Monday, September 29, 2008

Sand to Silicon: Book Review, Prasad Govenkar

Prasad Govenkar has reviewed Sand to Silicon in his blog:

The text follows:

Book Review: Sand To Silicon
Book : Sand to Silicon

Author : Shivanand Kanavi

A book scripting down the history of the Semiconductors from the inception till date to the Information technology days. What I liked the most is the due credit given to the people in shaping this industry, mainly in India. I had no clue that so many Indians are actually instrumental in whatever technology we are enjoying today.

The sad part is that we Indians don't appreciate their contributions and they are known more by the people abroad, especially US.

Apart from this, this book is quite technical in nature. Since I am having the background in Electronics and Communication, it wasn't a heavy reading for me. But for those not having any technical background, would find it boring and not comprehensible.

Good book to read for those interested in knowing the Indians who have had global contributions. Histories and contributions of the whose who are given in detail. The Initiatives done by Tata's to that of Sam Pitroda are worth a read.

I did have a good refresh of what I had learnt in my 4 years of engineering and then comparing to what how exactly I am not using it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Interview Ravindra Bisht: Rigveda & Harappans

(This interview appeared in the Ghadar Jari Hai, Vol II, No 3, July-September 2008. See

Peepul ke neeche:

Reconstructing the past

A conversation with Ravindra Bisht.

Strangely, one rarely meets a historian and a field archaeologist, who is also well versed in Sanskrit. Ravindra Bisht is one of them. We met him at the Red Fort, in the Institute of Archaeology, run by the Archaeological Survey of India. He grew up in the hills of Kumaon and studied ancient Indian history at Nainital and Lucknow and trained as an archaeologist in the very same institute at the Red Fort. He then joined the Department of Archaeology and Museums of Punjab government. Quite early in his career (1968-71) he was involved in excavating at Sanghol that led to the discovery of a site which extended from the late mature Harappan period to the modern. When the new state of Haryana was created, he was transferred to the new state and he was involved with the important excavations at Banawali, Haryana. Later he joined the Archeological Survey of India and led the team that excavated at Dholavira, Kutch. He has written a large number of research papers on his findings. He is also one of the prominent archaeologists who dismiss theory of Aryan invasion of India and infact see Rigvedic Aryans as belonging to late-mature Harappan period. Since his school days Bisht was fascinated by Sanskrit, though none in his family had any knowledge of it. Today any conversation with him is sprinkled with generous quotations from the vast Sanskrit literature. Shivanand spoke to him about the mystery of Harappan culture, a sophisticated civilisation with no known literature one the one hand and that of the vast Vedic literature with no archaeological evidence to locate its chronology and evolution.

Shivanand: Dr Bisht, welcome to Peepul ke neeche. We are conversing in the midst of this awe inspiring structure of Red Fort and I hope we will discuss many mysteries of Ancient Indian history.

Ravindra Bisht: Thank you. I am pleased to participate in this discussion. As for Red Fort, I am an alumnus of this very Institute of Archaeology where I learnt the elements of my trade in the sixties.

Tell us briefly about Harappan civilisation.

The history of this region starts from excavations in Mehargarh, Baluchistan which have given us a continuous chronology of the last 8000 years. The Harappan sites which today number more than a thousand  extend from Baluchistan, Afghanistan to Punjab and Sindh in Pakistan and Rajasthan, Kutch, Saurashtra, Punjab, Haryana and Eastern UP in India. This is a vast area which covers more than twice the size of ancient civilisations of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Babylon. Based on the level of development this culture can be classified as Early Harappan (3500-2700 BC), Mature Harappan (2700-1900 BC) and late Harappan (1900-1500 BC). Mature Harappan is the most advanced and one can see town planning, elegant architecture, seals. We also see a lot of pottery and this pottery can also be found in Central Asia, Mesopotamia, Iran, Oman, Gulf and Afghanistan indicating that mature Harappan culture had extensive contacts and trade with surrounding areas. Clearly they had overland and maritime trade. In the late Harappan culture you see the absence of cities and more like villages indicating a retrogression.

The great mystery in Indian history is on the one hand Harappan civilisation with no philosophy and literature, leaving aside seals with a few characters, which are yet to be deciphered and on the other hand this vast Vedic literature which does not seem to have any archaeology associated with it, if you accept the dating (1200 BC) arrived at by translators like Max MĒ–ller and some historians. What is your view?

