Saturday, May 25, 2019

Indian Media’s Deus Ex Machina

This piece was written as the 2014 general election campaign was drawing to a close, and in a way predictive of which way the wind was blowing.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
-  Tennyson, Alfred. In Memoriam [Ring Out Wild Bells].

As the long-drawn election season winds down to choose a new government, two distinct aspects of it are discernible. The first is the agenda of development and its architect, Narendra Modi that dominated this election and the second, the increasingly distortive role played by the Indian media as it reported (or misreported) the election campaign. 
The outcome of the election has been clear since Narendra Modi opened his campaign with a rally in Hyderabad on a hot Sunday afternoon in August last year. The opinion polls, grudgingly reported by a biased English language media have made it increasingly clear that ‘the nation is yearning for a change’, as BJP’s Ravi Sankar Prasad had repeatedly tried to din into the collective thick skull of the media. Only the purblind or the myopic had any doubts about the steadily surging possibility of the next government being formed by the NDA headed by the BJP and Narendra Modi. There may be a tsunami rumbling under, ready to break the surface and change Indian politics forever, but it is safe to assume that the next government will be formed by a party formation led by Narendra Modi. 
From the beginning Narendra Modi tried to steer the election away from the divisive politics of caste and creed, and election-eve largesse that came to dominate Indian elections from its inception. He did not woo this or that caste; did not placate this or that creed nor did he announce reservations and more reservations for this or that section of the electorate. He sought the people’s mandate purely on his projected development agenda. He promised the youth a golden future that is their due. What were his credentials? His development record in Gujarat! What did the media do? It ignored all that. It set out to pick and choose bits and bobs from his speeches, stripped them all out of context and wilfully distorted them. 
The media’s ‘agenda of distortion’ did not begin with its reportage of Narendra Modi’s October 27, 2013 ‘Hunkar rally’ in Patna. It has been doing it since 2002, as detailed in many articles in VOXNDICA. The distortion has only sharpened in shrillness and perhaps in silliness. The rally at Gandhi Maidan was attended by a record number of 300,000 people, not seen since Jaya Pakash Narain.* It was marred by a series of blasts in Patna, intended to subvert it. Modi came to know of the blasts as soon as he arrived in Patna. Had he panicked and cancelled the meeting the inevitable stampede would have killed hundreds of people, many more than the blasts could. Modi retained his composure and addressed the crowd in Bhojpuri and Maithili, two local dialects and in Hindi in his oratorical style. The crowd lapped up every word. He asked the Hindus, whether they would rather fight poverty and backwardness than they did the Muslims. He asked the Muslims whether they would rather fight poverty and backwardness than they did the Hindus
An objective media would have highlighted his composure in the face of an obvious terror attack which saved many lives and the progressive vision which he tried to project while addressing the gathering. Instead, it chose to dissect whether or not Modi was accurate in his historical references, taking a cue from either misunderstood, or malicious tweets from some foot soldiers of the Congress dynasty. As he was addressing a rally in Bihar it was but natural for him to invoke the pride of Bihar, the Nalanda University and as a comparison invoke the name of Takshila the way people speak of Oxford and Cambridge. When people speak of Oxford and Cambridge they do not mean that the two universities are in the same place. Similarly when people speak of India’s two ancient universities Nalanda and Takshila they do not mean that they are in the same place. Yet this was the nitpicking that the media resorted to ignoring the central idea of the speech. The media dissected every word Modi and his lieutenant, Amit Shah uttered. It analysed every gesture and utterance of his other party colleagues to find dissonance. If there were none they simply invented and substituted it. It analysed their opponents too, but always gave them the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes in order to balance their opponents’ misdemeanours they had to read meanings into Modi’s and Shah’s utterances. Thus was ‘revenge’ read into Amit Shah’s speech in Muzaffarnagar. He and the BJP tried their best to explain, what he sought was ‘electoral’ and not ‘physical’ revenge but the media simply turned a deaf ear. It had to balance Azam Khan’s seditious speech and it would simply not budge. 
On the other side are ranged the Congress party and the so- called Aam Admi Party, a phantom created by the media because it did not want the BJP to walk away with the honours without a challenge. Sonia and Rahul led the Congress party campaign for a large part of it. In spite of reading written speeches scarcely looking at the herded, unenthused audience, Sonia evoked a lot of media hoopla. As for Rahul he shot his mouth off as much as he shot his cuffs. ‘Gujarat has 27 crore unfilled jobs!’ This meant every man, woman and child in the state could take up four-and- a-half jobs, which the wicked Narendra Modi was denying them! 
The media realized to its dismay that the mother and son duo was not getting enough traction to head off the challenger, Modi. It needed a deus ex machina. The French phrase, deus ex machina (pronounced əs ĕks mäkə-nə) means ‘an unexpected, artificial or improbable character introduced suddenly to resolve a situation’. The media therefore ‘invented’ Priyanka Vadra. Anchors on NDTV and CNNIBN gushed that she was ‘coming’ as if they were announcing the advent of the next prophet
She was never known to address large gatherings or displayed any kind of vision but she would suffice. She had 
confined herself to family boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareilly and interacted with rather than addressed small, ogling groups. But going by the press she was getting, you would think she was going to be next prime minister! Several months ago there was an engineered leak that she was going to contest this election and probably would take on Modi himself! 
The media conditioned itself to interviewing Sonia and Priyanka like royalty, by asking leading questions, which included intended or expected answers. A grunt is taken as affirmation. It makes ‘breaking news’ or a banner headline. Thus when a journalist proffers a mike at Sonia and asks, ‘do you think the BJP is polarising the election’ and she says ‘yes’, that is breaking news. Would you expect her to say no? A paper like The Times of India headlines it the next day as, ‘Sonia says BJP communally polarising the election’! 
*Kanwal, Rahul. (2013). “Narendra Modi rocks Patna, record crowd at Hunkar rally”. India Today. October 27, 2013. Accessible from 

