Posts Tagged ‘Harvard’

NaMo, PaChi, chai, MaShAi and Mahabharatha

20 February 2014

Those who know Gujarat politics know that its chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s claims of having been a tea-seller at Ahmedabad (or was it Vadnagar?) railway station in his youth is a minor “fake encounter with facts”. Sonia Gandhi‘s man friday from the land of Amul, Ahmed Patel, has helpfully clarified that Shri Modiji was only a fafda-seller at his uncle’s shop.

Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped some Congressmen from revealing their upbringing.

Mani Shankar Aiyar with Doon school, St. Stephen‘s college and Cambridge in his curriculum vitae said Modi could sell tea at the Congress office, prompting the BJP (or its corporate sponsors) to do some “Chai pe Kharcha” to organise Modi’s “Chai pe Charcha“.

More recently, when Modi began doing some major fake encounters with economic facts, finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, with Harvard on his CV, stepped in to remind the world that what the BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate” knew about economics could be written on the back of a postal stamp.

The condescending comments revealed the class prejudice prevalent in Indian society and politics, writes P.M. Vasudev in Deccan Herald. But it is not something Aiyar and Chidambaram discovered with Modi on the horizon; we have grown up with it since the time of the Mahabharatha:

“With many of the negatives in contemporary India, it is possible to trace to the Mahabharatha the attitude underlying the statements of Aiyar and Chidambaram.

“At the display by the Pandavas and Kauravas on completion of their training in military skills, their guru, Drona, dared any person in the assembly to challenge Arjuna.

“When Karna rose to do so, Drona insulted and humiliated him about his lowly social position as the son of a chariot-driver and questioned how he could dare challenge a prince.

“Of course, in doing so, Drona brushed aside the main issue – namely, the skills of the contestants.

“Betraying deep-seated rank prejudices, he taunted Karna about his social position. It is a different story that Duryodhana, who had his own agenda to put the Pandavas down, stepped in and made Karna the prince of a small state, so he could compete with Arjuna ‘on a par.’”

Read the full article: Class prejudice, competence & spirit of democracy

Photograph: courtesy Daily Bhaskar

Also read: Do they teach this at Harvard Business School?

Now showing at a theatre of the absurd near you

30 January 2013


So, young Indians cannot tell their friends what they ‘like’ on Facebook, without being “pre-screened” by Harvard types (or hauled into a police station by Shiv Sena goons). So, bloggers cannot publish their “online private diaries” without the sword of 66(A) hanging over their heads.

So, tweeters can be blocked and Savita bhabhi‘s enviable lifestyle can be subject to some faceless babu’s sense of humour (or voyeurism). So, the Mahatma‘s life is beyond scrutiny in the land of you-know-who. So (oh!), Aamir Khan‘s film will not be screened in the land of you-know-who.

Or his TV show.

So, TV stations cannot show protests without threatened by the information and broadcasting ministry (or corporate titans). So, newspapers cannot report what their reporters see without being told that the tap of government advertisements could be turned off.

So, M.F. Husain cannot die in his own country. So, A.K. Ramanujam‘s interpretation of the Ramayana hurts somebody.

So, Ashis Nandy cannot drop his pearls on corruption without offending Dalits, tribals and OBCs. So, Salman Rushdie cannot go to a lit-fest in Jaipur (or Calcutta) without offending Islamist fundoos. So, Shah Rukh Khan cannot write what’s in his heart without offending.

So, Kamal Hassan‘s new film can be banned by a government run by a former film actor.

Sometimes, you do have to remind yourself it is a free country, don’t you?

Image: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

CHURUMURI POLL: Has India lost moral compass?

23 October 2012

In its 62nd year as a Republic, India presents a picture that can only mildy be termed unedifying.

Scams are raining down on a parched landscape with frightening ferocity. From outer space (2G, S-band) to the inner depths of mother earth (coal), the Congress-led UPA has had it all covered in its second stint. Meanwhile, Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of the first family of the Congress, has taken charge of scandals at or near sea level.

