Sanjeev Sablok

satyameva jayate nānṛtaṁ, satyena panthā vitato devayānaḥ, yenākramantyṛṣayo hyāptakāmā, yatra tat satyasya paramaṁ nidhānam - Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.6

Truth alone triumphs; not falsehood. Through truth the divine path is spread out by which the sages whose desires have been completely fulfilled, reach where that supreme treasure of Truth resides.

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This is a long post and motivated by unwarranted/unbalanced remarks made by the protagonist of this piece in relation to Rajiv-ji on his blog and facebook in relation to the Doniger book withdrawal. Thanks for your patience. - Srini Sriram

Sanjeev Sablok - a case study in identity confusion

Rajiv-ji has talked extensively about westerners learning from India, adopting an dharmic identity, traveling back to the West, feeling compelled to adapt and mixing identities, and then seeking resolution by digestion and perhaps leading to denigrating the source of their wisdom after the appropriation (the various stages of U-turn theory). I am not concerned about westerners here. I am seeing, in real time, the unraveling of Sanjeev Sabhlok, someone whom I considered an online friend (and he likely considered me too as his well wisher), a person of undoubted talent and accomplishment but who, by circumstances, did not have any firm grounding in his sense of identity, his essential self-hood. I find this tragic because people with this level of intellectual talent and honesty are not common. But brains and personal integrity are not enough. If a sense of wholesome cultural identity is missing and a lot of this isn't intellectual it is based on gut experiences starting from childhood, a person is fragile, prone to breakdown. It is the job of parents and relatives, and society as a whole to provide this. Getting up early in the morning during Diwali, Having a puja room, taking a dip in the river, the upanayam ceremony, vedic chants…. all of these are visceral experiences that are imprinted in me despite not consciously being religious (My own experiences were half-baked and I am only getting a reasonable sense of self hood late in life). Sanjeev's parents were apparently Arya Samaji and perhaps his experiences lacked the element present in mine. He is clearly a person who feels very deeply about injustice. As a teenager, he drew a painful portrait when the emergency was declared. Sanjeev has identified himself as a Buddhist (a SBNR, Spiritual but not religious category) and sometimes as an atheist.

You can google Sanjeev Sablok, download his critique of Nehruvian policies and corruption he experienced in India and his fiery advocacy of classical liberalism (not to be confused with the left/socialism). He was a national science scholar, and got admission into the IAS. And maintained his integrity. Now he is an ex-IAS officer who took leave from the IAS in the late 90s, did his PhD in Economics from UCLA and currently works for the Australian government in Canberra. He is in his early 50s. He was clearly very disgusted with Indian politics (hence his book) and tried, for a while, to start a political party over a decade ago (He knows Jayaprakash Narayan, the well known ex-IAS officer who is recognized as a very principled politician). Sanjeev espouses classical liberal principles (Milton Friedman, Austrian School etc), but is an atheist (or Buddhist) and uncomfortable with being born Hindu. I was friendly with him a few years ago and gave him some feedback on his book "Breaking free of Nehru" which is available as a PDF on the web.

Last year Sanjeev undertook a trip to India, met with Baba Ramdev the anti-corruption crusader who was his gracious host (documented in videos). When Baba Ramdev supported NaMo unequivocally, Sanjeev felt surprised and betrayed and could not believe it as he had previously graded Baba Ramdev as a level 5 leader (the highest category in Jim Collins classification scheme). How can a anti-corruption leader support a Hindutva-wadi? Clearly Baba Ramdev had erred, a lapse in judgment. Sanjeev hated and still hates NaMo with surprising vigor, refusing to consider the evidence and offers all sorts of convoluted arguments on why NaMo is the most dangerous politican, fascist etc. He would be a fit case study in the psychology of motivated reasoning where one estabishes a belief first and then proceeds to justify it, regardless of the facts. So this (NaMo's rise) is very disturbing to him. Sanjeev started writing a manuscript on "Hindu Capitalism" (also on the web) which I interpret at his attempt at redefining his identity as a Hindu economist. Sanjeev is a fundamentalist about "Freedom" in all its incarnations but his strategic perspective is absent; considerations like grand narratives would appear, to him, to be primitive. Identity is important as it clarifies the mind and helps with strategic, long-term thinking.

Without clear identity, there can be no strategy. People like Bill Gates knew at 22 what they wanted to do and who they were. But then, Gates did not have the handicap that many talented Indians have to carry and consequently do not reach their potentials, shooting self-goals to use a sporting metaphor. The baggage of bastardized identities. In fact, I hypothesize that many Indian sub-cultural groups that have succeeded also have mechanisms to preserve their identities. And perhaps some Indians in foreign lands have undergone wholesale transformation (e.g.., Bobby Jindal) to succeed in those contexts. Whatever identity one has, be it as a Dharmic, an Episcopalian or a Catholic, it has to be sound. Else personality is fragile, waiting to be broken by setbacks.
Sanjeev has very fixed ideas on who a good Hindu is and so on. Clearly NaMo and Rajiv are not in that category (He is attacking Rajiv for not supporting freedom of expression whereas it is clearly a case of the publisher backing out). In fact, a somewhat balanced approach on the matter (which does have some weaknesses) can be found in News Laundry here: 2014/02/12/when-penguin- turned-chicken/

After Sanjeev's recent posts where he clearly abuses Rajiv without putting in the work to understand his work, I felt compelled to "unfriend" Sabhlok on facebook, today. I do not use facebook much but this is the first time I have had to unfriend someone. My diagnosis is that Sanjeev is a talented fellow who has, for a variety of reasons, clearly has lost his objectivity and mental balance because people (his friends) find NaMo, Baba Ramdev and others like you to be attractive. And for a time, he found Baba Ramdev very attractive and labeled him as a leader of the highest calibre! Sanjeev has experienced what I would called traumatic cognitive dissonance as a result (e.g., of Baba Ramdev supporting NaMo) and much of the blame has to do with his broken identity, which, in turn has its roots in the genetics of his personality combined with the trauma of westernized early education (which many of us have also survived.. I recall being asked uncomfortable questions by a fellow christian convert classmate when I was in grade school in a convent). Sanjeev Sabhlok could be a case study in identity confusion which is accelerated by new developments in what we may optimistically foresee as the flowering of a new era of Hindu renaissance and balanced pride. I hope his health and equanimity does not worsen further but my prognosis, realistically, is pessimistic.

The cultivation of a a robust Hindu identity that is adaptable to a variety of contexts and strengthens the person is worthy of study. And, cases of failure, such as that described above give us insight into the underlying mechanisms.

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