Thursday, 11 December 2008

Through the magnifying glass

I have been interested in public policy for as long as I can remember. I was six when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated. I asked my teacher, 'Will there be war?' On the same day I witnessed riots and remember wondering why there were truckloads of armed personnel to protect one senior army officer living in my apartment block but no policemen to protect ordinary civilians on the street. A month later another tragedy - the Bhopal Gas Disaster - caught my attention. I started reading a newspaper and watching news regularly from 1989, when I entered middle school, and remember closely following the massacre in Tiananmen Square, the Indian general elections, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 1991 India introduced economic reforms sparking both widespread protests against the IMF and World Bank as well as my interest in economics, politics and international relations. The destruction of the Babri Mosque in 1992 was another watershed, making me deeply conscious of the use and abuse of religion in politics. By the mid-1990s I was engaging in debates on the CTBT and the WTO. In 1997 I participated in my first television panel discussion on the 'State of the Nation' in its fiftieth year of independence. That year I also logged into my first email account and into the wondrous world of the Internet. By the time I graduated from college I had debated India's nuclear tests, written on the Kashmir crisis, spoken on new communications technologies, and marched on to the Indian Parliament to demand the protection of religious freedoms.

Those were my formative years. I felt a profound sense that the world was changing and that I needed to engage with it. My friends would say that I was interested in 'current affairs'. Not just for its own sake, though. I was interested in the past and the present because I wanted to understand how it would affect our future. I wanted to FOCUS on issues that I felt mattered to me, my country and the world. That is the purpose of this blog.

What matters, what will matter, what should matter. As citizens, we need to engage with public affairs and policy much more deeply than we do today. This is not just about voting in elections. Public policy informs every day of our lives, no matter who we are and what we do. We sit up and take notice when crises hit - stocks tank, terrorists strike, water supply stops, riots spread, wars begin, floods occur, climates change, exports fall, and prices rise. We assume we are immune to it all until the day we are affected and then we blame everyone except ourselves. We are not just students, housewives, doctors, lawyers, engineers, bankers, teachers, consultants, mediapersons, or sportspersons, but first and foremost members of a wider society. Each of us has priorities that matter to her/him, each of us has an inkling about what issues might dominate, and each of us wishes something were different.

Over the past decade I have worked in international organisations (UNDP, WTO) and universities (Oxford, soon Princeton), with political leaders, civil society groups and even hip-hop stars, and briefly in the private sector. I have had the good fortune to work in five continents on a range of subjects, from trade and financial crises, to extremism and terrorism, to ethnicity and armed conflict, to democracy and governance, to intellectual property and indigenous people, to water and now climate change. Each of these issues has implications not only for the poor but for all of us. As I wade through global and local issues, I want to share news, analyses and opinions to draw attention to and focus on what matters to me. In turn, I want to learn from others, experts and lay persons, on other issues that are defining the world and society we live in. I hope this blog serves to further that exchange.

Sherlock Holmes once chided Dr. Watson, 'You see, but you do not observe.' Welcome to my magnifying glass: to SEE, THINK, ACT.


srinidhi said...

Dear Arunabha
It felt good to read your blog.
I had started wondering 'Does anything really matter?'. I suppose it is my age talking.
I do realsie that it surely matters and I look forward to your blogs. I like your conversational tone as well. It feels very personal.
All the best. Uncle

Sandhya said...

superb piece of writing as always. Although I can't write one zillionth as well as you, I thought I'll put down my first thoughts on reading your blog. The world has become a smaller place and its problems confront us in more immediate ways. Most of us just talk among ourselves because we feel we are never heard or represented correctly, but we are actually never motivated enough to do anything to be actively listened to. Maybe most of us should begin by using David Brower's phrase - 'Think Globally, Act Locally' or even Think Big, Act Small! to accomplish some meaningful work.

Neena said...

Thank you Arunabha for voicing what i feel so strongly about ,so well.It is truly not just the govt.but we the common man who is equally responsible .Today we as a people are becoming more and more indisciplined,intolerant and uncaring .Warm regards,Neena Shahani

shakester said...

shall be followed with much interest