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Sunday, 26 November 2017

Do Not Blame Bollywood Actors and Producers

Do Not Blame Bollywood Actors


Do Not Blame Bollywood Actors and Producers

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 26 November, 2017


A lot of my friends are expressing their anger at Bollywood actors, producers, etc., for not standing up to the bullying of Sanjay Leela Bhansali by Hindu right-wing groups over his film Padmavati. They are calling Bollywood stars spineless and opportunistic.

But I do not blame the Bollywood stars.

It is easy for us to sit in our armchairs and castigate them for not rising up to Bhansali's and Deepika's defense. But we are not the ones whose professions will be threatened by standing up. We do not work in professions where our fate is judged by the public at large. We can happily write our opinions on social media and face no consequences.

We do not have the right to ask others to become martyrs for our pet causes.

Let us face some facts here. India is under the spell of the Hindu right. The rise of Modi and the BJP to a 282 seat majority in the LS in 2014, and the subsequent state assembly wins in many states, even despite disasters like demonetization; despite (and maybe even because of) the high profile murders of people like Mohammad Akhlaque of Dadri, Pehlu Khan of Alwar, and Junaid Khan of Ballabgarh; and the murders of social activists like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi, and Gauri Lankesh - all this tells us that the majority of the people of this country support a militant right-wing Hindutva philosophy.

People in Bollywood create films. That's their profession. That's what feeds their families. If people stop watching their films, for any reason, they are out of a job. Nobody likes being out of a job, including people with money — even 75-year-old Amitabh Bachchan. In addition, a Bollywood actor needs to act responsibly. If people do not watch your movie, it is not just a loss for you. The producer, the director, the other actors in the movie, and the entire crew of the movie — everyone suffers in one way or the other. There are tens or hundreds of crores of rupees at stake.

The reality of the situation today is that if you speak out publicly against the BJP, against Modi, or against Hindu right-wing behavior, and you are a public figure, you will be punished.

Aamir Khan tried making a comment about rising intolerance in 2015, and we all saw what happened. People tried to create financial losses for him by boycotting his films and by boycotting his sponsors. It scared him so much that he made many conciliatory statements, including a plea to people not to punish his films. I have nothing but sympathy for him.

Do not call this behavior spineless. What else would you do if you depended on public approval to survive, and the public decided to punish you?

People are blaming Amitabh and others for being silent. Why should he put his livelihood at risk? As long as he is apolitical, people will watch his movies, prostrate to him when they meet him, and watch every episode of KBC. Let him criticize the right-wing establishment over Padmavati, and tomorrow the producers of KBC may be pressured to find a new host; offers in movies may start drying up; and he may stop being the brand ambassador of Swacch Bharat and the state of Gujarat — for which he is well-compensated.

Activism has serious consequences.

Some people will make the misguided comparison with Hollywood, and how so many Hollywood stars openly criticize Trump.

But there is a big difference. A recent poll showed that Trump only had a 35% approval rating, the lowest ever for an American President. In contrast, a recent Pew survey showed that Modi had an 88% approval rating in India. People in Hollywood have to face no consequences for criticizing their President. They are cheered for taking him on. People in Bollywood could lose their careers. They are jeered for their impudence.

So do not blame Bollywood for being afraid; blame the people of India for their huge swing towards the right; for being so tolerant of intolerance; and for supporting those who are trying to suppress free speech and expression by intimidation.

Modi is not the problem. He is merely the symptom of the malaise that has affected India. The country has taken a huge turn to the right over the last 25 years, and Modi is immensely popular because he identifies with the same causes as the majority of the people. Modi is merely an instrument of the wishes of the people. It is the current environment that turns up the leaders of the times. India is right now in a strong right-wing mood, and that is why Modi has risen to the top.

The lesson to remember is that democracy is not synonymous with liberal values. Democracy simply means that the majority rules. And today, this is the mood of the majority.



Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Why Indian Civilization Should Be Grateful to Alauddin Khilji


The Mongol Invasions That Never Succeeded - Why Indian Civilization Should Be Grateful to Alauddin Khilji

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 24 November, 2017


Abstract

There has been much controversy around a highly-awaited Bollywood movie, “Padmavati”, based on a fictional story written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540 CE, which itself uses Alauddin Khilji's conquest of Chittor in 1303 CE as a backdrop. The movie has been accused of denigrating the honour of the Rajput queen of Chittor, Padmini, and glorifying the Muslim conqueror Khilji, even before the movie's release, based solely on rumours.

Much of the controversy is fuelled by ill-feeling towards Khilji, based on the fact that he was an oppressive ruler to his Hindu subjects. However, what is not well-known is that Khilji, for all his faults, saved the Indian subcontinent from a much worse fate than even his rule — that of the murderous Mongols, who tried to invade the Indian subcontinent six times during his reign as the Sultan of Delhi, and failed miserably, thanks to Khilji's brilliance as a general, the quality, discipline, and bravery of his army and its generals, and their superior military tactics.

Given what we know about what Mongols inflicted on the nations that they conquered in war (Persia, the Caliphate of Baghdad, Russia, and others) — a genocide of the population of the nation; the destruction of its infrastructure; the destruction of its native culture, its literature, and its religious institutions; their habit of leaving conquered countries as wastelands that would not spring back for at least a hundred years; and their tendency to rule even the regions they settled in, such as Russia, in an exploitative and backward way — one can safely argue that Alauddin Khilji, for all his faults, did save the syncretic culture of the Indian subcontinent of that time — which included Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jain subcultures — from enormous destruction, even if preserving the culture of India may not have been his intention.

The point of this analysis is to illustrate that it is impossible to describe historical figures and their impact in black-and-white portrayals — they are far too layered and complex for that. Khilji is rightly viewed negatively for his cruelty and brutality; but he should also, in fairness, be seen as the saviour of Hindustan that he unwittingly ended up being, by repelling the formidable and ruthless Mongol hordes.

Further, a careful examination of the historical record also reveals that Khilji's cruelty was impartial; that he was equally cruel and brutal with both his Hindu and Muslim subjects, and thus was not really a bigot. He was an equal-opportunity brute and monster.


Note: If you are seeing repeated text, then this is a browser issue. The repeated text is actually supposed to appear in highlighted boxes, but this is not happening for some people. I am currently trying to resolve this.

The possibility of a romance of a Muslim “villain” with a Hindu queen being depicted on screen, even as a fantasy, as has been rumoured, infuriates Hindu right-wing groups.

There is a lot of controversy regarding Alauddin Khilji in the wake of the new Bollywood film, “Padmavati,” which purports to depict Khilji's conquest of Chittor in 1303 and his supposed obsession with Rani Padmini of Chittor, most of it based on a poem of questionable authenticity – Malik Mohammad Jayasi’s poem from 1540 CE, Padmavat.

Why does this controversy exist?

Alauddin Khilji is seen by many as a brutal king who, as the Sultan of Delhi, conquered many Hindu kingdoms and treated his Hindu subjects cruelly. So the possibility of a romance of a Muslim “villain” with a Hindu queen being depicted on screen, even as a fantasy, as has been rumoured, infuriates Hindu right-wing groups. It should be mentioned that no one, apart from those involved in the making of the film, has actually seen it and knows what exactly is being portrayed in the film, at the time of writing; and hence the entire controversy is based on rumour and speculation.

All aspects of Indian civilization — Hindu, Muslim, Jain, and Buddhist — would have definitely suffered tremendous destruction if it had not been for Alauddin Khilji.

But, in fact, villain or not, the people of this subcontinent owe a great debt to Alauddin Khilji, for he saved Indian civilization from the warriors known the world over as the “Scourge of God” — the Mongols (Curtin, 1908).

Given the size of the Indian subcontinent, the Mongols probably could not have destroyed Indian civilization completely — after all, even Islam recovered from the catastrophic Mongol invasions — but all aspects of Indian civilization — Hindu, Muslim, Jain, and Buddhist — would have definitely suffered tremendous destruction if it had not been for Alauddin Khilji.

The Scourge of God - The Mongols

The Mongols were largely illiterate, and so much of their history was written by the people of the lands they conquered, such as the Islamic lands of the near east, and of China and Russia. Both western (e.g., Curtin, 1908) and later Islamic scholars (e.g., Ibn Iftikhar, 2008) have pieced together their history based on the writings of scholars such as Rashid al-Din and other Islamic scholars who lived in the time of the Mongols.

If the ruler accepted their suzerainty and paid the stiff tribute demanded, the Mongols would leave his kingdom unharmed. If he refused, they would raze that kingdom to the ground and leave behind a wasteland.

The Mongol dynasty was founded in 1206 CE, when a council of all Mongol tribesmen elected the warrior Temujin as their leader and conferred upon him, at the age of 44, the title of Genghis (meaning “Mighty”) Khan. Radiating outwards from Mongolia, the Mongols, first under Genghis and, after his death in 1227 CE, under his sons and grandsons, embarked upon a plan of global conquest that resulted in the largest land empire in the world in history – conquering China, Russia, Central Asia, Persia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and eastern Europe (parts of Hungary and Poland), and left a trail of death and destruction behind them.

