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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Harvard and the Indian Billionaires-By Rajiv Malhotra

Harvard and the Indian Billionaires
By Rajiv Malhotra, Oct 15, 2010.

This morning, Times of India celebrates the headlines that, “Harvard
gets biggest international donation in 102 yrs, from Tata Group.”

The timing on the eve of Obama’s India visit has strategic importance.
This whopping $50 million gift is part of a massive trend that
deserves some thought, so here I go…

Many years ago, when RK Mishra (Dhirubhai Ambani’s right-hand man) was
alive, he and his wife stayed a weekend with me specifically to get
briefed on what to do about Harvard’s request for funding chairs
there. I brought in 6 scholars who were part of my team studying the
state of South Asian Studies in the west. The data we supplied were
eye-openers for Mishra, as they had never been made aware of the
anti-India tilts in places like Harvard. One talk I gave compared how
harvard studies China with great respect, while India is seen through
the human rights lens – caste, women’s “oppresion”, minority
“oppression”, etc… Others gave specific areas of biases as well – from
Aryan theory on.

The result was that Mishra went back and advised the Ambanis to NOT
give Harvard a dollar, until they would make changes to their stance
on India. China, I was able to show, gets treated as a serious
civilization. One factor was that China studies is done largely in
Mandarin while India is studied in English. Also, China regulates
visas for western scholars such that it blacklists those it finds
troubling, whereas India is open and welcomes everyone without
supervision, and fails to do any analysis after the fact as to whats
being produced.

In fact, Indians find it a compliment when westerners study them, as
though suffering from an inferiority complex of feeling left out.
Finally, a key difference is that Indian intellectuals are heavily
anti-India because of pseudo-secularism and marxism deeply entrenched
in Indian intellectual circles, and most important Indian scholars are
western trained and/or funded and/or craving to be in their good books
for fame and prestige. Chinese do not suffer such complexes, which in
India are the after-effects of colonization. This is because Gandhi
got superseded by Nehru in defining the elitist Indian ethos. Gandhi
was emphatic about his Indianness, whereas Nehru bragged to John
Kenneth Galbraith that he was the “last white man to rule India.”

This intervention by me through R.K. Mishra did put a temporary
dampener on their crusade to dip into the pockets of rich Indians. It
also put me on the hit list of harvard. I also ended Infinity
foundation’s annual sponsorship of the Indology Roundtable at Harvard
which was my “listenind device” of what they were up to. As a follow
up to this saga, my friend, JC Kapur in Delhi, called up the head of
FICCI at the time, and told him point-blank to stop supporting
Harvard’s PR campaign with Indian industry for such funding. This too
worked, and grudgingly the FICCI head at that time stopped opening
doors for harvard in India. But the lure to become famous in harvard
and dine with the who’s who of white american establishment is too
powerful for Indians to resist.

The real “success” for most is when they are recognized by the west.
This is what the west knows well, having studied Indian culture for
centuries, and used precisely this knowledge to manage, control and
topple one raja after another in the 17th and 18th centuries. Take the
kids to Cambridge, play polo with them, have western women to flirt,
etc. – so they can feel like admitted to the club as honorary whites
in front of other Indians. After independence, the brits got replaced
by the americans, hence the strategic importance of places like

Some years later, there came a call from a prominent Indian that Anand
Mahindra was being roped in by Harvard, and he had given them office
space in his Mumbai HQ. So I was set up for a persional one-on-one
meeting with Anand Mahindra. He is a very decent, gentle, open-minded
executive for sure. He listened to my frank talk. He was unaware of
these issues which clearly bothered him. But he made clear that he
owed a lot to harvard, as they had given him a scholarship to study
there when his father had refused to support him go there. So it was
payback time for him, nothing more. Not to worry, he said, because he
was giving only very small sums of money, such as $20,000 at a time,
and that too for Indian students to go there as scholars. He suggested
that I write to him my objections concerning harvard, so he could pass
it on, and make sure they change their approach. I also suggested to
him that Indians who want to fund Harvard should fund their business
school, which has become pro-India, but NOT the humanities which are
the nexus of this “south Asian” nonsense. A few days later, at Mr.
Mahindra’s suggestion I had a brief phone chat with Harvard’s Sugata
Bose who was visiting India as harvard brand ambassador to raise
funds. I have publicly criticized Sugata Bose for his writings that
depict pre-Mughal India as uncivilized, his idea of colonial problems
focusses only on British but exempts the islamic colonizers, and he
sees de-colonization as the return to a unified south asia under
quasi-islamic civilization (positioned as “secularism”). This, of
course, his girlfriend and co-author, Ayesha Jalal, has very
skillfully managed to make into the core curriculum on south asia at
places such as Harvard. (Jalal while not on the Harvard faculty was on
the committee of their South Asia program until I pointed this strange
anomaly out, and then she suddenly left that visible spot.) Prof Bose
was cordial and frank, and we agreed to continue to chat later – which
never materialized. Bose also lashes out against his great
grand-uncle, Subhash Chandra Bose, the freedom-fighter, portraying him
as a fascist. Music to the ears of the harvard establishment. These
folks bring in Kashmir separatists, Maoists, “abused Hindu women”,
Dalit activists, etc. routinely as the “voices of the real India.”
Anand Mahindra announced last month that he is donating $10 million to
Harvard specifically designated for the Humanities.

About 5 years ago, my colleague at Infinity Foundation, Krishnan
Ramaswamy, and I went to see Rajat Gupta (McKinsey) to meet privately
for several hours. I raised the topic that before Indian
philanthropists give funding to US unversities, people like Rajat
should do “due diligence” on what a given program has produced, how it
fits into the image of India that the philanthropist has. After all,
no management consultant proposes an investment by his wealthy client
in any venture without due diligence. It struck a chord with him.

