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Sunday, November 10, 2013


By Swapan Dasgupta

In 2010, in a speech commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain that saw off the proposed Nazi invasion of Britain, David Cameron referred to his country as the “junior partner” of the mighty US during that battle. Needless to say, the British Prime Minister was wrong: The US did not join the war against the Axis powers in Europe until December 1941 when Hitler declared war in solidarity with Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Some time later, while appearing on an American chat house, Cameron compounded his history malfunction by being clueless when asked the meaning of ‘Magna Carta’ and the name of the gentleman who penned the stirring words of ‘Rule Britannia’.
If the voluble Minister of State for everything-apart-from-HRD Shashi Tharoor was to use the same yardstick for the Prime Minister of the land of his birth as he does to the humble natives of India, Cameron would have been dismissed as a man who lacked the intellectual rigour and breadth of reading to be leader of a country that is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. But, and wisely so, Tharoor would never insist that the leadership of the two main parties in Britain should be chosen from those who had acquitted themselves honourably in competitions such as Mastermind, Brain of Britain and University Challenge — the British variants of the Bourn Vita quiz contests that people of an earlier generation may be familiar with. After all, didn’t Cameron graduate with a first class degree from Oxford?
The suggestion that politicians shouldn’t ideally make factual errors in their public utterances is well taken. After all, they have an army of researchers to provide them inputs and check for possible inaccuracies. Yet, errors and other boo-boos do creep in. Indira Gandhi was a canny politician but her knowledge of international economics was elementary. She relied on her speech-writers for guidance. Unfortunately, one of those speech-writers copy-pasted a big chunk of an article written by a well-respected Pakistani economist into one of her speeches. There were many red faces in the PMO when this plagiarism was detected. Yet, I don’t think that this bloomer caused anyone, least of all those who wrote histories of Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership, to suggest that she was not suited to high office on this count. The fact that she never completed her degree in Oxford was also never regarded as a disqualification. Indira was admired and berated for what she did in office and how she moulded India.
Likewise, Rahul Gandhi will not be judged on the strength of his frequent drop-outs from exalted institutions and his dodgy academic credentials, but on the strength of what he says and how well he connects to the Indian electorate. He would certainly not pass the Tharoor test of erudition but this failure by itself shouldn’t make him a lesser man. His puerile ideas would. Yet, ironically, these ideas have come from too much reading and too little experience of how 99.99 per cent of Indians live, laugh and cry.
Narendra Modi, the man who is making life a little uncomfortable for the babalogs who have made the bungalows of Lutyens’ Delhi into their social preserve, may well be guilty of narrating history in a very Hindu way: As a katha. Like Hindu lore, he may have perceived time as yug rather than years; and he may even have collapsed the thin wall separating history and mythology. In this, he is as guilty as anyone who is unapologetic about facets of their Hindu inheritance. However, should the fact that he appears to have a very thin layer of cosmopolitan modernity necessarily suggest that he lacks leadership and political far-sightedness?
The likes of Tharoor and others who are in a state of flutter over Modi’s alleged historical inaccuracies and his appropriation of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s legacy would probably have been equally disoriented over a third Gujarati who didn’t quite fit the mould of babalog behaviour: Mahatma Gandhi. It is often forgotten that Gandhi raised the hackles of a lot of well-established Indians of his day. These included Lokmanya Tilak, Rabindranath Tagore and Bipin Chandra Pal. Even those like Subhas Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru and Jayaprakash Narayan who were important in the Congress accepted the Mahatma’s leadership with caveats.
Yet, I don’t know too many Indians who repudiated Gandhi solely on account of his culinary fads, his bizarre sexual experiments and his obsessive non-violence. That was because these weren’t central to Gandhiji’s main mission: To secure India’s Independence from foreign rule. Modi’s knowledge of history may well be imperfect and he should certainly be a little careful about his juxtaposition of facts. But to base our judgment of Modi on the strength of his knowledge of historical minutiae is akin to judging Tharoor on the basis of his very plummy accent or the fact that his lived experience of India is extremely patchy.
If popular faith has been reposed on Modi it is on account of his vision for the future, not his knowledge about the past. This is why the recent kerfuffle over Alexander, Taxila, Chandragupta and Sardar Patel is a wonderful ‘time pass’. The real battles are being waged elsewhere — in an idiom that both Tharoor and I are unfamiliar with. 


