Wednesday, November 09, 2005

KR Narayanan (1921-2005) and memories of 1984

Indira Gandhi's death is one of my earliest political memories. I was in the fourth standard then. Our classes were suspended, and we were asked to go home. I remember watching her funeral on TV. Only two houses in our neighborhood had television sets. The house two or three blocks away from our house had a black and white TV. The house three more blocks away had a color TV. Incidentally, the professor who used to live there, is presently the chairman of the University Grants Commission. I watched the funeral on the B&W one. I don't remember seeing or reading anything about the Delhi riots. I think the school restarted after a week or so. The school assembly went on for a longer period as a few of the khadi clad teachers were in no mood to end their eulogies. My sister was in the first standard. On the day of her exam, a month later, I forced her to remember whatever little I knew about Mrs. Gandhi's death. I wanted her to be the first in the class even if there were a few questions outside the text book! She did well but she didn't need to know anything about Indira Gandhi; it was enough to know the color of hibiscus and how to add single digit numbers. My sister and I (mostly) studied in the same school, the same college, the same university, and we chose the same subjects. Thanks to my over enthusiasm on the day of her first exam, never later she took any exam related advice from me!

The general election, my first election (!), was during our vacation break. This is the time I really started reading newspapers. We used to subscribe to The Hindu and three or four Malayalam newspapers. I would read only the Malayalam ones. This is also the time we bought our first transistor radio. The idea of elections charmed me. Over the years that charm has only increased. Back then I did the tabulation of results myself -- losers, winners, majority, number crunching, everything. One had to sit next to the radio not to miss the details of the frequent election bulletins. Now Prannoy Roy does the statistics. Following the elections has become more of a laid back affair.

One newly elected MP from Kerala of the 1984 elections seemed to me to be commanding a lot more respect than others. I sensed this over the dining table talks. This MP won from the Ottappalam loksabha constituency, which is part of the Palakkad - Trissur districts of Kerala. His name was K.R. Narayanan. Thus I knew, from very early on, that the elections are not just about numbers. Individuals matter.

That was K.R. Narayanan's first election too! He went on to win from the same constituency in the next two elections as well, in 1989 and 1991. His succeeding elections of course took him to the highest offices of India. He became the Vice President of India in 1992, and in 1997 he was elected the President. A few years after the 1984 elections, I gradually came to know more about K.R. Narayanan. The respect he commanded made perfect sense.

Here was an intellectual of the highest order who reached the higher echelons despite all possible adversities. Getting educated was a struggle. Being an 'untouchable' of course added to the ill effects of poverty. Each new opportunity came with its share of insults and humiliation. His strength of mind and perseverance prevailed in every fight. See this wiki entry for details of his illustrious career; JRD Tata fellowship to LSE, interactions with academicians of the stature of Harold Laski, Friedrick Hayek and Karl Popper, a brilliant diplomatic career, and brief stints in academics at DSE and JNU. The wiki has also a collection of informative links including Narayanan's 1945 interview with Mahatma Gandhi.

His years at the top saw a lot of churning and restructuring in all spheres in India. The economic reforms, the Babri Masjid demolition, the Gujarat riots and other religious and casteist violence, and the Pokhran blasts, immediately come to mind. His stand was always firmly secular and this did not endear himself to the ruling party leaderships of the day. Narayanan tried hard to remind everyone to abide by the constitution, and he did not always restrict himself to be a ceremonial president. When there was a concerted attempt to tamper with the progressive elements of the constitution, the president had famously suggested that we needed to ask ourselves whether the constitution failed us or it's we who failed the constitution. Several commentators agree that Narayanan was a president who realized the power of his post, and he set many positive precedents. Let me just highlight two of the wiki links on Narayanan's presidential years: articles by Sukumar Muralidharan and AG Noorani. Sukumar Muralidharan summarized Narayanan's term well:

    ... the greatest tribute to his record in office is that he has in difficult times established a pattern of presidential conduct that will remain a standard for reference far into the future. He has never transgressed the constitutional limits of his office, but he has declined to be confined to a purely ceremonial role. He has advised when required, put forward his ideas with appropriate discretion when able, and spoken out at every opportunity for the constitutional values of which he was the chief trustee.
Some of the Narayanan interviews also give us a sense of the warmth of his personality and his openness. This conversation with N. Ram on the occasion of the 50th year of independence deals with many topics including the economic reforms, religious sectarianism, and the Pokhran blasts. In that conversation Narayanan also spoke of the role of the president:
    The President has a constitutional role to play. My image of a President before I came here, and before I had any hope of coming here, was that of a rubber-stamp President, to be frank. This is the image I got. But having come here, I find that the image is not quite correct. I thought, I will have lot of time, leisure for reading, writing, walking etc. But somehow I find I can't get it now. So, my image of a President is of a working President, not an executive President, but a working President, and working within the four corners of the Constitution. It gives very little direct power or influence to him to interfere in matters or affect the course of events, but there is a subtle influence of the office of The President on the executive and the other arms of the government and on the public as a whole. It is a position which has to be used with the, what I should say, with a philosophy of indirect approach. There are one or two things, which you can directly do in very critical times. But otherwise, this indirect influence that you can exercise on the affairs of the State is the most important role he can play. And, he can play it successfully only if he is, his ideas and his nature of functioning are seen by the public in tune with their standards.
He was very candid in his recent Rediff interview. A bit about his presidential years:
    As the President of India, I had lots of experiences that were full of pain and helplessness. There were occasions when I could do nothing for people and for the nation. These experiences have pained me a lot. They have depressed me a lot. I have agonized because of the limitations of power. Power and the helplessness surrounding it is a peculiar tragedy, in fact.