Salman Khurshid, the smooth-talking Oxford-educated law minister, thinks it is beneath his dignity to respond in a dignified manner to charges of pilfering Rs 71 lakh from the disabled. The Harvard-educated finance minister P. Chidambaram and his family is happily busy gobbling up parts of the east coast from farmers. Etcetera.

But what of the opposition?

The BJP’s president Nitin Gadkari is neckdeep in a gapla of his own,  one that threatens, in fact one that is designed to deprive him of a second stint in office. “Scam”, of course, was the middle-name of party’s Karnataka mascot, B.S. Yediyurappa. From Mulayam‘s SP to Mayawati‘s BSP to Sharad Pawar‘s NCP, from Karunanidhi‘s DMK to Jayalalitha‘s AIADMK, money-making is the be-all and end-all.

The less said of the corporates who have pillaged the country since time immemorial the better but Vijay Mallya presents its most compelling side as he shuts down his airline while his son hunts for calendar girls. The do-gooders of Team Anna and now Team Kejriwal are themselves subject to searching questions on their integrity levels. And the media is busy getting exposed as extortionists and blackmailers.

Questions: Have we as a country completely lost our moral and ethical compass? Are we going through an “unprecedented” phenomenon or is this what the US and other developed democracies like Japan have gone through in their path to progress? Or does it not matter in the greater scheme of things? Is all this leaving the citizenry cynical and frustrated or do we not care because all of us are in it, in our own little ways?

One question I’m dying to ask P. Chidambaram

7 April 2010

Operation Greenhunt, the UPA government’s branded effort to quell the challenge posed by “the gravest internal security threat”, i.e. the Maoists, has suffered its biggest humiliation, yet, with the dastardly slaying of 74 jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and a lone head constable of the Chhatisgarh police.

The attack came just days after the Harvard-educated lawyer-home minister P. Chidamabaram called the Naxals “cowards” and reminded the West Bengal government about where the “buck” stops. And it comes a couple of months after he and the naxals had publicly exchanged phone and fax numbers.

The attack takes the sheen off Chidambaram’s aggressive, “hot-pursuit” approach that has come in for much praise from the urban media (and the BJP), as opposed to a slow, measured, all-things-considered approach, and it poses a big question mark on the man many believe is positioning himself to replace Manmohan Singh if push comes to shove.

The high price paid by the jawans implementing Chidambaram’s act-first-think-later approach, which also triggered off  the Telegana mess, also raises questions about the “CEO of the war”, as author Arundhati Roy has dubbed him, because he is alleged to be fighting a proxy war for his former corporate clients.

What is the one question you’re dying to ask Thiru Palaniappan Chidambaram?

Please keep your enquiries smooth, well oiled and civil.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: ‘What Muslims were to BJP, Naxals are to Congress’

CHURUMURI POLL: Will the ‘State’ beat the Naxals?

When Priyanka meets Nalini, she’s a messiah. When…?

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world

5 January 2010

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: At the outset, let me state three things loudly and clearly before the bricks start landing.

1) All things considered, the honesty and integrity of prime minister Manmohan Singh and his family is beyond debate.

2) Some things considered, the reputation of Infosys as a practitioner of “best practices” is well earned.

3) Whatever we might argue, Amartya Sen is one of the glittering stars on our intellectual firmament.

That said, we have to ask if either or all three of them have covered themselves with glory with Professor Upinder Singh of Delhi University being honoured with the inaugural Infosys Prize in social sciences “in recognition of her contributions as an outstanding historian of ancient and early medieval Indian history.”

The booty: a cash award of Rs 25 lakh, a 22 carat gold medallion, and a citation.

The catch: Upinder Singh happens to be Manmohan Singh’s daughter.


