India would have been a dump for crackpot science had Modi not Nehru been its first leader

Instead of being noted for its exceptional space programme (Mangalyaan!) and brilliant string theorists (Ashoke Sen!), India would have become a garbage dump for every kind of crackpot science. Medical research would have concentrated on medicines made from cow urine and cow dung, the celibacy of peacocks would be under intense scrutiny, astrology would be taught in place of astronomy, and instead of teaching actual mathematics there would be Vedic mathematics. As in Pakistan, Darwinian evolution would be considered heretical and destructive of religious faith.

Nehru’s stamp upon Indian science can be seen across the length and breadth of India in the form of dozens of scientific institutes and universities that owe to him. India is probably the world’s only country whose constitution explicitly declares commitment to the “scientific temper” — a quintessential Nehruvian notion formulated during his years in prison. Briefly: only reason and science, not holy scriptures, provide us reliable knowledge of the physical world.

I was able to see the huge difference that Nehru had made to his country while on a speaking tour in 2005 before audiences in about 40 Indian schools, colleges, and universities in seven cities. Without Nehru there could never have been the huge and palpable mass enthusiasm for science. This was manifested in the many science museums within a single city, and countless scientific societies working to spread understanding of basic science among ordinary Indians. I do not know how much of this has changed under Hindutva. But most definitely not even a fraction of such enthusiasm was visible then, or can be seen now, in Pakistan.

Nehru must also be credited with keeping a lid on his generals. In a democracy the army should be subordinate and answerable to civilian authority, not the other way around. And so, immediately after Partition, Nehru ordered the grand residence of the army chief to be vacated and instead assigned to the prime minister. This move carried huge symbolism — it said clearly who was boss.

When Ayub Khan’s coup across the border happened in 1958, it led to rules that further diminished the role of the Indian army in national affairs. Gen Cariappa, who had retired but praised the coup, was told to shut up. Officers, serving or retired, were strongly discouraged from commenting on matters related to public affairs and economics — and particularly their pensions and retirement benefits. There was no concept of army owned enterprises and businesses.

All this could now be changing. Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat, known for his bellicosity, has broken with the army’s tradition by freely commenting on many foreign policy matters — the Rohingya refugee problem, how India should deal with the Doklam crisis with China, and the need to call “Pakistan’s nuclear bluff”. Time will tell whether Rawat is an exception or, instead, the new rule characterising an interventionist army. Ominously for Indian democracy, criticising the army chief is being described by its media as anti-national.

How much of Nehru’s India will be undone by Modi and his cronies remains to be seen. A demoralised and broken Congress opposition means that they are here to stay for long.

Meanwhile, it is becoming easier by the day for Pakistan to recognise its mirror reflection across the border.

14 thoughts on “India would have been a dump for crackpot science had Modi not Nehru been its first leader”

  1. Idiotic, Ramanujan, cv raman, jagdish bose, satyendra nath bose, all before Nehru. Far too much credit is given to nehru, it is trivially easy to create few technical centers of excellence in large country like India, creating primary education, secondary education, sanitary conditions, primary healthcare is the real hard job. And in those areas, Nehru was a complete Failure. Nehru was India’s Narcissus. He gave himself Bharat ratna. How many leaders gift themselves highest medal of honour to themselves. He and his daughter did that. Modi has done more for sanitation than any. And if his policy on health insurance and trying to create healthcare succeed, he will go down in History as better prime minister than Nehru atleast on those results.

    Nehru let India to remain a dump. You can literally see that.

    1. A few token figures, regardless of how talented and brilliant they were don’t indicate that India could do away with Nehru’s IITs and actively compete with other countries.

  2. India seems to be becoming more like Pakistan by the day instead of the other way around. What a pity for all South Asians.

    Lord Voldemort will destroy India if he is re-elected but it is up to India’s citizens to see that.

    I’m out. The Hindu Right gives me an intense headache.

  3. There’s too much glorification of Nehru. The entire leadership of 1947 had similar outlook. Even if Nehru had not lived India would still be secular democratic republic. Even the much maligned Savarkar was an atheist. Or even Shyamaprakash Mukherji leader , once Islam was taken out of view was sensible. Many Hindu leaders then and now spout fire and fury, but they don’t have am alternative programme or a different vision to India of 1947 / 1950. Because unlike Islam , Hinduism gives no coherent legal or constitutional framework and India is too diverse for any framework from the religious past.
    So from a pragmatic angle, there’s no challenge to secularism

    1. Yes it is a puff piece! That the Army General was evicted so that Nehru could have better living accommodations does not reflect well on the latter..