    But I have never felt guilty about my decisions as President of India. But there were certain decisions of mine, which resulted in big setbacks making me think I should not have taken those decisions. For instance, I returned the Gujral government's request to dissolve the Uttar Pradesh assembly and government. I did it because I felt Constitutionally I was doing the right thing. But the occurrences later on proved that politically what I did was not correct.

Also check out this moving anecdotal lecture where Narayanan reminisces about his JRD Tata fellowship. This Asiaweek feature covers a lot of interesting material too. Here's an incident from the Asaiweek feature:
    V.K. Madhavan Kutty, a veteran Malayalee journalist based in Delhi, [recently] received a phone call from Narayanan. Kutty casually mentioned that a common friend staying with him was unwell. "Within half an hour, Narayanan showed up at my door," says Kutty. Subsequently, a police team came to ensure that Kutty's house was secure. "They said a VIP has to come here," laughs Kutty. "I said the VIP has come and gone."
Narayanan was a true Nehruvian in his outlook. India loses this statesmanly voice at a time when it is most needed, when the country is passing through a tumultuous and fast changing period.

Here are two initial obits: Rediff, Outlook.

Update (Nov 11): P. Sainath's tribute to Narayanan in today's The Hindu:

    Though he never once mentioned it, just being who and what he was, achieving all he did, trashed the worst stereotypes of caste. This Dalit from Kerala could not find a full time job there despite being a top student, a gold medallist from the University College, Trivandrum. The discrimination he faced in the era of the Travancore royalty was vile and humiliating. Yet, the man who refused to accept his degree certificate in protest would go on to being one of India's finest diplomats and its best President ever. The Merchants of Merit (aka caste hatred) skipped mention of him in their diatribes. For his very existence and stature destroyed their real argument. A casteist denunciation of Dalits as unfit for higher things.
Read the full thing: Compassion at the top.

Update (Nov 23): A few more links (thanks P&J and Annu):


At 9:24 AM, Anonymous ?! said...

".. the only Dalit and the only Malayali to have held the Presidency."
"K R Narayanan, the first Dalit President of India.."

From both links on your post. The first line, no less.

If wasn't such a tragedy, it would be funny. That a person who distuinguished himself in so many ways is still classified thus. Looks like he failed, at least in some areas.

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Sunil said...

? asks my question....

why is Narayanan remembered as the first dalit president, or malayali president? Why is he not remembered as an excellent president?

Why, in India, do we insist on re-enforcing differences of caste or language?

Why does Dr. Radhakrishnan's bio (on the official president of india page) spend a paragraph on being a brahmin? And Narayan gets more than a paragraph on his being a dalit........

i think this subtle, but permanent reenforcing of division results in the continuation and enhancement of these differences.

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Sreejith Kumar said...

We do treat people on the basis of religion and caste still; like KRN was the first Dalit president, Sania Mirza is an Indian Muslim girl etc. It is a shame.
And to add to that some unnecessary hue and cry that he passed away at a time when he was infact alive. Now a probe in to this! Anybody remembers Sikandar Bhakth, the Kerala governor?
VK Madhavankutty and KRN were good friends, and it is shocking and surprising to know that both passed away within the span of a week.

At 12:32 PM, Anonymous Krish said...

A great diplomat, a great president and on top of all that he was a great human being.

At 2:01 PM, Blogger Global Indian said...

Excellent post Anand.

Just a question:

"Narayanan was a true Nehruvian in his outlook"

So, what do u think is Nehruvian outlook? And do you think Narayanan had this outlook with respect to Foreign Relations as a former diplomat or with respect to Politics as a politician?

On a side note, Narayanan's wife, Usha Narayanan was a burmese national. He had to take permission from higher authorities to marry her, as diplomats marrying foreign nationals are supposed to do that.

At 4:18 PM, Blogger P&J said...

A country where still caste is a reality (which left parties fail to accept) and caste descrimination is still being practiced, it is hyopcritical to argue that there is no need to say about his caste while writing about KR
Narayanan. However, it is worth to note that he never used used resevation to climb the ladder. Assertion of his Dalit identity is a an inspirational message to millions of Dalits who still struggle for their fundamental rights which our country failed to provide.
Some stastistics would reveal the whole story

(1) Number of faculty members in IIT Madras -425 (2002 estimate). Among these 400 of them are Brahmins!

(2) Number of Dalit columist in English media- Only one: Chandrabhan Prasad of Pioneer.

So Instead of blaming people who portary Narayanans Dalit identity, its time for all of us to ask why this descripency exists.

At 9:14 PM, Blogger Qalandar said...

Anand, simply superb post, you cover both the political and the personal, and how the two overlap.

Re: P&J's comment: I agree: until representation of the Dalit "voice" becomes so normal and ordinary that we don't remark upon it, it is only natural that this question should come up.

At 3:17 AM, Anonymous Suraaj said...

visit this like to see another wonderfull article on K.R Narayanan.



At 3:33 AM, Anonymous ?! said...

P& J : As you say, he never used reservation to climb the ladder. Why do we need reservation to preserve his achievements ?
Could you give a basis for that 400/425 IIT Chennai estimate ? If you'll pardon me, it seems enormously improbable that somebody conducted such a study.