Reproduced from ‘TWISTING FACTS TO SUIT THEORIES' & OTHER SELECTIONS VOXINDICA (2016. Authors Press, New Delhi), pp 146-148

Friday, January 11, 2019

Hinduism (Sanātana Dharma) In Peril?

This is the English translation of the Editorial of Ṛṣipīṭham, Telugu magazine, published in its December 2018 issue. The magazine is edited and published by Brahmasri Sāmavēdam Ṣanmukha Śarma. Brahmasri Śarma is the foremost exponent of our Sanātana Dhārmic lore. His encyclopaedic knowledge and felicity of expression that makes complex tātvic principles intelligible to common people attract large audiences to his discourses in India and many other nations. Apart from public meetings he appears on several television channels to give discourses on our ancient wisdom. He is a prolific writer and produced many books on Sanātana Dhārmic literature. The translated version of the editorial is published with permission.  

“This is the twenty-first century. We have been progressing technologically and scientifically. Globalization has erased national boundaries. Is it necessary in this day and age to harbor religious chauvinism? Does religion really matter? Let us eschew narrow-minded religiosity.  What the country needs is development. Basic necessities like food, water and infrastructure facilities like roads … these should get our attention rather than religion.” 

These are lofty ideals. As the poet said they are “Good sentences and well pronounced!” But they are preached only to Hindus. Or are only uttered by Hindus! There may be broadminded people in other faiths too but they remain mute. And remain faithful to their religious institutions.

How ideal would it be if everyone practiced their religion in individual or family settings without disturbing social harmony! But do we see such an atmosphere in India? The intolerance of non-Hindu religions towards Hinduism is a fact of everyday life that cannot be concealed. It is a perilous reality that the Indian polity has been ignoring.

A few months ago the pontiff of a non-Hindu religion clearly and unambiguously pronounced “We should elect a leader who accords precedence to our religion. Only our religion should rule the nation.” Another non-Hindu religion has been giving a similar call for long. It must be noted that no Hindu pontiff resorted to such pronouncements.

Does any public or media ‘intellectual’ ask “Should such calls be permitted in a nation that is constitutionally secular?” Neither do our political leaders condemn such demands. On the other hand they lose no opportunity to propitiate the proponents of non-Hindu religions. They offer to construct monumental places of worship for them and allot hundreds of acres of public land although such deeds are ultra vires of the Indian Constitution. They are allotting hundreds of crores for their religious festivals. While the Hindu places of worship are state-controlled and income from them expropriated, places of worship of non-Hindu religions are beyond the ken of common law. Governments cannot demand that income from their places of worship be used for ‘secular’, even developmental purposes. On the one hand Indian states grapple with deficit budgets and on the other they shower largesse on non-Hindu religious institutions.

The actions of some state governments and pronouncements of the highest judiciary have the effect of undermining ancient temple practices and traditions that stood the test of time for thousands of years. Even state governments led by parties that are ideologically atheist have succumbed to the diktats of non-Hindu religious interests to coerce Hindu organizations. Statutes are amended to appoint non-Hindus to temple management boards.[1] In the national congregation of a non-Hindu religion recently organized in Secunderabad, a resolution was passed to the effect that its adherents should work collectively to bring to power a government in which their religion has a veto.

In a recent bizarre incident, adherents of a non-Hindu religion who went to ‘bless’ a Hindu Chief Minister signaled that he should erase the tilak on his forehead, and he meekly obliged! Incidents such as these should have raised the hackles of Hindus but lamentably it did not happen.

A slogan painted in large letters on a sacred hillside on the way to a famous Siva shrine in Andhra Pradesh declared that the ‘god’s messenger’ of a non-Hindu religion was the ‘Lord of all’. When a few Hindu devotees sought to erase it, they were arrested by the police and cases booked against them as ‘rowdy sheeters’. The charge against them was that they were disturbing communal harmony! What did the original slogan-painters do? This incident shows not just the state government’s anti-Hindu approach but how it accords preferential treatment to non-Hindu religions.  

Curiously the two non-Hindu religions don’t take on each other. Their collective target is Hinduism. It is only hapless Hindus who convert to other religions. Forgetting that their ancestors were Hindus, adherents of these non-Hindu religions openly keep abusing Hindu gods and goddesses. In many organizations adherents of the non-Hindu religions coerce their Hindu subordinates to convert. If they do not obey they are penalized. Their career progression is hampered.

