The Accidental Indian and Ignorance

The Accidental Indian and Ignorance
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents. January 2

Why is Venkatraman Ramakrishnan messing around in Indian political matters while denying it? No one had heard about him until he won the Nobel Prize in 2009. He, too, appeared not particularly enthusiastic about the roots thing. His famous description of his being an Indian as an accident of birth had not gone down too well and he did try to assuage the feelings of people who are in a hurry to find some connection. What no one realises is that it had little to do with his work or even his fame; we like anyone who has a green card and he could be selling pickles.

Recently, the Times of India mentioned that he had refused to meet Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi because of his role in the 2002 riots. It quoted the Vice-Chancellor Ramesh Goyal of MS University of Baroda (MSU) as saying, “He had no plan to go anywhere and had come exclusively to MSU. Venki did not even wish to meet anyone.” Another ‘source’ had stated, “In fact, if we had invited Modi for the MSU convocation, he (Venki) might not have attended.”

Clearly, these well-meaning people are not in tune with the now-savvy Dr Ramakrishnan. He immediately wrote a clarification to the newspaper that appeared as a news story. It reveals a typical attitude that has become the hallmark of expatriates – pretend to be removed from the hurly-burly and then sneak in some innuendo. It is a shame that he ended his note with, “Finally, Indians should take particular pride in the fact that there was no backlash against local Muslim communities after the Mumbai atrocities. That is great progress.”

Does he even realise how ignorant and damaging such a statement is? Ten people arrive from outside and kill people in a planned attack; this is not atrocities but a militant attack that was strategically manipulated. It was not a pogrom and it was not targeted at any particular community, since the targets were secular, except the Chabad House of the Jews. Only because the names of the attackers were Muslim, does he expect that there could have been a backlash? And why are Indians supposed to be proud about not retaliating? Where is the progress? What sort of mindset is this?

Is his home, the United States of America, proud that there are no attacks almost every other day as a backlash of atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq?

It is rather pathetic that he had to sound so apologetic on behalf of Narendra Modi when there are cases pending against him and his police officers. He says that no one from Mr Modi’s office contacted him either before or after October 2009: “Furthermore, as someone who does not live here and is not entitled to vote in India, I have no desire to interject myself into Indian politics, and I am certainly not in a position to comment on Mr Modi’s views or actions.”

He is certainly interested in world politics or that bit of it that supposedly affects him. In February of last year when he had a problem getting an iPhone in Britain because of a misspelling of his name and that he had not shelled out a deposit, he had ranted, “I am actually slightly suspicious that there is an element of racism at play here as well, since I can’t think of a logical reason why I should be denied credit.”

He had never expressed any sympathy towards racist attacks, has always glorified his status as an American and played down his Indianness, although, ironically, he used a nice little Indian tactic of “Don’t you know who I am?”

It is this same attitude that imbues his current statement. He believes he can stand on the pulpit and deliver sermons. After informing us that he is only interested in the scientific community, he goes on to state: “However, it is no secret that speaking as a private individual, I am for communal peace and harmony, and I have made it clear that I do not believe a country as diverse as India can continue to progress without this harmony, since internal social strife will be a huge drag on development and the economy apart from its human cost.”

Development and the economy extract a price from the human being. Since he has mentioned before that he does not come to India to sightsee, he might have at least had a look at the glass-fronted malls and the streets and the airport, all ideas of development and progress, which to his simple mind translates into harmony. Harmony is not a whitewash job, which Modi has been so adept at. Institutes of science feed on this false utopia created in their laboratories; Modi experimented with his own idea of scientific endeavour when he put all the diverse factors in the test-tube that resulted in the scalding of the fabric of the truly secular society and made it bow down to a ‘progressive’ one.

Perhaps Dr. Ramakrishnan should look back at America and see that diversity has not propped up development; it ensures there are breaks for the simple reason that people are not accepting of those unlike them at the very basic level. Fame and elitism give a headstart. It is perfectly all right for individuals in certain professions to lead cocooned lives and concentrate on their area of expertise, but it might help if they did not throw pebbles to create ripples. Either he does not want to rub Narendra Modi the wrong way, although his host did say he did not wish to meet anyone, or he has a seriously flawed idea of what peace and national pride mean. For one who does not see himself as an Indian or feel Indian, he should stay out of delicate issues. There was no need to bring in the Mumbai attacks in his clarification when the report mentioned Gujarat and Modi.

What was the tangential reference about and why? Indian Muslims or Hindus do not need his certificate to feel proud. If there was no backlash, then that is how it ought to be as a matter of course, not to flaunt any pride. Is he also trying to ride on the Taj Mahal Hotel backdrop phenomenon? I reckon that has been the extent of his sightseeing.


  1. I once remember Mariah Carey quote

    "Oh I envy those skinny women from third world countries.."

    not an exact quote but something along that line and she was not talking about the bollywood beauties.

    I am not implying that Venki sounds as clueless but he sure is a better scientist than a celebrity.


  2. Hitesh:

    And there was the time Naomi Campbell talked about how she wanted to 'do' Third World!

    I wonder if what I have said about VR was an ouch moment for the expats :)

  3. Btw, at the website where this piece appeared the couple of comments were more about Modi...clearly he is the greater celeb.


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