When you proclaim your "different" identity as a Dalit, and claim credit for certain achievers as "Dalit heroes", you are perpetuating the precise discrimination you profess to abhor.

Qalandar: "Until it becomes so normal ... that we don't remark on it". Precisely. We starts from you and me. For example, several other articles did not deem it necessary to highlight it. Maybe mention as another fact, but not start by branding him a Dalit President.

At 4:00 AM, Anonymous Anand said...

?!, Sunil and Sreejith -- Thanks for the comments. While I understand your discomfort, I think there's a very valid point in what P & G and Qalandar say. We just cannot wish caste away when it is still practised in its worst forms in our country. All of us feel proud of Narayanan and his achievements. But it's a fact that for hundreds of thousands of college educated Dalits, his achievements mean a lot more than what they mean for someone else. When tens of thousands of Dalits suffer every day just because they are Dalits, I don't think it's quite right to remove the Dalit tag just out of the "successful" Dalits.

But I don't find it pleasing either that BBC, New York Times etc had titled their reports as "untouchable president". I think his being a Dalit is an important aspect, but that shouldn't cloud his achievements.

In any case the stress of my post was not at all on the Dalit aspect.

Krish -- Very true.

Thanks Ravi. I think Narayanan always echoed Nehruvian sentiments. But I did have foreign affairs in mind when I wrote that. You might find this interesting.

P&J -- Thanks for commenting. I too think that the Indian left failed to accept caste as a reality for a long time. Perhaps the attidude is changing now?

Qalandar -- Thanks.

At 4:33 AM, Anonymous Anand said...

Maybe mention as another fact, but not start by branding him a Dalit President.

?! -- I would agree. Mention as another important fact, but not start by branding him.

Suraaj -- Thanks for that link.

At 6:02 AM, Anonymous Ranjit said...

Your posts' part about the classes being suspended raised some distinct memories...exactly the same happened to me (and probably to a lot of others too), but never realized that I still remembered the incident so distinctly. Had to blog about the same immediately, couldn't resist. Owe you coupla beers for helping me drudge up those 'unconscious' memories..thx dude !

At 7:02 AM, Blogger P&J said...

Thank you very much everybody for commenting on the points I have raised. I am glad to see that except one blogger, everybody else have agreed on
my views.
Let me elborate a bit about Narayanan and the caste descrimination he faced during his career

(1)After securing first rank in the BA honours exam from erstwhile University of TRanvancore, Narayanan approached the authorities for a teaching job in the same institute (University college Trivandrum). It was a very usual practice to appoint the first rank holders as teachers there. However, then Diwan of the state CP Ramaswamy Iyer (many still think that he and then the travancore king were progressive rulers!) refused his application and told him that he is eligible for only class-IV job since he is a Dalit. Anand failed to post this important event in Narayanas life.This exemplify the fact that he had to suffer descrimination only because he was a dalit.

2) When a Trivandrum based Malayalam daily wrote an editorial in 1992 first suggesting that the Narayanan should be made vice-President, there was abosultely no support from rest of Indian Media. Actually they were projecting the oppertunitstic PC Alexander ( the ideal candidate for the post. Infact, people like VK Madhavankutty translated the afore mentioned editorial and gave to top congrtess leaders in Delhi which helped in fixing Narayanans candidature. Narayanan himself told this while addressing Kerala Assembly in 1993-1994 (I heard this speech)

(3) IIT Chennai: A Modern Agraharam?

What I have quoted in previous mail was actually taken from my memmory. The data is from 2000 not from 2002. In 2000 only there were
2 Dalit faculty members. It took a while for me to trace the original article which was published as an Editorial in Indias most respectable social science jornal, Economic and Political Weekly

EPW Editorial April 22-28, 2000

Reservation Policy: Myth of Creamy Layer

The Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam, which has recently launched a campaign against the 'Brahminical exclusivity' of the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, has some revealing facts to offer. The 41-year old institute, which receives a large annual grant of Rs 40 crore from the ministry of human resource development, has only two dalits on its faculty of 420. The situation of the OBCs is better, but only marginally. There are no more than 25 OBCs on the institute's faculty. The institute does not have a single Muslim faculty member. Ironically, the IIT, Chennai, owes its existence to the efforts of the late K Kamaraj, a politician who exhibited considerable sensitivity to the educational and other needs of the downtrodden.

If the IIT, Chennai, turns out to be a modern 'agraharam' with a few service caste members thrown in, it is a result of its resolute refusal to implement any reservation policy in faculty recruitment. According to the Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam, the board of governors of the IIT did approve in 1994 the implementation of reservations in all appointments, including the appointment of faculty members. But in practice the reservation policy is followed only for lower-end posts. Tellingly, the IIT, Chennai, has recruited over 100 faculty members during the period 1993-2000 through five open advertisements – all without any reference to reservation. We may mention here that this is not unique to the IIT. There are other institutions of higher learning in Chennai, run on public money, which do not implement reservations even for dalits.

The saga of IIT, Chennai, and other similar institutions has a lot to offer to those who perform a war dance against the so-called creamy layer. If the IIT could not recruit enough OBCs in a state which, in its pursuit of educational reservation for the OBCs, got the Indian Constitution amended in 1951, then the breast-beating about the creamy layer must be viewed as a carefully-choreographed performance to retain age-old privileges. At best, it represents misplaced anxiety. If indeed there is a creamy layer, then the IIT story has a lot to tell us about how open 'open competitions' are. If the play of merit and efficiency were the sole consideration in open competitions, then the creamy layer should have delivered more OBC recruits to the IIT. But it has not. This of course means that open competitions are not what they are made out to be. Though they are claimed to be innocent of caste manipulation, the IIT case tells us a different story. They are a mere ruse for the entrenched interests to perpetuate their dominance – in the name of efficiency, but actually by the practise of caste exclusivity.

