Sunday, 1 July 2012

Sands and Diplomacy

It was in Jalore, a remote district in South-western Rajasthan where this fine idea invaded my neurons. The idea which will be developed and revealed gradually like a muddy stream flowing in it’s deltaic stage has a bearing on the future of the political common-sense. Jalore falls in geographical region which is historically known as Marwar. In fact it is one of the sub-region of Marwar called Godwad. The region is uniquely adorable for it’s Raikas with 50 meter long pagdis and thousands of sheep, it’s jungle temples frequented my merchant like milk loving bears, Jain sadhus and sleepy babus in their vintage lal battis. The marriage which I was attending was one of the typical feudal marriage of Rajasthan with it’s Langa performances, got(meat eating feast with buckets of whisky), Rajput thikanedars with their big mustaches poorly hiding the vanishing finances and old glories.
 There, I came across many people. Some of them were quite interesting like the hawala seth (very much like the mirchi seth from Sarfarosh) and a local MLA who was quite anti- Civil Society. But, I am not going to write anything about these interesting ones but I am going to discuss the one who was the most unpleasing or rather irritating one but who planted a great idea in my mind. I begin with a great thanks to him.
 He was an IFS officer with 7 years of diplomatic experience. For obvious reasons I am not going to divulge his name but he was an Indian diplomat who began his conversation with a complaint that since he was IFS he won’t get a good dowry thanks to the IAS officers of his community. That really kicked. I wanted to hear more and talk more.
 I initiated a discussion on public policy and public diplomacy. He replied that “public is always a public. It can not have a policy and it is not just capable of doing diplomacy.”Mark the word ‘doing’ here.  Initially I thought that it was some piece of diplomatic wit but soon it turned out that it was a piece of scattered wit. He meant it literally. He had no idea of what public diplomacy actually is. Soon enough I asked him why he hadn’t opened a Twitter account given the nature of his job as someone who should be well- connected with the world. He replied that the last time he wrote any sensible thing was 7 years back when wrote an essay on women empowerment in his IAS exam. I replied that I found it rather cool that 7 years ago he was thinking about women’s empowerment/. He was on 7th heaven to learn that. What had me astounded was the question that followed. He asked me, “Does that make me a suitable candidate for the MP’s post?” Worried more than ever I now asked, “When are you standing for the elections?” “Post- retirement,” he replied with a natural ease. That was a good 30 years from now I argued and till then it must be diplomacy, not politics. He retorted in a rather drab tone that diplomacy began with his coaching classes in Mukarjee nagar and ended the day he got his appointment letter.
Later, when I mentioned names like Jagat Mehta, Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama, Pratap Bhanu Mehta they were like physics and chemistry formulas for him. He said I really don’t know calculus. I said, they are great public policy experts. Jagat Mehta is from your state.You must know him. He only said one sentence, “In sab bekar ki baton me kya rakha hai. Jab UPSC ke exam me inke bare me nahi padha to ab kya zarurat hai. Exam ke baad to maine newspaper bhi padhna band kar diya.” [What’s the point knowing these people. When I studied for the UPSC exams I never came across these names, why bother now? In fact I have stopped reading the newspapers as well.] He was least interested in knowing anything about Amitav Ghosh, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He could not speak for 2 minutes fluently in English. But yes he was regaling his friends and cousins with his escapades with blonde girls. The only virtue which he had was that he was not arrogant and bossy like other babus. He could drink the lowliest of wine and call it  a Johnny walker.
 Today a batchmate for St.Stephens’s called me from the U.S. He did  MSFS(Masters of Science in Foreign Service) from Georgetown and was thinking of joining Indian Foreign Service. He asked me about the UPSC exam. I told him that it is something which goes on for two-three years and it is capable of failing Henry Kissinger in International Relations as optional. He asked me if there was any alternative system of recruitment based on interview, SOP or lateral entry in civil services. In fact he found it quite funny. He is already a graduate in foreign service and according to him his degree should be sufficient. Before our conversation ended he said, "I am not interested in taking this exam as I already have an offer from Brookings Institution.I just want to serve my country but not at this big a cost.”
I said good bye and hungup the phone.

Later in the evening he rang me up once again and announced his decision that he is joining Brookings institution. I am not very happy to learn about this. He could have been an asset to this nation if he had joined our diplomatic services. But we do not have anything for these people and this makes them land up in U.N and Brookings because the latter two know their worth. Our system just does not go beyond conventions, customs rigid exams (which makes diplomats and administrators out of engineers, doctors, linguists and historians)
Why can’t we begin with some change? When the U.S can appoint Vali Nasr, Francis Fukiyama ,Brett Mcgerc as policy advisors and ambassadors than why can’t we send our Ved Pratap Vedics, Brahma Chellanys, Achin Vinayaks, Narayan murthys etc as our envoys and high commissioners. We can give a chance to Indian students (who want to join our civil service and diplomatic service) who go and study public policy and diplomacy courses at places like Cornell, Princeton, Fletcher, Harvard etc to join our civil services and foreign services. There is no need to subject them to UPSC exam (as most of them already have good job, offers from MNCs, thinktanks etc so we have to somehow get this talent) They can simply write an SOP and then shortlisted candidate should be called for an interview. Finally selected candidates can start with a 6 month orientation course and then parceled to their foreign postings or field postings in India(if they ar in administrative services).These students are professionals with a good exposure, knowledge,and dynamic personality. They can do a great service to our country.
Recently Farid Zakaria raised a big question mark on our foreign policy and our whole foreign service set up. He wrote that a nation as small as New Zealand has 11,000 diplomats and on the other hand India ,who dreams of game changer role has only 600 diplomats.So ,I believe it is the right time to think out of the box and get Kissingers and Bismarcks for India.
 Finally it is our choice,who do we want to represent us ? 
a)The fellow who cremated the diplomacy the day he was appointed(after passing a great,great and greatest exam!) or the fellow from Georgetown for whom diplomacy is a passion, mission of his life but must rely on an exam to prove his mettle.

-Abhinav Pandya

The Writer is a Fellow at the Cornell University pursuing his MPA and a proud alumni of St. Stephen's college, Delhi

*Note: The incident narrated in the article is based on actual events.

1 comment:

  1. very Interesting read. Although we shouldn't judge entire IFS community by interacting with one. Its a well known fact that countries like Pakistan and Singapore also have more diplomats than India. Things are changing, eg. appointment of Nandan Nilekani for UID project, essentially a bureaucratic post. A our services need to be much more dynamic rather than rigid year long selection with 1000 seats with starting salary of say 40K. So by the time someone gets final selection call, s/he already drained, losses enthusiasm to work. Most CS aspirants I meet talk in a way as if creaking CS is the goal. They must realize CS exam is just a process and real work starts after that. Nonetheless CS selection process is great learning opportunity too. Those who love reading and have a vision for India of tomorrow do enjoy the process. But still a lot more is desired.