Saturday, February 07, 2015

Ram Guha on Indian Leaders' Displays of Self-Love


In an NDTV opinion piece, he ticks off a whole bunch of India's scientific and intellectual elite -- including C.N.R. Rao, R.A. Mashelkar, Amartya Sen, and Jagdish Bhagwati. If you enjoy people bashing big egos, you will like this one a lot. Guha pulls no punches!

It's not all negative, though. Guha does offer a wonderful positive example: Obaid Siddiqi, the founder of the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bengaluru. Here's an excerpt from this section:

To be sure, not all Indian scientists are as boastful as Rao or Mashelkar. One of my own intellectual heroes is the late Obaid Siddiqi, who founded theNational Centre for Biological Sciences, arguably India's most high quality scientific laboratory. Siddiqi, who combined intellectual brilliance with personal rectitude, recruited a team of gifted young scientists and then left them the institute to run. He nurtured an atmosphere of egalitarianism in the NCBS, where juniors could fearlessly challenge seniors and where honorifics such as 'Sir', 'Professor'. were rigorously eschewed. Sadly, not many Indian scientists are cut of the same cloth as Obaid Siddiqi. In their youth, C.N.R. Rao and R.A. Mashelkar undoubtedly did first-rate scientific work. But, rather than allow younger people to take over scientific leadership as they themselves grew older, they consolidated their own position and power. Worse still, they encouraged flattery and chamchagiri, as manifested most spectacularly in Rao allowing a circle to be named after him.


  1. Himanshu Shekhar said...

    Mr Guha is making an issue out of a non issue, when there are certainly more important issues that deserve our attention.
    The idea of big names dominating the scientific discourse makes sense but the logic in this article does not. Mr Guha should remember that science is a human endeavor. Even with all the "objectivity" expected from scientists, they too desire recognition and respect in society.I do admire Dr. Obaid Sidiqqui a lot, but all scientists cannot be expected to work with "humility" in their ivory tower. We want more role models in science to inspire the next generation. In India, how many places or "circles" are names after scientists? We should honor more scientists as a society, not only cricketers, politicians and filmstars. Also, Jagdish Bhagwati or Amartya sen are criticized for no reason here. In the USA, it is quite common to have "faculty chairs" named after prominent living scientists. Often the corpus of these awards is either donated by the scientist or by others who were mentored or inspired by the same scientist.

  2. Anonymous said...

    I also think that Guha's article is a case of over-generalization. There are scientists aplenty in India who fit mre in the Obaid Siddiqui mould rather than resemble the "attention hungry" caricature that he draws of them. Further, it is also not that narcissism among older famous scientists is unheard of outside India. In the hard sciences, James Watson (one of the co-discoverers of the double-helix structure of DNA) comes to mind as an example, although the malady is probably more common outside India in the social sciences and economics.

  3. Anonymous said...

    I have written a (long) post about this issue at my blog here . Best,