A Couple of Miscellaneous Writings of Mine – Some Introductory Remarks!

[Earlier this year, 13th May 2016 to be precise, I was the moderator at an address at the Bangalore International Centre (http://www.bicentre.org/) on the Great Trigonometric Survey of India’s connection with Bangalore, delivered by my friend, Udaya Kumar P L.  His is truly a passion that has lead to deep research and understanding; proof, if ever some were needed, of what human inquisitiveness and the science of enquiry coupled with constant striving to find out deeper and esoteric aspects, can lead to.  Udaya’s full presentation can be found here: https://issuu.com/udayakumarp.l/docs/the_story_of_the_bangalore_baseline.  I was lucky to be tasked with making a few opening remarks, which is the first piece below (Lambton’s tomb that I refer to features as the lead photograph in this post). 

The second of my writings included in this post are the introductory remarks I made at a special discussion session held at the Aditi Institute of the Mallya Aditi International School (http://www.aditi.edu.in/) on the eve of India’s Republic Day this year, 2016.  Entitled “Working a Democratic Constitution: The Indian Experience – A Textual and Contextual Overview”, and featuring a power packed and distinguished panel of speakers, the session was aimed at engendering liberal thought and progressive ideas, while promoting the art of informed debate leading to a fuller understanding of the various topics tackled in these sessions.  Here’s to the untiring efforts of Principal Jayarajan as he seeks to build an enlightened citizenry amongst the students that pass through this school’s portals.]

BANGALORE INTERNATIONAL CENTRE, 13th May 2016:

I fill very distinguished boots today. I am substituting for Naresh Narasimhan as the moderator for today’s lecture. Naresh’s professional background and personal avocations made him ideally suited to introduce and set the scene for the topic for this evening. I hope I am able to fulfil that role in substantial measure; a task made easier by the esoteric subject and the even more interesting speaker. Udaya I am sure will keep you in thrall by the intriguing story that I know he will unfold shortly. I know because I am one of the small group of people privileged to have listened to his lecture on this topic a few months ago. That prompted me to request Mr. Dasgupta and the BIC to have him address us; a wider and erudite audience. I can tell you Udaya is looking forward to your inputs, questions and, indeed, different perspectives and interesting connections to other historical episodes and facts.

Mr. Subbiah Muthiah, MBE, the venerable historian of Madras has claimed that the Great Trignometrical Survey of India had its birth and first baseline between Guindy and Fort St. George; Udaya contests that and has facts and references to speak for Bangalore’s claim to be the city where the British started this over-a-century long exercise. In the South anything that suggests a rivalry between Madras and Bangalore; or, indeed, on a wider field, between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, always makes for fascinating conversation! It also provides another context to the telling and re-telling of history in India – that from the broad sweep of historical events, trends and overarching perspectives, at the macro level, it is possible as part of legitimate historiography to recount local or city specific (in this case) historical facts, circumstances, anecdotes and other vignettes that are often lost and ignored on the broader canvas. If we are to preserve and, indeed, promote our local heritage and its appreciation, then research and presentations such as what you are about to hear, are vital in engendering that regard and proper place for the ‘micro’ within the ‘macro’.

To set the scene for today: At the heart of the very commercial venture that was the British East India Company in its early days, are Englishmen, and, indeed, Scotsmen and Irishmen who were the ‘Honourable John Company’s’ most ardent foot soldiers. So, for instance, Colonel Colin Mackenzie from Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides (and buried in South Park Cemetery in Calcutta) was the first Surveyor General of India in 1815, apart from being a collector of antiquities. A vital part of the campaign against Tipu in Mysore, he produced the first maps of the region along with illustrations of the landscape and notes on archaeological landmarks; he has a link with this evening’s presentation. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hyde Colebrook from Kent (died in Bhagalpur), also a surveyor at the time of our story, became an instant celebrity when he produced in 1794 his stunning sketches of hand coloured aquatint plates, with colour washed borders, called “Twelve Views of Places in the Kingdom of Mysore, the Country of Tippoo Sultan” – a welcome relief of colour, of the mystical east, in a grey and drab London.

But the man squarely at the centre of this evening’s lecture is Lieutenant Colonel William Lambton from near Northallerton in northern Yorkshire, he who started and nurtured the exercise that history knows today as the “Great Trignometrical Survey” of India. He died in 1821 or 1823 in a place called Hinghanghat 60-odd kilometres from Nagpur, the ostensible centre of India. And what I was saying about how we as a people often forget or have no association with our own local history and heritage – look at this photograph of me in Hinghanghat a couple of months ago, when I went exploring thanks to Udaya’s palpable energy when he speaks about this subject – Lambton lies buried in the midst of a squatter colony surrounded by litter and known locally only as “Kala Gota” (Black Stone); there is a stone marker nearby in the front yard of one of the homes, dating from 1907 with the initials ‘G.T.S.’, now used as a washing stone! What’s this “G.T.S.” and who was Lambton and what was his role? Without further ado, over to you, Udaya!