In organizations in which non-Hindus rule the roost, applications submitted by Hindus are often binned or action on them inordinately delayed. The situation prevails even in security and law enforcement departments. The oppressed Hindus are afraid of bringing the realities out into the open. Many of them quietly convert succumbing to allurements or coercion. This is not to say that non-Hindus should not occupy superior positions. All citizens of this country should enjoy equal rights and have equal opportunities. But shouldn’t people in positions of power discharge their duties justly instead of using their positions and powers as coercive weapons for spreading their religion? It is time Hindus woke up and refused to tolerate political leaders of whichever hue, who pander to other religions and coerce Hindus. It is due to corruption in the Hindu religious and endowments departments and aggression of other religions that the Hindu temples are in a pitiable state.

A religion based political party which committed atrocities against Hindus before independence (but for Sardar Patel they would have ‘ruled’ the erstwhile princely State) has been indulged by all political parties in power in ‘secular India! It continues to spew venom against Hindus. If anyone points this out they are labelled ‘Hindu chauvinist’. Those who call for ‘one nation, one community, one law’ are labelled ‘religious bigots’.

All in all it is a scary scenario for the Hindus. They should wake up; be aware of the impending danger and get ready for self-protection. If not their apathy would undermine the nation’s progress. If the Hindus do not act, they will be reduced to the status of second class citizens as in Kashmir and North Eastern states. They should remember that even if they decide to run away, there is no other nation in the world to give them asylum!

[1] In a landmark judgement, the move to appoint non-Hindus to Hindu temple management boards has been struck down by the Kerala High Court. SeeDevaswom Commissioner of Travancore/Cochin Devaswom Board Will Always Be A Hindu, Declares Kerala HC”. 2018. November 25, 2018. Accessible from

Friday, December 14, 2018

Undermining Democratic Institutions: Fact And Fiction

Ever since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, the charge of “undermining institutions” has been a constant refrain in what is popularly but not factually known as the mainstream media. He has been accused of “undermining” every known institution from the Indian Council of Historical Research to the Reserve Bank of India. The raucous babble reached its crescendo after Urjit Patel (a Modi appointee) announced his resignation for personal reasons as the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. The crescendo reached even a higher pitch after Shaktikanta Das a former IAS official was appointed as RBI Governor to replace Patel. Notwithstanding the fact that he served as the Revenue Secretary, the Economic Affairs Secretary and as a member of the Fifteenth Finance Commission, it was his educational qualifications that became the bone of contention.

It must be remembered that when Modi assumed charge as prime minister he left most of the ‘steel frame’ that he inherited in place except for a few minor changes. It is against this backdrop, it may be instructive to look back and review who “undermined institutions” the most. Jawaharlal Nehru ruled for nearly eighteen years since he became the interim prime minster in 1946 till his death in 1964. His daughter Indira ruled the nation for sixteen years, from 1966 to 1977 and from 1980 till her death in 1984. Her son Rajiv ruled the nation between 1984 and 1989. His wife Sonia ruled by proxy between 2004 and 2014. Political chicanery of that magnitude – which amounts to nothing less than undermining the highest political office in the land – would not have been possible in any other democracy in the world.

Deception, Disinformation and Psychological Operations have been originally employed by intelligence agencies but politicians caught on to them fast. The Congress party has for long invested in an ecosystem of academic institutions and the media. They come in handy to discredit and disarm political rivals by deception, disinformation and psychological operations. Coming back to the issue of “undermining institutions”, here is a non-exhaustive list of examples of how institutions were undermined or worse sabotaged to suit political whims and fancies under various Congress leaders.

Jawaharlal Nehru

Let us begin with the reign of Jawaharlal Nehru who has been hailed as an epitome of democratic values.

Curtailing freedom of expression India’s best and brightest minds toiled for about three years to craft the longest written Constitution of the world. It was adopted on January 26, 1950. Even before the ink on the original Constitution dried, Nehru proposed the first amendment. The Americans amended their Constitution about thirty times in two hundred and forty years while we enacted a hundred and one amendments in seventy years. Whereas the American first amendment strengthened freedom of expression, Nehru’s first amendment, enacted on June 18, 1951 curtailed freedom of expression.

Curtailing powers of the judiciary The Indian first amendment did more. It created the Ninth Schedule which barred judicial scrutiny of legislations included in it.

Downgrading the Finance Ministry Enamoured as he was of the Soviet system of governance, he created the Planning Commission an extra-Constitutional body, which in a way reduced the importance of the Finance Ministry.

Dismissing state governments When Nehru used the Art. 356 of the Indian Constitution to dismiss the Kerala state government in 1959, he set a dubious precedent.

Undermining the Cabinet and Parliament Nehru took many decisions which have had long-lasting adverse effects without consulting the parliament or his own cabinet, thus undermining the institutions. The decisions include

Calling a ceasefire in Jammu & Kashmir in October 1947 when the Indian army was winning the war. The effect of this ill-advised decision was to lose a third of the state and altering international borders with India’s neighbours. Had India retained PoK, we would have retained Gilgit-Baltistan too. We would have had a border with Afghanistan. His decision to refer the issue to the UNO was equally inexplicable.

