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The Bomb, Biography and the Indian Middle Class

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    South Asians Against Nukes http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SAAN_/message/920?l=1 (Economic and Political Weekly June 10, 2006, pp.2327-2331) THE BOMB, BIOGRAPHY
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 20, 2006
      South Asians Against Nukes

      (Economic and Political Weekly
      June 10, 2006, pp.2327-2331)


      The Indian middle class often sees itself as living amongst, but not
      living with the
      majority of its fellow citizens. Through a close reading of the
      autobiography of the late
      nuclear scientist Raja Ramanna, this article argues that one of the
      existential realities
      of being a middle class Indian is an inescapable desire to escape the
      rest of India.

      by Sankaran Krishna

      This is an essay about the habitus of the Indian middle class,
      and specifically about its attitudes towards politics, the
      people and the nation, as indexed in the biography of one
      of its leading members, the late nuclear scientist Raja Ramanna.
      It argues that the Indian middle class often sees itself as living
      amongst, but not living with, the majority of its fellow citizens.
      This self-imposed distance between the middle class and the
      "masses" sometimes partakes of a genocidal impulse, as is indexed
      in many milieus - everyday expressions of desire for a country
      with a smaller population; the occasional wild-eyed scheme for
      secession from the rest of India by momentarily prosperous
      enclaves such as the IT sector in Bangalore or parts of Mumbai
      or Gujarat or Punjab; the oft expressed idea that it may not have
      been a bad thing if Sanjay Gandhi had had a relatively freer hand
      for a few more years back in the mid-1970s; urban planning
      schemes that fantasise bypassing slums through freeways, sub-
      ways, hovercrafts and helicopters - but is more often indicated
      by a simple wish for the masses to simply, magically, disappear.1
      Through a close reading of the autobiography of the "father of
      India's atomic bomb" Raja Ramanna, I argue that one of the
      existential realities of being a middle class Indian is an inescap-
      able desire to escape the rest of India. The historical genealogy
      of such a desire is a complex matter and includes issues of race,
      colonialism, caste and a social Darwinist understanding of nations
      and development. The autobiography of Ramanna offers a fas-
      cinating contemporary site for the excavation of such intertwined
      impulses within the habitus of middle class India.

      Dazzling urbanite meets backwaters fisherman:I would like to
      begin with a literary detour in this attempt to chart the attitudes
      of the Indian middle class towards the rest of their countrymen.
      There are two scenes that stand out in Amitav Ghosh's recentbook
      on the Sunderbans, The Hungry Tide.2 Ghosh's story involves
      a quadrilateral relationship between a driven NRI woman scientist
      from Seattle (Piya); an urbane, single and successful male en-
      trepreneur from Delhi (Kanai); a rugged and taciturn fisherman,
      Fokir, who knew of and cared for no world outside Lusibari,
      their small village within the shifting landscape of the Sunderbans;
      and his feisty wife, Moyna, who aspires to a lifefor her son and
      family beyond the capricious tides of the Bay. Inthe first scene,
      Kanai expresses to Piya his disdain for Fokir and admiration for
      Moyna. Piya, with an acuity that is perhaps more readily available
      to the NRI, is able to unlock the reasons for Kanai's preference.
      Ghosh's prose on this brief encounter is filled with insight:
      (Kanai): "Just imagine how hard it must be to live with someone
      like Fokir while also trying to provide for a family and keepa
      roof over your head. If you consider her circumstances - her caste,
      her upbringing - it's very remarkable that she's had the forethought
      to figure out how to get by in today's world. And it isn't just that
      she wants to get by - she wants to do well; she wants to make
      a success of her life".

      Piya nodded. 'I get it.' She understood nowthat for Kanai there
      was a certain reassurance in meeting a woman like Moyna, in such
      a place as Lusibari: it was as if her very existence were a validation
      of the choices he had made in his own life. It was important for
      him to believe that his values were, at bottom, egalitarian, liberal,
      meritocratic. It reassured him to be able to think, 'What I want
      for myself is no different from what everybody wants,no matterhow
      rich or poor: everyone who has any drive, any energy wants toget
      on in this world - Moyna is the proof'. Piya understood too that
      this was a looking-glass in which a man like Fokir could neverbe
      anything other than a figure glimpsed through a rear-view mirror,
      a rapidly diminishing presence, a ghost fromthe perpetual past
      that was Lusibari. But she guessed also that despite its newnessand
      energy, the country Kanai inhabited was full of these ghosts, these
      unseen presences whose murmurings couldnever quite be silenced
      no matter how loud you spoke (219-20: emphases mine).
      Kanai's conviction that his better lot in lifearose from virtues
      such as merit and hard work rather than mere luck or good fortune
      is, ultimately, little more than anarticle of faith. Fokir's inscru-
      table silencediscomfits Kanai, while Moyna's clumsy and ear-
      nest mimicry of the aspirations oftheurban middle class Indian
      restores his sense of self-worth. Kanai's status as a member of
      a meritocratic elite hinges on Moyna both trying to emulate his
      "achievements" and falling short in that effort.