Anonymous said...

Awsum article!! Also I would like to point out our ex PM Shri Atal Ji who was not an economist but still under him Indian economy was at its peak and on other hand we have the great economist MMS with all the fancy degrees and he is leaving office with India's economy in the worst possible state!

vikas singh said...

Sir Hindu inheritance never teaches us to be unapologetic, however small may be the mistake is. I dont know about you or Modi a lot of hindus were full of apologies when Babri mosque demolished or when Godhra happened. Hinduism actually teaches us tolerence to others ideas &respect their believes,which I doubt your pm candidate have. Do Modi have courage to acknowledge his history malfunction like camaroon did? Coming to your idea of talking on future not history or vision for India please tell me in which rally Modi talked about future, other than doing congress bashing which any common man can do better than him. Similar to Modi's brabs this article has nothing to say positive or futuristic & hence start bashing cameroon, Rahul & surprisingly ended on Mahatma Gandhi. I am sorry sir but this article was really bitter in taste.

Anonymous said...

Great article Swapan. Please write more, we need people to know the reality.

Anonymous said...

There was nothing factually wrong in reference to his historical reference as has been pointed out by this M.P from JD Mr Shivraj Singh , an alumnus of JNU, in his article , where he says that what Modi said in his speech was not wrong.Judge from for his slip on his work that has endeared him to the people of this country and Gujarat which has elected him thrice...Let Tharoor get as close as this the debate can be had then .This man but for his criticism of the likes of JLN is quite too well known.Having nicked off in the race for the U.N did he realize his future.So our man put up this act of meeting Sonia ji attired in this copy book JLN way with a rose on his sherwani for seeking his future here in Congress in india.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Swapan. Could be there was more history to Tharoor's article than meets the eye, of a 50 crore variety, perhaps!

Kamal Upadhyay said...

Such a fine craft. Our Politicians have to learn that Brand Gandhi or Patel is not important.

Saurav said...

Very well written Swapan. Modi asking the right questions to congress is causing them a lot of heart burn. Picking up on historical goof ups of Modi isnt really winning them any brownie points with common people.

Narinder Palta said...

A point well made by Swapan. Shashi Tharoor and his party should have ensured UPA II performed better rather than now trying to pick anything they can lay their hands on to denounce the challenger. Like all humans, Modi may have made some errors in his speeches and should try and avoid them.
But issues for India are far more serious.

Its that of governance and performance. The surveys and his rallies show that Modi embodies hope of his countrymen. It is not a coincidence. See how he has turned Gujrat. That was possible because Modi is a great learner. WITHOUT MARVELLOUS LEARNING ABILITY Modi WOULDN'T HAVE BECOME SUCH HOPE FOR THE MASSES & A CHALLENGE to the ESTABLISHED.
UPA II, Shashi Tharoor being a part of it, have brought India to such a weak position thinking they knew it all.
UPA II has many a learned folks . The other main difference may be of INTENTIONS. Why crowds at MODI's rallies are so enthused, THEY CAN FEEL HIS INTENTIONS FOR INDIA.

Anonymous said...

As I see it, Congress has lost the plot in the run up to the elections. Modi is setting the agenda and Congis just react. Before they can think of even a tactic, they face a change in strategy from Modi and they blink. That seems to be the reason why they are all so incoherent. Let them carry on as they do, it will be good for the Nation, if they lose the elections.

abhi said...