Dilly-dallying on Junagadh and Hyderabad against the wishes of the Cabinet. But for Patel’s timely action, these states would now have been part of Pakistan.

Concealing intelligence reports about the construction of a mountain road network in Aksai Chin by the Chinese.

Withdrawing unilaterally the extra-territorial rights in Tibet which India inherited from the British.

Sacrificing Tibet by accepting the Chinese claim that Tibet was a part of it.

[The last two ill-advised decisions removed a buffer state between India and China.]

Refusing to accept United Nations Security Council seat when it was offered on a platter to India but instead demanding that it be granted to China.

Refusing accession of Kalat and Nepal At the time of partition, a few neighbouring States wished to accede to India. These include Nepal and the Kingdom of Kalat which forms a large part of modern Baluchistan. Nehru rejected them. Oman which owned the port of Gwadar on the southwest coast of Baluchistan offered to sell it to India. Again for reasons best known to him Nehru rejected the offer.

The worst undermining of all was refusing to look after the needs of the Indian armed forces in terms of manpower recruitment and training and equipment.

Inducting dynastic succession. Nehru made his sister Vijayalakshmi ambassador to the United Nations and the USSR. His daughter Indira was unofficially Nehru’s personal assistant through his years as the prime minister. This made her privy to government documents despite the Official Secrets Act. Later he made his daughter the president of AICC.

Awarding himself the Bharat Ratna The award is recommended by the prime minister. But Nehru was the first recipient of the award in the year of its institution. Nehru’s apologists argue that Rajendra Prasad did it off his own bat to signal truce between them but nothing prevented Nehru from refusing to accept it. 

Indira Gandhi

Revocation of Privy Purses to the former Maharajas. It was a sovereign guarantee given to them by the Constituent Assembly. Her action amounted to undermining the authority of the parliament.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s she had had several judicial reverses. They include the Bank Nationalization case, the Privy Purses case and the Fundamental Rights case. Unlike her father who simply amended the Constitution in response to adverse judicial verdicts, she went a step ahead and undermined the judiciary itself. Within hours after the verdict in the Fundamental Rights case was delivered in 1973, she superseded several judges and appointed a pliant judge as the CJI.

Refusing to heed the judicial verdict about her parliament seat.

Declaring the (internal) Emergency which undermined democracy itself. Technically the (external) Emergency declared in 1962 after the Chinese invasion was still in force. Neither her father nor she saw it necessary to repeal it! Fundamental rights including the right to life suspended.

Dismissing state governments and Governors at will.

Her refusal to accept a split in the Congress party and her lust for power led to the 1969 Gujarat riots which lasted – six months – and resulted in the death of about 5000 people. The 1983 Nellie massacre in which 3000 Muslims were killed occurred in Indira’s reign. By the by, more than 90% of communal riots in India occurred during the reigns of Jawaharlal, Indira and Rajiv.

Making her son Snjay a supra-Constitutional authority. Chief Ministers danced to his tunes.

Her propping up Bhindranwale to undermine the Akalis and her war on the Golden temple.

Awarding herself the Bharat Ratna This time the fig leaf of Rajendra Prasad was not there.

An action that has long-lasting adverse effects was handing over the universities and other intellectual institutions to the left-illiberal elite as a quid pro quo for political support.

Rajiv Gandhi

His reign began with the Sikh genocide, in which between 8000 and 10000 Sikhs were killed. The genocide was a blot on democracy, and the biggest undermining of the institution of democracy.

Sacking his Finance Minister to alter the import policy (for importing PTA and other chemicals used in the manufacture of polyester fibre). This was to favour Dhirubhai Ambani. The policy declaration was a replica (or was it a template) of the 2G spectrum auction.

His grandfather sought to control freedom of expression through his first amendment. His mother used carrots and sticks to reign in the media. He sought to control the media through an amendment to the Posts and Telegraphs Act, but had to drop it due to widespread criticism.

He sacked his Foreign Secretary, A. P. Venkateswaran in a press conference

Sonia Maino (the de facto PM)

Creation of the institution of ‘UPA Chairperson’. It was an extra-Constitutional authority.

Creation of the extra-Constitutional NAC which was a supra-Cabinet superintending the work of the prime minister’s Cabinet.

Commissioning social “activists” like Teesta Setalvad to draft legislation (the impugned Communal Violence Bill) and school text books.

Now let us see the other argument about an IAS officer being appointed as the Governor of RBI. The following RBI Governors were from the IAS: B. Rama Rau, K. G Ambegaonkar, H. V. R. Iyengar, L. K. Jha, S. Jagannathan, R. N. Malhotra, S. Venkateswaran and Y. V. Reddy.

Finally, let us look at the argument that only economists should head economic institutions. In the years between 1970–1973; 1976–1983; 1985–1987; 1990–1997; 2000–2013 and 2017–2018 Americans won the Nobel Prize for economics. India’s Amartya Sen won it in 1998 giving us bragging rights! While the Americans won the maximum number of economics Nobel prizes or shared them with others, the American economy has had its ups and downs. The American economy saw recession in the years 1969-70; 1973-75; 1980-82; the early 1990s; the early 2000s and the worst in 2007-8. The 2008 collapse wiped out life’s savings of many Americans including Indian expatriates, making millions paupers overnight. So much for economists!