      The precariousness of Kanai's self-esteem,and the very limited
      ambit of its efficacy, is demonstrated by Ghosh in a second scene
      where Kanai and Fokir meet in circumstances that favour the
      latter. Kanai has just fallen face-first into the muddy river bank
      and is unable to get to his feet as the ooze sucks him back. He
      is still seething from what he considers a treacherous ploy by
      Fokir to frighten him by pointing out the fresh spoor of a tiger
      on the river bank, and is further terrified by shadowy shapes in
      the water that he believes to be crocodiles. At the edge of land,
      at the mercy of unpredictable tides, in proximity to nature rather
      than culture, Kanai's superiority to Fokir is reversed. The latter
      subtly shifts to addressing Kanai by the more informal 'tumi'
      rather than the traditionally respectful 'apni'. Struggling to get
      recover his balance, bereft of his mud-covered spectacles, and
      momentarily stripped of his poise,
      [Kanai] saw that Fokir was smiling at him. "I told you to be
      careful". Suddenly, the blood rushed to Kanai's head and obsceni-
      ties began to pour from his mouth. "Shala, banchod, shuorer
      bachcha". His anger camewelling up with an atavistic
      Economic and Political Weekly June 10, 20062328
      explosiveness, rising from sources whose very existence he would
      have denied: the master's suspicion of the menial; the prideof
      caste; the townsman's mistrust of the rustic; the city's antagonism
      to the village. He had thought that he had cleansed himself of
      these sediments of the past, but the violence with which they came
      spewing out of him now suggested that they had only been
      compacted into an explosive and highly volatile reserve ... he was
      powerless to stop the torrent of obscenities that were pouring out
      of his mouth now. When Fokir offered a hand to help him up,
      he slapped it aside: "Ja, shuorer bachcha, beriye ja! Get away from
      me, you son of a pig!" (326: emphasis mine).

      The limits of Kanai's professed egalitarianism are revealed in
      these two encounters: so long as the subaltern's desire for a better
      life remains mimetic, aspirational and ultimately futile (as is the
      case with Moyna), Kanai can be both indulgent and supportive.
      And yet, the minute it threatens the sedimented hierarchy of an
      enduring social order, he turns vicious, and a repressed inner-
      self surfaces with incredible hatred towards the subaltern. Ahost
      of unspoken antinomies are mobilised by Kanai - caste, profes-
      sion, urbanity, literacy - and they are all naturalised as his
      achievements and Fokir'slack. This is an encounter between two
      men only in name - when push comes to shove, one of them
      sincerely believes that the other is unworthy of existence.
      To get to the point of this literary detour: Kanai's oscillation
      between an ideational commitment to egalitarian values and an
      inability to practise it in reality also constitute the limits of the
      Indian middle class' commitment to those at the bottom of the
      socio-economic pecking order. The commitments are primarily
      rhetorical in the sense that they are more about the self-fashioning
      of this middle class, its image in the eyes of an imagined western
      audience, and the shoring up of its sense of self-esteem, rather
      than any interest in the welfare of the ostensible object of these
      commitments, viz, the people. This may sound like a damning
      indictment of an entire society's middle class, and perhaps it is
      a tad overblown. One could mitigate its sting by noting that such
      attributes are evident in the middle- and upper-class sections in
      nearly all societies. My aim here is to explore its specifics in the
      Indian instance and not to single the latter out for special ex-
      coriation. In the next section of this essay, we see how the nuclear
      scientist Raja Ramanna exemplifies a life spent within these limits
      of a rhetorical commitment to egalitarian values, on the one hand,
      and an inability to live up to those professed values, on the other.