    2. “From a pragmatic angle, there’s no challenge to secularism”– from your lips to god’s ears.

  4. or to put it in a more positive way, what helps us often is not so much that we are special, its just we dont have that extra bad luck to carry on this one more miserable act.

    There is not theological reason, because this isnt about theology, its if any, about demography, more tribal motivation than religious/ theological motivation.

    On science though, if not science then what?. Even north korea invests in science and hence has nukes.

    IIT’s or something like it would have been anyway, as difficult as it may be for many sycophants of Indian narcissus to get this, but primary education, sanitation, primary healthcare, it is over these things that India really suffers.

    1. Primary education, sanitation and healthcare are poor across most of South Asia–not just India. My mother is a public health physician. Believe me, I’ve heard lectures on infant and maternal mortality around the dining table even when I was too young to understand.

      Perhaps if India and Pakistan had not invested so much in nuclear arms and more on their people, we wouldn’t be in this situation today.

      1. If we didnt have sycophants that is.We suffer from sycophants and rhetoric and hence cant get to truth. For the sycophants of Indian Narcissus, he did no wrong, it was period of perfection. It was a golden age.

        I have a paticular dislike for humanites precisely for this reason that rhetoric and emotion laden language is acceptable, and those can be used again & again to drive good reason away and we never focus on real problems. Even now, what stops tv or newspapers in just laying out the data once a month or a year for everyone to just see. If we dont see, we dont even know how things actually are for many of us. So how do we improve and question leaders?

        1. Of course Pandit Nehru was not a saint. He was a human being like all of us. He had a huge ego which is perhaps one of the causes of Partition (given that Mr. Jinnah also had a huge ego).

          TV and newspapers give customers what they want to hear and see. Even BP courts “controversy” to drive up views. That’s the nature of the world we live in.

  5. I hope to have a post related to this topic after May 4th (an unfortunate hard deadline for some work I get paid for). I would only say that I don’t think destruction of science is really on Modi’s agenda. There are some silly claims about ancient Indian science that RSS types are a little too prone to making (and they become especially silly because they are sometimes worded as if actual modern hardware was present in 1000 BC; they would be less noticeable if they were like Christian or Muslim supernatural claims, which are astounding (Zombies, Flying horses, Jinns, you know the drill) but are not presented as literal examples of the presence of modern machinery in 23 AD or 623 AD..

  6. Many people think Nehru somehow instilled secularism, science and anything modern in free India. Had it not been for Nehru, India would be medieval. Granted , Nehru was a forward looking man with a passion for modernity and democracy , that is an over estimation of Nehru. Entire Independence leaders were like that , even though they may not write as good English prose as Nehru. I recently came across a person who has done some research on British reports from India during 1945-17.

    Hindu Mahasabha is somehow seen as a fascist or Taliban like organization. The British docuemnts show
    A communique dated January 3rd 1945, subject “Annual Session of the Hindu Mahasabha held at Bilaspur”. This communique details the new office holders of Hindu Mahasabha, Savarkar and Moonje were amongst 6 vice presidents. The communique enclosed “an article from the Hindustan Times of December 28th 1944, entitled “Fundamental Rights in Free India”.

    The ‘Fundamental Rights’ that the Hindu Mahasabha enunciated sounded a lot like the Bill of Rights of US constitution. Sample these:

    1. Citizens shall be equal before law and shall enjoy equal civic rights. There shall be no law of discriminative nature.
    2. No citizen shall be deprived of his or her liberty of person except in due process of law.
    3.All citizens shall enjoy the right of free expression of opinion as also the right pf assembly of peacefully.
    4.All citizens shall be subject to public order of morality, enjoy freedom of conscience, and free profession and practice of religion and protection of culture and language.
    5.The provinces of Hindustan may, where necessary, be redistributed on a linguistic basis. Religion, language and culture of minorities shall be respected and guaranteed.
    6.The press shall be free and no measures shall be taken to hinder publication, sale and distribution of any writing or newspaper subject to the rules of morality and public order.

    Does it sound authoritarian , fascist or even Hindu – fundamentalist or otherwise ?

    Even the so-called Hindu nationalist parties wanted a liberal, democratic constitution. That is why I am saying , for all the sound and fury , there is no chance of Secularism derailing in India . On the other hand, the quality of secularism can be very bad , not always due to Hindu nationalist forces , but Congress, Muslim parties, Leftists and all other players.

    Indians are good on principles, and very poor in executing those principles in a practical, consistent manner

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