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Monday will mark the 37th anniversary of the imposition of “inter- nal” Emergency, on June 25, 1975, with President Fakhruddin AliAhmed signing the proclamation late at night, even before it hadCabinet approval. An important vignette about those days has come out, in a booklet written by N Vaghul to honour the memory of R KTalwar, the trail-blazing chairman of State Bank of India (SBI) from 1969 untilhis abrupt departure in 1976, at the height of the Emergency. The vignette thatdeserves a wider audience relates to Talwar’s ouster.
Mr Vaghul, who started his own distinguished banking career in SBI, recalls that a cement company to which the bank had given a loan became“sick”, with mounting losses. Seeing that the problem was mismanagement, thebank agreed to a restructuring package provided the company’s promoter,also its chairman and CEO, made way for a professional. The promoter hap-pened to be a friend of Sanjay Gandhi. Sanjay called the finance minister (who,though unnamed, was C Subramaniam; Pranab Mukherjee was nominallyunder him as minister for revenue and banking), and asked him to direct thebank to waive the condition on change of management. The minister phoned of the poor) we better come up with solutions that Talwar, who called for the details of the case, satisfied himself, and informed yield the highest returns. The question to ask of ouradmission system, therefore, is whether we are taking the minister that the condition could not be waived. The minister summoned in those who have the highest potential. The reason Talwar to Delhi and told him that he had instructions from “the highest author- for harping on the word “potential” rather than on ity” in the country. Talwar stood his ground. This was communicated to Sanjay, “achievement” is that the latter depends on many who called for Talwar. Talwar refused to meet him, saying he had no constitu- College entrance exams should test for potential, not achievement, or more things than simply potential. And the impact of tional authority. Sanjay’s response was swift: Sack Talwar.
good training on high potential is many times more it risks dividing society further, says Shubhashis Gangopadhyay This was easier ordered than done, because under the State Bank of India than the same good training on low potential.
Unfortunately, achievement in school-leaving exam- Act the chairman could not be removed without sufficient cause. So the min- ed of him because of what I see in the papers regard- inations is a very imprecise estimate of the potential ister offered Talwar a different assignment, to chair the proposed Banking Some time ago my colleagues and I were working on indoor air pollution resulting from fuel use in ing admission tests for the IITs and “cut-offs” in Commission. Talwar said he would accept and could do that in addition to being India. In our findings, indoor air pollution was Delhi University. Are we doing enough in our high- Think of a poor child in a village school studying the SBI chairman. The minister looked unhappy, so Talwar observed that the caused to a large extent by the use of firewood for cook- er education admission systems to ensure that stu- science. Her physics and chemistry laboratories are minister seemed to be “very particular” that Talwar not continue as the bank ing and, to a lesser extent, by kerosene in rural areas. In dents from small towns can make it big? Are we no match for the ones in a costly private school in chairman. The minister admitted that the problem was Talwar’s lack of flexi- our team there was a young Indian Institute of ensuring that we take in those with the highest Delhi. Her teachers are usually absent. Given that Technology (IIT) student who helped us in collecting potential? Or, are we simply ensuring that students nobody from her school has ever been admitted to any bility on the cement company issue, and said that if he did not resign, he scientific material on the heat efficiency and emis- with parental resources to pay for coaching centres of the IITs, she has no pointers from any of her seniors.
would have to be dismissed. Talwar said he had no intention of resigning, and sions of firewood, kerosene and gas (LPG). Our basic and access to costly schools in big cities are being Of course, if she is someone like Ramanujan, she may the minister could decide on dismissal. As Mr Vaghul tells it, Sanjay next asked questions were: (a) Do people know how these effi- rewarded with a shot at higher education? This is a “achieve” in spite of this. However, if she is a notch the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to look for grounds on which Talwar ciencies and emission rates stack up? (b) Why is it that pertinent question in India since we have a peculiar behind him, she may be lost to society forever. Are we could be dismissed. It turned out that Talwar had sent appeals to many busi- they are choosing fuels in a way that affects their health asymmetry in our education system. While the gov- doing enough to bring such students into higher edu- nessmen, seeking donations for the Auroville project to which he was devoted.
due to pollution within the house? (c) How much of this ernment has failed miserably in providing good cation? I am afraid that the current debate between distorted choice was because of misplaced policies? schools – most will want to send their wards to pri- the higher education minister and the directors of the But no businessman was willing to testify that Talwar had spoken to him or tried However, I am not going to comment on our work, vate schools – institutions like the IITs are world- to persuade him to make a donation. All that he had done was to forward an but on the young IIT student who helped us with the beaters and highly subsidised by the government.