      Text of a Life in Our Times

      The scientist most closely identified with India's atomic
      programme - especially after the death of its founder Homi
      Bhabha - is the late Raja Ramanna. He was a suave and polished
      orator, a brilliant pianist with a penchant for Chopin and Liszt,
      a polymath who had authored scholarly books on topics as diverse
      as western classical music and its relationship to Carnatic musical
      traditions, the traditions of science in Vedic India and numerous
      papers in particle physics. His autobiography, Years of Pilgrim-
      age (hereafter YP) is an invaluable illustration of Indian middle
      class attitudes towards people, politics and merit. In many ways,
      the renaissance-man quality of Ramanna epitomises the aspira-
      tions mostIndian middle class parents have fortheir children.
      The combination of scientificacumen and western tastes
      alongsidea deep and proficient engagement with highIndian
      culture is one that is consideredideal.
      Ramanna's autobiography opens with the line "It was a typical
      middle class wedding"3 and proceeds to detail at some length
      the history of his community - the Hebbar Sri Vaishnava
      community of Karnataka, often known as the Hebbar Iyengars.
      Ramanna chooses an interesting point of departure: that of his
      caste origins. At the outset and at points later in the book,
      Ramanna speaks of the superiority of Sanskritic culture over all
      others in the world, and of the possible affinities of the Hebbar
      Iyengars with those of the Slavs of eastern Europe. For someone
      who was trained in the cutting-edge field of nuclear physics in
      England (at the very time that the Manhattan Project was cul-
      minating in the bomb across the Atlantic), and later became the
      head of prestigious scientific institutions as well as a minister
      in the central cabinet, to inaugurate his life story with a detailed
      description of his caste would seem unusual, to say the least.
      One might have expected the life story to begin with the im-
      mediate or joint family into which he was born, or perhaps to
      the early signs of intellectual or musical precocity, or literally
      to a number of other events. As a child of modern India, such
      an emphasis on individual rather than community would not have
      been surprising. Atone level, beginning with caste indicates the
      limits of the Indian modern - our sense of our own individualism
      and of achievement remain uncertain, and we feel the need to
      anchor our identity in a more enduring (and yet immediately
      limiting, divisive and fragmenting) idea of community.4

      Ramanna speaks lovingly of the gentle and courteous people
      of the ancient city of Mysore, which "remains a place of beauty
      and hope, despite the onslaught of heavy industrialisation and
      over-population". We encounter fairly early on, then, the idea
      that Mysore (or India) is what it is "despite" its "over-population"
      - in other words, the idea that people are often what come between
      an individual and one's enjoyment of place or state or country.
      The first encounter with the "political" that Ramanna remembers
      is the palace intrigue at the Wodiyar court in Mysore state in
      the pre-independence period, before he had reached his teens.
      Ramanna, in his early incarnation as a child prodigy pianist, had
      been invited often to play for the Maharaja of Mysore. He had
      been promised a bursary to pursue classical music at Trinity
      College in England, but the death of the Maharaja, and the
      machinations of his courtiers, intervened to prevent him from
      getting the bursary. This episode, recounted with some passion
      by Ramanna, indicates an early appreciation of politics as a
      domain not merely of intrigue, but also as something that prevents
      meritorious people like himself from receiving their just desserts.
      Thereafter, Ramanna warms up to the theme of politics as a
      denial of merit, especially the merit of the twice-born. The non-
      brahmin movement in the south is attributed exclusively to British
      machinations, and the upshot of reservations for non-brahmins
      was, according to him,
      ... a serious loss of talent, particularly in the teaching profession
      and government. Once the discrimination took firm root the other
      communities joined forces and in order to avenge past suppression,
      began ousting brahmins systematically from every teaching post
      and government jobs. This had the inevitable result: the teaching
      institutions became cesspools of mediocrity and intrigue, as did
      the government and the repercussions are evident even today. The
      better students from all communities today seek intellectual
      fulfilment in America where, unlike India, the world of education,
      industry and government makes special efforts to get the best talent
      from every part of the world. When the great Kannada playwright
      Masti Venkatesh Iyengar was superseded in the government service
      purely on a caste basis, it became clear that the old Mysore state
      had no future for us. We also realised that, however well we
      performed and however hard we worked, we would never receive
      the credit due to us (YP: 20, emphasis mine).