MALLYA ADITI INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL, 25th January 2016:

Principal Sathish Jayarajan; dignitaries in the audience; members of the faculty of Mallya Aditi International School present this evening; other staff members of this school here today; dear students; their parents; visitors, including several well-known Bangaloreans ; visiting students and their parents; ladies, gentlemen and all my young friends, in body, mind and spirit!

Good evening to each of you and a warm welcome to what promises to be an engaging and thought-provoking panel discussion.  My name is Siddharth Raja; and, apart from being a parent with a child in this school, I can lay some claim to being knowledgable about the issue being discussed today, as well as knowing each of our panelists today, personally and well.

A few months ago, when I bumped into Principal Jayarajan in school (my daughter studies here in Std. 3), he mentioned to me that he was keen to have installed as a regular feature in the school calendar, a lecture or a panel discussion around the time of our nation’s Republic Day on an issue of public importance and contemporary significance. During that brief conversation, I sensed that the Principal was indicating his earnest desire to raise the level of public discourse on fundamental issues affecting society and the public interest, beyond the level of – and, indeed, way more insightful than – the so-called debates (or should I say “shouting matches”) that are inflicted on each of us on television every day; when the chief forum for any well-meaning and rounded debate, Parliament, is very often log-jammed these days! The fact that these ‘media debates’ have come to define the ‘conversation’ on critical issues in our public spaces is deeply disturbing and keenly indicative of the need for some fresh thought, openly expressed stemming from knowledge and conviction.

The manifestation of that ideal (and, in fact, I should say, the expression of such a hope) is why we are here this evening, ladies and gentlemen! And, I have to thank, in full measure, Principal Jayarajan for his unwavering support and strongly-held belief, that this maiden attempt at an informed public debate, has seen fruition. I am sure it is his, and our collective desire, that this event becomes a regular feature, to be looked forward to in anticipation, every school year.

We are here this evening on the eve of our nation’s 66th Republic Day (67th if you count 1950!); a day that celebrates the coming into force of the foundational document of our Republic, the Constitution of India, that forms the rubric within which our Nation State and all its people must operate and deal with each other; and with every other nation state and peoples of our world. Prescient as always, and having the uncanny ability to render that, which with hindsight, appears so obvious, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru while moving the “Objectives” Resolution on the 22nd of January 1947 in our Constituent Assembly, said (and I quote):

“I trust that the Constitution itself will lead us to the real freedom that we have clamoured for and that real freedom in turn will bring food to our starving peoples, clothing for them, housing for them and all manner of opportunities of progress….When some petty matter divides us and we have difficulties and conflicts amongst ourselves over these small matters, let us remember not only this Resolution, but this great responsibility that we shoulder, the responsibility of the freedom of 400 million people of India….It is a tremendous responsibility. If we remember it, perhaps we may not bicker so much over this seat or that post, over some small gain for this group or that. The one thing that should be obvious to all of us is this: that there is no group in India, no party, no religious community, which can prosper if India does not prosper. If India goes down, we go down, all of us, whether we have a few seats more or less, whether we get a slight advantage or we do not. But if it is well with India if India lives as a vital free country, then it is well with all of us to whatever community or religion we might belong….A free India will see the bursting forth of the energy of a mighty nation. What it will do and what it will not, I do not know, that it will not consent to be bound down by anything [I do know]….because when the spirit of a nation breaks its bonds, it functions in peculiar ways and it should function in strange ways…. It may be that the Constitution, this House may frame, may not satisfy that free India…. India is a great country, great in her resources, great in her man-power, great in her potential, in every way. I have little doubt that a Free India on every plane will play a big part on the world stage, even on the narrowest plane of material power, and I should like India to play that great part in that plane….may the time come when in the words of this Resolution, this ancient land attains its rightful and honoured place in the world and makes its full and willing contribution to the promotion of world peace and the welfare of mankind.”

The Resolution, which Pt. Nehru talks about is the one that formed the basis for the drawing-up of our Constitution – it is today enshrined in the hoary ‘Preamble’ to our Constitution, a copy of the original hand calligraphed version of which – along with the signatures of each member of the Constituent Assembly – is here!

That leads us then directly to today’s panel discussion – we hope, a thought-provoking one about what our Constitution says, on the one hand, and what it really means in actual practice for each of us, on the other. This panel will delve into the text of this document and examine its historical underpinnings, raising questions and providing insights into whether the “working” of this seminal document has been what our founders envisaged it would be; as well as, whether new and progressive insights have been learnt and what pitfalls have been suffered, along the way. The panel brings together a truly knowledgeable and deeply engaging group of citizens of our city – we have assembled here four sharp and brilliant minds who will deconstruct for you four critical issues in our Constitution that are of pressing relevance today – its history, fundamental rights, federalism and the judiciary.

