Saturday, November 8, 2014

Who owns India?

After the idea of India has been debated endlessly for years, here comes a new debate: Who owns India? This provocative question was posed by Gopalkrishna Gandhi in his public lecture under the Indian Academy of Sciences auspices  at IIT Madras yesterday.

It appeared that the real question posed was not who owns India, but who thinks they own India. This question can have many answers, some of which were proposed by the speaker in his talk, using the north/south paradigm. These started with the geographic north of India  which has always imposed it's political hegemony on the south. While the presidentship of India has rested many times with those from the south, although C. Rajagopalachari, one the speaker's two distinguished grandfathers,  had to yield his claim to the first presidentship to Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the north's claims to the prime ministership, the executive headship of the nation,  have been consistent, with P. V. Narasimha Rao and K. Deve Gowda having been the two exceptions.  The other exception to the rule, has been Kamaraj's astute stewardship of the country during the crucial transitions after the sad demises of Nehru and Shastri, one after the other. The north has also always  been vocal about it's cultural presumptions and lack of knowledge about the south, especially that of the quite major distinctions between southern states. The south has been philosophical about these assumptions, which arise from the more basic assumption of ownership.

However, the geographic north and south are not the only north south divide! There's the techno-economic north and south divide as well. This north south divide exists both between nations and within nations, with the north's paternalistic assumption that the protection of it's own interests also contributes to the 'development' of  the south, being remarkable for its convenience, and for the justification of its actions. A similar divide also exists between genders. It is not even necessary to state which is north here!

The speaker ended with a specific request to the academies. It's necessary to know who owns India (the people of India, it is clear). It is also necessary to know what India owns. The huge resources of India are well documented, especially by the Surveys of India, starting from the Survey of India from 1757, to the Geological Survey of India  also started circa 1857, the Botanical and Zoological Surveys of India, and others.  It would be well if the scientific academies took advantage of this knowledge, to opine on how this wealth could be used to maximally benefit its owners, the people.  This  request was an eye-opener, and we hope it will chart a direction for our scientific bodies.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

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