The map below (taken from this site) shows the extent of the Mongol empire in 1294 CE, which is just 2 years before Alauddin Khilji ascended the throne of Delhi.

Upon Genghis Khan’s death, the empire was partitioned into four parts. Eventually, these became the Yuan dynasty in China, famous for Genghis’ grandson Kublai Khan; the Golden Horde in Russia, which was founded by Genghis’ grandson Batu Khan; the Chaghatai Khanate of Central Asia, headquartered around Uzbekistan, founded by Genghis’ son Chaghatai Khan; and the Ilkhanate of western Asia, founded by Genghis’ grandson Hulagu Khan. The Mongols were the dominant military power in the world from the rise of Genghis Khan until at least the middle of the 14th century – with the exception of a few minor defeats involving small forces in battle, such as the Battle of Ayn Jalut, no military could defend itself against their onslaught.

“The Mongols destroyed every living thing; even the cats and dogs in the city were killed by them.”

The Mongols, being nomads, usually did not settle in the lands they conquered. Their goals were simple: exact tributes and treasure from the kingdoms they had conquered, and take from them the latest technology they possessed, in addition to the most beautiful women for their harem and the most able-bodied men for their military, to take back to their home base. They would demand all this from any nation before actually attacking them. If the ruler accepted their suzerainty and paid the stiff tribute demanded, the Mongols would leave his kingdom unharmed. If he refused, they would raze that kingdom to the ground and leave behind a wasteland. As Curtin describes it, “The Mongols destroyed every living thing; even the cats and dogs in the city were killed by them.”

The Mongols did not just invade and conquer; they exterminated civilizations … the Mongols killed 1.5% of the world population in a single campaign.

The Mongols themselves had no unique religious identity, and the Mongol nation was a fairly secular multi-ethnic meritocracy from the time of Genghis Khan (Weatherford, 2004). Hence, religion was not a strong motivating factor in their attacks. As an example, Hulagu was a mixture of the traditional Mongol religion of Tengrism and Buddhism, and his wife was Nestorian Christian.

The Mongols did not just invade and conquer; they exterminated civilizations. To give just an idea, during Genghis’ invasion of the Persian Empire, these were the number of people put to death in some of the cities overcome by the Mongols in 1222 CE: Urgench, 1 million; Merv, 700,000; Nishapur, 1.7 million; Rey, 500,000 (an estimate based on the order that every male should be killed in a city of approximately a million people); and Herat, 1.6 million. That’s nearly 6 million people just from these cities, at a time when the world population is estimated at 400 million. In other words, the Mongols killed 1.5% of the world population in a single campaign.

The streets ran blood ‘like rainwater in a valley.’” … “The Mongols destroyed mosques, palaces, grand buildings, hospitals, and libraries. The Mongols raided the House of Wisdom itself. The Tigris river ran black from the ink of the books that were thrown into the river, mixed with the blood of the slain.”

When Hulagu Khan sacked Baghdad in 1258, he killed at least 800,000 people and as many as 2 million. He single-handedly ended what is known as the Islamic Golden Age. Ibn Iftikhar, quoting Islamic scholars, writes, “the Mongols stormed the country and killed everyone they were able to find including men, women, children, old, young, sick, and healthy. People would try to hide inside wells, gardens, and they even fled towards the hills and mountains. However, the Mongols would continue on, finding even people on the rooftops of their homes and inside the mosques. The streets ran blood ‘like rainwater in a valley.’” He also reports, “The Mongols destroyed mosques, palaces, grand buildings, hospitals, and libraries. The Mongols raided the House of Wisdom itself. The Tigris river ran black from the ink of the books that were thrown into the river, mixed with the blood of the slain.” The destruction the Mongols wreaked on the Muslim world was so great – it came close to wiping out Islamic civilization – that most Muslims of the time viewed it as a form of divine retribution for the sins they had committed.

Dmitry Likhachev, the leading twentieth-century cultural historian of Russia, argued that Russia received extraordinarily little from Asia. Pushkin wrote that the Mongols brought ‘neither algebra nor Aristotle’ with them when they came to Russia. What they did was plunge Russia into its ‘Dark Age.’

The Golden Horde under Batu Khan invaded Russia in 1238-1240 CE with the same brutality as in the other cases described above. Entire populations of towns like Ryazan and Kiev were massacred (Cicek, 2016). But what is even more interesting about the Russian invasion is the effect of Mongol rule on a country in which they actually settled and ruled for 250 years. As Cicek explains, “Soviet historians argued that the Mongol invasion greatly delayed Russia’s economic development. Tribute payments and the destruction of commercial centers delayed the growth of a money economy. The town economies based on handicrafts were completely destroyed, throwing Russia back by several centuries. The economy of Europe, however, flourished in this period, preparing the necessary ground for the industrial revolution. The Mongols also prevented the agricultural development of Russia, which further worsened the commercial position of Russia, especially in comparison to the West. Russia not only lost the vital trade route of the Dvina River but also lost some of its territories in the west to Lithuania, Sweden, and the Teutonic Knights. To summarize, the net effect of the Tatar yoke on the Russian economy, according to Soviet historians, was overwhelmingly negative. The Mongols gave nothing but destruction and looting to the Russian people.”

Cicek also mentions that “Dmitry Likhachev, the leading twentieth-century cultural historian of Russia, argued that Russia received extraordinarily little from Asia. Pushkin wrote that the Mongols brought ‘neither algebra nor Aristotle’ with them when they came to Russia. What they did was plunge Russia into its ‘Dark Age.’” Another destructive legacy of the Mongols in their 250-year rule of Russia was the institution of serfdom.

The Mongols were renowned for their brutality. Their reputation usually preceded them, and helped persuade their victims to submit to their demands without a fight.

Alauddin Khilji’s Repulsion of the Mongol Invasions of India

Alauddin Khilji was born in Delhi in 1266 CE, lived his entire life in the Indian subcontinent, and ruled as Sultan of Delhi from 1296 CE - 1316 CE. By any definition, you would have to call him an Indian, not a foreign invader.

Alauddin Khilji was born in Delhi in 1266 CE, lived his entire life in the Indian subcontinent, and ruled as Sultan of Delhi from 1296 CE - 1316 CE. By any definition, you would have to call him an Indian, not a foreign invader. As a ruler, he would prove himself to be one of India's greatest warrior kings and one of the world's great military geniuses.

The historical details about the Khiljis are obtained from fundamental sources such as Ferishta, who lived during the time of the sultan of Bijapur, Ibrahim Adil Shah II, and Ziauddin Barani, who lived at the time of Mohammad Bin Tughlaq and Firuz Shah Tughlaq. These accounts are well-summarized in the works of eminent contemporary historians such as KS Lal, Satish Chandra, and Peter Jackson.

The attacks that occurred during the reign of Alauddin Khilji were not the first time that the Mongols had invaded India. But, as Lal puts it, “All these were minor invasions as compared with those that occurred in the time of Alauddin; and it was the good fortune of India that the most tremendous assaults were delivered to this country when a strong monarch like Alauddin was the ruler.”

Khilji greatly expanded the empire that he inherited from his uncle, Sultan Jalaluddin Khilji, after killing him. Many of his conquests were of Hindu kingdoms, including the kingdoms of Chittor, Devgiri, Warangal (from where he acquired the famous Kohinoor diamond), Gujarat, Ranthambore, and the Hoysala and Pandya kingdoms. He was able to do all this not because these other kingdoms were weak, but because he was a great soldier and general with a well-trained and disciplined army, using superior Turkic cavalry and infantry tactics, and had built a solid economic base which provided him with the resources to finance these campaigns.

During Khilji’s rule, the Mongols of the Chaghatai Khanate under Duwa Khan repeatedly tried to invade the Indian subcontinent. The attacks that occurred during the reign of Alauddin Khilji were not the first time that the Mongols had invaded India. But, as Lal puts it, “All these were minor invasions as compared with those that occurred in the time of Alauddin; and it was the good fortune of India that the most tremendous assaults were delivered to this country when a strong monarch like Alauddin was the ruler.”

Khilji, by his military brilliance, managed to defeat the Mongols not once, but five times, and avoided defeat a sixth time even when taken by surprise, even as the Mongols attacked with massive forces.

  1. The first invasion attempt was carried out in 1298 CE, and involved 100,000 horsemen. Alauddin sent an army commanded by his brother Ulugh Khan and the general Zafar Khan, and this army comprehensively defeated the Mongols, with the capture of 20,000 prisoners, who were put to death.

  2. In 1299 CE, the Mongols invaded again, this time in Sindh, and occupied the fort of Sivastan. Alauddin despatched Zafar Khan to defeat them and recapture the fort, which he did, even without the need for siege machines.

  3. This humiliating defeat prompted Duwa Khan to attempt another full-scale assault on India in 1299 CE, and he sent his son, Qutlugh Khwaja, with 200,000 soldiers, determined to finish off the Delhi Sultanate once and for all. The Mongol army came fully equipped for this assault on Delhi and for a long campaign, with sufficient food provisions.