The story is apocryphal: when Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, invited Mahatma Gandhi to tea at the Viceregal Palace in Delhi (today’s Rashtrapathi Bhavan) he quipped to Gandhi that he hadn’t realized Gandhi was also a Barrister like Nehru. To which Gandhi is said to have retorted, with words to this effect: “Your Excellency, Nehru was called to the Bar many years after me; so, to Sardar Patel, and, indeed, even Mohammed Ali Jinnah – so, you see what you are up against, Your Excellency……..a battery of London trained Indian lawyers!”.

With that, I present to you our four panelists today – all of them fine lawyers; all of them with a great Indian pedigree degree from the National Law School, Bangalore, India’s leading law school, the “Harvard of the East”; each of them educated and trained overseas in Oxford and other leading international Universities; and each of them good friends and in one case – Sudhir’s – a fellow parent in this school. Each of the panelists will make short presentations, to be followed by a discussion amongst them that I will curate; and then we will have a Q&A session, which I will moderate, where the audience and the panelists can engage in a conversation.

As was quickly pointed out after we announced this evening’s program last week, ours is an all-male panel this evening. Now, there’s no deliberate attempt to keep women away, and, indeed, we could have invited several leading women experts on the issues we will cover today, who are all well-regarded themselves. Taking responsibility, I should say that the omission is not intentional, although that’s hardly curative nor an excuse; but, I must mention that this session comes at the end of a series of two other talks on the Indian Constitution delivered to students of this school, the first of which was pioneered and delivered by Jayna Kothari and Priya Rao. The germ of the idea for today was thus planted there! The Constituent Assembly, by the way, had fifteen women members out of the nearly 300 left after the partition of India – fifteen largely unsung and forgotten heroes; our founding mothers (the USA, incidentally, has only founding fathers). I will only mention the names of those ladies again so that we may remember them, and hopefully, some among the audience here will one day write about them and their intriguing stories and unique sacrifices in greater detail: Ammu Swaminathan (mother of Capt. Lakshmi Sehgal, of the Indian National Army); Annie Mascarene; Begum Aizaz Rasul; Dakshayani Velayudan; Durgabai Deshmukh; Hansa Mehta; Purnima Banerjee; Renuka Ray; Sarojini Naidu; Vijaylakshmi Pandit; Sucheta Kriplani; Kamla Chaudhri; Leela Ray; Malati Chowdhury; and Rajkumari Amrit Kaur – what a fascinating expression of the different communities of India!

So, now without any more ado, on to this evening’s panel – first up is Dr. Sudhir Krishnaswamy, Professor and Head of the School of Policy and Governance at the Azim Premji University and, a real honour, the Dr. B R Ambedkar Visiting Professor of Indian Constitutional Law at Columbia University, USA, where Ambedkar himself went on a scholarship from the Gaikwad Maharaja of Baroda. Sudhir also runs the Centre for Law & Policy Research with his equally accomplished wife, Jayna Kothari, a constitutional lawyer in her own right. Sudhir will examine the historical background to the birth of the Indian Constitution; and will set the framework for our session. Sudhir, the floor is yours….(I will introduce each speaker as they come up)….

Next is Dr. Arun Thiruvengadam, also of the School of Policy & Governance of the Azim Premji University. After stinting as a law clerk to the Chief Justice of India, Arun was a professor at the National University of Singapore for over a decade, apart from holding other distinguished professorships in leading law schools around the globe. His doctoral research focused on comparative constitutional law and Indian public law, and Arun is currently focusing his research on contemporary public law issues in India and the global South. Arun is now back in India along with his equally distinguished wife, Mayura, also a lawyer. Arun will address us on the fundamental rights of individuals and citizens, as well as groups, as against the State….

May I now invite Dr. Nuggehalli Nigam to address us. Apart from being my batch-mate – which should be qualification enough – Nigam focuses on private law as well as political philosophy issues at the School of Policy & Governance, Azim Premji University. He has practiced as a tax lawyer in New York and taught legal and political theory at Oxford. Nigam also has recently moved back to home in Bangalore, with his wife, Aparna, another lawyer and a leading expert on bankruptcy law. Nigam, who traces his roots to the temple town of Nuggihalli near Mysore, will speak on the federal nature of our Constitution and the crucial relationship between the Centre and the States….

Lastly, but not in the least, may I invite to the podium my colleague and partner in the law firm, Samvad Partners, which we run; Mr. Harish Narasappa – soon to be “Dr.” Narasappa, I am sure as he has just delivered his final Ph.D. Presentation earlier today! A multi-faceted person, Harish has a degree in philosophy from Oxford, apart from a law degree there! He is the co-founder of DAKSH, an organization that is working to develop measures of accountability in politics and governance; in particular, a revolutionary “Rule of Law” Project to enable meaningful judicial reforms in the country. Harish’s accomplished wife, Shruthi, is a lawyer with much experience in the rights of women, including sexual harassment issues. Harish will help us navigate through the interesting issue of India’s judiciary, examining amongst other points, the checks and balances system amongst the various branches of the Government….

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