Max Muller was not a historian and gave an ad hoc dating of 1200 BC for Rig Veda, 1000 BC for Brahmanas, 800-600 BC for Upanishads etc based on some linguistic considerations. However that seemed to have stuck as a dogma even though he himself tried to disown it! My own estimation is that Rig Veda belongs to late mature Harappan period 2500-2700 BC. The geography described in Rig Veda does belong to the Saraswati-Indus valley. There are strong reasons to believe that the lost Saraswati is the Ghaggar-Hakra system which flows from Himachal into Rajasthan and then disappears without joining the Arabian Sea. Satellite imagery has confirmed that this river system used to merge with the Arabian sea. Tectonic movements resulting in earthquakes might have led to change in course and finally the river getting lost in Rajasthan. Tectonic movements also seem to have shifted the Yamuna further to the east. This could have happened around 2000 BC. Many Harappan sites have been found of later periods in the dried up Saraswati valley. To call rig Vedic Aryans as pastoral cowherds is a total misinterpretation. In fact there are many verses in rig Veda describing agriculture and trade including maritime trade. There are detailed descriptions of three masted sail ships, there are descriptions of fortified cities with three different parts the citadel, Middletown and lower town, (also found in Dholavira). There are hints of city life with its virtues and vices in rig Veda. The latter have been found in Harappan sites. There are many linguistic and conceptual connections between rig Veda and Ahura Mazda of Zarathushtra of Persia.

Harappan civilisation with its uniformity in weights and common architectural and town planning features indicates an empire of some sorts. Where are as rig Veda still talks of sabhas and samity and an elected Raja. How do you reconcile the two?

Harappa would have been an empire for a very short period of time. May be 150-200 years. In fact all empires in India have not lasted more than that. Look at Mauryas, Guptas, Mughals etc. That is centrifugal tendancies take over after some time. But we still see so many features of culture and arts and economy which are geographically wide spread in India. So it is not necessary to be in a single political empire for certain common features to exist. As for rig Vedic political system, sabha was a house of elders where as samity was house of commons which had artisans, farmers and the elite that is different classes and professions in it. Thus stratification had already come into being. It would be romantic to call it republican and democratic. In fact there is not a single instance of a Raja removed by the sabha or samity. Thus rig Veda remembers a lot of things from the past and retains some of the forms where as the actual state of affairs had moved on.

There is no single mode of disposal of bodies in rig Veda and that corresponds to what we see in Harappan culture as well. The weights system of dividing everything into sixteen parts is common to both. But after that the decimals take over so we have ten, hundres, thousand, lakh, crore and so on taking over. The architecture described in rig Veda is that of six pillars and then 100 and thousand pillars similarly 100 doors and thousand doors etc. So is the fort with seven gates.

One of the problems discussed in the literature is Horse not being Indian and an import from the steppes, where as Vedic literature mentions horse.

Rig Veda was composed after the horse came to India more over there were different types of wild asses in India. Rhino elephant were there and they have also been described in vedic literature and picturised in seals. Similalry ther are questions raised on rath-chariot. But we have found terra cotta figures with spoked wheel in Banawali, Haryana.

Saraswati seems to have flown roughly from 3000 BC to 800 BC. It was an important river and hence revered in rig Veda. Aridity set in the area with probably tectonic shifts around 2000 BC and finally it vanished. In fact in Yajurveda and Atharvaveda, Saraswati is not mentioned as a river. She has already been deified as a goddess.

What led to the down fall and disappearance of Harappans? Was it Aryan invasion as mentioned in history texts?

Aridity seems to have led to retrogression and later migration of harappans. There is no evidence of any invasion. In fact Aryan invasion theory is pretty much discredited today. There are basically two periods which are significant archeologically: the Neolithic culture of Mehrgarh that is 8th millennium BC and the chalcolithic (copper age) period in the fifth millennium BC. If some people migrated in small numbers during this period it is a possibility but that is pre-Harappan.

Cutlures of Gandhar and Pira which represent alien influences are from a later period but they were highly localised and did not influence any one. There are many commonalities in the area of central Asia, Iran and India before the Iron Age. Soma is common so are most gods except Indra.

Dr Bisht, you have given us a fascinating view of ancient India and that too one contrarian to what most of us learnt in schools. It has been a pleasure talking to you.