    Alauddin’s own advisors were panic-stricken and advised him not to confront the dreaded Mongols who had come in such force. It should be mentioned here that Alauddin’s predecessor, Jalaluddin, had averted war with the Mongols in a previous attack by agreeing to humiliating demands from them. But Alauddin was made of sterner stuff, and was determined to fight to the end. As Lal describes it, he told his advisor, “How could he hold the sovereignty of Delhi if he shuddered to encounter the invaders? What would his contemporaries and those adversaries who had marched two thousand kos to fight him say when he ‘hid behind a camel’s back’? And what verdict would posterity pronounce on him? How could he dare show his countenance to anybody, or even enter the royal harem, if he was guilty of cowardice, and endeavoured to repel the Mughals with diplomacy and negotiations? ... ‘Come what may, I am bent upon marching tomorrow into the plain of Kili, where I propose joining in battle with Qutlugh Khwaja.’”

    With such resolution, Alauddin met Qutlugh Khwaja at Kili, and the day was won by the bravery and martyrdom of his general Zafar Khan. (That the Mongols retreated because of Zafar Khan's actions is the only explanation postulated by Barani, and quoted by Lal and Chandra; however, Jackson doubts this explanation and says the real reason the Mongols withdrew was that Qutlugh Khwaja was mortally wounded in the battle, a fact confirmed by other sources.) The defeated Mongols went back to their country without stopping once on the way.

  4. Duwa Khan was not satisfied. In 1303 CE, he again sent a huge force of 120,000 horsemen to attack Delhi, under the general Taraghai. This was, unfortunately for Alauddin, immediately after his long battle with and victory over the kingdom of Chittor. That Alauddin was busy with his attack on Chittor was known to Taraghai, and was one of the key factors in his planning. Alauddin was taken completely by surprise. His army was greatly depleted and had suffered great losses in equipment in the battle for Chittor. He tried to get reinforcements from other parts of the empire, but the Mongols had blocked all the roads to Delhi.

    Yet Alauddin did not lose heart, and fought a gallant defensive battle. Lal explains it thus: “Sultan Alauddin gathered together whatever forces he had in the capital, and arrayed his forces in the plains of Siri. As it was impossible to fight the Mongols in an open engagement with so small an army, Alauddin decided to exhaust the patience of the besiegers by strengthening his defence lines. On the east of Siri lay the river Jamuna, and on the south-west was the old citadel of Delhi, although by the time of Taraghai’s invasion it had not been repaired. In the south lay the dense jungle of Old Delhi. The only vulnerable side, therefore, was the north, where the Mongols had pitched their camp.” Alauddin dug trenches and built ramparts and created a strong defensive position that made it impossible for Taraghai to defeat him. After two months of trying hard to break Alauddin’s defences, Taraghai lost patience and returned home. This was clearly brilliant generalship under extremely adverse circumstances which would have meant certain defeat for anyone who was not as resolute and as resourceful.

    This close shave made Alauddin realize the need for stronger defence of the capital, and he took various measures, such as constructing a wall, repairing forts, and the like. As a result, Delhi was never again at risk of conquest by the Mongols.

  5. In 1305 CE, seeking to avenge their previous defeats, the Mongols invaded again, under the leadership of Taraghai, Ali Beg, and Tartaq, with a force of 50,000 horsemen. Taraghai was killed in a preliminary clash even before arriving in Delhi, but Ali Beg and Tartaq pushed on. Knowing Delhi to be strongly defended, they started plundering the countryside of Avadh. Alauddin sent a force of 30,000 to 40,000 horsemen with the general Malik Nayak to meet the Mongols and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Mongols on December 30, 1305. Twenty thousand horses belonging to the enemy were captured, and most of the soldiers were slaughtered. 8000 prisoners of war were brought to Delhi, including the two generals, who were subsequently beheaded.

  6. Thus, Alauddin Khilji achieved what no other ruler in the world, east or west, had achieved – repeatedly repulsing (six times) and defeating large-scale invasions by the Mongols, who had been an unstoppable force wherever else they had gone — Russia, China, Persia, Iraq, Syria, Europe. He was able to repel forces of up to 200,000 Mongol horsemen. In comparison, the force that Hulagu took with him to Baghdad and completely destroyed the Caliphate with had only 150,000 horsemen.

    The last attempt to invade the Delhi Sultanate was made by Duwa in 1306 CE, just before his death, when he sent the generals Kubak and Iqbalmand with an army of 50,000 to 60,000 horsemen. Kubak advanced in the direction of the Ravi river, and Iqbalmand advanced in the direction of Nagor. Alauddin dispatched his favorite general, Malik Kafur, to deal with the Mongols. Kafur defeated Kubak in a battle on the Ravi and captured him alive. He then intercepted the second force at Nagor and defeated that as well. Only 3000 or 4000 soldiers remained of the Mongol invasion force.

Thus, Alauddin Khilji achieved what no other ruler in the world, east or west, had achieved – repeatedly repulsing (six times) and defeating large-scale invasions by the Mongols, who had been an unstoppable force wherever else they had gone — Russia, China, Persia, Iraq, Syria, Europe. He was able to repel forces of up to 200,000 Mongol horsemen. In comparison, the force that Hulagu took with him to Baghdad and completely destroyed the Caliphate with had only 150,000 horsemen.

The Mongols had not become weak and feeble since the sack of Baghdad in 1258 – this was not the reason for Alauddin’s success. As an illustration, his uncle who preceded Alauddin as Sultan of Delhi preferred to “make a settlement, giving the Mongols very favourable terms”, to use Lal's words. Alauddin's own advisors advised him in 1299 CE to submit rather than fight the feared Mongols; but the undaunted Alauddin Khilji proved superior to his formidable Mongol foes.

Khilji’s Legacy to the Indian Subcontinent

Had the Mongols conquered India, India would have likely been set back at least two or three hundred years in its development. A large part of the knowledge and culture that had been accumulated in India over millenia might well have been destroyed. Every library, every school, every temple, every mosque, every home would have likely been burnt to the ground.

From the knowledge of how other countries fared under the Mongols, it is fair to say that, had the Mongols conquered India, India would have likely been set back at least two or three hundred years in its development. A large part of the knowledge and culture that had been accumulated in India over millenia might well have been destroyed. Every library, every school, every temple, every mosque, every home would have likely been burnt to the ground. As the Russian experience shows, even if the Mongols had settled down in the Indian subcontinent (an unlikely proposition, given the hot Indian weather), the consequences for India would probably not have been savoury.

So the Mongols were not like any other invader. If Khilji had lost to the Mongols, it would not have been as benign as when Ibrahim Lodi lost to Babur. In that case, one Muslim ruler was replaced by another, but the Indian subcontinent itself did not suffer greatly. If the Mongols had won against Khilji, they would probably have wiped a large percentage of modern India’s and Pakistan’s cultural heritage off the map of the world.

If we have ancient traditions in India that survive to this day, a large credit for that has to go to Alauddin Khilji, one of history's greatest warrior-kings.

If we have ancient traditions in India that survive to this day, a large credit for that has to go to Alauddin Khilji, one of history's greatest warrior-kings.

By all accounts, Alauddin Khilji was not a benevolent king to his Hindu subjects. But he also was a brave soldier and a brilliant general who saved the Indian subcontinent from certain destruction. If the Mongol invasions had succeeded, it is conceivable that a weakened and largely depopulated India might not even have been the Hindu-majority country it now is – with the influx of Christian missionaries after 1500 CE, the whole country could have converted to Christianity. Of course, Khilji did not resist the Mongols to save Indian culture and civilization; he did what he did to save himself. But that is true of every ruler who defends their kingdom against a foreigner, whether that be Shivaji, Rana Pratap, or Laxmibai of Jhansi.

People are not monolithic — they are complex and layered. The man you hate as a Muslim bigot may also be the reason you are a Hindu today.

There is an important moral to this story.

These days, it is becoming increasing common to paint one-dimensional portraits of people: “Hindu hero,” “Islamic tyrant,” “Islamic hero,” etc. But the problem with such stereotypes is that people are not monolithic — they are complex and layered. The man you hate as a Muslim bigot may also be the reason you are a Hindu today.

And it is not just Alauddin Khilji. Every famous personality and, indeed, every person — whether that be a Shivaji or an Ashoka or an Akbar — has many different facets, some of which we may like and others which we may not. And so it is not so easy to love someone or hate someone in an absolute sense. We have to accept the good with the bad.

Was Alauddin Khilji a Bigot?

Khilji’s cruelty was impartial, and made no distinction between Hindus and Muslims.

Historians are generally agreed that while Alauddin Khilji was a cruel despot, he was not a bigot.

There is also another moral to this story — the need to understand history in its entirety. Just as most Indians are unaware of Alauddin Khilji’s role in stopping many Mongol invasions, even the image of Khilji as someone who persecuted Hindus is based on an incomplete understanding of history.

To be sure, Khilji was an extremely cruel, suspicious and vindictive man, and meted out barbaric punishments to those who antagonized him. But Khilji’s cruelty was impartial, and made no distinction between Hindus and Muslims.

