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Indians Helped Nehru and Raman Make Favoritism and Nepotism as Accepted Methods! And it is time we undo this!

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?

References:

  1. https://earunan.org/2018/03/04/jawaharlal-nehru-and-c-v-raman-nehrus-vision-is-more-important-for-science-in-india-not-ramans/
  2. E. Arunan, Curr. Sci., 2018, 114, 1385–1386. http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/114/07/1385.pdf
  3. Subrahmanyan, R., Curr. Sci., 2018, 115(2), 193.
  4. Swarup, G., Curr. Sci., 2018, 115(3), 369.
  5. A. Gupta et al. Curr. Sci. 2018 115(6), 1020
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motilal_Nehru Accessed on 9th October 2018.
  7. https://www.indiatvnews.com/politics/national/why-gandhi-opted-for-nehru-and-not-sardar-patel-for-pm-6689.html?page=3
  8. https://herald.dawn.com/news/1153825
  9. A. Jayaraman, C. V. Raman, A Memoir, Indian Academy of Sciences, 2017.
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Indian Institute of Science, Uncategorized

Faculty Recruitment in Institutions with Emphasis on Teaching and Research!

I have been planning to write on this topic for sometime and finally the Editorial published in Current Science dated 10 July 2018 triggered me (1). I wanted to write this as there had been a huge response to another editorial I wrote three months ago on conflict of interest in Indian Science (2). I had written some other editorials and several comments in Current Science (3) and these have attracted comments from a few with similar views, mostly from the Academia. However, the Editorial on Conflict of Interest elicited applaud from many and anger from some, in the academia. Many appreciated this for speaking the truth. What surprised me was that this Editorial was also covered by some news media, http://www.dailyo.in (4). Dinesh Sharma titled the news as ‘How conflict of interest is murdering Indian Science’.  I was worried about the news  coverage of academic matters, given that news has to be sensational. Indian Science is alive. Of course, it is not performing to its potential, which is perhaps true for many things in India. Conflict of interest is certainly a factor that is affecting it.

Another unusual comment I had for my editorial follows: “pl do not become a knight in shining armour. The matters are nuanced. You have a large following. They should not go tilting at all the wind mills”. Though, I had disagreed with this comment at that time, I do share some worries. In fact, Saibal Gupta has articulated my worries well in his editorial. (1) His editorial is about ranking Institutions and how all the various numerical indices may not be able to identify great faculty candidates. He goes on to say: “What might the solution be? This is a difficult one, as it involves the ability, confidence and wisdom of our faculty selectors to be able to look beyond ‘numbers’. For reasons not entirely academic, and we must admit, our own transgressions over time, academic decisions that do not conform to the ‘number’ game have become legally open to challenge, and can easily become fodder for a news-hungry media that is ‘looking’ for evidence of academic corruption. We need to convince ourselves that there is space for admitting people who we recognize as good in the fundamentals, and who we believe would be able to think ‘differently’.”

There has been some ‘transgressions’ as Gupta points out and there have been clear cases of conflict of interest as I pointed out. However, one should not forget the fact that many institutions, in particular, IITs and IISc, have sustained quality for many decades. This would not have been possible if the whole system was corrupt. I do believe that there is always room for improvement and perfection would remain a goal, that is never attained. On the other hand, I have also seen that the perception of corruption in India, in every field, may be far higher than the real corruption.  Anyone who is not selected may conclude, there is corruption everywhere. Obviously that number would be large. We do have honest people in every system and India has been surviving and growing thanks to the tireless work of many such people.

I wanted to share with everyone interested some information about how a faculty member is selected. I have been directly involved in this for about a decade now. A committee looks at all the applications and decide whether or not to consider the applicant further. There are many reasons why an application may not be considered further. Our Department does not like to inbreed i.e. none of our Ph. D. students are generally considered for faculty positions in our Department. There are other Departments in IISc and also other Institutions, that may not share our view. Another reason a candidate may not be considered is because the Department may not be looking at some research areas at that point in time. If for example, one theoretical chemist was hired recently, and the Department is not keen on hiring another theoretical chemist, applicants record would not matter. The number of publications, impact factor, number of citations and h-index, none of them may count.  If the research area of the candidate is considered to have significant overlap with that of an existing faculty  member, not just the recently hired ones, that applicant is unlikely to be hired as well.