The moral of all this is clear. Open competitions being what they are, even the creamy layer cannot translate its advantages into tangible benefits without the aid of a sturdy reservation policy.

At 7:19 AM, Blogger Sinfully Pinstripe said...

Especially about Narayanan's presidential years, it would have been great had he come up with an autobiography. Would have been extremely interesting, IMHO more so than Venkataraman's.

As for the topic of discussion: My boss once said (in a completely different context obviously) that one should not hesitate from putting a right idea into practice because the implementation might be bad. The same with reservations.A good idea, it is the government's responsibiilty to see to it that it is implemented to reach to the people it was supposed to in the first place.

At 7:25 AM, Blogger Veena said...

Anand - Needless to say, great post!

Sunil and ?! - Why cannot be Narayanan remembered as the first Dalit president? Isn't it the same as saying that M. Thatcher was the first woman PM of Britain? Or more recently, Patrick Fitzgerald, son of a NY doorman? Or Senator Obama, the African American Senator from IL? There's a reason why we say that - Obama happens to be the third, I repeat, third African American to be elected to the Senate. More than 100 years after Reconstruction and he is the third black man(that too, he is only half black).

I do agree that we should aim for a day where we don't have to remember Narayanan as a Dalit but right now, we are way too far away from there.

?! - Not sure why you think such studies are improbable. I remember during the crazy days of the Mandal agitation, there were many such studies made public for anyone who would care to look at them. Quite revealing for people like me who thought until then all was well with the world.

At 9:25 AM, Anonymous ?! said...

Probably getting sidetracked from the post, but I guess some real issues here.

p&j : You miss the point entirely. It isn't whether KRN had to face discrimination. Obviously he did, AND overcame it.The point is whether all his life is to be classified as the saga of a Dalit who made it or whether he deserves to be remembered for his actions.

Support for his becoming a President had more to do with politics than any caste prejudice. ( Politically, it probably helped). The EPW article, as mentioned in the first line, is based on an organization whose name proclaims its bias. There is another practical aspect to it. The Profs of today are the undergrads of the eighties. The percentage of Dalit students then was low. Translates into low percentage of Profs today. can't grow them overnight, you know. I couldn't find any data that shows increase or decrease, percentage wise, of the Dalit STUDENTS into IITs. Probably a better benchmark.

Pinstripe : A great idea that failed in implementation. Communism ( From each according to capacity, to each according to need etc). Not so great that somewhat works :Democracy. When experiments have a human and social cost, it's better to have implementation worked out.

V : To repeat, remember him as a decent or otherwise president who was *also* the first Dalit. To brand him a Dalit president is unfair to his legacy. If you see the post , or the Frontline interview, they concentrate on his ideas, not accidents of birth.

As for the studies, the Devil may now quote statistics. I am sure all of us can to buttress our points of view.

At 9:37 AM, Blogger Sunil said...

My own drift was also to take a stand more on his ideas (like the frontline article) rather than his birth. Anand....this was not a comment on your post (exceptional) but the general media and other coverage of Narayanan. That is a disservice to the man.

The focus should remain on his ideas and personality (and many admirable traits, with the one negative of him being steeped in a bureaucratic tradition, which he never (tried to?) broke out of).

P&J, like some one commented As for the studies, the Devil may now quote statistics. I am sure all of us can to buttress our points of view.

Your quotes deserve a post and discussion of its own. Perhaps you'll take it up? Till then, let us talk about Narayanan and his legacy, and the times of his presidency.

At 11:45 AM, Blogger Niket said...

I don't think there is anything wrong in mentioning KRN to be the first Dalit president of India. We would like to say that in progressive India, castes do not matter. However, anyone who does so is being blind to the realities. Caste does rank quite high in defining who/what of a person more than his deeds or abilities.

Its perfectly fine to hold Narayanan or Sania Mirza as role models for Dalits or Muslims/women respectively.

The problem is when his being a dalit defines his presidency, or being a Muslim defines her achievements. I feel that while being a tennis star defines Mirza, being a dalit defines Narayanan more than his actual achievements. That, in my opinion, is a great disrespect to our past president.

At 11:51 AM, Blogger Niket said...

BTW, what is wrong if Narayanan had used reservation "to climb the ladder." While I am opposed to reservations --- reservations in general, but certainly in their current form --- I don't see anything wrong with someone appropriately using them. He came from a poor family and was a dalit... a suitable candidate to take full use of the reservations.

Whether or not reservations are the right way for empowering people is a separate issue, independant of whether someone used reservations or not.

At 4:38 PM, Blogger P&J said...

I was not deviating from the whole issue but restating what I had told using examples.

Periyar Deavida Kazhakam might be a caste based organization, however, the numbers it had produced speak a lot about what is going on in IIT. Thats the reason, then EPW editor and renowned Dr. Krishna Raj wrote an editorial on the whole issue. I am pretty sure he might have done background research on the credibility of the numbers.