Historians are generally agreed that while Alauddin Khilji was a cruel despot, he was not a bigot. He was a pragmatist.

One statement that has been widely circulated in recent times as proof of Alauddin’s bigotry comes from Ziauddin Barani, who mentions (Kulke and Rothermund) that Alauddin asked wise men to

supply some rules and regulations for grinding down the Hindus, and for depriving them of that wealth and property which fosters rebellion. The Hindu was to be so reduced as to be left unable to keep a horse to ride on, to carry arms, to wear fine clothes, or to enjoy any of the luxuries of life.

The first thing one needs to understand about this statement is the source. As Peter Jackson explains, Barani was an extreme bigot, writing in his Tarikh-i-Firuz-Shah that Hindus should be looted and enslaved and the Brahmins, in particular, should be massacred en masse. Some of what Barani writes about Alauddin, therefore, reflects his own prejudice more than Alauddin’s. In fact, there are many places where he disapproves of Alauddin as having been too soft on Hindus.

The motivation for the oppression was fiscal, not religious.

The next things to understand are Alauddin’s real motivations for keeping the Hindus in an impoverished state. The main revenue of the state came from agriculture, and most of the farmers were Hindus. Alauddin needed to finance his expensive military campaigns, and for this, he levied heavy taxes on the farmers — and hence the Hindus. This was rightly viewed as oppression; but the motivation for the oppression was fiscal, not religious.

The second motivation for Alauddin in impoverishing the farmers was that there was a constant threat of rebellion against him. This threat arose both from the wealthy farmers as well as from the Muslim nobility. Alauddin accorded himself with equal brutality in suppressing both threats. A poor farmer was not a threat.

“I do not know whether this is according to the sharia, or against the sharia; whatever I think for the good of the state or suitable for the emergency, that I decree.”

—Alauddin Khilji

Another instance of brutality that Alauddin engaged in was in his conquests. It just happened that many of his conquests were of Hindu rajas and, as Lal explains it, “It is true that during the process of conquest atrocities were committed, but in times of war suffering is inevitable. With the establishment of peace and order, no organized persecution of Hindus was possible.”

That religion and religious doctrine were anyway secondary to administrative policy for Alauddin are clear from an exchange that Barani notes between Alauddin and the cleric Qazi Mughis, in which Alauddin says (Chandra; Kulke and Rothermund):

To prevent rebellions in which thousands perish, I issue such orders as I conceive to be for the good of the state, and the benefit of the people. Men are heedless, disrespectful, and disobey my commands. I am then compelled to be severe and bring them to obedience. I do not know whether this is according to the sharia, or against the sharia; whatever I think for the good of the state or suitable for the emergency, that I decree.

Even the much-reviled religious tax, the jaziyah, was levied rather inconsistently, as Chandra points out: “jaziyah as a separate tax affected only a small section in the towns. As such, it could hardly be considered a device for forcing conversion to Islam.”

In conclusion, it seems clear from various historical sources that the rule of Alauddin Khilji was not characterized by bigotry. And it would not have been practical, in any case, to indulge in large-scale discrimination against the Hindu majority — not only for Alauddin, but for any sultan, for the rulers were in the minority. As Barani says, Iltutmish, one of Alauddin’s predecessors, once explained to his clergy that Muslims were as scarce in India as “salt in a dish of food,” and hence he could not afford to be too harsh with the Hindus.

References

  • Chandra, Satish, Medieval India – from Sultanat to the Mughals (1206-1526), Har Anand Publications, 2007.
  • Cicek, A., “The Legacy of Genghis Khan – The Mongol Impact on Russian History, Politics, Economy, and Culture,” International Journal of Russian Studies, 5 (2), pp. 94-115, 2016.
  • Curtin, J., The Mongols – A History, Da Capo Press, 1908, reprint 2003.
  • Ibn Iftikhar, The Near-End of Islam: The Story of the Mongol Invasion and Muslim Genocide in the 13th Century, Amazon Asia-Pacific Holdings Private Limited, 2014.
  • Jackson, P., The Delhi Sultanate: A Political and Military History (Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization), Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Kulke, H., and Rothermund, D., A History of India, 4th Ed., Routledge, 2004.
  • Lal, K.S., History of the Khaljis (1290-1320), The Indian Press, 1950.
  • Weatherford, J., Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, RHUS, 2005.

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank the following people for reading drafts of this article and offering valuable suggestions that have greatly improved it: Ajoy Ashirwad, Anirban Mitra, Prof. Harbans Mukhia, Prof. Partho Sarathi Ray, Ramdas Menon, Siddharth Varadarajan, and Sandhya Srinivasan. I would also like to thank all those who participated in discussing an earlier and much shorter version of this article that I had posted on Facebook — those discussions have helped sharpen the focus and improve this expanded version.



Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

IITs Have Not Failed India. India Has Failed the IITs.

IITs Have Not Failed India. India Has Failed the IITs.


IITs Have Not Failed India. India Has Failed the IITs.

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 17 November, 2017


Abstract

It has long been the fashion in India to take pot shots at the elite educational technical institutes founded by Pandit Nehru, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), and refer to them as “White Elephants”. The complaint often raised against the IITs is that, despite the huge investment by the government in educating the students of IITs, IITians either go abroad for greener pastures or leave engineering altogether to take up careers in business administration, software, or finance.

But the reality is that successive governments since Independence never provided the economic growth needed to create the opportunities that would tempt graduates from such institutes to remain in India and/or continue in engineering and contribute their skills to manufacturing projects that would benefit the nation.


I was impelled to write this post after reading an article titled “How IITs Turned from Nehru’s Vision of Technology to Catering Engineers for MNCs.” This article is yet another screed against the IITs and their perceived failures, written, incidentally, by two humanities professors at an IIT.

This article is wrong on so many counts that I don’t even know where to begin. But I am going to try. But before I get into details, a general comment. It appears the authors are leftist thinkers, who believe that a person should happily engage in a low-paying job “for the benefit of the country” even if they can get higher-paying jobs. Leftist thinking is fine in theory, but does not work in practice, because everyone wants a better life.

A disclosure before I begin listing the problems with this article and, more generally, with criticisms of the IITs: I studied for my B.Tech. in IIT Bombay, almost 30 years ago. I continue to work in engineering, and returned to India after many years in the USA.

List of Logical Flaws in This Article

    What was the mandate of the IITs? To produce high-quality B.Tech. engineers. Did they fulfil that mandate? Absolutely. The fact that they are so highly sought after in India and abroad is testimony to the fact that IIT produces the best B.Tech. graduates in the world.

  1. The title itself is flawed: “How IITs Turned from Nehru’s Vision of Technology to Catering Engineers for MNCs.”

    I see nothing wrong in an engineering institute providing engineers for MNCs. The MNCs are located in India; they provide employment to Indians; they pay taxes and help the economy. What’s the problem here? Also, many MNCs work in technology. Does Nehru’s vision of technology not include technology for MNCs? Do we know? Did anyone ask him?

  2. Saying that the IITs have failed in their mandate.

    This is just plain wrong. The IITs have not failed in their mandate. What was the mandate of the IITs? To produce high-quality B.Tech. engineers. (Building dams, power plants, and industrial production units is what B.Tech. graduates, by and large, do. There is some role for MS and PhD graduates too, at the higher levels — innovating new products and processes — but the bulk of the basic work is done by B.Techs.) Did they fulfil that mandate? Absolutely. The fact that they are so highly sought after in India and abroad is testimony to the fact that IIT produces the best B.Tech. graduates in the world. Graduate study departments in the US don’t think twice before offering an admission and a scholarship to a student from IIT (unless there is a higher-ranked IITian competing with him/her). In India as well, companies love to hire IITs, whether in manufacturing or software. IIMs love to admit IITians into their management programs. So in practically every post-graduate opportunity you look at, IIT graduates are in high demand. This proves conclusively that IITs have not failed the country in their mandate of producing high-quality engineering graduates.

    It is another matter that most of them are not engaged in the production of dams, power plants, and industrial production units. But the reasons for that are not the failures of the IIT system, but the failures of the government.

    It is another matter that most of them are not engaged in the production of dams, power plants, and industrial production units. But the reasons for that are not the failures of the IIT system, but the failures of the government, as we shall see.

  3. “IITs have not developed the scientific temper of the masses.”

    Where did that come from? IITs have only one job: processing highly-qualified students into well-trained engineers. Where does the question of the “masses” come here? This is nonsense. It is absolutely not the job of the IITs to educate the masses on anything.

  4. IITs do not impart adequate humanities training.

    I can see where this is coming from. The authors are humanities professors in IIT. It is reasonable for them to want more humanities training — it shows that they love their subjects. I am all for humanities education and a more rounded education. But consider the humanities training that most Indian engineering colleges provide: zero. Relative to most of them, IITs impart a lot of humanities training. I studied at an IIT, and I remember at least 4 or 5 humanities classes. Very good ones. But it is not easy to increase the humanities offerings. IITs have a lot of subject material in engineering to teach, and I think this is all that is possible in 4 years. I would like to know how much they teach in Universities abroad for an engineering major.