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Is Astrology Science Or Superstition?

Excerpted from ‘TWISTING FACTS TO SUIT THEORIES’ AND OTHER SELECTIONS FROM VOXINDICA. (2016). Authors Press New Delhi. pp. 434-439

On the eve of the May 2014 general elections, several Telugu news channels conducted what they call ‘panel discussions’ on astrology. It would be a mistake to expect ‘panel discussions’ on television to be objective in which the two sides of the issues under discussion are debated and rational conclusions arrived at. There is nothing rational or scientific about the debates. The subjects are selected based on their topicality to arouse viewer interest and are subject to two limitations: the channel’s political worldview and the political correctness of the subject. Commercial interests of course, determine a channel’s political worldview. As for political correctness, it depends on whether there would be a backlash. Even the most intrepid champions of freedom of speech tread cautiously in the face of a suspected backlash. If they are sure there would be no backlash, they would go overboard flogging the issue. There is no need to state the converse.

In the discussions on astrology, a couple of ‘not very articulate’ astrologers were pitted against rabble rousing rationalists and asked to predict the outcome of the elections. Despite protestations that Jyothisha predictions should not be made without sufficient data they were made to predict electoral outcomes, only to be jeered at. The anchors saw to it that the odd articulate astrologer did not get enough air time. He was simply shouted down in cacophony.

The overt objection of the rationalists to astrology is that it is unscientific. If the objections were really ‘scientific’, they should have objected to such disciplines as craniometry (measurement of the head), phrenology (measurement of the skull) and nasal indices as predictors of race not to speak of the wholly unscientific Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT)—which was based not on historical or archaeological evidence but on comparative philology!

Their unstated, underlying objection could be that it is a Hindu discipline! The rationalists, with their pathological rather than logical hatred for everything Hindu forget that the original Jyothisha Vedänga concerned itself with astronomy, not astrology. The primary objective of this Vedic addendum (of the Rig and Yajur Vedas) was in the preparation of almanacs. The Indian almanac writers known as Siddhantis have been producing accurate almanacs for hundreds of years. The predictive discipline of astrology was a latter-day offshoot, just as psephology was an offshoot of political science which itself can hardly be described as science. The question that the faux rationalists should seriously introspect is, ‘Why do they unquestioningly believe in psephology while they equally irrationally disbelieve in astrology?’

What logical arguments do the rationalists offer in support of their contention that astrology is unscientific? Do they offer cogent reasoning and verifiable proofs? No, just an arrogant and unsubstantiated assertion that it is ‘impossible’! In the history of science, there are many examples which disprove the theory of ‘impossibility’ when subsequent discoveries upturned confident assertions. For example, in 1800, the English scientist, John Dalton proposed that the atom was the smallest particle of elements and was indestructible.

Eysenck and Nias list several ‘impossibility’ theories which fell flat when subsequent discoveries disproved them.[1] In 1933 Albert Einstein and Ernest Rutherford two of the world’s greatest physicists declared that the splitting of an atom could have no practical uses. Just twelve years later America dropped its bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many countries in the world today harness the energy released by the splitting of an atom for peaceful uses.

Galileo, Kepler and Copernicus, all dismissed the theory that oceanic tides were caused by the moon as ‘astrological nonsense’. Johannes Muller, a very reputed nineteenth century physiologist and the author of an authoritative monograph on the subject, declared that measuring the speed of a nervous impulse would never be possible. Only three years later Helmholtz had measured it quite accurately.

What is science and what are the criteria that should be satisfied for a discipline to be declared scientific? Eysenck and Nias suggest three methodologies. Sir Francis Bacon’s induction method involves collection of facts and a theory hypothesized based on them. The Vienna School of Logical positivism suggests that a theory is proposed which is then verified or disproved by research. Then there is Sir Karl Popper’s argument that no theory can be finally verified as, even after a theory is verified umpteen times, one more experiment might still disprove it. The catch in this proposition is that Popper believes that ‘a theory is scientific if it is open, not to being proved true (which it never can) but to being proved wrong’. The authors argue that none of these methodologies were ever applied to astrology before disqualifying it as science.

A generally accepted criterion for a scientific theory is that its results should be replicable, i.e. it should yield predictable results and that the same results should be obtained in repeated experiments. Let us consider the example of modern medicine to validate this theory. Medical magazines regularly publish clinical trial reports of medical, surgical, radiological or other procedures used in the treatment of diseases. The reports very rarely report 100% cure rates with several trials reporting as low as 60-70% success rates. This means the results of curative procedures used in modern medicine are not always replicable. In spite of this anomaly, none disputes that modern medicine is a scientific discipline. ‘Statistical significance’ (rather than absolute conformity) is an accepted criterion for validation of results in ‘double blind cross over’ clinical trials used to study the efficacy of medicines. A majority of rationalists appear to be unaware of such nuances in scientific criteria.

