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An Ode to Ramachandra Guha - Celebrating acidity

Sameer Kochhar, Editor-in-Chief, INCLUSION and author of best-seller, ModiNomics

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) with US President Barack Obama, at Hyderabad House, in New Delhi recently.

Pomposity, self-righteousness and intellectual arrogance are hallmarks of quite a few from the privileged classes who have a Doon School and St Stephen's combination as their educational backgrounds, having been brought up in a Bara Sahib environment, they consider themselves a superior caste to those who have toiled their way up, and horror of horrors are in a position to flaunt it.

Ramachandra Guha, the Doon School-educated 'Stephanian' with an honorary doctorate from Yale, has exemplified all these trends and more in his recent article "The Staggering Vanity of India's Powerful" in The Telegraph recently (Cut according to his cloth - The self-love of the great Indian male) as posted on NDTV Website as well as several others.

He describes Prime Minister Narendra Modi as 'tawdry, tacky....a self-made, semi-educated, political leader' for daring to wear a designer suit while meeting US President Barack Obama. He uses this guttural language while preaching the cause of refined understatement. And egalitarianism. 

He argues that the living, especially from those who have risen from the bottom have to follow a Guhavadi code of ethics on self-promotion. He has no issues with them receiving honorary doctorates (while the lesser mortals really have to work hard to get theirs), or accept awards or pose for pictures as the top 100 intellectuals in the world or even accept a Padma Bhushan in 2009, which most insiders know is available after hectic lobbying or currying favour with powers that be probably for his proficiency in acidic use of English language to preserve the British culture and the related caste system.

He draws the line at the living being honored by naming things after them, e.g., Jagdish Bhagwati Chair. He draws extensively from western examples to say that scientists and scholars should not allow this and anybody who does so is vain and has poor taste. He puts Anil Kumble, C N R Rao, R A Mashelkar and Amartya Sen (who made the mistake of getting a Nobel Prize while still alive) in a similar category of people with poor taste for his refined sensibilities.

I wonder what his views are on Guru Purnima wherein you worship a still alive teacher and not the frozen baba. I would also like to know his views on people allowing their feet to be touched versus only their portraits to be garlanded posthumously. He obviously does not believe in living role models or heroes or any piece of contemporary history that honours the living.

Fortunately I come from the strata that Guha is arguing so vehemently against. I am proud to have even lesser educational qualifications than Modi and the fact that I have managed to publish 14 books so far that have had demonstrated policy impact. I rejoice and celebrate the life and times of the living who made India's reforms possible and pulled millions like me out of abject poverty. I am happy to have instituted C Rangarajan Award, Vijay Kelkar Award, Brother Finn Award and confer these as a celebration rather than the morbidity of memorial lectures when they are out of earshot on the story of how they changed my life. My only regret that R H Patil Award was instituted by me after he is no more and I shall continue to feel terrible about it.

(Sameer Kochhar can be reached at skoch@skoch.in)


Chandan Mitra
senior journalist and MP, Rajya Sabha, 9 Feb 2015

Super piece. Succinctly sums up the morbid reverse snobbery of the perverse

Jaya Jaitly
Founder and President, Dastkari Haat Samiti, 9 Feb 2015

Excellent article in response to the ridiculous piece of Ramachandra Guha.

Prashant Girbane
Director, Pune International Centre, 10 Feb 2015

There are many who absolutely agree with much of what you have written. We need to celebrate heroes in science, technology, economics and public policy as much as (if not more than) others.

Here are my quick observations:
  • Dr. Guha's profession has been one of writing on others achievements and failures (as he perceived them) and he isn't always been too bad at that. However, that's of course very different from 'doing', 'contributing' and 'inspiring'.
  • Dr. Rao, Dr. Rangarajan, Dr. Mashelkar and Dr. Kelkar have been at forefront of 'doing', 'delivering' and through their contributions, 'inspiring' millions in the country.
  • It's sad that Dr. Guha misses this point in his quest to sound ultra objective. 
Vineet Bajpai
Group CEO - TBWA \ India (The Disruption Company), 9 Feb 2015

A very well-written article indeed!

13 Feb 2015

Very well said. You deserve all praise for expressing the feelings of hundreds of “lesser mortals” in the intellectual world today.

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