I am not a blogger, so I dont think I could post these views in another forum

Two articles (one by Ramachandra Guha and another one by P Sainath) appeared in Todays news papers might be interesting to all of us:

At 6:24 PM, Blogger Aswin said...

Anand.. thanks for the nice post on Narayanan.

And P&J,
I am with Sunil in requesting a separate post on the issues that you have raised. I see that you do have a blog. I have some thoughts on the IITM issue in particular.

At 9:22 PM, Blogger pennathur said...

When there was a concerted attempt to tamper with the progressive elements of the constitution, the president had famously suggested that we needed to ask ourselves whether the constitution failed us or it's we who failed the constitution.

This ia unalloyed fiction and entirely in the Indian loony left style. Repeat a lie as many times as you can and it becomes a truth.

Hey P&J what is preventing the Periyar Dravida Kazhagam guys from applying to the IITs or the JEE and getting themselves qualified? ...fundamental rights which our country failed to provide getting a faculty position of your choice is not a fundamental right, it has to be earned. Ask Anand how he got to teach at IIT-B. Unless you have some evidence that IIT-M rejects qualfied non-brahmin candidates your assertion has no basis. And Anand please do host a new post on this subject. I am looking forward to arguing with P&J. Or P&J if you are interested we can argue this out on my blog The other report regarding KRN's meeting with CP Ramswami Iyer; Dewan of Travancore is again pure fiction. CPR - not many know - was for a period of 15 years boycotted by the priests of Madras for his decision to throw open the temples of Kerala to the Dalits and "worse still" hosting them at home and fraternising with them. CPR was far ahead of his time although more of the Jinnah type of constitutional capitalist. Incidentally CPR was a good friend of Jinnah's (both of them were sharp lawyers but mediocre jurists) and never missed an opportunity to pull Dr.Ambedkar's leg. Now most of you know that Ambedkar was a first rate jurist (quite possibly among the top five of his time worldwide) but a middling good lawyer (probably because he on any day knew more law than the judge himself!) TVR Shenoy had a touching piece on the great Madhavan Kutty. KRN began his career as journalist and had the unique distinction of writing a report on India's independence datelined Aug 16 1947 from London; for the FPJ run by that other legend Sadanand. KRN interviewed Gandhi too!
Am I getting maudlin? KRN is the last of those greats who came of political age around 1947. People don't live forever but surely their ideals do and will inspire us. KRN Amar Rahe!

At 1:19 AM, Anonymous Anand said...

Thanks Ranjit.

P & J -- Thanks for the links (EPW, Guha, and Sainath). I've updated the post with a quote from Sainath.

I did not post any particular incident. But I had this incident too in mind when I linked to the wiki article where this was detailed. That Narayanan had to suffer discrimination because he was a Dalit, that thousands of Dalits today are insulted because they are Dalits, I don't think anybody can contest that. My post did mention this.

Here was an intellectual of the highest order who reached the higher echelons despite all possible adversities. Getting educated was a struggle. Being an 'untouchable' of course added to the ill effects of poverty. Each new opportunity came with its share of insults and humiliation. His strength of mind and perseverance prevailed in every fight.

SP, Veena, Niket, Aswin -- Thanks for the comments.

?! -- Profs of today ... I agree with you there. Nevertheless it's true that many proponents of "merit" have also their biases. There could be differences in degree though.

Sunil -- Yes, perhaps another discussion!

Pennathur -- Unalloyed fiction? I don't think so. I hope I have quoted Narayanan right!

And I view reservation as a constitutional right. I'm definitely for following the reservational norms.

At 6:30 AM, Blogger pennathur said...


You may be quoting the President right. However the President wasn't talking facts then. "...Reservation is a constitutional right" is not saying much. Why and how professors are recruited to IIT-M are questions that can be discussed independently of that proposition. Reservation isn't the same thing as affirmative action. The latter is concerned with merit while the former is not. And merit has worked very well in raising achievement standards in India. But that's getting into another discussion so I will stop here. P&J you are still welcome.

At 1:22 PM, Blogger P&J said...

pennathur: Untill you understand the difference between social-backwardwness and economic-backwardness, I think there is no point of further discussion. Also my intention is not argue, but to know and let know.

I quote noted writer, Pavan K Varma, who put it very aptly the answer to your question of merit:

" I often come across opinions which state that the principle of merit is being sacrificed at the altar of a politically motivated policy of reservations. This argument is perhaps the most hollow of all. Merit is not the monopoly of only the upper castes. They do not have an extra cranium in their brain which is the repository of merit. Merit is a by-product of generations of opportunities and empowerment and of education and exposure, which has been institutionally denied to the bulk of our population. To quote the argument of merit when an attempt is made to rectify the inequities of the past is tantamount to saying that those who have been the beneficiaries of a flawed system have the right to perpetuate it in perpetuity to the exclusion of all others. In any case even the premise that those who are excluded from the policy of reservations are more meritorious, is open to serious question. If so many meritorious people have been running our country for so long why is it that in so many key areas we are in such a mess? "

Also read

Apologists of Merits

Mythologies of Merit

Profit knows no caste

Why some are so poor, some so rich: Hoodwinking in the name of reservation

I dont hasve nothing more to say on this topic

About CP Ramaswamy Iyer:Could you provide some evidence which supports your claim that KRN hadnt sufferenred any descrimination from CP?

Also you say that CP was a man ahead of times: Yes we know his so called progressiveness, when he declared "Independent Travancore" which lead to blood shed in Punnapra-Vyalar. In that sense he resambles Jinnah.