While Eysenck and Nias do not explicitly say that astrology is a scientific discipline, they do not dismiss it as superstition either. They argue that more data is needed to come to a definite conclusion and more research. They cite the work of Michel and Francoise Gauquelin to support their view. Eysenck and Nias describe the Gauquelins as ‘a rare combination, possessing both a detailed knowledge of astrology and a genuine scientific outlook based on a formal academic training.’ The Gauquelins were not astrologers but professional psychologists steeped in the ways of research. Their work in cosmobiology found a positive correlation between certain personality traits (which determine professional success) and planetary positions at the time of birth. Here is a brief account of the work of the Gauquelins that may be instructive:

The Gauquelins began their work by analyzing 576 members of the French Academy of Medicine, ‘who had achieved academic distinction by virtue of their research’. They found that the doctors were all born when Mars or Saturn had just risen or just passed midheaven. In order to validate the theory, the Gauquelins tried to replicate their experiment with another group of 508 doctors with similar antecedents. The replication conformed to the original observation.

Encouraged and intrigued by the results they extended the research to include other professionals in Belgium, Germany, Holland and Italy and reviewed 25,000 birth dates. When they contrasted 5,100 successful artists with 3,647 successful scientists they found quite interestingly that while the scientists were born when Saturn has just risen or was past midheaven, the artists tended to avoid being born under the planet.

Similarly when they reviewed the birth charts of 3,438 military leaders, in 680 cases (against 590 sufficient for statistical significance) they found that Mars considered the symbol of the god of war had risen or was past midheaven.

In order to confirm the results the researchers studied control groups selected from the general population and concluded that the planetary positions as mentioned occurred only for the births of the famous and distinguished. The results seem to indicate that these planets are ‘related to destiny, success and good fortune’.

A corollary to the observations already made was the predictability of certain character traits found in business leaders and successful sportspersons. It was found that those with birth times associated with Mars were seen to have greater determination and iron will. A study that reviewed the birth charts of 2,089 sportspersons, 1,409 actors and 3,647 scientists could predict personality factors like ‘extravert’, ‘introvert’, ‘unstable’ and ‘tough-minded’.

The researchers made quite a few other interesting observations in their studies. It is not possible to include them all here for want of space. However one point deserves mention. Invariably the results the researches obtained conformed to naturally occurring births and not artificially induced ones. This means that human hand cannot design destiny. It has to be ordained by the Gods!

Eysenck and Nias conclude that “the time has come to state quite unequivocally that a new science is in process of being born.”

It may be apt to remember what Bertrand Russel said on ‘the value of scepticism’: “When the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain.”

[1] Eysenck, H. J., and Nias, D.K.B. (1984). Astrology Science or Superstition? Penguin Books. New York.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Learning or Political Conditioning?

If we are asked to name a singular, monumental failure of independent India, we can unhesitatingly point out that it was our inability to forge a national spirit. Every institution contributed to this failure including the education system. This essay excerpted from ‘TWISTING FACTS TO SUIT THEORIES’ AND OTHER SELECTIONS FROM VOXINIDCA’ (pp. 290-298) examines the role played by text books written for school students and how they contributed to exacerbate rather than reduce caste schism. In particular it critiques the Class IX social science text book published by NCERT in 2007.  

In common understanding, learning means the acquisition of knowledge and skills. In terms of behavioural sciences learning implies acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitude resulting in permanent change in behaviour. It is attitude that informs thought processes and character. This is the reason why traditional Bharatiya education focused on shaping attitude and character. Behaviour has two other modifiers: experience and conditioning. Experience is gained by repeated application of knowledge and skills. Conditioning is the result of positive or negative experiences. Conditioning is the rationale underlying the ‘carrot and stick’ principle of motivation. However, hardened attitude can sometimes override knowledge and skills in shaping behaviour. For example, erudition may not bar a university professor from becoming a criminal; or a well-educated highly-paid individual from becoming a terrorist. The focus of traditional Bharatiya education on behaviour and character was to defy experiential conditioning. It was to tread the path of righteousness irrespective of positive or negative experiences.

The three dimensions of learning are: education which helps in the acquisition of knowledge; training which helps in the acquisition of skills and development which implies positive modification of behaviour of a permanent nature. Competence is the ability to selectively apply knowledge, skills and behaviour to suit the context, to achieve desired results or performance. The objective of learning that we impart in schools and colleges is to inculcate all three. Viewed in the light of this preamble, how do the NCERT textbooks shape thought, attitude, character and behaviour? The NCERT Social Science textbook for Class IX, published in 2007, is rather grandiosely introduced to the reader:

“All too often in the past, the history of the modern world was associated with the history of the west. It was as if change and progress happened only in the west. As if the histories of other countries were frozen in time, they were motionless and static. People in the west were seen as enterprising, innovative, scientific, industrious, efficient and willing to change. People in the east—or in Africa and South America—were considered traditional, lazy, superstitious, and resistant to change.”[1]

After reading this, the reader is likely to be confused by the introductory part of ‘Section I’, as it interprets the ideas that shaped India’s freedom movement. The latter informs the reader that ideas like liberty and equality, products of the French Revolution and socialism, product of the Russian Revolution, have informed anti-colonial movements in India and China. It mirrors the Western view that Gandhi was inspired by Rousseau, the French Revolution and Thoreau.