But Dasgupta ji if others are making mistakes,so r we entitled to do that???? Don't the PM candidate should be aware of basic history knowledge if he is making tall claim in front of huge gathering and media????
This act by modi ji shows that he enters in the area which is not well known to him....Should a PM aspirant do this???

abhishek s said...

Not to be an ass here but Cameron did apologize for calling UK a "junior partner".

Only a man of honor can apologize. I won't vote for Modi and hell yeah, i won't vote either....

Anonymous said...

stll Modi did not say anything wrong for the following reasons:-
1. Taxila was under the Maurya kingdom and even chandra gupta had studied there. so to attribute it to Bihari was normal.
or there is a way of saying among universities like Nalanda and Taxila , bihar is proud to own one of them.
2. While saying alexander's ambition had drown in Ganges was metaphor because then he was not giving a prose lecture but reciting a poem. Ganga being symbolic of Bharat. That the ambition sof alexander was limited by India/drown in Ganges.
3. There was maurya as well as Gupta dynasty in Bihar/magadh. Among gupta kinds were Vikramaditya gupta, samudra gupta etc and Chandra gupta was maurya.
your article is a good bash on macaulian sonia chamchaas like tharoor

Anonymous said...

People thought the raj had ended in 47 but these congressis have kept it the misfortune of India to be ruled by congress for so many years......they never had an administrator as a pm......Patel was the only worthy administrator but gandhiji thought otherwise and used veto to elect Jawaharlal Nehru as we hav an excellent administrator as a pm candidate and he's very bold.....I think he will win this time just because he has the guts and is a true son of the soil rather than these dynasty politics, scam tainted ruling party......the more they will oppose him.....the more he will gain.....

Alok Sharma said...


Please study Hinduism rather than citing superfluous arguments such as it doesn't teach us to be unapologetic.

Post independence propaganda & in our eagerness to endear ourselves to the west, we have lost our moorings and have become a confused lot. For all the talk of secularism (please look up the meaning of 'secular' in its letter & spirit), we are far from a secular state. A secular state completely isolates itself from religion and not mire itself into enacting laws based on religion such as Hindu Marriage Act or Muslim Marriage Act. Tolerance yes, but then let our state be based on Dharma rather than alien secular concept. Hinduism has Dharma at its core & I agree with you that tolerance lies in its very ethos just as much as a just & equitable society.

And may I correct you that it wasn't the mosque that was demolished but rather a disputed structure. And yes that act of demolition was deplorable as any act of hooliganism is. Regrettably our society is replete with such acts of hooliganism across the political divide. So please get your facts right & clear the cobwebs of confusion fed to you by the intelligentsia bitten by the the bug of western appeasement. We must 1st respect ourselves & only then will we truly be earn global respect.

Alok Sharma said...

And Vikas,

If you live in self denial, you will never see the vision for future elucidated by Narendra Modi in number of his speeches.

You only need to listen to plethora of his speeches on YouTube channel to learn about the vision esposed so clearly by Narendra Modi.

If you ask me, it doesn't take rocket science to spell out the vision. Quality education, health assurance (as inumerated by Modi) against health insurance, skill development for the underprivileged, poverty elimination, proper sanitation....

It goes without saying that uninterrupted power supply, clean drinking water, clean air to breathe, good road & transportation network and elimination of corruption will only help in achieving the goals listed in my preceding paragraph.

I am sorry to say that most governments in independent India have been pro poverty & anti poor. Barring exceptions of Narasihma Rao & AB Bajpeyi governments in recent decades.

Rajat Sharma said...

Leaders of Congress are know to shit through wrong orifice and those who do it more often & effectively are rewarded the most. Prime example being 'Manish Holistic Tiwari'. Tharoor & Jai Ram Ramesh have also joined the race.Funny that JRR has to keep Indira Gandhi hairstyle just to please Pappu & thank got UN kicked Tharoor's ass!! Very well written Sir!! Tharoor taken to cleaners!! P.S. Thanks for not using Shakespear-en English this time around!!