The academic qualifications of Upinder Singh (an MA and MPhil in history from Delhi University, and a PhD from Canada for an epigraphic study of kings, brahamanas and temples in Orissa) are not in question. Nor are her professional accomplishments: a 2008 history of India from the stone age to the 12th century.

Her commitment to free speech is well known: she has challenged the Marxist view of Indian history and challenged right-wing fundamentalists who questioned her inclusion of A.K. Ramanujan‘s Three Hundred Ramayanas for reading in the BA syllabus of Delhi University.

The question, plainly and simply, is of propriety.

# Should a major corporate be handing out huge cash prizes to the progeny of high political figures?

# Should they be accepting it so eagerly and happily, howsoever valid their claims to it?

# And because neither the media nor academia questions it, does it become all right in the eyes of the world?


The Infosys Prize is handed out by the Infosys Science Foundation which was set up with a corpus of Rs 45 crore  in February last year “to promote world-class research in the natural and social sciences in India”. (In addition, Infosys will contribute Rs 4.6 crore towards prize money and expenses every year.)

The prize is to be handed out in five categories: physical sciences, mathematical sciences, life sciences, social sciences and economics.

The Prize is “Infosys Technologies’ commitment to the country to promote and honour outstanding research efforts.” Its objective is to “elevate the prestiage of scientific research in India and to inspite young Indians to pursue a career in scientific research.”

As Infosys chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy puts it:

“India needs bright minds in academia, government, business, military and society to strive for global excellence. It is academia that provides bright minds for all other areas in any society. Research is an important dimension of excellence in academia. This award honours outstanding researchers who will make a difference to India’s future.”

While all that is commendable and unquestionable, the question remains: was only Upinder Singh worthy of this singular honour in this, the first year of the Infosys Prize?


Infosys, which has generated the buzz it sought to create by instituting and awarding the Prize in the presence of the prime minister, can wash its hands off and justly claim that it went by the jury’s recommendations.

The social sciences jury was chaired by the unimpeachable Amartya Sen. But were Prof Sen or his colleagues on the jury especially qualified to recognise Upinder Singh’s stellar qualifications?

The jury’s citation reads:

“Professor Upinder Singh is being recognized for her rich contributions as an outstanding historian of ancient and early medieval India. The depth and breadth of her scholarly research are matched by a rare ability to communicate her findings to a broad audience of students and intellectually curious non-specialists. She has been a pioneer in supplementing literary sources with an impressive array of archaeological, epigraphic and numismatic evidence to brilliantly reconstruct early Indian history. The vast chronological span of her scholarship stretches across millennia from the Paleolithic and Mesolithic ages to 1200 CE.

“Equally impressive is the geographical spread of her research, covering all the diverse regions of India. Attentive to regional distinctions, Singh is able to offer an overarching and subtle interpretation of Indian history and culture. As an innovative scholar who enables her readers to re-envision the idea of India, Singh is an ideal recipient of the inaugural Infosys Prize in Social Sciences – History.”

The social sciences jury comprised, besides economist Sen, two economists and three historians: Princeton economist Avinash Dixit and Berkeley economist Pranab Bardhan; Harvard historian Sugata Bose, Cambridge historian Christopher Alan Bayly and former Oxford historian Tapan Raychaudhuri.

Bose is a professor of modern economic, social and politial history; Bayly is a professor of imperial and naval history; and Chaudhuri is a former professor of Indian history and civilisation.

To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca: “Of all the historians in all the Universities of the world, we zeroed in on a professor of ancient and early medieval history who also happens to the prime minister’s daughter?”


It can be argued that Clean Mr Singh is not the sort who will be swayed by things like these. As a man of letters himself, he is likely to see the award for what it is: a gifted daughter earning her just desserts on her own merit.

It goes without saying that the prime minister and his daughter are adult individuals and professionals in their own right; it is wrong to club them or see them together beyond a point.

