“I’m on my way out”: Siddhartha Shankar Ray (1920-2010)

I  am grieved to hear of the death of Siddhartha Shankar Ray last night.

I was introduced to him by an uncle who had been his college-buddy, and he took up a grave personal matter of mine in the Supreme Court of India in 1990 with great kindness, charging me not a penny, being impressed by a little explicit “civil disobedience” I had had to show at the time towards Judge Evelyn Lance.

He also told me he and his wife had been in London on May 29 1984 and had seen *The Times*’s leader that day about my critique of Indian economic policy. He invited me to his Delhi home where I told him about the perestroika-for-India project I had led at the University of Hawaii since 1986, at which he, of his own accord, declared

“You must meet Rajiv Gandhi.  I will arrange a meeting”.

That led to my meeting with Rajiv Gandhi, then Congress President & Leader of the Opposition, on September 18 1990, which contributed to the origins of India’s 1991 economic reform as has been told elsewhere. https://independentindian.com/thoughts-words-deeds-my-work-1973-2010/rajiv-gandhi-and-the-origins-of-indias-1991-economic-reform/

Rajiv’s assistant George told me Rajiv had said he had not heard more fulsome praise.

In Bengal, he took me as a guest to visit the Legislative Assembly in session when he was Leader of the Opposition; it was the legislature of which my great grandfather, Surendranath Roy, had been a founder, being the first Deputy President and acting President too; Surendranath had been friends with his maternal grandfather, CR Das, leader of the Congress Party before MK Gandhi, and he said to me in the car heading to the legislature about that relationship in Bengal’s politics some seven decades earlier “They were friends”.

He introduced me to all the main leaders of the Bengal Congress at the time (except Mamata Banerjee who could not come) and I was tasked by him to write the manifesto for the State elections that year, which I did (in English, translated into Bangla by Professor Manjula Bose); the Communists won handily again but one of their leaders (Sailen Dasgupta) declared there had never been a State Congress manifesto of the sort before, being as it was an Orwell-like critique of Bengal’s Stalinism.

In a later conversation, I said to him I wished he be appointed envoy to Britain, he instead came to be appointed envoy to the USA.

In Washington in September 1993, he said “You must meet Manmohan Singh”, and invited me to a luncheon at the Ambassador’s Residence where, to Manmohan Singh and all his aides, he declared pointing at me

“The Congress manifesto (of 1991) was written on his (laptop) computer”.

In later years I kept him informed of developments and gave him my publications.   We last met in July last year where I gave him a copy, much to his delight, of *Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant*.

I said to him Bengal’s public finances were in abysmal condition, calling for emergency measures financially, and that Mamata Banerjee seemed to me to be someone who knew how to and would dislodge the Communists from their entrenched misgovernance of decades but not quite aware that dislodging a bad government politically was not the same thing as knowing how to govern properly oneself.

He,  again of his own accord, said immediately,

“I will call her and her main people to a meeting here so you can meet them and tell them that directly”.

It never transpired.

He and I were supposed to meet a few months ago but could not due to his poor health; on the phone in our last conversation I mentioned to him my plans of creating a Public Policy Institute — an idea he immediately and fully endorsed as being essential though adding

“I can’t be part of it,  I’m on my way out”.

“I’m on my way out”.   🙂

That was Siddhartha Shankar Ray — always intelligent, always good-humoured, always public-spirited, always a great Indian.

I shall miss a good friend, indeed my only friend among politicians other than the late Rajiv Gandhi himself.

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Two scientific Boses who should have but never won Nobels

Einstein’s young collaborator Satyendra Nath Bose (1894-1974) should have been a winner, and has the Boson particle and Bose-Einstein statistics named after him.

Much before him, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937) deserved to win in two fields: physics and medicine. Marconi and Braun shared the 1909 Physics Prize “for development of wireless telegraphy” – but this was an achievement in which Bose shared more than equally though he was deprived of due honour and recognition, his work coming to light only in the last decade. In Physiology/Medicine, Bose’s work was so far ahead of his time it seemed controversial to lesser men. He introduced new delicate instruments, one of which, the crescograph magnified small movements in plant growth 10 million times. Among his numerous other contributions were demonstration of a parallelism between plant and animal tissues. I should declare an interest as JC Bose was a friend of my great grandfather’s, and his visits to our home are still remembered by my father, now in his 90s. I said in 2007 about him “had Bose been less of a great scientific soul and even slightly more of a businessman than he was by temperament and character, he should have been a winner too”.

Carmichael visits Surendranath, 1916

The first Governor of Bengal after the 1912 reunification of Bengal and East Bengal was the Scottish Liberal politician Thomas-Gibson Carmichael, the first (and apparently last) Baron Carmichael. This is a photograph of a 1916 visit he paid to Surendranath Roy’s home at Behala,  Surendranath then being the Deputy President of the Bengal Legislative Council and  probably the most influential officially recognised political statesman in Bengal at the time.

Surendranath’s younger son, Manindranath, is the bespecaled and moustachioed young man in the middle holding the child. If the child is a two or three year old, it would be my father’s elder brother; if the date of the photograph is late in 1916 and the child is a one year old, it would be my father.

carmichael1916

Bengal Legislative Council 1921

This is a 1921 photograph of the Bengal Legislative Council with the Governor of Bengal, the Earl of Ronaldshay (later Secretary of State for India and  known as the Marquess of Zetland) at the centre. To his immediate right is Surendranath Roy, then President of the Council. Seated second to the left of the Governor is Surendranath Banerjee, the eminent leader of the Indian National Congress (and mentor of GK Gokhale and other “moderates” in the national movement); he and Surendranath Roy were friends and political colleagues.