      For Ramanna, the access gained by the lower castes to
      education and to the professions had to lead "inevitably" to
      mediocrity, intrigue and a cesspool. There is no historicisation
      of the relatively recent circumstances (viz, colonial rule) under
      which the brahmins gained ascendancy beyond the spiritual-
      religious domain in southern society, nor is there any effort
      to place the so-called lack of merit of the lower castes within
      a historical understanding or context.5 Merit and achievement
      are in-born traits to this mode of "reasoning" - they are
      ontological attributes - and any political interference in this
      order can only lead to its dilution. Other possible narrations
      of the widening of social access to education and employment
      - in terms of a growing egalitarianism, as the very content
      of democratisation, or the different skills that people of
      agrarian, mercantile, or other professions might bring to these
      domains - are not even considered. The word "inevitable"
      underlined in the above quote shows the limits of this un-
      derstanding of sociology: upper castes are uniquely fit to
      govern India and any dilution of their presence could only
      mean an impoverishment of quality. It would not be amiss
      to describe this confining of merit and ability to certain castes,
      and their insistent reproduction on the basis of endogamy,
      as racism. Viewed against that backdrop, Ramanna is locating
      his identity among the Hebbar Iyengar community makes for
      a politics that is exclusionary in its impulse.

      These formative statements on the political locate Ramanna
      as a permanent outsider - initially in his home state of Mysore
      but gradually elsewhere in India too. They also incidentally
      narrate the growing enfranchisement of the larger population
      as the simultaneous disenfranchisement of intelligence and merit.
      This occurs because politics was now defined as the translation
      of superior numbers into the negation of quality and excellence.
      The anti-democratic impulse of this self-definition is hardly
      unique to Ramanna, but is a characteristic of the middle class'
      attitude towards electoral politics as the 20th century unfolds.6
      Furthermore, it clearly portends the idea that the completion of
      one's life cycle must include higher education in or emigration
      to those areas of the country and the world where the worth of
      merit is recognised. The "south" becomes merely the launching
      pad for upper caste careers to achieve fruition elsewhere.
      Ramanna's contradictory attitude towards the "masses" oscil-
      lates between seeing them as the reason for his life's work, and
      as the chief impediment to national and personal excellence. This
      is best illustrated by some examples from his biography. Firstly,
      referring to Nehru, Ramanna observes that "... his desultory
      thoughts, resulting in incoherent speeches, were not aimed
      at theelite of India, but the masses who enjoyed that kind
      of non-interaction - a monologue" (YP: 72-73).7 In writing about
      the decade-long delay in the setting up of a cyclotron in Ranchi
      in the 1970s, something for which the Atomic Energy Commis-
      sion received a fair amount of flak, he writes:
      One of the reasons for the delay was the arrival of ten million
      Bangladeshi refugees at the site of the project. They were all
      accommodated near the accelerator location and it seemed as if
      they had come to stay permanently. But luck favoured us and one
      day, after several months of squatting around, they all returned
      to their country and we resumed our work. The machine was a
      success and became a case study of special value for research
      students in the universities (YP: 78).

      Ten million was possibly the total number of Bangladeshi
      refugees in India at the time of the Bangladesh war. At best, no
      more than a few thousands could have been settled at Ranchi,
      and even fewer numbers must have been located around the
      accelerator. To Ramanna, the refugees were, of course, doing
      little more than "squatting around". These people, who in
      many cases had lost all they had owned, had seen family
      members killed in one of the most violent civil wars, and who
      were until recently Indians, seemed to Ramanna to have
      arrived in Ranchi just to delay his experiments. "Luck" favoured
      the scientists because the refugees, to his mind, left as
      inexplicably as they came - like a swarm of locusts or some
      other such unthinking natural phenomenon. The passage is
      quite incredible in its utter disdain for facts or for the refugees.
      And, yet the same Bangladeshi refugees and their humani-
      tarian needs are, later in the autobiography, used as the
      reason why India had to test the bomb in 1974. As he writes,
      "... it was absurd to succumb to a hypocritical set of coun-
      tries, who while claiming moral superiority, had not hesitated
      to use nuclear gun boat diplomacy to stop humanitarian
      assistance during the Bangladesh war of 1971" (YP: 94). The
      palpable disdain for the Bangladeshi refugees earlier is now
      replaced with concern about their welfare during the short-lived
      American attempt at intervention. The role of the masses alternates
      between that of an alibi for India's nuclear programme, and an
      impediment in the path to scientific achievement. In these contra-
      dictory passages, Ramanna exemplifies the liberal who loves the
      masses in the abstract but detests each one of them individually.
      The narrative of Ramanna's life reiterates the theme that India's
      nuclear programme - constructed indigenously under a repressive
      and biased non-proliferation regime - was a triumph of national
      sovereignty and self-reliance. In this story, the "people" are the
      reason, the alibi, for the nuclear programme. Yet, their real state
      despite decades of independence - in terms of indices of poverty
      and underdevelopment - constitute a problem for Ramanna. The
      unease in dealing with this disjunction is reflected throughout
      the book, but is especially acute in a passage such as the following,
      written about world reactions to the first tests of 1974:
      Accompanying all the noises of protest was genuine shock that
      a country like India was capable of something as sophisticated
      as a PNE. The west looked upon India as one of the most backward
      countries of the world. Their criterion for measuring progress was
      different in the sense that they judged the success of a country
      by its material acquisitions and its overt proof of development
      - sanitation, quality of roads and a general sense of discipline.
      India didn't conform to any of these and in this context alone,
      it seemed somewhat relevant when the western world expressed
      bewilderment, coupled with fear and panic, at the success of
      Pokhran. Not that these were reasons enough to condone their
      behaviour (YP: 92-93, emphasis mine).

