioned under.

It would be necessary to mention in this context that I have always taken a deep interest in politics. I have seen the political system at very close quarters in India and I believe that ultimately I must contribute to its betterment. Since 1990, I have been preparing a draft manifesto for the launch of a new political party in Assam along with a few active friends. But I soon realized that it is very difficult to work out a set of consistent humanitarian policies for political action, in the absence of immense knowledge of economics. In 1993, therefore, I considered the necessity of a trip to a good university in USA to fill up these gaps in my knowledge and thinking. I have not reached anywhere near the level of confidence I think I need to begin to sort out the issues involved. Hence the need to go beyond the Masters degree. I must state here that I have no intentions of joining active politics, however. My interest remains purely academic and intellectual – at the policy level.

The overall style of my life is therefore moving, as I planned it, in the direction of participation in events of real life, while retaining sufficient distance from them, to be able to look back and deliberate on the broader issues of life and philosophy. I would be happiest as a writer of normative philosophy and economic policy. I would like to be able to sit back and write on issues which I believe are of long-term interest to human beings everywhere. A Ph.D. degree in Economics would be just the right thing for my vision to be established on sound academic principles.

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