1921legcouncil3

Jaladhar Sen writes to Manindranath at Surendranath’s death, c. Nov-Dec 1929

In the days before radio, Bengali society had literature and the arts to keep itself company (besides politics). Writing and reading poetry was a common hobby.  Three principal literary journals were Bharatvarsha, Probasi and Bichitra. The long-standing editor of Bharatvarsha was Jaladhar Sen, and it was he who had introduced Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya to Manindranath when Sarat had returned (in impecunious circumstances) to Bengal from Burma, probably with a request that Sarat be supported and sponsored.

This was a letter received by Manindranath from Jaladhar Sen expressing condolences at the passing of his father, Surendranath, who died on November 11, 1929. (Surendranath likely died from his injury sustained along with Ardeshir Dalal from Bhagat Singh’s bomb on 8 April 1929.  https://independentindian.com/2008/06/17/surendranath-roy-1860-1929/)

jaladharsentomnroy1929

“Brother Manindra,
I have just returned to Kolkata and cannot express how heart-rending is the news of your father’s demise. You know what a genuine well-wisher he had been for me. God alone knows how shocked I am to lose such a friend who stood by me though thick and thin. May you be strong at such an hour and may the departed noble soul be blessed.  An article by the late Surendranath had been printed already in ‘Bharatvarsha’ before he passed away. But that edition has not been published yet. It is going to be published next month. So please send me a photograph of him before that. I shall be visiting you soon.   Your well-wisher,  Jaladhar Sen.”  (Translation by KM.)

Pre-Partition Indian Secularism Case-Study: Fuzlul Huq and Manindranath Roy

The 1940 Lahore Resolution of the Muslim League did not mention the word “Pakistan” but is considered its political blueprint.  MA Jinnah’s political support lay among  the Muslim elite in Muslim-minority areas of India — he needed a show of support from the Muslim-majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal too, and indeed Sikandar Hyat Khan and AK Fuzlul Huq  came to draft and present the Lahore Resolution.

Fuzlul Huq was Prime Minister of undivided Bengal from 1937-1943.  On 11 May 1942, he led the bridegroom’s procession when my father went to wed my mother.  Here is Fuzlul Huq entering the car to do so, with my grandfather Manindranath Roy helping him into the car.  My mother’s family were surprised; they were Bengali Brahmins from Jamshedpur and did not quite know what to make of all this.  My mother, aged 16  at the time,  remembers she was non-plussed to find Fuzlul Huq ‘s bulky frame  seated for some reason between her and her new husband in the car on the return journey too!

Fuzlul Huq, having been a young colleague of Surendranath Roy in the Bengal Legislative Council, was a family friend and treated my grandfather, Manindranath Roy, with affection.  (Manindranath was a Justice of the Peace, but unlike his father was not political.)

Fuzlul Huq would apparently make requests of my grandmother for delivered meals during political confabulations; my grandfather’s family had been forced to leave Behala as the family home had been requisitioned by the military to be a hospital during the war, and they lived instead  in Ballygunge.  My father recalls cycling from there with the requested food to the political confabulations in the middle of the wartime blackout (Japanese aeroplanes had apparently reached Calcutta on their bombing missions).

Here too is a note dated 9 August 1945 from Fuzlul Huq to my grandfather thanking him for food and sending his “best blessings” to my grandmother — a Muslim, one of the founders of Pakistan, sends  his blessings to an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family and everyone remains completely cheerful and apolitical: such was normal Indian secularism in practice at the time.   Partition between India and Pakistan and the ghastliness that accompanied it, and the hatred and bloodshed that has followed, were all quite beyond anyone’s imagination at the time.

see also https://independentindian.com/life-of-mk-roy-19152012-indian-aristocrat-diplomat-birth-centenary-concludes-7-nov-2016/

Origins of India’s Constitutional Politics: Bengal 1913

This is a 1913 photograph of the Indian members of the  first Bengal Legislative Council elected (in 1912)  after the 1909 Morley-Minto reforms; the members apparently were being greeted by gentlemen of the sub-urban areas south of Calcutta.  The Englishman sitting at the centre  seems to be Sir Henry Cotton (1845-1915), the 1904 President of the Indian National Congress and a  great political friend of India.   To his right sits Surendranath Roy, who may have been the Council’s first President.

 

Academic studies include notably those by JH Broomfield, “The Vote and the Transfer of Power: A Study of the Bengal Election 1912-1913” Journal of Asian Studies, Feb 1962, his book Elite Conflict in a   Plural Society: 20th Century Bengal (Berkeley 1968); and Rajat Kanta Ray, Social Conflict and Political Unrest in Bengal 1875-1927 (Oxford 1984).  Professor Ray writes about the 1912 election: “Only  a few candidates of the “Popular Party” — Surendranath Banerjea, Abul Kasim, Byomkesh Chakravarti and Surendranath Ray — scraped through…. (A) sympathetic moderate wrote in 1919: ‘The Popular Party is a bundle of disjoined units which cannot resist the slightest pressure from without.’  This charge was eventually disproved by the stand taken by (the Popular Party) in the Bengal Legislative Council.  It showed no sign of wilting under the pressure exerted by the European group…”

 

Other studies of the period include John R McLane, Indian Nationalism and the Early Congress (Princeton 1977), Anil Seal, The Emergence of Indian Nationalism (Cambridge 1971),  Gordon Johnson, Provincial Politics and Indian Nationalism (Cambridge 1973) etc.

By way of incidental reference, the young Jawaharlal Nehru had returned from his studies in England in 1912; MK Gandhi was still in South Africa and would not be returning until 1915.  The Tilak-Gokhale clash though had been in full swing since 1907.

 

 

Subroto Roy

Nota Bene: The text and photograph in this post may be considered in the public domain and may be freely used for purposes of a Wikipedia article or any other publication in the common interest.