      At various points in his biography, Ramanna bemoans the
      general lack of discipline Indians show in regard to public spaces
      and about their poor sanitation habits. Yet, in the above passage,
      such indices for assessing a country's development are seen as
      "western", "different" - and implicitly inadequate. Ramanna's
      locus of enunciation moves between seeing India through western
      eyes (when critiquing his country), and being a patriotic Indian
      capable of seeing beyond the superficial heat and dust when
      defending the decision to test the bomb.

      Throughout the text, Ramanna interchangeably deploys the
      categories "Indian"and "Hindu". The attitude towards non-Hindu
      Indians is indexed in multiple ways. Modern-day Ayodhya is
      described as the birthplace of Lord Rama and he recalls that he
      placed "a few flowers on the pedestal of a mosque built at that
      spot some four hundred years ago" (YP: 26). With a preface dated
      Economic and Political Weekly June 10, 20062330
      March 1991, the autobiography must have been written at the
      same time as the BJP's violently sectarian Ram Janmabhumi
      campaign was in full swing. The mosque/mandir was/is a highly
      charged and contested space, and the equation of the mythic
      Ayodhya of the Ramayana with the contemporary place bearing
      its name in Uttar Pradesh is fraught with all sorts of problems.
      Ramanna simply ignores such issues in his memoirs.
      Recalling his days at the Madras Christian College in Tambaram,
      he notes that "... Although Partition was clearly politically
      motivated, the local Muslim community also began to clamour
      for it...Yet at the time of Partition, none of them migrated to
      Pakistan which they'd hankered for from the start." Partition is
      thus damned for being "politically motivated" (how else might
      it be motivated, one is tempted to ask) and so is the entire "local
      Muslim community" for having hankered for it "from the start"
      - but then choosing not to leave India once Pakistan was created.
      The narration positions the IndianMuslims exactly where the
      BJP, and significant sections of middle class Hindus, would have
      them today - as eternally unfaithful outsiders whose only role
      could be that of a Pakistani fifth column.8