It is my pleasure. One could talk endlessly about reconstructing ancient India. Unfortunately the atmosphere in India has been vitiated by charges that anyone who disputes the Aryan invasion theory is a communalist. And similarly the charges from the other side that all those who stick to theories of Max Muller and William Jones of an imported Vedic culture through invading Aryans are Eurocentrics and ‘Macaulay’s children’. This precludes any dispassionate discussion.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Essay: Modernising Modernity

Modernising Modernity

Shivanand Kanavi

(This article appeared in Ghadar Jari Hai, Vol II, No 3, July-September 2008. See )

Modernity has connoted in the minds of people many socially progressive things. However, what we have today is an Indian version of European capitalism and the Westminster style parliamentary system, both of which stand greatly discredited. So where do we look next to solve Indian problems, asks Shivanand Kanavi.

What does being modern mean, or what is modernity, is a question worth investigating, because the word ‘modern’ is used very often to characterise the political, social and economic system we have today.  Here we are not looking into the esoteric and often contradictory sense in which the word 'modern' is used in literary, artistic and architectural contexts. In these areas it is difficult to find a reasonably coherent, agreed upon definition of the term ‘modern’. In this essay we are concerned with the way the term ‘modern’ is used in social, political and economic fields.
First of all, we see that ‘modern’ is not used in a purely chronological  sense. In almost all cases ‘modern’ is used as a value judgement; something ‘modern’ is to be aspired for and even fought for. It is mostly used to signify something that would be more socially progressive, less hierarchical, less discriminatory, more democratic, more equitable, something that would reduce human drudgery so that the mind and body can be free to pursue more intellectually and physically satisfying pursuits than merely the struggle for roti, kapada and makaan.

Soon after independence, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru called for ushering India into the modern era. He called the large industrial complexes, dams and other technological complexes as ‘temples of modern India’. The underlying sentiment was that the traditional temples of India were places where faith was primary. However, in these new temples of modern India, rationality, science and technology would be primary. Heavy industry, IITs, IIMs, space and nuclear programmes, state funded industrial research laboratories, were all started. We are seeing the results in this century.

Nehru and his colleagues in the Congress led the new elite into going along with the installation of Westminster style parliamentary democracy in India by British colonialism. To some it appeared promising compared to the quality of governance under crony Maharajas under British rule. After the transfer of power in 1947, the Indian elite developed the present-day Indian multi-party democracy with a new republican constitution and elections based on universal adult franchise, which is repeatedly hailed as the world’s largest, modern, vibrant democracy.

In India, we may not have reached the heights and speeds of Chinese construction, but we have created the Indian big businessman. He is becoming known all over the world for his appetite to build global corporations through mergers and acquisitions, cut mega financial deals in global stock markets and grow in personal wealth.

The Nehruvian project of ‘modernisation’ in the socio-economic and political sense thus seems to have succeeded. Then one may ask, why is there a need to redefine modernity?

In satellite remote sensing technology, one gets an image of the earth from the skies but before one interprets the picture based on certain assumptions, one needs to go to the areas photographed by the satellite and check the condition on the ground. In space technology jargon this is called finding the “ground truth”. Thus as we come down from the macro picture of GDP growth, and shining examples of technology and industry to the ground truth, we are struck by the fact that nearly 66 percent of people in India, that is 70 crores have the capacity to spend less than Rs 20 a day. At the same time, according to the Financial Express, the total wealth of India’s billionaires stands at $334.6 billion (Rs 14,38,780 crore).

India is planning to send a rocket to the moon next year. Named Chandrayaan-1, it is a great achievement by our space scientists, who work with shoe string budgets. At the same time, a large number of India’s children are malnourished and have no decent education. Millions of our people cannot afford good health care even though Indian doctors are dazzling the world with their brilliance in dealing with stem cells, genetics and so on.

These facts are known to grounded Indians and do not need belabouring.
In short, the progress and modernisation achieved in India during the 20th century and especially after independence, have been significant but highly iniquitous. One could argue that not only have they fallen far short of expectations and promises but have actually created an unprecedented gulf and polarisation. They have been achieved by a small section that has cornered both the natural resources and the treasury of the government.

This necessitates a re-examination of the paradigm of modernity.

The concept of modernity adopted by India’s elite is European in origin. There were many attempts in Europe to make a radical departure from the clutches of the dark Middle Ages. The Europe of those days was characterised by religious wars, religious persecution, persecution of dissenters, inquisition, witch hunts, oppression of the mass of peasants and artisans by feudal lords, the church and the monarchy and so on. The rise of Humanism, the Protestant Reformation, the counter reformation within Catholics, Deism, demands for the separation of church and state, the rise of national churches instead of an imperial Papacy, the demand for religious freedom, agnosticism, mechanistic views of the universe, the rise of modern French materialism, the empirical and experimental approach to science and so on, were different aspects of this struggle.

