Sunday, 9 September 2012

A Conversation with Adv. Aditya Sondhi, Ph.D

My friend Aditya Sondhi, a leading advocate based in Bangalore, recently completed a Ph.D on a topic which is very relevant for our times. I have reproduced below (with Aditya’s permission) excerpts from my conversation with him.

1. You are a practising advocate. Despite having an obviously busy schedule, you have done a Masters in Political Science from Bangalore University and then followed it up with a PhD from Mysore University. What motivated you to do this?

Vinod, firstly, let me say how pleased I am to have this tete-a-tete with you - a classmate and friend since 1993.

My Hindi Master from Bishop Cotton Boys' School - Dr Iqbal Ahmed, prompted me to think about academic pursuits while I was practising. He is someone I've stayed in touch with after School, and found much guidance from. Dr Ahmed holds a PhD in Hindi, having made a comparative study of the works of Mahatma Kabir and Dr Iqbal (the poet). It was a pursuit of learning that really prompted me to do the M.A. (through a 'correspondence' course) and then, the PhD. Initially, I was inclined to do my Master's in English, but was disappointed to find that our BA LLB (Hons) degree does not qualify us to do a Master's in anything but law or political science!

2. Tell me a bit about your Ph.D thesis.

My thesis is on The Interface between the Army and Democracy: India and Pakistan Compared (1947 – 2008). I examined the various reasons for military intervention in democratic spaces – the causes behind military takeovers and the end result – usually the dilution of democracy. I’ve also looked at the role of passive institutions in creating political spaces that can be filled by liberal, democratic institutions and traditions.

3. How did you conclude your thesis?

Essentially by finding that politically active armies and the growth of democracy are inversely co-related, and that young, liberal democracies need a-political, secular armies and strong civilian institutions to enable their growth. I did emphasize the fact that the Indian army by being a passive, politically unambitious institution created the political space for democracy to flourish, and that such passive institutions need to be regarded while applauding the growth of liberal traditions. (This is not to say that Indian democracy is anywhere near perfect!) In conclusion, the comparison between India and Pakistan brings home the sharp distinction in their political history, and the significantly divergent roles played by the armies, the civilian institutions and judiciaries in both countries.

4. Is your thesis likely to be released as a book?

Time-permitting, I hope to convert it into a book in due course.

5. You have already published a book – Unfinished Symphony. You also write short stories – one of your stories won a prize in the Sunday Herald Short Story Competition. What was more fun? Your Ph.D or writing Unfinished Symphony.

I guess Unfinished Symphony was more fun in terms of making very interesting and uplifting discoveries about my old school, and profiling its eminent alumni . However, the thesis turned out to be very enriching in terms of my understanding political nuances in India & Pakistan, and absorbing the interplay between various facets of political society.

6. You must be a very good time manager. Do you believe it is good to fit in as much as possible into one’s day?

Hardly a good time manager! I wish I could play more golf, find more time to be with friends, listen to and play music, travel, and sample interesting cuisines. My day is almost entirely gobbled up by the practice of law, though I try and squeeze out time for some other academic pursuits like writing or teaching.

7. Do you think your pursuit of knowledge in humanities makes you a better lawyer or is it strictly a hobby?

Indeed, law and justice-delivery is a reflection of the socio-economic and political realities of the time. There is therefore an overlap between the study of humanities and the understanding of law, especially constitutional law.

8. Do you follow politics?

Fairly closely.

9. What fascinates you more? Domestic politics or international politics?

Clearly domestic politics, as it is relevant to me as a citizen and helps me understand (and gape at!) the chaos of our times.

10. Since you are so much interested in politics, let me ask you a question - Who do you think was primarily responsible for India’s partition? The British or Jinnah or Nehru? And why?

Partition was an accident of history. I doubt any of them really willed a division of states in the bloody fashion that it occurred. Kuldip Nayar in his autobiography remarks about Jinnah being distraught at the sight of thousands fleeing their homes, in the backdrop of violence and carnage. All told, the inability of the civilian leadership of the time to find common ground resulted in the divide becoming, needlessly, a communal issue that brutally bifurcated people cut from the same cloth. (My father and grandparents on both sides are partition migrants.)

11. Are you likely to enter politics?

No such plans.

12. Would you encourage other lawyers to mix the practice of law with academic pursuits?

Only if such pursuit can be undertaken seamlessly, without affecting the practice itself. I have no doubt though that a practising advocate cannot afford to be uni-dimensional in his / her intellect.

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