      There is an insightful contrast offered by the recollections of
      income tax commissioner and film critic Iqbal Masud who was
      Ramanna's batch-mate in the Madras Christian College. Masud
      speaks of the double bind faced by the Muslim students in MCC
      at this time. The rest of the student body expected him back then
      to be a good "nationalist Muslim" and forswear all talk of Pakistan
      and Partition, while they continued to blithely equate India with
      its majority Hindu population and identity. Decades later,
      amidst the bombs and rubble of Bombay in 1992-93, Masud
      ruefully observes, today all his "secular" friends ask him why
      he does not come out more strongly against "Islamic terrorism
      or fundamentalism" and the extremist mullahs, while the
      country all around him is on a trajectory that equates Indian
      with a majoritarian religious ethos. The daily oath of national
      allegiance that every Indian Muslim is expected to undertake,
      and the diminution of any sense of national belonging as a
      result, simply does not register with the likes of Ramanna.
      Masud, with the insight of one who has spent many years
      ofhis life dissecting films, remembers Ramanna as brilliant but
      also someone who "... reminded [one] of Queen Victoria's
      remarks about Gladstone: 'He addresses me as if I were a public
      meeting'. Ramanna was not so crude but I noticed when talking
      to himthat if people gathered around us, as they usually did
      because Ramanna always talked about fascinating subjects, his
      manner changed.Itis difficult to describe this, but somehow
      it became a public address."9
      Later in his memoirs, Ramanna recounts his trip to Delhi in
      the aftermath of Indira Gandhi'sassassination.
      When I arrived at my brother's place [inGreen Park, New Delhi-
      SK] his neighbours, who were Sikhs, were hiding in his house.
      They shared their anguish with me but unfortunately I did not
      detect any signs of gratitude in them for the refuge they had sought
      at Shah's [Ramanna's brother -SK] place ... I stayed on in Delhi
      till Mrs Gandhi was cremated. The funeral ceremony was attended
      by a large number of Heads of States and prominent residents
      of Delhi, but the Sikhs were conspicuous by their absence (YP:

      Anyone remotely familiar with the events of the time would
      attest there were no Sikhs at Indira Gandhi's funeral because in
      the preceding four days thousands of them had been killed
      in a state-orchestrated pogrom. Tens of thousands more were
      huddled in refugee camps, and had literally lost all they
      owned. Amidst this carnage, to expect his brother's neighbours
      to demonstrate their gratitude, or to attend Indira Gandhi's
      funeral, indicates Ramanna's unself-conscious belief that
      India's non-Hindus are a permanently suspect underclass.
      Ramanna's rhetoric fashions a self that is a permanent
      outsider in the realm of politics - he is too rational, scientific,
      honest, and outspoken to succeed in that world. Of course,
      viewed from a slightly different perspective, his whole career
      and life seem to be a product of a charmed inner circle of
      high politics. His initial appointment to Bhabha's atomic
      laboratory after finishing his doctorate in London on a
      government scholarship; his rise to the head of the BARC;
      his appointment to central government cabinets as a minister;
      his role as a right-hand man to the prime minister on scientific
      affairs; his key role in the tests of May 1974; and the
      recognitions bestowed upon him, including the Bharat Ratna
      (the highest honour possible for any civilian to achieve in
      India) - all indicate a highly successful life spent in the eye
      of power. And yet, Ramanna (and the middle class that he
      so perfectly epitomises) remains convinced that he is the
      quintessential outsider, a man whose success is not because
      of politics, but despite it. It is a paradoxical modernity in which
      a biography can anchor itself in high-caste origins while
      simultaneously professing an individualism that sounds
      straight out of Ayn Rand. Towards the end of the book, proud
      of his inability to suffer fools and his iconoclastic views,
      Ramanna claims that the Greek phrase "Ou Phrontis" ("Who
      Cares") is an ideal motto for his life. Given his views on poor
      illiterates, untrustworthy Muslims, ungrateful Sikhs, Bengali
      refugees, and various others outside a meritocratic, Hindu,
      upper caste, middle class, "Who Cares" is the perfect epitaph
      for such a life - but for reasons other than those intended
      by Ramanna.


      It is important to understand that Ramanna's biography is
      emblematic of what one might call the ontology of a middle class
      in an "overpopulated" society. His views about the excessive
      numbers of people in India are hardly exceptional, and it is a
      commonplace in India to see reducing our numbers as the solution
      to nearly every problem we face.10 Similarly, the un-self-reflex-
      ive majoritarianism, the anchoring of identity in caste, the view
      of politics as that which comes between merit and just rewards,
      the shallow egalitarianism and democratic ethos, and other crucial
      elements to Ramanna's "fractured modernity," are very much
      a part of our socius.11

