Sunday, November 16, 2014


The still-fairly-new BJP government has managed to drop some rather interesting statements with respect to science and rationality. First, a person no less than the prime minister opined that ancient Indians invented plastic surgery and reproductive genetics, producing as clinching proof, the examples of Karan from the Mahabharata and the elephant-headed god, Ganesh. Later on, the home mister, Rajnath Singh decided to switch tracks from biology to physics and claim that Heisenberg's theory of uncertainty is based on the Vedas.

People occupying high government office and holding irrational views, however, is not something that India is totally unaccustomed to. Back in 1950, India was to be declared a republic on 26 January in order to commemorate the Congress' 1930 Purna Swaraj resolution. However, one person disagreed with the date: Rajendra Prasad, the current president of India. Prasad had been elected President with Patel's backing largely because of his conservative views (Nehru supported the liberal Rajaji but was outmanoeuvred by Patel). True to his conservatism, Prasad opposed the date because he thought it would be astrologically inauspicious.  Nehru, of course, ignored this line of reasoning and in reply shot off this caustic, withering letter.

Source: Jawaharlal Nehru Vol.2 1947-1956 By Sarvepall Gopal

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Communal Chief Ministers

As the Goa CM, Manohar Parikkar, quits in order to join the Union Cabinet, an internecine fight has broken out in the Goa BJP over who is to succeed him. While the deputy chief minister is Francis D' Souza it is, however, fairly certain that Laxmikant Parsekar is to be the new chief minister.

Unsurprisingly, allegations of communalism are being floated about. Support for CMs also seem to be arranged along religious lines. This Economic Times report for example say that "D'Souza has the support of at least five catholic MLAs in BJP who would join with him if he rebels"[emphasis mine]

This situation is remarkably similar to an incident as described by Abul Kalam Azad in his biography, India Wins Freedom. The incidents pertains to the Congress choosing its CMs along communal lines after the 1937 provincial elections in Bombay state. This is an excerpt describing the Bombay incident:
One incident happened at the time which left a bad impression about the attitude of the Provincial Congress Committees. The Congress had grown as a national organization and given the opportunity of leadership to men of different communities. In Bombay, Mr Nariman was the acknowledged leader of the local Congress. When the question of forming the provincial Government arose, -there was general expectation that Mr Nariman would be asked to lead i t in view of his status and record. This was not however done. Sardar Patel and his colleagues did not like Nariman and the result was that Mr B. G. Kher became the first Chief Minister of Bombay. Since Nariman was a Parsee and Kher a Hindu, this led . to wide speculation that Nariman had been by-passed on communal grounds. Even if it is not true, it is difficult to disprove such an allegation.
As a result of his allegations, Nariman was expelled from the Congress party. However, as maybe a small consolation, Nariman Point--Bombay city's poshest piece of real estate--was name after him.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Nehru-Patel Bhai-Bhai?

In response to the furious appropriation of Patel by the BJP, liberal commentators have launched a vigorous counter-offensive. One prong of the attack consists of downplaying differences between Nehru and Patel.

Writing in The Hindustan Times, Ramchandra Guha argues that:
Because of such partisanship, many Indians have come to believe that Nehru and Patel were personal rivals and political adversaries...Nehru and Patel were in fact not rivals but comrades and co-workers. They worked closely together in the Congress from the 1920s to 1947; and even more closely together thereafter, as prime minister and deputy prime minister in the first government of free India. [emphasis mine]
Personally, I found this a bit odd since 'rivals' and 'co-workers' are hardly antonyms. That Nehru and Patel, part of the same cabinet and party, were 'co-workers' is a tautology. As anyone who has even a passing interest in politics will be able to confirm, party men and co-workers being bitter rivals is hardly unprecedented.

Later on, Vidya Subrahmaniam writing in The Hindu launched an even more sincere almost Pollyannaish defence of Nehru-Patel bhai bhai:
What is the truth? Nehru and Patel often disagreed, and furiously so. But such was the beauty of the relationship that they rarely kept a secret from each other. They wrote to each other almost every other day, expressing their doubts and differences honestly and openly, and concluding in the end that their mutual affection and regard outweighed any difference they felt with regard to state policy. In their letters, the two great men agonised over the rumours surrounding their relationship and the constant attempts to create a divide between them.
Here is an excerpt from Nehrua biography of our first Prime Minster by Benjamin Zachariah which provides a maybe more level-headed appraisal of the tensions (Zachariah uses the phrase 'Cold War') between Nehru and Patel.
Through all this, the ‘duumvirate’ was engaged in what effectively was an internal Cold War. There was a brief thaw after Gandhi’s assassination in which Nehru and Patel appeared to stand together on the issue of communalism and to have overcome differences: in his address on All-India Radio, following Nehru’s, after Gandhi’s assassination, Patel referred to Nehru as ‘my dear brother’.But this was illusory. Patel, the man who increasingly felt in control of the Congress’s organisational politics and who had done so much to set up the continuity and functioning of the institutional mechanisms of the new Indian state, wished to have a larger say in political matters. Representing the Congress right, he also commanded the allegiance of a large section of the party, possibly, he believed, the majority; especially after he had engineered the transformation of the Congress into a more disciplined party, had engineered the exclusion of the CPI from the Congress after the war, and had seen the secession of the socialists in 1949. Nehru was definitely indispensable to the Congress as the most popular and recognisable figure both on a world stage and within India that the Congress could present in public. But the attempted disempowerment of Nehru in terms of day-to-day practical politics was to continue, if possible. Patel hoped he could work Gandhi’s old trick of placing Nehru in a position of formal responsibility from which he could not exercise power. 
Gandhi, however, had been able to work this tactic because of Nehru’s undoubted reverence and respect for him. Patel could command no such respect from Nehru, who would publicly praise him when necessary, but made no particular secret of their differences. Nevertheless, Patel was firmly in control of the Congress organisation and the leader of the right wing of Congress, supported by surviving members of the ‘old guard’ such as Rajendra Prasad, who if anything was more anti-Muslim than Patel himself. These members of the Congress right, increasingly sensing their potential for achieving effective power, no longer felt it necessary to hide behind the legitimating rhetoric of Gandhism. Genuine Gandhians, whose discomfort with a centralised state apparatus and large-scale industry as envisaged by Nehru had long been apparent, now withdrew to the background. J.B. Kripalani, who had been the Congress president at independence, resigned his presidency in November 1947, raising uncomfortable questions about corruption in the party and in the civil service inherited from British rule, and warning of the dangers of ‘investing the State with the monopoly of political and economic exploitation, which is what happens in the centralised economy of a communist or a fascist state’.