Yunus Sait said...

An error is understandable, but when one misrepresents facts for political expediency, the individual is nothing but a habitual liar. When a journalist steps aside from truthful & fair criticism, no amount of cover up or glossing over will change the fact that he is nothing but a party spokesman. Irrespective of who wins the election, or whom your personal choice would be, when you hold the pen or speak out in the idiot box give some thought to fair & unbiased criticism which will hold you in good stead as a journalist of repute.

Anonymous said...

Well said Alok.But i have just one question , has modi ever mentioned how he is going to implement not all but even few of these solutions.Making plethora of promises is usually what every politician does,what is always lacking is the blue print to back it.It's always easier said than done.I don't think within few months of coming in power someone can change things drastically as it's been projected in most of Modi's rallies especially those in UP until he has already devised a firm plan.

Anonymous said...

A wrong does not make it right when it is spoken by a big shot. Guys lets accept this. Modi goofed up on umpteen historical facts. Now don't justify that . Just say he made a mistake and move on.

Anonymous said...

There were two Chandra Gupt..separated by almost 3000 years. Ref to we'll researched books by Dr Vartak of Pune.

Anonymous said...

The History has many interpretations and each political organisation adapts suitable one to rationalize their ideology. As per Tharoor who was brainwashed in Macaulay School of thought, everything Modi utters is a nonsense and lie. As per Modi who was brought up in RSS school of thought, he obviously goes against the Macaulaite's version of History.

CONgress has been throwing every stone at Modi from the beginning eg. 2002 riots... unfortunately it is hitting them back badly. They are even resorting to dirty tricks like assassination of Modi by colluding with IM and Taliban. Anyone can sense the kind of fear they are experiencing, as NaMo might decimate CONgress forever.

Good thing is CONgress can bark as loud as possible for another 6-8 months.

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed !!

Sri Narendra Modi is trusted as he is the ONLY HINDU Indian who has delivered. He alone is fit to be the Leader of this country rather difficult to govern.

I am sure there are lots of Indians who have scored hundred upon hundred in subjects like history , geography etc who might impress Siddhartha Basus & Derek O'Briens. So what?

I am reminded of Sri.Ramakrishna Paramahamsar's well known Fable where one such pedantic "nitish kumar" ( shashi tharoor , jairam ramesh take your pick they are all the same) is asked by the boatman if he could save himself by swimming as their boat gets rocked by giant turbulent waves.

This kind of nitpicking is purposely done by useless indian media.

American President George Bush was also ridiculed by the same kind of Indians as he could not trot out the names of capitals of various countries. But it was George Bush who proved to be a better President than this Obama.

Anonymous said...

In fact Vajpayee & Narasimha Rao are getting overpraised for doing very little. They shone by contrast when pitted against Indira Gandhi , Deve Gowda & Gujral.

Whereas Sri.Narendra Modi is THE ONLY LEADER who has actually done a lot. There are many VIRTUES in Sri.Narendra Modi lacking in most Indians. Lack of procrastination , incorruptibility , profound knowledge of various issues , brilliant troubleshooting ideas etc. Scintillating WIT. He does not have the vindictive streak like many congressis ( Indira Gandhi had sole proprietorship over this malicious trait).

No wonder rest of the countries are interested in working with Sri.Narendra Modi ruled India.

I personally want only Sri.Narendra Modi to WIN.

Often when I hear at my hindu relatives who are but my ill wishers including my faux husband s.n.ramachandran (965-97201449)cfo in Kuwait praising the same Narendra Modi my anger towards them get poured on Sri.Narendra Modi. As I fear all of them would survive dodging punishment.

Along with aadhaar cards & corruption I PRAY Sri.Narendra Modi gets rid of my faux husband & various relatives inimical malicious neighbours acquaintances too. They wield enormous clout.