The chapter on ‘Socialism in Europe and the Russian Revolution’ (p. 25-48), written by Prof. Hari Vasudevan of the Calcutta University, describes the origins of the Russian Revolution in glowing terms:

“The political trends were signs of a new time. It was a time of profound social and economic changes. It was a time when new cities came up and new industrialised regions developed, railways expanded and the Industrial Revolution occurred.” (p. 26)

To say that the chapter is economical with the truth would be an understatement, as what it does not mention about the Russian Revolution is perhaps at least as important as what it does. For example it bypasses the more fundamental question that strikes anyone interested in the history of Communism: “Why did a doctrine premised on proletarian revolution in industrial societies come to power only in predominantly agrarian ones, by Marxist definition those least prepared for ‘socialism’?”[2]  Nor does it mention that “Communism’s recourse to ‘permanent civil war’ rested on the ‘scientific’ Marxist belief in class struggle as the ‘violent midwife of history’, in Marx’s famous metaphor”. (Ibid. p. xix)

The one party rule which suppressed democratic rights, the reprisals, the forced labour camps, the executions all get passing mention as if they were minor, insignificant details. The chapter mentions the severe reprisals, deportations and exiles meted out to those who were opposed to Stalin’s collectivization programme. But there is no mention of the suppression of the right to free speech, an issue so dear to the ever-agitating Indian communists. There is also no mention that an estimated 100 million lives were sacrificed at the altar of the ‘class struggle that was the violent midwife of history’, the world over, and about 20 million deaths in the erstwhile Soviet Union alone. The Chinese version of Marxist Communism, to which a majority of Indian communists owe allegiance, consumed a staggering 65 million lives in its class struggles. (Ibid. p. 4)

The introductory part of ‘Section I mentions in passing that ‘[t]oday Soviet Union has broken up and socialism is in crisis ...’ But the chapter on Russian Revolution was not revised to reflect these changes in the 2007 edition, brought out a good sixteen years after the implosion of the Soviet Union and the larger Communist world. The following passage almost gives the impression that socialism (or Communism) continues to rule about half of the world, as it did earlier and that the USSR is alive and kicking:

“By the end of the twentieth century, the international reputation of the USSR as a socialist country had declined though it was recognised that socialist ideals still enjoyed respect among its people. But in each country the ideas of socialism were rethought in a variety of different ways.”

Is there a deliberate attempt to downplay the excesses of the Moguls and the Communists, and the decline of Communism on the one hand and magnify social distinctions in the Hindu society on the other? The two anecdotes ‘Caste and cricket’ (p.151)[3] and ‘Caste Conflict and Dress Change’ (p. 168)[4] are pointers. ‘Caste and cricket’ is about the Indian cricketer, Babaji Palwankar Baloo (1876-1955). It repeatedly says he played for ‘Hindus’ and despite being very talented, never made captain of ‘Hindus’ because of caste discrimination. In point of fact he played for the Hindu club, Deccan Gymkhana[5] in Pune. In those days there was the European Gymkhana, the Parsi Gymkhana (the first non-European club), the Hindu Gymkhana and the Muslim Gymkhana, as the British refused to recognise India as a single national entity. The four played the ‘Bombay Quadrangular’ tournament which eventually expanded to the ‘Bombay Pentangular’ with the inclusion of the ‘Rest’. Palwankar was initially rolling, watering and tending the pitch in a European sports club. The Europeans used him in net practice where his bowling talent was noted. He recounted that the Europeans never allowed him to bat even in the nets. Eventually he was included in the Deccan Gymkhana team. Palwankar later moved to Bombay and played for the ‘Parmanandas Jivandas Hindu Gymkhana’ club. The anecdote omits several important facts which would have put the ‘caste’ issue in its proper perspective. There was a tussle between the conservative and progressive members of the Hindu Gymkhana for the inclusion of Palwankar in the team and the progressives eventually prevailed. It would be more appropriate to point out that Palwankar’s talent prevailed. At a function to honour Palwankar, the well-known freedom fighter Mahadev Govind Ranade, a Brahmin, garlanded him and chided his teammates for their caste discrimination. At about the same time, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak (another Brahmin) praised him. There was a tussle (again) between the conservatives and progressives in the Hindu Gymkhana when it was time to appoint a new captain for the team. What was left unsaid was there was a valid cricketing reason[6], at least in those days, for not making him captain:

“[Palwankar] Baloo was the team’s main bowler, and it has traditionally been thought that batsmen make better captains than bowlers. Bowlers, it is thought, have to think about their own bowling while on the field while batsmen do not have any personal responsibility and can thus focus on the broader game.”

The progressives won again and Palwankar’s brother Vithal was eventually made captain in 1924, by which time Palwankar retired. The Hindu Mahasabha fielded Palwankar in an election to the Bombay Municipality in 1933, against an upper caste candidate. The Congress party fielded Palwankar against B. R. Ambedkar in the Bombay Legislative Assembly elections in 1937.