At any point in time, we may like to hire faculty members in some areas. We do look at the candidate’s record in terms of past publications and future research plan. We do not necessarily go by the number of publications, impact factors of the Journals in which they are published and citations. Particularly, in my field, for example, the Journal of Chemical Physics, has a good reputation though it may have a lower impact factor than the Journal of American Chemical Society or Angewandte Chemie. One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that only a small number of papers dealing with physical chemistry/chemical physics are published in these ‘general chemistry’ Journals. Even among the few papers appearing in these Journals (and also the ‘general science Journals like Science and Nature), most have dramatic conclusions about topics that have huge appeal to chemists/scientists. I can cite two examples that I am aware of. In 2013, Science published a paper on ‘visualizing hydrogen bonds’ and the authors were from Physics and Chemistry Departments (5). It was covered in all magazines and I wrote a ‘Research News’ in Current Science as well (6). Later on a more detailed study questioning this interpretation was published in Physical Review Journals. I can only guess Science refused to publish them. (7) That is only for the experts.

Somewhat coincidentally, in 2013 Science had published a paper on the first observation of the ‘Criegee intermediate’ which is very important in atmospheric chemistry (8). Science was not interested in publishing a more thorough work, which provided more accurate and thorough data and that was published in the Journal of Chemical Physics (9). This work was done by Y. P. Lee and coworkers from Taiwan. I was listening to him during the Asian Spectroscopy Conference in Taiwan in 2017. In his talk, he mentioned the following: “We have published several papers on this important intermediate and the significance of these papers is inversely related to the impact factor of the Journal in which these are published” Scientists know the difference and it is what we call a ‘peer evaluation’. This appears as ‘perception’ in World ranking . Peer evaluation, appearing as perception in these ranking should not be confused with what a commoner might think about perception. In judging Science, peer evaluation is not perfect, but there is nothing better.  I just heard from someone that UGC was planning to remove this ‘perception’ in national ranking, and I think it is a bad idea. Most from India may have heard about Vashishta, an ancient saint. To be certified as a ‘great saint’ by Vashishta was considered the greatest of honor a saint could get. In Tamil “வஷிஸ்டர் வாயாலே பிரம்மரிஷி’. Peer evaluation is just that.

Candidates who work on the same areas from Ph. D. to postdoc and have plans to continue in the same area are unlikely to be considered irrespective of the impact factors and citations. When we look at the postdoctoral work, we try to judge if there is any original contribution from the candidate. Candidates have to show and prove that they can think independently. That they can identify an important unsolved problem and know how to tackle it. Once a candidate is shortlisted, (s)he is invited to give a talk based on past work and also a talk on future research plan. All faculty members attend these talks and ask questions. Reference letters from referees suggested by the candidate and also some experts working in related area are sought. These letters play a crucial role. Often, faculty members who have supervised and/or worked with a candidate are the best judges and most provide an honest evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of a candidate. When I returned to India, I have had requests from students with whom I had no interaction, asking for a reference letter. I have always refused. These letters are not to be confused with ‘recommendation’ as commonly known in appointments in India. I cannot recommend a son’s friend or a friend’s son for any job. I can recommend my students and anyone else with whom I have worked based on my observations.

Candidate gets to meet with all faculty members and discuss for about 30 minutes with each, in addition to giving a one hour seminar and 30 minute research plan presentation. There has to be a nearly unanimous view among the faculty members about whether a candidate can be hired. There is very little room for corruption or influence in this affair, if all the faculty members express their opinion. Over the last decade or so, when I have been closely involved in this process, no one has ever tried to influence the selection of Assistant Professors. Is there a possibility that the collective judgement of the faculty members can go wrong? That probability is certainly not zero. However, to repeat myself, no one has tried to influence the selection of candidates for faculty positions in my experience.

References (all the weblinks were accessed on 13 July 2018):

    1. Saibal Gupta “Balancing teaching, research and institutional rankings” Current Science, Volume 115, pages 7-8 (2018). http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/115/01/0007.pdf
    2. E. Arunan “Is Indian Science Ready to Tackle Conflict of Interest Rationally?” Current Science, Volume 114, pages 1385-1386 (2018) http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/114/07/1385.pdf
    3. http://ipc.iisc.ac.in/~ea/current_science.html.
    4. https://www.dailyo.in/technology/science-in-india-cv-raman-current-science-indian-institute-of-science/story/1/23673.html
    5. Zhang, J., Chen, P., Yuan, B., Ji, W., Cheng, Z. and Qiu, X., Science, vol 342, issue 6158, pp 611-614, (2013). DOI:10.1126/science.1242603.
    6. E. Arunan “Hydrogen bond seen, halogen bond defined and carbon bond proposed: Intermolecular bonding, a field that is maturing” Current Science, vol 105, pp 892-894 (2013).
    7. https://pubpeer.com/publications/345962A4190EDDB394CDEFB056026E#fb16414.
    8.  Su, Yu-Te; Huang, Yu-Hsuan; Witek, Henryk A.; et al. SCIENCE   Volume: 340   Issue: 6129   Pages: 174-176(2013).
    9. Ting, Wei-Lun; Chang, Chun-Hung; Lee, Yu-Fang; et al. JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS   Volume: 141   Issue: 10     Article Number: 104308 (201)
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