Temple entry proclamation: CP forced to support this because there was a threat from Ezhava community. They told the Diwan that the they would embrass Christianity if their demands are not met. I quote noted journalist AJ Philip:

"When in 1891 a “Malayali Memorial” signed by more than 10,000 representative Travancoreans was submitted to the government praying for the recognition of the right of the Ezhavas to enter the government service, the upper caste Hindus of the state prevailed upon the Maharajah not to concede the prayer. The memorialists sought only privileges that were already enjoyed by the Christians and the Muslims. P. Chidambaram Pillai in Right of Temple Entry says, “The Thiyya (Ezhava) Hindu of Hindu Travancore has not as much right of free citizenship as the lowest Hindu in the Mohammadan state of Hyderabad or the lowest Hindu of Christian British India. To be a Hindu in the Hindu state of Travancore is not a privilege for the non-caste Hindus; it is not a mere handicap; it is a curse; it is an insult.” In dejection many of the Ezhavas embraced Christianity as borne out by the fact that the Christian population of Travancore which stood at six lakhs in 1901 increased to 17 lakhs in 1931. And when their fight for equity was not taking the Ezhavas anywhere, their leadership threatened that they would convert en masse, rather than stay as helots of Hindu society. The alert Diwan, Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, realised the imminent danger and prompted the Maharajah to issue the proclamation. Otherwise, the history of Kerala would have been quite different. Whereas the Maharajah should have been eulogised for his brave action, the upper caste Hindus saw it as a betrayal. It was the “sanatanis,” as they were called, who tried to obstruct Mahatma Gandhi when he visited Kerala as part of his campaign for Harijan welfare"

Anand: Pardon me using your space for this discussion.

At 3:19 PM, Blogger P&J said...


Definitely no fluke: KRN at the high table
by Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Insight into the person
by Mari Marcel Thekaekara

Common mans President
by AJ Philip

President of the ‘Other India’

At 5:51 PM, Blogger pennathur said...

Let's not waste Anand's webspace. I am copying your post to my weblog where we can continue this discussion. Check into in about 24 hours.

Thanks Anand.

At 4:44 AM, Anonymous Anand said...

Thanks again, Pennathur and P&J. Thanks P&J for all the links. I read a few of those.

I don't think you were wasting my space! I never thought of the comments section as mine anyway, and in any case I cannot think of this discussion as a 'waste'. But I too think, like all of you, that perhaps this discussion should continue on a separate post.

Last I checked Pennathur hadn't put up a post. Will join the forum there if I have anything to contribute.

At 5:08 AM, Anonymous ?! said...

Oh well, if it is not YET clear that history cannot be judged by quotes out of context. Here is a quote.

"I had been asked, now that temples in Tamil Nad and Andhra
have been opened to Harijans, what is the situation with regard to
temples in the U. P.? There are the temples in Hardwar for instance.
Can Harijans visit these temples? In Travancore this was acheived long
ago. Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Aiyar, the State’s Diwan, who at the
moment is perhaps a little angry with us, had presuaded the Maharaja
to abolish untouchability by law."

The author of the letter above ? A gent called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Familiar, one would think, and the reference, including pages and dates of publication, is

The merits and demerits of reservation, as has been suggested, may be debated in a seperate post. (Anand, selectively blind? Or suddenly found a life ? Unpark thy behind and start it ! :)) Though it would probably require a seperate blog, at the least.)

The issue is whether KRN's primary legacy is that of a "working president", as Wiki claims he called himself, or a symbol of Dalit achievement. Repeat : *primary*. Wasim Akram, to quote an utterly unrelated example, is diabetic. Will he be remembered for his yorkers or his fight against the disease ? Obvious, I thought the answer would be.

At 5:49 AM, Anonymous Anand said...

Anand, selectively blind? Or suddenly found a life?

?! -- I don't think I understand.

At 7:05 AM, Anonymous ?! said...

Anand, a Joke.

Meant, why are you ignoring the calls for a new thread on the reservation issue ?

I found the arrogance of telling you what to write from the authority of the comment box funny.

Guess you didn't.

At 3:50 PM, Blogger P&J said...


"K.R. Narayanan, fortunately for India, was made for his times. Against a rising tide of opportunism and immorality in public life, he put up a one-man wall of courage and defiance. When Raj Bhavans were being scandalised by petty politicians, he waved a warning finger. When the Central Government tried to dismiss inconvenient state governments, he waved the Constitution and stopped the Centre. That came naturally to a man who could not be stopped either by persecutors or by rivals. People who tried to reduce Narayanan to nothingness fall into three categories intolerant upper castes, jealous politicians and self-absorbed political parties. "

At 5:42 PM, Blogger P&J said...

My dear ?!
You are still unable to provide any historical evidence to reject CPs discrimination against KR Narayanan! Instead you quote Gandhi. But it is evident from that quote that Gandhi had only mentioned the name of Diwan when the act was passed,but not the circumstances and pressure on which CP had pushed the temple proclamation act. Any statement without scrutinizing the social circumstances is only good for hollow arguments.

Read this article which appeared in today's newspaper which underscores what had posted yesterday on Temple Proclamation act (Its in Malayalam, I guess you can read!)

Interestingly Jawarlal Nehru had the following to say about CP Ramaswamy Iyer

"There is little now in common between us except our common nationality. He is today a full- blooded apologist of British rule in India, especially during the last few years; an admirer of dictatorship in India and elsewhere, and himself a shinning ornament of autocracy in an Indian state."