  5. Caste attitudes of students are not shaped solely by studying a few classes in a University. They are nurtured through 16 years at home listening to your parents telling you who you should socialize with and who you should not, and why we are superior to those other people.

  6. “Failed to bring in structural changes to overcome the hurdles of a hierarchical society because of the marginalised position they have accorded their humanities and social science (HSS) departments”

    Wow, can we load some more on the plate of the IITs??? Now the job of the Indian Institutes of Technology is also to fix the caste system in India? Really? 4000 graduates every year, by studying more humanities in IIT, are going to end up as highly enlightened human beings and will not be casteist?? I’m really sorry to say this, but what are we smoking here?

    Caste attitudes of students are not shaped solely by studying a few classes in a University. They are nurtured through 16 years at home listening to your parents telling you who you should socialize with and who you should not, and why we are superior to those other people.

    I am all for teaching more humanities in IIT to improve the character of students, but let us have realistic expectations.

  7. I graduated in 1990. My chemical engineering class was 55 strong. Of that, 38 decided to go abroad to do their MS. This was pre-liberalization. Some others went for management. The number that actually worked in India in chemical engineering was abysmally low. Maybe 10 or less. And you think 1990s liberalization was the problem.

  8. “Economic policymaking since the 1990s became less methodological and more opportunistic. The policies were framed to facilitate the growing number of opportunities in the service sector, particularly IT and finance. As a result, the economy jumped from agriculture to services without strengthening commodity-producing sectors, including agriculture and manufacturing.”

    The howlers don’t seem to end. So, the problem started only in the 1990s? Until then, we had plenty of manufacturing jobs for IIT graduates? They could make a fantastic living in India?

    Let me tell you something. I graduated in 1990. My chemical engineering class was 55 strong. Of that, 38 decided to go abroad to do their MS. This was pre-liberalization. Some others went for management. The number that actually worked in India in chemical engineering was abysmally low. Maybe 10 or less. And you think 1990s liberalization was the problem.

  9. “Economic policymaking chose to fall in line with the neoclassical framework based on utilitarian thought, which helped strengthen a dream of high-paying jobs and luxurious life in this sector.”

    And what exactly is wrong with dreaming about high-paying jobs and a luxurious life — in any sector?

  10. The media just reports. If an IIT graduate gets a one crore rupee job offer, is that not news? It is a news-worthy story, and so the media is reporting it.

  11. “While it is true that the service sector contributes a large part of the GDP, it is also detrimental to the growth of agriculture and manufacturing.”

    This is just plain wrong. The three sectors are independent of each other.

  12. “Because of a long-term stagnation in agriculture and manufacturing, these students are unable to find any decent jobs there.”

    Finally! One correct point. You know what you do in that case? You fix that stagnation. Do not, instead, tell students not to take up a well-paying service sector job because a stagnant manufacturing sector needs engineers.

  13. Everyone in India wants one and only one thing: jobs with good money. Nobody studies engineering because they have a passion for science and engineering. They don’t even know what engineering is when they take that entrance examination. Not just IITs, but at any engineering college. Why do they apply for engineering colleges? Because in this miserable country, it is so hard to get a job, and so parents tell their kids, “if you don’t want to starve, get an engineering or a medicine degree.”

  14. “Media outlets further the craze by reporting on the highest packages offered to graduating students on the front-page, putting the pressure back on students to pursue education according to what jobs they think they should hold.”

    The howlers just keep adding. Now it is the media’s fault? The media just reports. If an IIT graduate gets a one crore rupee job offer, is that not news? It is a news-worthy story, and so the media is reporting it. Why are you shooting the messenger?

  15. “This resulted in the IITs emerging as the ultimate destination for employment-seekers than for those who had a passion for science or engineering.”

    My head is beginning to ache here at the lack of insight being displayed again and again. Okay, let’s get something clear. Everyone in India wants one and only one thing: jobs with good money. Nobody studies engineering because they have a passion for science and engineering. They don’t even know what engineering is when they take that entrance examination. Not just IITs, but at any engineering college. Why do they apply for engineering colleges? Because, in this miserable country, it is so hard to get a job, and so parents tell their kids, “if you don’t want to starve, get an engineering or a medicine degree.”

    There is zero role for passion in choosing your major in IIT. And this has nothing to do with the neoliberal policies of India since 1992. It has always been that way.

    And let me tell you one more thing about IITs, since “passion” is being mentioned. Do you know how students choose their fields of specialization in IIT? They look at what field they can get based on their rank in the entrance examination. They hear through the grapevine, through career magazines, etc., that some professions are more in demand in the job market than others, and so they go for that. They give their top three branch preferences based on how employable they will be in four years' time, and how much money they will make. Then they accept what they can get with their rank. There is zero role for passion in choosing your major in IIT. And this has nothing to do with the neoliberal policies of India since 1992. It has always been that way. It was that way when I entered IIT in 1986.

    At this point, I really feel compelled to add something. I am amazed that these things are not obvious to professors who live and work in an IIT — that they still do not know what students are thinking, despite all that experience. It is reflective of the ivory-tower approach of these professors.

  16. An IIT degree provides a good job. People want to go to a coaching class to improve their chances of getting in. There is a need, and someone steps in to supply that need. This is the market working. What’s the problem here?

  17. “The menace of coaching classes.”

    Oh. My. God. Here is another ignorant attempt at shooting the messenger. An IIT degree provides a good job. People want to go to a coaching class to improve their chances of getting in. There is a need, and someone steps in to supply that need. This is the market working. What’s the problem here? Of course, they will charge for their services. Let me guess what your problem is: poor people and marginalized people cannot afford to go to coaching classes. And therefore, nobody should go to coaching classes. Classic leftist thinking.

  18. “The decision to hike the fee from Rs 90,000/year to Rs 2 lakh/year smacks of a design to further divide the society on the lines of caste, class and gender.”

    My understanding of a white elephant is a useless, expensive thing. Well, if it is expensive, does it not stand to reason that its costs should be recovered?

    Really? I thought that somewhere early in this article, it was mentioned that the IITs were “white elephants.” Well, my understanding of a white elephant is a useless, expensive thing. Well, if it is expensive, does it not stand to reason that its costs should be recovered?

    For decades, the complaint I have heard from most people is that IITians are getting a free ride, that they pay such low tuition for a world-class education, and then leave India to work in the USA, or join management schools, where they do not use their engineering training, etc. Now, finally, the IITs respond to these complaints and raise the tuition rates so that IITians do not get a free ride — and you are still not happy!

  19. Industry is notoriously tight-fisted with their money for long-term R&D at Universities, whether in the US or in India.

  20. “Indian business houses — unlike their counterparts from around the world — rarely funded research and development at the IITs or, for that matter, at any institutes of higher learning.”

    Not just Indian business houses. Industry anywhere in the world. I have worked in US academia and US MNCs, and I can tell you, this conclusion is wrong. Industry is notoriously tight-fisted with their money for long-term R&D at Universities, whether in the US or in India — though Indian industry is indeed worse. I would never gamble a PhD student’s thesis on an industry-driven project if I were a professor in the US. Too risky. The main reason is that industry has extremely short-term vision; they will generally not fund long-term projects (and I know this from personal experience working at one of the top R&D companies in the world, with an annual R&D budget of $1.7 billion). They are also paranoid about retaining intellectual property, and would not want the student or the professor to publish the results (exceptions do exist, but this is the rule) — which makes it problematic for a student's thesis work, which must be public. The biggest source of research funding in the US for Universities is the government – NSF (National Science Foundation), DOE (Department of Energy), NIH (National Institutes of Health), DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), DOD (Department of Defense), etc. Not industry.

  21. Is it the authors’ contention that IIT graduates should only work for PSUs?

  22. “The appointment of business tycoons into the governing council of the institutes further indicates the wider influence of the neoliberal corporate influence on research and academics at the IITs.”

    Uhh...I thought the idea was for IIT graduates to help in “building huge dams, power plants and industrial production units – and so spearhead the technological force of the nation.” So why is it wrong to have people who are engaged in these activities on the board of the IITs? Or is it the authors’ contention that IIT graduates should only work for PSUs? Or that huge dams, power plants, and industry should only be operated by the government?

  23. You cannot force IIT graduates to build roads in Somalia.

  24. “Thus, it is evident that the institutes were primarily meant to produce quality engineers who would have a greater role to play in building not just a new India but also developing nations in Asia and Africa – as they were direly needed technical personnel to lead their societies.”

    This is a clear case of the authors freely extrapolating from what Nehru actually said to suit their political philosophies. From what they have quoted of Nehru, the late PM never said that the purpose of the IITs was to serve other countries in Asia or Africa. But maybe these professors think of India being a Cuba — just as Cuba used to send its doctors to other countries to help out, maybe they have visions of India sending its engineers to other countries to help out. One difference: the doctors in Cuba have no choice. It is a totalitarian country. India is a free country, and you cannot force IIT graduates to build roads in Somalia. In any case, this is just plain distortion of Nehru's thoughts.

