DVG’s Immortal 30-Point Advice to Young Men Delivered in 1971

This is the full text of a letter that DVG wrote in 1971 to a disconcerted young college student seeking advice on entering public life.
DVG’s Immortal 30-Point Advice to Young Men Delivered in 1971

Editor’s Note

THE FOLLOWING IS THE FULL TEXT of D.V. Gundappa’s advice to young men who wished to enter public life to offer national service or generally wanted to contribute to national life in some meaningful way. 

DVG has mentioned the backdrop that occasioned this letter. It was first published in the October 1971 issue of the Public Affairs journal that he edited. 

In both form and content, the letter exhibits the typical flair of DVG — brevity, simplicity, grace, wisdom and uncompromising intellectual integrity. The advice derives its authority because its author has lived every word he has written. 

It is our humble and sincere suggestion that readers take a printout of this brilliant piece and/or memorise it. 

Happy reading!

Public Life and Young Men

Here is the substance of what I wrote in reply to a young friend - a senior class student in a college - who asked me for advice as to what young people can do in the present predicament of the country. His question was based upon what I said to Sri G. P. Rajaratnam in the course of an A. I. R. interview broadcast on 6-9-1971 referring, among other matters, to the work of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs. I think there are others interested in the subject and I therefore have thought of publishing the letter here:

Dear friend,

1. Conditions are, as you say, black and threatening on all sides. But let us give no room to despair. So long as there are young men among us of your earnestness to worry themselves about the country, India may well cherish every hope for her future. Your seriousness of the citizen-sense is our surest guarantee.

2. You find that money-grabbers and office-grabbers have seized seats of power. Please keep note of this for days when you come yourself into the world's Work. Make up your mind once for all never to seek a public position in order to make private gain.

You will no doubt need a means of livelihood — a job, a profession, a business. Not only is it desirable that you should have a definite occupation, it is imperatively necessary that you should have one. Economic competence in private life is a condition of independence in public life. Indeed the first duty of patriotism is that you should avoid becoming a burden upon society.

3. Herein is a pitfall. In the name of economic sufficiency, you may cross the limits of honesty and honour, and land yourself in ambition and self-seeking. To avoid this mortal danger, you have first to accustom yourself to ways of simplicity and keep nerves of steel against temptation and the lures of opulent living. 

If you are not capable of resisting money-temptation and the temptation of public applause, you had better keep away from the public field. As a vernacular proverb puts it, you had better not foul the atmosphere in the temple rather than go as a worshipper and add to the stench of the crowds there.

4. Then, when you have kept self-seeking far away, your duty will be to study one or more questions of public welfare. Lack of knowledge and understanding in public men is our second great poverty, next to our poverty in moral idealism. Where we have moral purity and elevation of mind, fanaticism becomes our misfortune. Blindness to the other man's point of view, refusal to see at least the possibility of there being another view of the matter betokens insensibility to conditions of justice and is, to that extent, a lapse from the moral principle.

5. After acquiring knowledge and expelling bias of every kind comes the duty of articulation. Here too, India's poverty is lamentable. Not that we have no clever or intelligent men who are good public speakers. But they lack the strength of will to bear the responsibility of sharing in the formation and expression of public opinion. They exhaust their public spirit in street-corner grumblings and club-room fulminations. They love to hear denunciatory speeches made by others and hug any burning slogan to their bosom as all that there is to say. In one word, they have enough public spirit to be discontented and not enough public spirit to give reasoned and coherent utterance to that discontent. This deficiency in our democratic organization, it will be for our young men of the future to rectify. They should cultivate the habit of responsible public statement on public issues.

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6. It is next to no good to look for improvements through legislatures and such other governmental bodies. They are formal in their procedures, and to be formal is not necessarily to be cognizant of the unofficially observable, but officially unrecognized, realities of the case. Any formal body or organ of Government is, in the very nature of our existing democracy, bound to be a tool of the ruling party. The majority of its members would naturally be people belonging to the ruling party and bound to vote for its view.

7. Democracy becomes a farce when designing careerists dominate it. Party is often their organization. It has as its nucleus the ambition of an individual or a group of individuals working for power for their hands and all that power would mean.

8. But parties or political groups are unavoidable. People having some common purpose to serve must have the liberty to form an association so long as their purpose is one not prohibited by law. And as interests are naturally various, parties are various, pulling the public interest in various directions.

9. Thus while the bodies of the legislature and the Government have their undoubted uses, it is needful that there should be a means of ensuring that those bodies carry out their functions in the manner intended; and here is the necessity for an institution of uncommitted and free-minded citizenship.

10. It is for the educated young men of today and tomorrow to build up such an institution. That is the only way I see to a good future.

11. We must once for all give up the notion that progress can be achieved by dramatic or revolutionary methods. Progress must be a slow process, as it means the education of the public mind to a new ideal and a new purpose. Our mental habits are not changed as easily as our clothes.

12. We must make up our mind to go forward with deliberate, gradual foot-steps.

13. Let me now summarise:

1) Don’t be obliged to anyone else for your living. Also not playing the parrot to any one else.

2) Delimit your worldly ambitions.

3) Avoid, as long as possible, joining a formal party organization.

4) But when you come to think that joining a party will promote the public interest better than your working solitarily, do two preliminary studies: (i) Examine your own mind and define to yourself the principles and ideals which are essential to you; (ii) Examine the objects and principles of the party that commends itself to you and the history of that party in actual working.

If, finally, you decide to join, make it clear to that party, when joining, that your membership will continue so long as the party will remain true to the principles you mark as essential.

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5) But the work that needs to be done lies outside party and outside the houses of legislature — in the public platform and the press.

6) If you can form a group of non-party citizens for your work, so much the better.

7) Contest no elections.

8) You may agree to be a candidate for an election if your candidature will not be contested.

9) But it will be your duty to see that all elections are held under fair and just conditions.

10) Your duty will be more outside legislatures and other formal bodies than in them. You will think and act for the public at large —  without reference to party, or religion, or caste or creed or economic class or social group. The general public will be your client, and the open platform will be your field of action, while your own conscience and good sense will be your guide in the light of knowledge and thought cultivated by study.

14. The future of the country will be what the educated young men of today will make it.

15. It will not do for young men to sit with folded hands on the plea that they have no responsibility and no power to act. The action called for is not on the physical plane; but it is on the moral plane and the intellectual plane of living. And the moral and intellectual planes are the field belonging to the student and the thinker and the moralist.

16. Never think of attempting a Utopia. Utopias are built either with self-perfected men and women or with brainless robots of obedience; but not with such mixture of good and bad as we are. Attempt at Utopia is therefore a delusion. It causes diversion of attention and energy which should go to little improvements that are achievable. The Utopia is thus the enemy of the practicable good.

17. Finally, young men must once for all banish all dreams of bringing about a change for the better by the use of brute force. Nothing is so damaging to the county's future as the spirit of demonstration of protests and resentment. Gheraos, Dharnas and mass-howling are repugnant to the spirit of India's culture and civilization. India has been gentle, forbearing and she would rather bear a little injustice herself than be unjust to others. I think it the duty of every young man to promote the spirit of harmony and friendly compromise with those whose interests differ from his own. A little loss suffered in order to win a lasting friendship is a surer gain and a more durable gain than success won through the loss of a desirable friendship.

I shall now close, wishing you the best of life.

Yours sincerely,

D. V. G.

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