      Since I began this essay with a literary detour through Amitav
      Ghosh's Hungry Tide, it is fitting that I end by turning to his more
      literal analysis of India's nuclear politics. In Countdown, Ghosh
      examines the sense of injury and denied membership that animates
      so many in the Indian middle class to support the nuclearisation
      of the country. The desire of the middle class to be seen, valued,
      and appreciated in international forums, to be welcomed to
      the status of a great power, is palpable in nearly every
      encounter he has with members of India's strategic enclave.
      Nationalism and anti-colonial resistance undergo a strange
      transformation and become reasons to support the bomb.
      Amidst this social analysis, Ghosh encountered an Indian
      army officer, fresh off a tour of duty on the Siachin Glacier.
      He animatedly tried to convince Ghosh that he had a solution
      to India's "Pakistan problem". It involved detonating a nuclear
      device a mile deep within the Glacier, causing it to melt and
      thereby simply drown Pakistan. Ratherthan dismiss it as the
      hallucinations of a crackpot officer, Ghosh sees the murder-
      ous embrace of nuclear weapons in the subcontinent as a
      proof that "... the targets the rulers have in mind for these
      weapons are, in the end, none other than their own people".12 The
      distance between the reasoned prose of Ramanna's middle class
      autobiography and an unnamed officer's fervid fantasies of mass
      extermination is less than we would all like to believe.

      Email: Krishna@...


      1 While a serious social analysis of the degree to which the Indian middle
      class was complicitous with the authoritarian impulse behind the Emergency
      remains to be done, there are very insightful analyses available in Emma
      Mawdsley, 'India's Middle Classes and the Environment', Development
      and Change, 35 (1): 79-103 (2004), and Thomas Blom Hansen, Wages
      of Violence: Naming and Identity in Post-colonial Bombay, Princeton
      University Press, Princeton, 2001.
      2 Harper Collins, New Delhi, 2004.
      3 Raja Ramanna, Years of Pilgrimage: An Autobiography, Viking, Delhi,
      1991: 11.
      4 Considerations of space prevent me from entering a fuller discussion of
      the issues contained within this choice of biographical origin stories. For
      an excellent analysis of the role that caste plays in the evolution of the
      Indian modern see M S S Pandian's 'One Step Outside Modernity: Caste,
      Identity Politics and the Public Sphere', Economic and Political Weekly,
      May 4, 2002.
      5 While there have been many recent works that have historicised the rise
      of the brahmin in southern society under colonial aegis, one of the clearer
      expositions remains Nicholas Dirks, The Hollow Crown: Ethnohistory
      of an Indian Kingdom, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1988.
      6 Recent works that make this connection explicitly include, but are not
      limited to, Sudipto Kaviraj, 'The Imaginary Institution of India', in Partha
      Chatterjee and Gyanendra Pandey (eds), Subaltern Studies VII, Oxford
      University Press, Delhi, 1-39; Suhas Palshikar, 'Politics of India's Middle
      Classes', and Pawan Varma, 'Middle Class Values and the Creation of
      a Civil Society', both from Imitaz Ahmad and Helmut Reifeld (eds), Middle
      Class Values in India and Western Europe, Social Science Press,New
      Delhi, 2001.
      7 Such a patronising and pedagogic mode of nationalism, one that considers
      the population as an entity in need of education and awakening, is clearly
      outlined in Partha Chatterji's Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World:
      A Derivative Discourse? Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1986 and more
      recently in Benjamin Zachariah's, Nehru: A Biography, Routledge, 2004.
      8 Ramanna is genuine in his praise for the intelligence and administrative
      acumen of Jagjivan Ram, while excoriating the arrogance and stupidity
      of someone like Sanjay Gandhi. Abdul Kalam, the current president of
      India, recollects Ramanna with fondness and gratitude for his support for
      the latter. In his memoirs, Ramanna talks of how all his children have married
      into communities other than Hebbar Iyengars and that fact does not seem
      too exercise him at all. It is critical to realise that these views of Ramanna
      are not contradictory to his more abstract positions on caste or religion
      - they can and do coexist as part of a uniquely post-colonial modernity
      that we are still trying to comprehend in all its tension. This is
      also important
      because one's intent here is not so much to demonise someone like Ramanna
      but rather to point out how representative he really is of our middle class.
      9 Masud, Dream Merchants, Politicians and Partition: Memoirs of an
      Indian Muslim, HarperCollins, New Delhi, 1997: 14.
      10 As far back as 1959, in a speech to a conference on population and family
      planning, the father of India's atomic programme and Ramanna's mentor,
      Homi Bhabha, suggested funding for research into a substance that would
      reduce the fertility of people by 30 per cent when mixed with rice. See
      Zia Mian, 'Homi Bhabha Killeda Crow' in Mian and Ashis Nandy (eds),
      The Nuclear Debate: Ironies and Immoralities (Fellowship in South Asian
      Alternatives, 1998):17.
      11 I take the phrase from the superb examination of the emergence of colonial


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