    If IT is the rage of the day, it makes no sense to offer incentives to manufacture steel. A good economic policy needs to be opportunistic and driven by global trends.

    From their own article, all that Nehru is supposed to have said is this: “We take all the trouble to put up this expensive Institute and train up people here, and then, if we do not utilise the services of those people, then there is something wrong about the governmental apparatus or Planning Commission or whoever is supposed to deal with this matter.” So Nehru wanted India to utilize the engineers properly. He never said we should export them.

    Forget about sending Indian engineers to under-developed countries. Let us figure out how to use them properly in India.

  25. “Economic policymaking since the 1990s became less methodological and more opportunistic.”

    And this is a bad thing because …?? An alternative word for “opportunism” is “dynamism.” If IT is the rage of the day, it makes no sense to offer incentives to manufacture steel. A good economic policy needs to be opportunistic and driven by global trends.

  26. Until 1992, a factory owner could not aspire to increase his output even by 5% without the approval of the government. He could not create a new product without approvals that would need 20 different signatures.

  27. “These institutes were established with an express concern to advance the bubbling aspirations of post-Independence India’s historic tryst with the project of modernity.”

    Wonderful words, I must say. But what aspirations? Until 1992, a factory owner could not aspire to increase his output even by 5% without the approval of the government. He could not create a new product without approvals that would need 20 different signatures. It has taken decades to undo these harmful rules, and they still have not been all undone. What’s a person to aspire for?

  28. Under any circumstances, expecting IIT students (or students of any college or institute or University) to work without commensurate reward for the betterment of society, naively or otherwise, is insensitive and cruel.

  29. And, finally, the authors end with this gem: “Under such market-driven education policies and adverse circumstances, naively expecting IIT students to work for the betterment of society would not just be insensitive but also cruel.”

    Not just under market-driven policies. Under any circumstances, expecting IIT students (or students of any college or institute or University) to work without commensurate reward for the betterment of society, naively or otherwise, is insensitive and cruel.

    Working for the betterment of society, like patriotism, love for the country, or standing up for the national anthem, should come from within and not be forced. These things should not be expected. As Shakespeare says in The Merchant of Venice, “the quality of mercy is not strained.” Not just mercy. Loyalty, patriotism, love for country, etc. — none of these can be forced, and no government should attempt to coerce them out of its people, because such an attempt is futile.

The Real Diagnosis and Real Solutions

Now that I have said what’s wrong with this diagnosis of the IIT professors in their article, let me fill in the rest of the puzzle – what is the real diagnosis? What, if anything, is wrong with the IIT system? If something is wrong, what is the solution?

    Seeking a better life is not a crime.

    The real crime is that successive governments in India did not create better opportunities in India.

  1. Why have IITians being going abroad for ever? Simple. Because they could. Because they were so well-trained, they were in demand everywhere in the world. And you can get a better quality of life abroad than you can here. Seeking a better life is not a crime.

    The real crime is that successive governments in India did not create better opportunities in India.

    Everyone wants a better life. It’s not just IITians, by the way. People from NITs. People from private colleges. People from no-name colleges. People without engineering degrees. People with arts degrees. People with medicine degrees. Hawkers on the street. Everyone wants a better life. You get a better life in the USA. Almost everyone in India would love to leave India and go to the USA.

    What’s the solution? Fix India. Fix the Indian economy.

    Pandit Nehru had a great vision for creating institutes of higher learning – IITs, IIMs, etc., and institutions to serve the country – DRDO labs, HAL, etc. He also understood the need for Indians to cultivate a scientific temper, and did much to advance science in the new republic. But he failed to see the crucial missing piece. A good standard of living. It is folly to expect that people should want to live in misery for the good of the country. But Nehru suffered from this folly. After all, he was the man who told JRD Tata that he thought profit was a dirty word.

    It is not only IITians who rush abroad given a chance. When I was doing my MS and PhD in the US, there were plenty of students from colleges other than IITs there. None of them had any intention of going back to India. They are all happily working in the US today. This is not a problem with IITs. It is a problem with India.

    Pandit Nehru had a great vision for creating institutes of higher learning – IITs, IIMs, etc., and institutions to serve the country – DRDO labs, HAL, etc. He also understood the need for Indians to cultivate a scientific temper, and did much to advance science in the new republic. But he failed to see the crucial missing piece. A good standard of living. It is folly to expect that people should want to live in misery for the good of the country.

    But Nehru suffered from this folly. After all, he was the man who told JRD Tata that he thought profit was a dirty word.

    It started because of the command economy that started with Nehru but went out of control under Indira Gandhi. If you are producing 2000 top-class engineers each year, but they have to work in mind-numbing jobs in India because the government has chained all the companies to only produce those things that are covered in the five-year plan, do you really expect them to stay in India and just sign the muster every day with nothing to do?

    Do you know what the effect of those policies has been? No Indian company today knows anything about R&D. I’ve seen it in Indian manufacturing, so I know. Even today, 25 years since liberalization, Indian companies are finding it hard to compete against MNCs, because those companies come with established R&D operations, whereas Indian companies are finding R&D a huge challenge. For most of them, R&D only means a tax write-off. Even when they hire young engineers in their brand-new product design and analysis teams, the managers of those teams are paper-pushers with no experience in handling an R&D team. I have met young engineers who quit those jobs out of boredom and happily took up jobs in MNC R&D departments when they could get them. How do you expect to get IITians to work in Indian manufacturing when this is the state of things?

  2. What would the authors rather have the government do? Discourage the jobs in IT and finance? Disincentivize the only sectors in India that provide a decent wage and encourage people to live and work in India?

  3. It is interesting that one of the authors teaches economics, but fails to understand simple economics when he blames government policies facilitating the growing number of jobs in the service sector, particularly in IT and finance. What would the authors rather have the government do? Discourage the jobs in IT and finance? Disincentivize the only sectors in India that provide a decent wage and encourage people to live and work in India? If governments have encouraged the service sector since 1992, it is because they have understood (in a welcome break from the past) that, with the advent of computerization and economic liberalization, jobs were going to rapidly expand in IT and finance. I would congratulate the governments that were responsible in bringing in policies to benefit these sunshine sectors.

  4. If you want more IIT graduates to work in manufacturing, make it more profitable.

  5. If you want more IIT graduates to work in manufacturing, make it more profitable. Make companies pay better salaries to IIT graduates so that they will be tempted to drop those IT and finance jobs and work in engineering. How do you do that? By providing incentives to manufacturing, both local and global. By creating more high paying jobs in engineering by making India a destination for high-tech manufacturing. Not, as the authors seem to suggest, by discouraging the sectors that are booming.

  6. 70 years since independence, we should not have a shortage of educational institutions at all, from the primary level to a doctoral degree. Anyone wanting to study anything should be able to. Central governments have expanded the number of IITs, but they need to man them with quality faculty. Teaching standards should be greatly improved and constantly modified. Faculty improvement programs should be continuous. And communication training must be provided to faculty members to teach better.

  7. Increasing numbers of jobs in the service sector are only detrimental to the manufacturing sector if your manufacturing sector is stagnant. Make it more robust. The solution is not to fight over the size of your slice in the pie, but to make the pie bigger.

  8. The solution to coaching classes is that you should not have a shortage of good engineering institutions in the first place. 70 years since independence, we should not have a shortage of educational institutions at all, from the primary level to a doctoral degree. Anyone wanting to study anything should be able to. Once the shortage goes away, coaching classes will not be such a lucrative business and will not cost so much money. In any case, there will always be some engineering college one can get admitted to, even if not an IIT. Even when I graduated from IIT in 1990, IIT was not the only institute producing quality engineering graduates — I have been very impressed by many friends who never studied at an IIT.

    The number of IITs has also gone up significantly in recent years. But the government need to man them with quality faculty. Teaching standards should be greatly improved. Faculty improvement programs should be continuous. And communication training must be provided to faculty members to teach better. A lot of them are terrible teachers and terrible communicators. And by that I do mean English. The medium of education in an IIT, after all, is still English. So everyone teaching there should speak perfect and flawless English, so that language does not become an impediment in teaching and in communicating ideas. And they should teach the students to speak and write flawless English. We need to understand that the language of technology is English. Poor English comprehension among students from a vernacular or disadvantaged background unnecessarily sets them back because often they cannot follow what the professor is saying in class. Now that’s a job for the humanities faculty in IIT to do, if they really want to play a positive role and not carp from ivory towers.

  9. IITs are now focusing a lot on increasing research output. I personally believe this is misguided. We do not need more output in research. Our industry in India is timid and will not use any research ideas even if they are invented in IITs.

  10. Poor rankings in international lists of Universities. This is an absolutely worthless statistic. Our rankings among world Universities are low because our research output is low. As a consequence, IITs are now focusing a lot on increasing research output. I personally believe this is misguided. We do not need more output in research. Our industry in India is timid and will not use any research ideas even if they are invented in IITs. Research innovations will only benefit forward-thinking foreign companies, not Indian companies which have not even figured out how to spell R&D.

