Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Tonight, after my usual game of racquetball I headed to Lovekesh and Aditya's place (Ashish is currently not around, so is discounted for the moment ;)). Apart from the usual catching up, the conversation veered to politics.

Currently, India is in the throes of civil agitation and political turmoil over the proposed "affirmative action" legislation. And as in India, the issue has divided Indians in the US as well. It has struck a chord and a nerve in equal measure. Sure enough Lovekesh had something to say. Not just to me, or to his room-mates, but to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself.

I'm including his poignant letter below. The ideas and language are solely his and are reproduced below with his permission.

--------------- begin letter ----------
Letter to the Prime Minister, from Indian students abroad

I write this letter on behalf of my fellow students, scientists and research scholars who are currently studying/conducting research abroad.

Sir, having studied abroad yourself you would be very aware of the difficult choices Indian students are faced with towards the end of their studies, often they are torn between whether to spend their working years serving a foreign country which in most cases would afford them a brighter career, a higher standard of living and a more conducive work environment, or to serve India, the country we call home.

When someone with your esteemed qualifications and track record took over the office of Prime Minister, our hearts were filled with hope for our nation. Fingers crossed, we were hopeful your government would be the guiding force that would usher
India into the 21st century. Some of us even dared to dream of a developed India. Alas, as has been the norm with promising Indian policiticians, you have flattered to decieve. Your administrations pro-quota decisions are such a huge regressive step that nothing else your administration does will be able to make up for it. Initially, the rumours about you being a puppet in the Sonia regime were dismissed as baseless attempts at defamation, however your reluctance to stand up to men like Arjun Singh speaks volumes for your spineless leadership, and has served to reinforce those rumours.

Having spent the majority of your career as an academician, we naturally assumed that the standard of education nationwide would be one area that would be enhanced under your leadership. We were not naive, we knew that once in public office, you were more politician than academic, but not even the most ardent pessimist anticipated that you would value the collection of votes over the dessimation of knowledge.

Some of us still believe that you are personally not in favor of reservations. However, your personal convictions are irrelevant if you dont have the courage to stand up for them. Very rarely do honest academicians get a chance to influence national policy, to use their intellect to lead and serve their country. Sir, by allowing populist quota policies to prevail in your administration, by not standing up and taking a stand on the issue, by not even expressing your own views on the matter, and by diluting educational standards everywhere, you have disgraced the office of the Prime Minister, you have disgraced yourself as an academic and have betrayed the lot of deserving students nationwide.

I dont expect you will react to this letter, or even read it, it would be too much of a political inconvenience. But writing this was the least I could do in support of the poor students who have to go on strikes to catch the governments attention.

I leave you with one final thought: Universities in developed countries offer many things that India for the most part cannot, a brilliant intellectual atmosphere, laboratory facilities, work environment, infrastructure to name a few. However, one hoped that the very least one could expect from one's own country is not to be treated like a second rate citizen, not to be discriminated against on the basis of caste and most importantly, respect for merit and academic achievement. It seems that was asking for too much.

As I mentioned earlier, Indian researchers abroad have always had a tough choice to make when it comes to deciding which country to pursue their career paths in. Thank you Honorable Prime Minister for making that choice a lot easier.

An Indian Scientist

Lovekesh Vig

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Swanand said...

I came abroad hoping to return sometime so that I can offer something in return to my country. I saw many of my friends of the same opinion. But over here, having seen the comforts and lifestyle, they changed over a period of 2-3 years. I was still adamant on going back. Now is however the first time I am not so sure if I should go back to India. May be I can still go back and give what I have but what right do I have to geopardize my future generations educational chances? I am still undecided and I am waiting to see the result of this political turmoil. I wish I can carry my share of the struggle against this injustice.

kage said...

I hear you... i think a lot (if not all) of the Indian diaspora goes through exactly what you are describing.

"Swades" was such an argument at the emotional level for going back, but practicality and logistics cannot be ignored.

if the country has to progress, we need infrastructure, and an environment in which infrastructure development is encouraged. Regulation and "license raj" era restrictions can have a very detrimental and contra-desired effect.