19th May 2009
This is a slightly edited version of my discussion within FTI in the last week or so regarding the standards of integrity we need in India.
You are entitled to be sceptical and to wonder why I am so 'arrogant' in calling others spineless crooks when I myself supported the system till 2000? I'll address this briefly.
I had heard a lot about corruption. Everyone in India has. But I had seen that many officers could remain upright (my father being one of them) and so people like 'us' could save India if only we controlled these deviant politicians. That is why I joined the IAS anyway. (One day if I get time I'll type out my hand written notes from my IAS interview of 1982 – I found it the other day. Very interesting!).
I discovered corruption in government VERY EARLY. The relevant CM was NOT the only one. Virtually everyone in the bureaucracy and politics was steeped in corruption. The instances are so many that I need not recount (I've recounted a few in BFN if you are interested). But I didn't understand either the administrative system nor economics, nor politics. So till I became 30 I did my job in the best way I could. But even before reaching 30 I was getting more and more convinced that change could not come about at the bureaucratic level.
Since 30, by 1989, (if not before) I have been totally clear about the fact that there is no alternative to reform of Government except through political means. Indeed, so much did I talk about this that one day after a major fight in the secretariat with an officer, a good friend (he left the IAS as well and now works in the US) came rushing to me advising me not to jump into politics without preparation – well, I wasn't going to anyway at that stage!
To get a sense of my thoughts at age 32/33 please read: http://tinyurl.com/oo5w3g and http://tinyurl.com/qnyudb (one of these contains my article published the major Assamese newspaper The Sentinel in 1992).
The 1991 experience with the concerned CM was merely one of many. It simply reconfirmed things. I then started investigating causes. Studied in Australia and US for 6 out of the 10 years of my 30s. Tried to explore what causes this problem.
Here's my 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 – which I did get and so decided to complete my PhD: http://tinyurl.com/otsfbt. It will give you a sense of my attitude towards learning from the 'masters' (gurus).
Everything came together at age 39 in Feb. 1998, and I thought we must have a liberal party in India. Since then numerous efforts and experiences later, FTI. I believe this can work, though I realise it still may not:
a) People differ on what integrity means (I'm stuck in a rut on this. I see things in black and white).
b) People think liberalism is libertarianism and demand freedom without responsibility.
c) Very few people have organisational ability and skills. Most simply are good at talking (not something to be despised, but the fact remains that a liberal party needs organisational experts and we don't have many).
By 60, in 2019, I will either be back in India full time, or have finally quit India (or even life: there are no guarantees anyone will live to 60!).
So from 22 (joining IAS) to 60, I'd have done whatever I thought was good for India – given my limited understanding. If my little contributions make any difference, fine. If not, I'm quite comfortable doing other things. No fuss at all. I don't need to be Prime Minister of India to be happy. Digging up my garden up and taking pictures of flowers gives me the most exquisite happiness. I live for myself and my principles, not for India. If India (whatever that means: for India is nothing but a bunch of individuals) doesn't budge, so be it. I won't, in any event.
I did quit the IAS (and India) when I thought I could and needed to, and had tried all options to launch a political movement. You may well critique my actions and want me to have done other things. Too bad. I just do what I think I need to. If people in India don't care, sorry – but why should I bother? Have I taken any contract for fixing India? Are you or anyone in India paying me anything? (I won't go into details about how I get not a paisa of retirement entitlements for working 18 years in the IAS…) It is a joint responsibility I talk about. As citizens.
You can question me all you like and you'll get what you see. A liberal at heart and in action.