    I am not saying IIT professors should not spend time on R&D. By all means let the faculty do R&D if they can think of good ideas. All I am saying is that we should not obsess over them and should not obsess over these meaningless rankings, especially if it might mean a dilution of teaching standards or a loss of focus on our star products - the B.Tech. graduates.

  11. If we are talking about what India needs urgently, it is well-qualified graduates. IITs do a great job of it. They should create even more good B.Tech. students. The expansion of the IITs that has been happening for the last 10+ years in India is a good thing. And not just IITs. NITs and other colleges should also be expanded.

    But it is not about quantity alone. Most of our graduates, especially from the lower-level institutes in India, are unemployable. The real crisis in our educational system is not that we are not producing enough research papers each year, but that so many of our Bachelors degree holders are simply unemployable. We need to fix this.

  12. Create more quality engineering schools. Supply and demand will work, and fees will go down. That will also solve the problem for girl students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Currently there are too many restrictions on creating engineering schools.

  13. The problem of high fees acting as a barrier for poor students and girls. Create more quality engineering schools. Supply and demand will work, and fees will go down. That will also solve the problem for girl students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Currently there are too many restrictions on creating engineering schools. The system to create new Universities should be left completely free of permissions, etc., except for stringent quality checks and certification, so that demand and supply can fully equilibrate.

  14. But none of these will have any impact until there is a boom in manufacturing jobs; until governments start giving incentives to high-tech manufacturing in India so that there will be a market for the skills of all these well-trained graduates. The marketplace needs to be completely open to the world, forcing Indian manufacturing to adopt world-class standards in engineering. A combination of international and domestic engineering companies in stiff competition to produce world-class products, with business-friendly economic policies, will create the right atmosphere to retain the talent, not only of the IITs, but of all engineering colleges in India.

Concluding Thoughts

The “White Elephants” debate has been going on as long as I have been alive. It is a completely misguided debate, because it focuses on the wrong piece of the puzzle. The IITs have consistently delivered on the mandate of Pandit Nehru in their 66-year history by producing world-class Bachelors degree holders in different specializations of engineering and science. The reason these graduates have not ended up building the India of Nehru's dreams is encapsulated perfectly in Panditji's own speech at the first convocation of IIT Kharagpur, as quoted by the authors of this article. I have already quoted this, but it is worth re-reading:

“We take all the trouble to put up this expensive Institute and train up people here, and then, if we do not utilise the services of those people, then there is something wrong about the governmental apparatus or Planning Commission or whoever is supposed to deal with this matter. Such state of affairs can only be described as fantastically stupid because one trains people for certain ends and then wastes them, not even for a moment thinking in terms of the individual’s employment and his living, etc.”

— Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

“We take all the trouble to put up this expensive Institute and train up people here, and then, if we do not utilise the services of those people, then there is something wrong about the governmental apparatus or Planning Commission or whoever is supposed to deal with this matter. Such state of affairs can only be described as fantastically stupid because one trains people for certain ends and then wastes them, not even for a moment thinking in terms of the individual’s employment and his living, etc.”

For 70 years, Indian governments, including Pandijti's own governments, have failed to fully create the circumstances needed to utilize the services of the graduates that the IITs have produced. They have failed to think “in terms of the individual's employment and his living, etc.,” to use Pandit Nehru's own words. The solution has been staring us in the face in the form of Panditji's own words, but we have not listened to them: “if we do not utilise the services of those people, then there is something wrong with the governmental apparatus…” Instead of focusing on better utilization, everyone has been focusing on whether the training of the graduates has been correct, and whether something is wrong with the IITs. Things have definitely improved since the liberalization of the economy in 1991-92, but much remains to be done. Until we become a prosperous country, we cannot reverse the brain drain.

For 70 years, Indian governments, including Pandijti's own governments, have failed to fully create the circumstances needed to utilize the services of the graduates that the IITs have produced. They have failed to think “in terms of the individual's employment and his living, etc.,” to use Pandit Nehru's own words. The solution has been staring us in the face in the form of Panditji's own words, but we have not listened to them: “if we do not utilise the services of those people, then there is something wrong with the governmental apparatus…” Instead of focusing on better utilization, everyone has been focusing on whether the training of the graduates has been correct, and whether something is wrong with the IITs.

India is a free country. If you are a graduate from an IIT, nobody can stop you from choosing to do management as your next step in your career; or to go abroad to the US to do a MS or a PhD if you can get admission to a University there; or to write the IAS exam and become a government collector, join the IAS, IPS, or IFS; join a software company; become an author or a musician; or even start a sweet shop. We in India cannot force people to do things against their will, as is possible in totalitarian states like Cuba. So, if the current situation bothers you, there are only three paths:

  1. Improve economic and business conditions in India to tempt those students to work in engineering in India.
  2. Raise the fees so that, even if they leave India or do not continue in engineering, you have not subsidized their education. This has already been done.
  3. Close down the IITs.

Most people would agree that option 3 is not very good. It is equivalent to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. And option 2 has already been implemented. As I have already argued elsewhere, the level of Rs. 90,000 per annum is already at par with what excellent private colleges like SASTRA provide at that rate. That only leaves us with one viable option to address the situation: option 1, improving the economic and business conditions in India. Until that happens, people should stop constantly moaning about the state of the IITs. The state of the IITs is good. In fact, if we had utilized the services of the IIT graduates for the last 66 years, nobody would have even minded the subsidized education.

For 66 years, we have been barking up the wrong tree.

As a final aside, if the kind of illogical thinking that characterizes the article written by these two IIT humanities professors creates educational and economic policy in this country, this is a cause for serious concern. It only highlights the need for common working people from all walks of life to enter the political and policy-making process, rather than vacate that space so that it can be occupied by career politicians and academics (as it is now), neither of whom knows what it is like to hold a real job or face real challenges of ordinary people.



Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

On the Ash Heap of History

On The Ash Heap of History


On The Ash Heap of History

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 07 November, 2017


Abstract

November 7, 2017, the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, should be a day of celebration — because the communist movement has not lasted 100 years. Every country that has experimented with communism has today effectively abandoned it.

Communism failed as a movement because it was accompanied by totalitarianism, oppression, large-scale murder, and suppression of all freedoms. The promise of a workers’ paradise was betrayed and replaced by a totalitarian dictatorship. This result is not the result of a faulty implementation of communism, but the inevitable result of a system where there are no corrective forces such as a democratic government, rule of law, freedom of speech, transparency, and accountability. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Capitalism has its faults, too, but these can be remedied as long as capitalism is accompanied by democracy, rule of law, and freedom of speech and expression. The nature of human beings cannot be changed, but if there is sufficient oversight and control over free-market capitalism, we can prevent abuse. Such mechanisms are absent in communism, and so it failed.

Even though communism failed as a form of government, the debate on the ideals on which it was founded and the threat it posed to capitalism have led to improvements in working conditions, safety in the workplace, and living wages for workers.

Indian communists need to start understanding that the dream they believe in is a failed ideology and has miserably flopped wherever it has been tried in the last 100 years. They need to realize that the very things they do in a free country like India would be impossible in the “utopia” they are recommending for others — a communist state. The people of India have realized the hollowness of communism and have steadily been rejecting communist parties at the polls.

Communism, truly, has been left on the ash heap of history.


A Historic Anniversary

Today, November 7, 2017, is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution — the movement that brought the first communist government into power as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

It should come as a tremendous relief to all of us that today, 100 years after that historic day, practically no country in the world actually follows communism in its original avatar.

The USSR was followed by several other countries. At its height, communism or some variant of it infected more than 27 countries for many years, including Afghanistan (14 years), Albania (47), Angola (17), Belarus (as part of the USSR) (71), Benin (14), Bulgaria (44), Cambodia (14), Congo-Brazzaville (22), Czechoslovakia (42), Ethiopia (17), East Germany (41), Hungary (41), Mongolia (67), Mozambique (15), Poland (44), Romania (42), Somalia (21), Russia (as part of the USSR) (74), Ukraine (as part of the USSR) (72), North Vietnam (31), South Yemen (22), and Yugoslavia (48 years). Today, the only countries that call themselves communist are China, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, and North Korea – but these are all communist in name alone, with varying levels of market economics having penetrated into them. (Note that I do not discuss “socialist” countries like India in this discussion - that would require a separate article. They fall in a different category, because they are not totalitarian, as pure communist countries invariably are, and usually have features alien to communism, such as democratic elections, freedom of speech and expression, and a rule of law.)

It should come as a tremendous relief to all of us that today, 100 years after that historic day, practically no country in the world actually follows communism in its original avatar.

“It does not matter whether the cat is black or white. So long as it catches the mouse, it is a good cat.”

— Deng Xiaoping

Today, Russia is an emerging market economy. China stopped being true to the ideals of communism in 1979 itself, when Deng Xiaoping took over the country and put into practice what would be known as his “cat theory”: “It does not matter whether the cat is black or white. So long as it catches the mouse, it is a good cat.” This was a philosophy of economic pragmatism that placed progress at the centre and pushed ideology to the side. China's prosperity today is not because of communism, but the economic liberalization started by Deng and continued by his successors.