Then I pointed out that nobody other than me had attenpted any such
arms-length critical study of South Asian Studies in USA. I mentioned
that Chinese government and Chinese private donors do an annual report
on the state of China Studies in the west, just like any industry
analyst would do for an indistry, and this guides them where and how
to invest. This gives them the basis for evaluating a given program
and negotiating from a position of knowledge about what is what in the
discipline. He was candid in confessing that he had not studied the
south asia studies discipline to be able to tell me what went on in
depth. But, he remarked in typical India style, he thinks the persons
involved in such studies seem like “nice guys” and decent folks.

I responded that in evaluating a business investment, the due dligence
would not be based on whether the management team were “nice guys” or
decent folks in their personal lives, but that it would look for
hard-hitting data and evidence to evaluate. Had he or anyone else
studied the writings of such departments over the past 50 years, to be
able to evaluate what was going from the Indian point of view? The
answer then reamins the same today – no, they have not!

In one meetng after another for 15 years, I have raised such issues.
One example of such an article I wrote in 2003 is on,
titled, “Does South Asia Studies undermine India?” (See: ) I have also proposed
that India could use its own India Studies and even South Asian
Studies based in Indian universities (as a way to study neighbouring
countries with an India-centric lens). I have argued that the money
used to fund one Harvard chair (at least $5 million) could fund a
whole department of scholarship in India. The irony is that even those
who claim to be patriotic, nationalists, including those being
described as “Hindu nationalists,” seem confused and mixed up. The GOI
has given major funding to western studies of South Asia – including
both BJP and Congress led governments. Yet there is not a single
government or private philanthropist report on the state of this
“industry” that studies India, which consists of several thousand
scholars full-time who come from various disciplines – religious
studies, history, anthropology, sociology, political science, human
rights, women’s studies, etc. On the other hand, China Studies in the
academy is secure in China’s hands, with western scholars are
“outsiders” craving to be allowed entry.

Before spending money, one must have a strategic clarity as to what
ideas of India are to be promoted. Otherwise, well formulated ideas of
India by various other institutions get to dominate – such as
ideologies of seminaries, US government thinktanks, academic south
asian marxists-islamists, etc. Indians participate but not on their
own rules. Tragically, Indians do not even have clarity on this
amongst themesleves much less being able to project it. At a gathering
at Ram Jethmalani’s house last year, I was invited as the featured
speaker for the evening. I spoke on this very issue that Indians must
take control of India Studies. One prominent woman activist (Madhu
Kishwar) diverted the issue by asking whether the studies would be
done in Hindi! The whole gathering easily got distracted by any odd
and irrelevant idea, that should not have diverted them from the core
proposition being discussed. Some others asked “whose idea of India”
would be studied, would it be the Muslims’ idea and dalit idea, or
would brahmins dominate? Indians do not even have a consensus on what
is India as we want to see it.

Earlier this year, there was a rumor that Infosys founder Narayan
Murthy was giving $15 million to harvard to translate and publish
ancient Indian texts into English, for popular reading. On the surface
this seems good for us. But the details count and such details are
typcially glossed over by Indians. The editor appointed for the series
is none other than Prof. Sheldon Pollock (Columbia), even though he
takes an explicitly Marxist view of Sanskrit – explotation by brahmins
of dalits, women, muslims, etc. His famous writing, “The Death of
Sanskrit” laid out his idea of its history as a source of power in the
hands of a few. He has been editor of the CLAY series of Indian
Classics already, and one has to see that to get an idea of his
biases. (See: )
While doing a great job bringing out the “beauty” of the indian
materials, the fact remains that he simply assumes and states the
Aryan invasion/migration theory as a given without even raising any
issue with it. Very elegant and beautifully produced, this series
already has 46 volumes in print, and its influence is considerable. My
concern was that the Murthy family might not have invested time and
resources to go into the details of the issues at stake in the
translation of Indian classics in the west. The Murthy donation will
also take this new series from harvard, and send it back into Indian
education, making this “Made in USA” depiction of Indian Classics the
canon for Indians to study as their definition of themesleves. This is
what max Mueller’s works did a century ago. It is their money and they
have a right to do what they please with it. But wouldn’t it have been
wiser if they had funded something to do with their area of expertise
and competence, so they could at least evaluate and monitor
professionally, and not depend on “they are nice fellows” level of
naivete. When this rumor was critiqued by me, the head of the Hindu
American Foundation inquired and concluded that the runor was false
based on his “inside” information from the Murthy’s. A few days later
the official announcement was made. Also, Prof. Pollock was awarded
the Padma Shri award by GOI at a Republic Day ceremony in Rashtrapathy
Bhavan, for his great contributions to the study of sanskrit.

None of the reactions from the “Hindu activists” have made any sense
either, be it issuing petitions or writing angrily to the parties
concerned. They have failed to understand the deeper mechanisms at
work. You dont fight a patient’s infection by holding playcards
shouting slogans against the germs! The doctor has to understand the
mechanisms of the disease and how/where to intervene. But a lazy,
incompetent man (despite his good intentions) would have no time to go
to med school and learn all that, and THEN be competent to defeat the
disease. He is in too much of a hurry, wants to make a big splash in
public to look important; and hence he stands outside the hospital
shouting slogans against the germs. This sounds like a strange
analogy, but if you examine closely the “activists” at work, it is a
fairly accurate one.

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