He made such a nasty comment, when CP approached Nehru through his sympathizers to get some position in Nehru's Government. Read an excellent assessment of CP by noted historian KN Panikkar who clearly outlines the problems of selective reading and writing of history:

Anand, CP might be worth for another post!!?

At 6:22 PM, Anonymous ?! said...

Meandering away.

Will cease with following points :

"history cannot be judged by quotes out of context."

"The merits and demerits of reservation, as has been suggested, may be debated in a seperate post".

"The issue is whether KRN's primary legacy is that of a "working president", as Wiki claims he called himself, or a symbol of Dalit achievement. Repeat : *primary*. He was also Dalit. Also Malayalee. Also an ex-journo.

At 8:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You ask for proof of innocence, which is usually impossible. CPR apparently refused KRN the job not because he was a Dalit but because he was put off by KRN's attire for some reason. In any case, I hold no candle for CPR.

But may i ask what proof you have of discrimination in faculty recruitment at IITM? Just the proportion says nothing. Can you actually document cases where non-brahmin applicants were discriminated against? American universities have a disprpotionate number of Jews, Chinese and Indians in faculty and women continue to be underreoresented in science faculty (Larry Summers got into trouble for forwarding a non-PC reason for this). Is this because of discrimination? Merely asserting some imagined discrimination in hiring seems to be highly acceptable in India.

Periyar DK like the original DK is a casteist/fascist organization. Brahmins today in TN are a miniscule minority with no political power. Continued brahmin-baiting is not very different from Jew-baiting in Nazi Germany. It is sad that it continues to be fashionable and acceptable in india.

The way you are going after CPR itself reeks of an attitude that a brahmin can do no right--vide your claim that CPR allowed dalit entry into temple only because of some other ulterior motive--a heads i win tails you lose type of argument based on a claim that is merely a conjecture.

At 12:25 AM, Anonymous Anirudh said...

Nice post man. I was a kid when Narayanan was President and don't know much about him but from the way many people- often with completely different idealogies- have reacted, it's quite clear he commanded a lot of respect not just from a particular set of people but from everybody.

At 7:24 PM, Blogger P&J said...

Dear Anonymous :

Let me clarify my stand:

(1) I am not a Brahmin basher. Also I dont want to hurt anybodys feelings. My posting on CP has nothing to do with his caste. What I wanted to convey was although CP was a able ruler, he failed to serve a large section of the society. KN Panikkars article elaborates that. Also its worth to note that the failed assainationation attempt made on CP in Trivandrum was carried out by a Brahmin youth named KCS Mani!

(2)I believe that numbers tells a lot. You have all rights to disagree. All US universities too believe in numbers. For example check the Harvard University Affirmative action report 2005, page 23

Among the 11,368 faculty members in Harvard 1130 (around 10 %) are blacks and hispanics. If you read that 160 page report, you can see how much they care about maintaining the diversity of the institute.

Since I couldnt find any such report from Indias premier institutions , I trust the numbers produced by PDK. I belive thats why Dr. Krishna Raj, then EPW Editor (A Brahmin by birth!) wrote such an editorial.

I am not interested to post anything more in this issue.

I thank everybody who participitated in this discussion.

At 1:42 AM, Blogger anthony said...

It was a pleasure you sir, Hope to see you again soon.
mail me at

At 3:23 AM, Anonymous Srikanth said...

Anand, a great post! Unfortunately, didn't know much about KRN until now. And an interesting discussion in the comments.

P&J, thanks for all those links - I loved the one by Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

At 3:32 AM, Anonymous Srikanth said...

Btw, by "sanatanist" does Gopalkrishna Gandhi refer to the right-wing? That's confusing - the Mahatma called himself a sanatanist.

On a lighter note, don't all our leaders deserve a better picture than the standard passport with a blue background?

At 9:09 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...


It was Philip and not Gopalakrishna Gandhi who used that term. I think the reference might have been the nampUtiris of the "iNDamturutti illam" ( I think they were among the "UrAyma" of the big Shiva temple at Vaikom ), who upon being asked by gAndhiji to admit dalits into the temple/temples said that they would allow only "sanAtana dharmIs" to enter the temple. Today some people from dalit movements use the resulting speechlessness of gAndhiji as an argument - to claim that even gAndhiji wasn't sure what sanAtana dharma exactly meant/sanAtana dharma was something too narrow and exclusive etc.

At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Srikanth said...

Thanks for the background of the term "sanatanist." I am not sure if I know of the Philip you have mentioned...

I had actually referred to a statement in Gopalkrishna Gandhi's article:
KRN had a phenomenal knowledge of Sanskrit, an irritation to diehard Sanatanists.

At 5:31 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Sorry, I did not notice that. The word "Sanatani" had occured in the article by one "noted journalist AJ Philip" P&J quoted above and thought you were referring to that. Gopalakrishna Gandhi might have used it in a different sense, then.

Apologies to Anand for wasting the space.

At 8:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

About your post regarding Gandhi's visit to Kerala and the apparent "opposition" of upper caste Hindu Malayalis.

You are very wrong.

My own grandmother as a child went to welcome Gandhi when he passed through our ancestral village and we are an anti-Communist formerly aristocratic family. It is something she remembers very fondly. So what you said doesn't stand facts.

One of your posts alludes to the fact that the Congress party in Kerala was mostly made up of upper caste Hindus and Christians.