Admirers of communism love to say that Cuba has the best healthcare system in the world. It does, but two things need to be kept in mind. First, for 50 years the USSR bankrolled Cuba; so Cuba’s achievements are not an example of what a Communist country can do on its own. Second, while health care is great in Cuba, the average standard of living in Cuba is not one most people would like. Cubans cannot afford luxuries such as eating out. Restaurants exist only to feed tourists. (Source: Personal account from a friend who has visited Cuba.)

This hollow, unsustainable, and morally-repugnant philosophy has justly been consigned to the ash heap of history …

Communism could not even last a century — and just as well. This hollow, unsustainable, and morally-repugnant system has justly been consigned to the ash heap of history, to use the memorable turn of phrase that was created by the late US President Ronald Reagan in 1982. And this fact is particularly worthy of celebration when you consider that this outcome was certainly not obvious 50 years ago.

Why Communism Failed

In every country that ever called itself a communist country, inequality and enslavement were the norms.

Communism was founded with the promise of an egalitarian society. “Workers of the world, unite!” said Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto. “You have nothing to lose but your chains,” they proclaimed triumphantly. But in every country that ever called itself a communist country, inequality and enslavement were the norm. As George Orwell so aptly put it in “Animal Farm,” “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Communist governments called themselves the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” In practice, they only retained the first part of that description: dictatorship. The proletariat was conveniently forgotten. Every communist government ended up, in practice, as a totalitarian dictatorship headed either by a single person (e.g., Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Deng, Castro, etc.) or a committee of a few powerful people (e.g., the USSR during the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras).

Communist governments called themselves the dictatorship of the proletariat. In practice, they only retained the first part of that description: dictatorship. The proletariat was conveniently forgotten.

Why do all communist regimes deteriorate into totalitarian regimes? Because greed is part of the fundamental nature of human beings and, therefore, in a system that does not have checks and balances, as a democracy does, might becomes right.

Due to this, one of the most abhorrent aspects of any communist government is that there is no personal freedom. Just look at Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Ai Weiwei, Andrei Sakharov, Liu Xiaobo, and many more to know what the consequences of free speech in communist countries are. When Lenin and Stalin decided to collectivize Soviet agriculture, they did not bother to ask the “proletariat,” whose “dictatorship” a communist government ostensibly was, whether they were agreeable to collectivization. Instead, the move was brutally enforced on the proletariat from above — with death as the penalty for disobedience.

Communism revealed its darkest face during the reigns of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. Stalin is said to have been responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of Soviet citizens by forced rigorous labour in the death camps (gulags) of Siberia, aka the “Gulag Archipelago.” The “Great Leap Forward” of 1958-1962, initiated by Mao, caused the death of between 23 and 55 million people. The subsequent “Cultural Revolution” of 1962-1976 is said to have caused the deaths of about 5 million people — for no fault except of suspected disloyalty to Mao. Thousands of Cubans were executed for opposing Castro. Pol Pot killed 25% of the entire Cambodian population — about 2 million people. These are the attendant evils of a communist system.

The Berlin Wall was unique in history as a wall built by a regime to keep its own citizens from leaving it. It was, in effect, a prison wall for its citizens. That a state felt the need to create such a wall is clearly an admission of its failure and intellectual bankruptcy.

The Soviet Union and its network of satellite states came crumbling down in 1991, but their death warrant was written much earlier — in 1961, to be precise, when the Berlin Wall was built. Until this time, countries had always built walls to keep foreign enemies out — such as the Great Wall of China, which was built to keep the Mongols out. But the Berlin Wall was unique in history as a wall built by a regime to keep its own citizens from leaving it. It was, in effect, a prison wall for its citizens. That a state felt the need to create such a wall is clearly an admission of its failure and intellectual bankruptcy.

What About Capitalism’s Faults?

The solution to these defects of capitalism is not to replace it by a discredited system such as communism, but to have controls above it to prevent the otherwise inevitable abuse of the system to benefit a wealthy few.

Some of those reading this will instinctively think in binary terms: “But what about the evils of capitalism?” they will ask. The answer is that it is not a binary choice. Saying communism was a terrible system does not imply that capitalism is a great system.

Capitalism has its faults. Evil can happen when monopolies and cartels operate. Just as there is a difference between theoretical communism (a lovely ideal) and practical communism (a miserable failure), there is a big difference between theoretical capitalism (a completely free market) and practical capitalism (all kinds of distortions of the market, such as monopolies and political interference).

The solution to these defects of capitalism is not to replace it by a discredited system such as communism, but to have controls above it to prevent the otherwise inevitable abuse of the system to benefit a wealthy few. But the controls cannot be so stifling that they effectively kill enterprise. There is a balance to be aimed at.

But communist regimes do not allow for internal change at all, because communism is inevitably accompanied by curbs on freedom of speech and expression – there is no freedom to protest or criticize the government or the ruler in power. Having no internal corrective mechanisms, they are doomed to failure.

Capitalism is not synonymous with freedom and democracy. Some of history’s worst tyrants have been free-market capitalists. So it is not enough to have a free market and freedom of economic enterprise. It is also important to have a democratic system of government, freedom of speech and expression, the freedom to criticize those in power, and the rule of law.

The problem is that communist regimes offered none of the above. Capitalism can be corrected by imposing a few controls on it; by ensuring that democratic freedoms are maintained; and by agitating for greater personal freedoms (as was done in the United States with regard to civil rights.)

But communist regimes do not allow for internal change at all, because communism is inevitably accompanied by curbs on freedom of speech and expression – there is no freedom to protest or criticize the government or the ruler in power. Having no internal corrective mechanisms, they are doomed to failure.

We should recognize that communism has had its benefits – in improving capitalism.

But even as we should celebrate the decline and death of communism as a form of government, we should recognize that communism has had its benefits – in improving capitalism. The threat of communism forced capitalism to have a more humane face, in order to avoid losing adherents to its rival. Before the advent of communism, American factories (as parodied in the timeless Charlie Chaplin classic, “Modern Times”) were soulless, exploitative operations where workers, often immigrants from places like Ireland, were made to work like slaves for very little wages in horrendous working conditions. The labour movement forced capitalists to create more tolerable working conditions and focus on things like minimum wage and the safety of workers, which was completely ignored in the several initial decades of the industrial revolution, both in Europe and the USA. One should also credit communism for the rise of socialist democracies and welfare states in Europe, such as in the Scandinavian countries, and France and Germany to a lesser extent.

There is no excuse today for believing in communism because of its ideals, because we now have 100 years of practical experience that inform us in no uncertain terms that those ideals are unrealistic and impractical.

Communism is very seductive for a young, impressionable student in an academy because of its idealism. But the days of being seduced by communism because of its rosy ideals, such as an egalitarian society, are long over – or, rather, they should be long over. There is no excuse today for believing in communism because of its ideals, because we now have 100 years of practical experience that inform us in no uncertain terms that those ideals are unrealistic and impractical; that, in practice, communism will suck the life force out of a people, stunt their creativity, kill their natural curiosity, and replace all these wonderful natural reactions with fear – fear of the government and the system.

Communist Sympathizers in India

In spite of these powerful practical examples of the failure and unsustainability of communism, there are misguided souls in many countries who still believe in this failed ideology, including in our own India, especially in the states of West Bengal and Kerala, and in some elite Universities in India, such as JNU. India has had two major communist parties in mainstream politics for a long time – the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M). The CPI has been one of the main political parties that has won elections repeatedly in the state of Kerala, and the CPI-M held power for three decades in the state of West Bengal, before its power was broken by the Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee in 2011. The CPI-M is now on the fast track to oblivion, with a steady decrease in the number of seats held, both at the state and national levels.

Politicians from India’s communist parties love to participate in India’s electoral politics and publicly criticize the government of the day in newspaper articles and television interviews, without realizing the irony that they would never have these privileges in the regimes of the men they claim to revere and in the system they would like to institute in India.

A look inside any of the offices of communist parties reveals walls covered by huge portraits of the heroes of these parties – Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and others. While Marx and Engels are understandable because these theoreticians were the founders of the communist philosophy, inclusion of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, is abhorrent. These people have been responsible for the deaths of so many; to glorify them by displaying their portraits in your office is to insult the memory of the millions who were murdered for no fault of theirs.

But the incongruity does not end there. Politicians from India’s communist parties love to participate in India’s electoral politics and publicly criticize the government of the day in newspaper articles and television interviews, without realizing the irony that they would never have these privileges in the regimes of the men they claim to revere and in the system they would like to institute in India. If a Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M Member of Parliament) or a Kanhaiya Kumar (communist student leader) had been living in Stalin’s USSR and had made a public speech critical of “Comrade Stalin,” he would have found himself inside the Lubyanka before the end of the day and in a train bound for a Siberian gulag by the end of the week, where he would have spent the remainder of his short, miserable life working 18 hours a day in hard labour, with extremely limited rations, until he died of exhaustion.

It is probably a recognition of the hypocrisy of these Indian communist parties and the worthlessness of their philosophy that is responsible for their decimation in Indian politics. On this historic day, this fact, too, needs to be celebrated.



Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.