Sunday, July 07, 2019

The myth of Nehru and the IITs!

The projection of Nehru as a visionary statesman was a carefully crafted enterprise and incorporated into it were many orchestrated myths. These include the establishment of institutions of excellence (officially Institutions of National Importance or INIs) like the IITs and IIMs. It is another matter though that by the time the first IIM was established in November 1961 Nehru had a job explaining about blades of grass and barren lands in the parliament and exactly a year before the Chinese ended his misery — of having to explain about blades of grass and barren lands in the parliament

Were there no institutions of excellence in ‘India that is Bharat’ (as the Constitution describes it) before the scientific-tempered Nehru waved his magic wand to fill the void? It would not please the secular historians if you said there were. But first let us look at what the scientific-tempered Nehru did to the ‘Ministry of Education’ itself, as the ‘Ministry of Human Resources Development’ was known then. 

A look at the range and sweep of functions that the Ministry handles is mind-boggling. To put it succinctly, it determines what we learn about our past; what we do with our present and how we shape our future. The Ministry has two broad divisions, the ‘Department of School Education and Literacy’ and the ‘Department of Higher Education’. The latter superintends a number of institutions which include the University Grants Commission (UGC), the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE), the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the Central Universities, the IITs the IIMs, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) et al. 

In 2014 Abhishek Manu Singhvi was ‘astonished’ to learn that the newly appointed HRD minister was “not [even] a graduate”. Have you ever wondered about the educational qualifications of India’s first Education Minister, chosen by Nehru to superintend a ministry that was to superintend the institutions of excellence and, research and development in science, engineering, technology, not to speak of humanities and social sciences? 

Nehru’s chosen Education Minister was Maulana Sayyid Abul Kalam Ghulam Muhiyuddin Ahmed bin Khairuddin Al-Hussaini Azad! That was a mouthful; wasn’t it? He was born in Mecca but his family relocated to Calcutta in 1890. What were his qualifications for supervising the crucial ministry of education? Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was ‘home-schooled and self-taught’! There need be no objection on that count. A ‘home-schooled and self-taught’ person could turn out to be a genius. But would Nehru have appointed a ‘home-schooled and self-taught’ ‘Shankaracharya’ as India’s education minister? 

Azad’s activities during and after the freedom movement should leave no one in doubt about his inclinations. He inveigled Gandhi and other Congress leaders into supporting the Khilafat movement in far away Turkey, a movement with which India had nothing to do. It was an ill-advised quid pro quo by the Congress leaders for co-opting influential Muslim leaders into the freedom movement; a quid pro quo the nation would live down to regret. Azad and fellow Khilafat leaders Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan along with others founded the Jamia Millia Islamia in Lucknow in 1920. It was later shifted to Delhi. The Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, the precursor of the Aligarh Muslim University had already been in existence since 1875. In another of those secular anomalies of ‘India that is Bharat’, these two institutions of higher learning, funded by the people of India, cater exclusively to the Muslim community. Azad proposed reserving houses vacated by Muslims displaced during partition for Muslims in India. He was in favour of Muslim personal laws as opposed to a uniform civil code (UCC).

Azad helped Nehru in 1936 in the espousal of socialism as party philosophy in the face of opposition from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Babu Rajendra Prasad and C. Rajagopalachari and in his re-election as Congress president in 1937. He resigned as Congress president in 1946 to make way for Nehru to become president. It was then known that the Congress president would become the prime minister as soon as India attained independence. All in all Azad was Nehru’s ‘twin-soul’ and a confidante; worth rewarding with a key portfolio. 

Coming back to the institutions of excellence, were the IITs the first institutions of excellence, established by a visionary Nehru as his sycophants would have us believe?  The history of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) does not fit into the Indian Left Illiberals’ fictitious ‘India’s founding fathers’ narrative with Nehru as its over-arching visionary. 

During a voyage from Yokohama to Vancouver in 1893, Swami Vivekananda impressed the philanthropist-businessman Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata with his views on science:

“How wonderful it would be if we could combine the scientific and technological achievements of the West with the asceticism and humanism of India!”

Jamsetji Tata wrote to Swami Vivekananda five years later in 1898 about his idea of establishing an institution to promote research in science and technology and seeking his co-operation for it.  

A committee was constituted to prepare a blueprint for setting up the institution. Tata bequeathed a substantial part of his own wealth for funding it. Sadly Tata did not live to realise his dream project. He died in 1904. The Queen Regent Vani Vilasa Sannidhana of Mysore (who ruled the princely state on behalf of her minor son Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV) donated 371 acres of land for the institute and the IISc was inaugurated on May 27, 1909. Nehru was all of twenty years when the IISc was born. Ironically, the only linkage Nehru had with the IISc was that he died on the same day in 1964!

And now about the IITs! According to the website of the IIT, Kharagpur (the first IIT), the Honourable Sir Jogendra Singh (member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, Department of Education, Health and Agriculture) set up a committee in 1946 to “consider the setting up of Higher Technical Institutions for post war industrial development in India.” The twenty-two member committee headed by Nalini Ranjan Sarkar recommended the setting up of four Higher Technical Institutions  in the Eastern, Western, Northern and Southern parts of India. They were to be modelled on the lines of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Thus was born the first IIT in May 1950 which initially functioned from Calcutta and later shifted to Kharagpur in September 1950. 

The IIT, Kharagpur began functioning in the Hijli detention camp (renamed Hijli Shaheed Bhavan) where many of our great freedom fighters were detained and some sacrificed their lives for the independence of the country. The hallowed history of the camp is marked by the martyrdom of two freedom fighters, Santosh Kumar Mitra and Tarakeswar Sengupta, whom the British shot dead on September 16, 1931. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose came to the camp, to receive the dead bodies of the martyred freedom fighters. 

The most sordid twist in the saga of the Hijli Shaheed Bhavan was that a part of it was converted into the Nehru Museum of Science and Technology in 1990. The martyrs were dumped on the wayside of history.