Also, the large conversion of Ezhavas is not true. Christian Malayalis are very casteist in practice and this would have endured for long. I don't see it. An increase from 6 lakh to 17 lakh is exaggerated and can also be attributed to population growth especially at a time when Christian Malayalis were prospering while upper caste Hindus were falling behind.

I do agree with you when you say that numbers matter. A good example is France, which clings to the fantasy that chanting 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity' would make everyone equal only for problems to fester. India's reservation policy has been a huge success but it needs reworking to remove those who have already been emancipated.

Finally, I am not sure K.R. Narayanan's saga is very instructive for other people who hail from formerly called backward castes. He was an ambitious man who refused to accept his "fate". So he decided to move to Delhi, take up studies in London and become a diplomat (with the help of Nehru).

I am new to this blog. I don't know why Anand looks familiar.

At 10:26 PM, Anonymous kay said...

hey...That was quite an informative post and highly is inspiring to note how a man bounded by so many restrictions and obstacles overcame that to rise to the highest post in india.And also the nostalgic recollection on the indira-gandhi murder fiasco,was endearing.

At 7:18 PM, Anonymous KC said...

Hey there, I found ur article very interesting. I respect K.R.Narayanan, and only found out, through this article, about his sad demise. (I'm not residing in India at present). Thanks for an interesting view point!

At 4:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From all these "bloggings" I found out how truth can get distorted.
Fine, let me come to the point.
All, please note that Dr.KRN passed out with a I RANK in M.A. English Literature and not B.A. (hons). Also note that his first job is a Lecturer’s job in the University of Travancore, which he got out of his merit and not by meeting Sir CPR. Much to his disappointment he found teaching is not his cup of tea and looking for more greener pastures left Travancore. I would not be surprised if tomorrow somebody writes that it is out of an ill-treatment by Sir CPR because he is a Dalit, he left Travancore. At Madras, he met Prof.K.Swaminathan who found him extraordinarily brilliant and thought would suit the job of a Journalist, in The Hindu. Not surprisingly, he excelled. Prof.KS thought Dr.KRN deserves to be educated at UK and he did his B.A.(hons.) from the London School of Economics. Dr.KRN and Prof.KS thus were inseparable friends and each spoke of high about the other through out their lives. The allegation that Dr.KRN met Sir CPR and the latter only offered a Class IV job is a myth. This myth only shows an unjustified hatred towards Sir CPR, who happens to be a Brahmin. Were he to belong to a different caste this "myth" would not have been "fabricated". If someone calls a spade a diamond and wants proof for the same, it is not quite possible to provide. I thought only Tamilnadu is a place where hatred towards Brahmins are part of ‘systematic and scientific’ false propaganda of the politicians. I today came to know, Kerala is no mean to Tamilnadu in this aspect. Now, since Prof.KS is also a Brahmin I would not be surprised if somebody tomorrow writes, “it is a planned expulsion of Dr.KRN by the cunning Prof.KS on behalf of the Brahmin community, since they thought one-day he would become the President of the country. This is the only country where being neutral appears being biased and being biased appears being neutral. Strange. By the way, who is this Mr.AJ Philip? What is his affiliation? Is his article an authority on the life of Dr.KRN? Fine. If one looks for answers to all these questions, he would be wasting his time. To get a proof of how Dr.KRN started his career, go to University of Kerala (then University of Travancore).

In any case, Dr.KRN has never mentioned any "ill-treatment' by Sir CPR himself. Sir CPR faced lot of difficulties and in fact there was an attempt on his life for a stand he had taken about the accession of the State of Travancore with the Union of India. In essense, on his stand on this issue, he had demanded more autonomy with affiliation to the Centre, an aspect that is being demanded by the States today. Of the many 'distortions' our politicians are capable of, the episode of Dr.KRN - SirCPR, is just one. Secondly, the temple 'entry' procalamtion is not under any pressure. The upper-caste hindus stormed his home shouting slogans against Sir CPR. And, being a non-beliver in rituals, he was an outcast among the upper caste hindus. Politicising events of this great magnitude which is a landmark in the history of the suppressed tantamounts to bemeaning their pride.

There were ideological differences between Sir CPR and every other politician who favoured Poorna Swaraj. It is a possibility that India would have obtained freedom at least 15 years before, if Sir CPR's views have been headed to. Also the partition would have been avoided. Sir CPR is a man of vision. Probably, his vision was too far-sighted, mostly others still misunderstand him and quote him wrongly. Dr.Annie Besant, SirCPR, Jinnah were promulgators of Home rule with an affiliation to the Commonwealth. I dont know why the idea of affiliation bothered the Mahatma and Nehruji. I dont know why they could not even think it of as a first step towards freedom. Fine, these are matters to be ...............

"Corrections" not "distortions" are welcome


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At 4:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pennathur indulges in a lot of revisionist history so do many others in "extolling" the virtues of CPR Iyer. First of all, there is adequate documentation in Malayalam literature that the Maharaja of Travencore even before he ascended to the throne had promised Gandhiji that he will throw open the temples in Kerala to the untouchables. That he did as soon as he became the King. CPR Iyer happened to be merely the Diwan who carried out the orders of the King. Second, CPR Iyer argued for an "autonomous" Travencore and advised the Maharaja not to accede to the Union of India. CPR Iyer in my opinion was a sorely misguided man with no interest in seeing an independent India succeed. I am glad that Nehru and Patel shunned him.

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