Take, for instance, the proposed compromise of an appeal signed by the prime minister and the secretary-general of the United study as our research assistant (RA). He was simply bril- What this tends to do is widen the gap between the 80 per cent cut-off to be able to sit for the IIT entrance Nations (U Thant), recommending the Auroville project for support. The CBI liant. He had done little or no economics and, hence, rich and the poor; children growing up in bigger examination. Is Maya, who obtained an average of 79 spent time first understanding the methodology we towns and in wealthier families have greater access per cent in a village school, worse than Dilip, who got were using. Second, he knew exactly what the steps in to the better training in costlier schools which, in 81 per cent in a Delhi school? The former will never Sanjay now lost all patience, and told the minister to amend the SBI Act so the argument were and took the initiative to stay one turn, enable them to have better access to the high- enter any IIT while the latter will, at least, have a shot that Talwar could be dismissed without stating the reason. With opposition lead- step ahead of what we were asking of him. Third, he col- ly subsidised institutions of higher learning. Since at it. Of course, life is not fair, but there is no reason for ers in jail, Parliament rubber-stamped the Act’s amendment in no time. The lected a very relevant set of research papers and docu- higher education reaps higher returns, this system brilliant people not to put their heads together to try minister told Talwar one final time that if he did not resign he would be dis- ments that helped us understand better the scientific strengthens the divide between the rich and the poor.
and make it fairer. Therefore, when we say that Maya’s missed. Talwar remained defiant. Finally, on August 4, 1976, Talwar was given principles and methodology behind the technical cal- Our RA was a small-town lad and not from a well-off entry into an IIT at the expense of Dilip will dilute the 13 months’ leave and asked to hand over charge to the managing director of the culations that we used in the study. I have seldom been family. He and his family had struggled very hard so average quality of an IIT student, we should have a so impressed with someone who came to me during his that he could get a good education. Will he find it eas- better argument than simply pointing to their per- bank. Even after arming itself with the required powers, the government could vacation simply because he was interested in what we ier to join the IITs today than when he did? formance at the school-leaving examination.
not bring itself to sack Talwar. Mr Vaghul records that there was hardly anyone were trying to do. I wrote a very strong recommenda- For me, government-funded higher education has to see off SBI’s greatest chairman that evening, so great was the atmosphere of tion letter for him and he went away for higher studies to admit the very best. This is not because I am an elit- The writer is research director at India Development to one of the best universities in the US.
ist but because I think that when we are using public Foundation and director of the School of Humanities and Why am I writing about him today? I am remind- money (which includes the taxes paid by the poorest Social Sciences at Shiv Nadar University ferentiate between asafoetidaand the attar of roses, then what Honesty, at home
is the well-versed palate’s powerof recall? Professor Pant’s book EYE CULTURE
serial about Gandhi zero in on Rao for thetitle role that he is forced to confront the called petha. In Punjabi a nitwit or and tori – arises from their dis- all these years. His grown-up son is con- times dismissed as a tinda or kad- du, as in “Oi, bilkul kaddu ai.” umphantly announcing: “It’s tin- Ferrari ki Sawaari is the story of a ly provide the extra push the family needs to secure its financial future: “We can send Abhi for engineering,” the son da!” She then gave the three-step son in a school that offers up such temp- AL FRESCO
camps at Lord’s — but not enough to have Nothing has changed
more than culinary
the camp fee of ~1.5 lakh. And yet Rustom fashions in recent
decades. Many of the
you get in return?” The father is cornered tastes of my childhood
honesty. When someone mentions “gifts”, into silence. The son tries every trick he overseas sojourn remarkedthat she ate tindas every have vanished or are
he squirms uncomfortably in his chair.
can think of to capitalise on his father’s borderline basket
in Bengal, lauki and karela shav- cases, facing certain
mistake, he rides his scooter to the next extinction
traffic cop and insists on paying a fine.
be the mascot of a local political group.
“But no-one saw you,” says the exasper- ated havaldar. “Someone did see me,” his character, enters deeper into the spir- that come to mind are karela (bit- behind his spectacles. “My son. And what Like a good parable, Ferrari ki Sawaari asks mildly: “Would that be ethical?” The (FKS) sets up two father-son pairs to rep- son throws a fit: “Never seen anyone more family: the tinda, or apple gourd, resent the possibilities inherent in this unsupportive of his own family,” he rages.
principle of “Jo dekhega, vahi seekhega”.
In the worlds
most real people
inhabit, honesty
is a burden the
cannot afford
to shoulder
The Householder. “If you can’t best thing is to become an officer’s door- keeper,” Naresh’s father told him in the Pakya is tangential to FKS. The central early eighties. “If nothing else, you can door.” Now “PA to Shri R K Asthana, Joint Director”, Naresh is a very powerful min- narrow is also driven by his love for his son. It is a desire to give his child the things he can’t afford on his meagre salary INTER ALIA
FKS is a fairy tale, so Rustom only fiting, and powerful – is to take us into silly series of detours, all is well. But advertising firm calledEquus with his brother, is a core of two more realist fictions I encoun- rupee-kadhai for his wife to gold, shops, The first of these is Girish Kasaravalli’s Kurmavatara, which won the National Award for Best Kannada Film this year.
better at absolving himself of guilt, it all Kurmavatara, too, is about a government makes absolute – if terrifying – sense.
employee (it is fascinating, this fictional “You see, Babuji,” he said. “I have learnt predilection for the public sector as the site of corruption — or its acid test).
Unlike Rustom in FKS, Anand Rao is an has already lived most of his life the way family’s unfulfilled desires. It is only The author is a Delhi-based sociologist


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