On page 145 there is another boxed anecdote, about Tom Brown’s Schooldays, a novel published a hundred and fifty years ago. The anecdote has been included because there is a conversation about cricket in it. The book has been prescribed as a non-detailed text for high school students for decades, as a legacy from colonial pedagogy; just as sections of the Bible were included in syllabi for university students pursuing masters in English. The excerpt of the conversation between Arthur and Tom discussing the virtues of cricket is perhaps understandable. But it is difficult to comprehend the objective with which the following introduction of the novel was included:

“Thomas Hughes (1822-1896) [...] wrote a novel, Tom Brown’s Schooldays. The book published in 1857, became popular and helped spread the ideas of what came to be called muscular Christianity that believed that healthy citizens had to be moulded through Christian ideals and sports. [...] In this book Tom Brown is transformed from a nervous, homesick, timid boy into a robust, manly student. He becomes a heroic figure recognised for his physical courage, sportsmanship, loyalty and patriotism.” (Italics added.)

What is the effect of these lines on young, impressionable minds? If one were to put it bluntly, does it or not promote ‘muscular Christianity’? If the authors wanted to introduce a cricket anecdote from literature there are many to choose from. A funny, satirical account of the game “A Village Cricket Match” appeared in A. G. Macdonnell’s ‘England, Their England’ (1933). In fact, the book became immensely popular because of the description of the cricket match between a village cricket team and a London team. Christopher Nicholson wrote in 2004:

“No other account of a cricket match, or indeed any sporting occasion, has been as amusingly described nor is as replete with historical, social and political allusions.” (Italics added.)[7]

The history that is taught in our schools appears to be replete with inaccuracies, flawed, incomplete or politically slanted narratives. The syllabus does not seem to have been revised, going by the information available in the NCERT website. The rewriting of history in India does not have the brazenness associated with the rewriting of history envisioned by Orwell in his dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is far subtler and for that reason more insidious. In the novel, the function of Minitrue (ministry of truth) was to constantly rewrite history to suit the current philosophy and objectives of the rulers. One should remember, Orwell wrote about the rewriting of history in Oceania, a nation with a one-party rule. If India were ever to come under a one-party rule, well, the mind boggles to imagine the consequences! It would be naïve to dismiss the writing of history in contemporary India does not have anything to do with such an objective! Fortunately, there is no need to wrestle with a boggling mind about the consequences of one-party rule under Communism. Betrand Russell summed it up for us, eight decades ago and about six-and-a-half decades before the religion called Communism imploded:

“Communism is not democratic. What it calls the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is in fact the dictatorship of a small minority, who become an oligarchic governing class. […] To suppose that it will always act for the general good is mere foolish idealism, and is contrary to Marxian political ideology.” (Italics added.)[8]

Russell disabused the gullible of any mistaken notions they might harbor about Communism being some kind of democracy in which all citizens would have a say:

Communism restricts liberty, particularly intellectual liberty, more than any other system except Fascism. The complete unification of both economic and political power produces a terrifying engine of oppression, in which there are no loopholes for exceptions.” (Italics added.)[9]

As if he was answering the snake-oil salesmen who have been extolling the virtues of Communist dogma, he unequivocally explained why there would be no progress under Communist rule:

“Under such a system, progress would soon become impossible, since it is the nature of the bureaucrats to object to all change except increase in their own power. All serious innovation is only rendered possible by some accident enabling unpopular persons to survive. Kepler lived by astrology, Darwin by inherited wealth, Marx by Engel’s ‘exploitation’ of the proletariat of Manchester. Such opportunities of surviving in spite of unpopularity would be impossible under Communism.” (Italics added.)[10]

[1] Bhattacharya, Neeladri. “History and a Changing World” In India and the Contemporary World—I (Textbook in History for Class IX. (2007). Publications Department, NCERT. New Delhi.

[2] Courtois, Stéphane, Werth, Nicolas, Panné, Jean-Louis, Paczkowski, Andrzej, Bartosek, Karel and Margolin, Jean-Louis. (1999). The Black Book of Communism—Crimes Terror Repression (Translated by Murphy, Jonathan and Kramer, Mark. Consulting Editor: Kramer, Mark). London. Harvard University Press. p. xix

[3] Kesavan, Mukul. “History of Sport: The Story of Cricket” (pp. 141-158).The chapter is drawn mainly from: Guha, Ramachandra. (2002). “A Corner of a Foreign Field: The Indian History of a British Sport.” Picador. Chapter VII.

[4] Nair, Janaki. “Clothing: A Social History” (pp. 159-178) (Textbook in History for Class IX. (2007). Publications Department, NCERT. New Delhi.

[5] Guha, Ramachandra. “Cricket and Politics in Colonial India”. Past and Present. No. 161. Nov. 1998. (pp. 155-190). p. 170. Accessible from

[6] Ansari, Muneeb (2011). “The Bombay Quadrangular: Cricket as a Political Forum in India.” May 2011. Accessible from p. 11 Footnote.

[7] Nicholson, Christopher. (2004). “The Funniest Cricket Match Ever”. Accessible from

[8] Russell, Bertrand. (1935). “IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS AND OTHER ESSAYS”. Sixth Impression (1970). Unwin Books. London. p. 70.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.