Nehru and Raman represent two ends of Indians. In short, Nehru was promoted by the system (powers that be) and Raman was self-made and supported by some who wanted to promote Science. I started thinking about these two eminent personalities in 20th Century India for various reasons. Swarajya had published an article claiming Raman had a better vision for Science than Nehru. It was too biased and verifiable facts were left out. I wrote a blog countering that (1). I also wrote an editorial in Current Science a few months ago, pointing out conflict of interest has affected Indian Science (2). That was appreciated by many, while upsetting and angering some (3-5). I continued my thinking about these two leaders and share my views in this blog.
Nehru, Jawaharlal our first Prime Minsiter, was the son of Motilal Nehru who was very influential in Congress. Motilal was the President of Congress twice, in 1919-20 and 1928-29. In 1929, Jawaharlal succeeded Motilal, not because he was elected but because, the system favored him. Wikipedia entry on Motilal Nehru says the following: “it greatly pleased Motilal and Nehru family admirers to see the son take over from his father” (6). In 1946, this continued and Gandhi pointed his finger at Jawaharlal Nehru as the Prime Minister, even though the Congress had elected Sardar Patel. Today, there are some who believe Patel would have been better as the first Prime Minister of India (7) and there are others who do not agree with this (8). One thing everyone agrees and knows is that Nehru was not elected but favored. “Gandhi introduced the concept of forced decisions by the so-called ‘high-commands’ that usually means overruling state units.”
It is easy to comment about what was right and wrong in hindsight. The fact is that Nehru was the first Prime Minister of India and he was elected by the people time and again until he passed away in 1964. Unlike, what some doomsayers predicted, India survived as a democracy through his life and till today.
C. V. Raman on the other hand comes from a family of modest means. His father Chandrasekhara Iyer was progressive and ensured that his sons got ‘English’ education (9). Raman had once mentioned “I was born with a copper spoon in my mouth and my father had a salary of ten rupees a month”. Raman’s father was the first in the family to get ‘English’ education and became a school teacher. Raman was a child prodigy of sorts getting his BA when he was 15 winning gold medals in English and Physics, from the Presidency College, Madras (now Chennai). He got his MS when he was 18 and had already published a paper in Philosophical Magazine (London), though Presidency college had focused only on teaching and had no history of research. As may have been typical of the educated youth in those days, he cleared the Indian Civil Service exam. He went to Calcutta in 1907, barely 19 years old, to join the Finance Department as an Assistant Accountant General. That Raman would come back to Science was helped by Dr. Mahendra Lal Sircar, who established the Indian Association for Cultivation of Science in 1876 itself. Sircar died in 1904 and was saddened to see the Institution reduced to dusty rooms and unused laboratories. His hope that some young man would step in and make IACS a great institution was proved right by Raman, three years later. He worked on research in his spare time without any financial support and gave up his job and accepted a Professorship with a salary five times less at the University of Calcutta. He went on to become the first Nobel laureate in Physics from the East and did not stop research until 1970, when he passed away in Bangalore.
When Jawaharlal Nehru passed away in 1964, Lal Bahadur Sastry became the Prime Minister of India briefly. After this, Nehru’s daughter, Indira became the Prime Minister. She had made her last name Gandhi, though neither the father nor her husband had that name. And as they say, the rest is history. Jawaharlal succeeded Motilal as the President of Congress in 1929. Indira did not succeed Jawaharlal. I have read about a ‘Kamaraj plan’ that propelled Indira Gandhi to be the leader of Congress and Prime Minister of India. I often wondered why Kamaraj did this. Kamaraj was a tall leader of Congress, coming from Tamil Nadu. He is known to be ‘incorruptible’ and served as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. During his tenure, several developments happened and in parallel, free lunch was introduced in Schools to bring the poor kids to school. When he died, he had no savings or property and his mother stayed in a rented house. Why did Kamaraj favor Indira? Was he convinced the ‘royal blood’ is good for the Nation? Did he think the people of India would accept Nehru’s daughter? Did Nehru or Indira speak to Kamaraj and asked him to do this? That is quite possible and I do not know. Kamaraj is known as the king maker, for making Indira the Prime Minister. The people did vote for her. Both Nehru and Indira got the Congress Presidentship and Prime Ministership due to personal favors and they both won many elections. Does it mean Indians want dynasty or does it mean Indians do not mind dynasty and will vote for the favored sons and daughters, until they mess up? India did defeat Indira Gandhi after Emergency.
When Raman passed away in 1970, his son Radhakrishnan was appointed as the Director of Raman Research Institute (RRI) founded by Raman himself. Jayaraman, who authored the official biography of Raman (8), writes: “After Raman’s death, it was his wish that the Directorship of the Institute be offered to his son Radhakrishnan, a well-known Radio-Astronomer.” Radhakrishnan did not need to win any election and a small committee had to select him. Kamaraj’s role in this case was performed by Ramaseshan, Raman’s nephew. Jayaraman’s book mentions that Ramaseshan took an active role in carrying out Raman’s wishes.
What Motilal and Jawaharlal did became a precedence followed by all political parties in India, including those who were ideologically opposed to birth based privilege! One can see this in our neighboring countries such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Today, starting from a Prime Minister, to a Chief Minister, Minsiters, MPs/MLAs, City Mayors to a local Panchayat leaders, dynasty rules. While appointing a son/daughter as a Director of an Institution appears less likely today, what Raman did has been practiced in Institutions, Universities, Colleges and High School across India. If not a son, a student takes over! Favoritism and nepotism can be seen in many fields, where the control is with a select few.
In a democracy, political succession needs validation by the people. In academia, a committee’s view is enough. People who rise to power this way, can do well or fail. Nehru and Indira are admired by many in India and Radhakrishnan was loved by RRI. However, as I had asked in the Editorial, we would not know if some one else could have done a better job. Conflict of interest must be addressed in a transparent manner in every appointment. As I mentioned in the Editorial, even for a crow it’s chick shines as gold!
Would Patel becoming the first Prime Minister of India have changed how India grew? Throughout our history, I wonder if the right person was chosen only based on his/her credentials. Are we still cutting of the fingers of Ekalavya, so that Arjun can be the best archer, even if we miss out a Olympic medal? or Have we reached a stage, when the best archer will represent India in the world?
- E. Arunan, Curr. Sci., 2018, 114, 1385–1386. http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/114/07/1385.pdf
- Subrahmanyan, R., Curr. Sci., 2018, 115(2), 193.
- Swarup, G., Curr. Sci., 2018, 115(3), 369.
- A. Gupta et al. Curr. Sci. 2018 115(6), 1020
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motilal_Nehru Accessed on 9th October 2018.
- A. Jayaraman, C. V. Raman, A Memoir, Indian Academy of Sciences, 2017.