After all, Manmohan Singh’s youngest daughter, Amrit Singh, is a fine lawyer who has fought long and hard for the rights of inmates at Guantanamo Bay. If we do not see Amrit Singh’s efforts in conjunction with Manmohan Singh, why should we smell a rat in Upinder getting an award?

It can also be argued that neither Infosys, which is now the byword for Indian IT, nor its eminent social sciences jury has anything to gain by handing out a prize to his daughter.

So, why should we question it?

The answer is propriety.

Either you can spot it, or you don’t.


Photograph: (from left) Infosys chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy, Prof Amartya Sen, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prof Upinder Singh, Infosys chief Krish Gopalakrishnan and Infosys director T.V. Mohandas Pai at glittering ceremony at the Taj Palace hotel in New Delhi on 4 January 2009.

Is India taking a sudden right toward the US?

20 October 2009

HRD minister Kapil Sibal talks of allowing Harvard and Yale and Stanford to set up shop in India. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh does a u-turn on climate change.  Commerce minister Anand Sharma talks of reviving the Doha round of WTO talks. The US ambassador in India, Timothy Roemer, publicly thanks the UPA government for allocating land for two nuclear plants.

Is the UPA, in its second innings, taking a decidedly pro-US turn, slowly, secretly but surely?

Yes, says Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr, in DNA:

“There is no need to look for conspiracy theories that prime minister Manmohan Singh and some of his cabinet colleagues are taking decisions that send out a clear signal that India-US relations will be closer in UPA’s second term. But there is a need to talk about it openly, even debate it, and express objections at least in some cases.

“The BJP will not do it because its leaders do not have the time or the inclination to argue the case either way. The communists can rant as much as they like but no one is likely to take them seriously. The tendency of Singh to do things quietly will only raise doubts and suspicions when there need be none. What appears murky about the Singh government is not the deeds so much as its refusal to do them openly.”

Read the full article: UPA-2’s conspicuous tilt towards US

Also read: 18 things you might like to know about Jairam Ramesh

Graduates of Indian Universities need not apply

Graduates of Indian Universities need not apply*

1 June 2009

The new council of ministers of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has drawn attention for the number of alumni from St Stephens College in it, the number of women in it, the number of first-time MPs below the age of 40, and sundry other attributes.

It is also remarkable for one other reason: the number of products it boasts of from foreign Universities.


Manmohan Singh: University of Oxford, and University of Cambridge

P. Chidambaram: Harvard University

Kapil Sibal: Harvard University

S.M. Krishna: Southern Methodist University, Texas; George Washington University, Washington DC

Jairam Ramesh: Massachusetts Institute fo Technology

Prithviraj Chauhan: University of California at Los Angeles

Salman Kursheed: University of Oxford

M.S. Gill: University of Cambridge

Shashi Tharoor: Tufts University, Massachusetts

Agatha Sangma: Nottingham University

Sachin Pilot: Pennnsylvania University, Wharton Business School

Jyotiraditya Scindia: Harvard University, and Stanford University

* Except to fill the quotas of alliance partners, and minister of State posts

One question I’m dying to ask… Lalu Prasad

26 February 2008

They said the Railways would go bankrupt in 2015; he is now announcing a profit of Rs 25,000 crore by leaving passenger fares untouched year after year. They said he was a joker in the pack, a jester, but he ended up lecturing Harvard, Wharton and IIM.

He claims to have made a man from Karnataka (H.D. Deve Gowda) prime minister, yet he stands accused of terming a section of Kannadigas “dirty people”. There are those who say he has turned the railways around, and there are those who allege he has turned it into a personal fiefdom if not himself of his statesmen.

What is the one question you would like to Railway Minister Lalu Prasad at a time when Bihari has become a bad word in the political lexicon? Keep your queries short and civil.

(All comments will be moderated; only comments from valid and verifiable email IDs will be carried.)

Also read: Does Lalu have the guts to call anybody else ‘dirty’?

Hell hath no fury like a Lalu served cold aloo