This represented the ‘new’, the renaissance (rebirth), the modern. This entire course of events took several centuries to develop.  At the end of this tortuous process, full of twists and turns, one saw the emergence of capitalism and colonialism as preponderant symbiotic systems. The foundations of capitalism and colonialism were the new property relations which held private ownership rights of individuals as sacrosanct and envisaged a society based on social contract between individuals and the state.  The state itself was a ruthless defender of capitalist private property and at the same time a mediator and mitigator of conflict between the owners of these property rights. This was also termed the “civil society” and the “rule of law”.

The 17th and 18th century also saw the increasing use of machinery and technology in production along with division of labour and purely wage based relationships between owners and workers. The great land grab in the Americas and Australia, along with the straight forward loot and plunder of riches from India and other places, not to forget the slave trade from Africa, funded the European industrialisation. It was also accompanied by evictions and pauperisation of millions of peasants and artisans in Europe. They were left to fend for themselves. Later, legends were fabricated on how thrift, merit and hard work led various families to become great property owners, so that the dispossessed would emulate their example instead of taking to rebellion.
This is how capitalism took birth and slowly came to dominate the economy and society.

In India, the British administrators saw that clear private property rights did not exist. The king had the right to collect taxes, while the village communities and adivasi communities managed a portion of the lands and forests. The British conqueror proceeded to claim ‘the power of eminent domain’, which did not have a precedent in India, and established colonial ownership of land and forests. They also privatised cultivated land and extracted exorbitant revenues through Zamindari and other systems. Cornwallis and his colleagues claimed that the introduction of private ownership would ‘modernise’ and stimulate the Indian economy.

The situation was summed up very well by Titumir and Dudu Mian of East Bengal in the first half of the 19th century. They organised a large peasant rebellion against the East India Company and its Zamindars.  They claimed, “the land belongs to God, we peasants are all children of God. It is our privilege to enjoy its fruits and it is our duty to look after it. Who are the Firangis and these Zamindars to appear on the scene now and claim ownership of the same?”
It is said by some that Capitalism with its individualism brought in the concept of individual ‘rights’. However, what is forgotten is a small detail that capitalism is founded on private property rights and hence treats all those without property as outlaws or at least outcastes. If you are a landless peasant in a village or a landless villager who migrates to the city in search of livelihood and builds a jhuggi to protect his family from the elements, only to be treated as an illegal encroacher of land, then you would understand the place of the propertyless in this ‘civil society’ governed by ‘the rule of law’. The only right that is given as a palliative to cover up the rule of the oligarchs is the highly circumscribed right to vote. The rest of the rights are not within your reach unless you become at least a petty proprietor. The petty proprietor himself sees the real limit of his rights whenever he raises any ‘lawful’ or just demand that might slightly inconvenience the oligarchs.

All this is done within very rational and noble frameworks of ‘fundamental rights’, and ‘natural law’, which then rub salt in the wound by declaring that all human beings are born equal. A society claiming to give universal rights has no obligation to enable its members to live and work as human beings. Each one is supposed to fend for himself. If a dispossessed person finds others like himself and forms a brotherhood to claim his share of the social product, then attempts are made to suppress them or, if that fails, to co-opt a few ‘representatives’ of the dispossessed into the establishment.

Of course the use of division of labour and machinery leads to greater mass production for the market place. All are welcome to partake of these products, provided they pay the price set by the market. They are also told that now they have a ‘choice’! If at any time the profits of the oligarchs are under a squeeze, then the state wakes up to its primary duty. It comes to the oligarchy’s rescue, at the cost of further misery to the millions.

Science, technology and reason are all harnessed to maximise the profits of the oligarchs. Thus, you end up with 53 billionaires in India owning Rs 14,38,780 crore while 70 crore Indians cannot spend more than Rs 20 a day. This is where modernity based on capitalism, imposed on India through British colonialism and further developed by Indian oligarchs, has led us.

How can this be accepted as social progress?  And if it is not, can it be called modern?

The same Europe which gave birth to capitalism, and which tried to establish private property all over the globe through colonialism, also gave rise to its negation in the form of socialism. It took the most powerful concrete shape in Russia as Bolshevism. After October 1917, a new experiment began which brought forth a new alternative to capitalist modernity. It built a society based on abolition of private property and the development of collective property and societal property. It also built a political system which was based on recognising rights on the basis of one’s contribution to social labour, with “no room here for the shirk!”  Egalitarianism, equal opportunity for all, education, health care and jobs for all, reduction of drudgery using technology, mass participation in cultural and sports activities and all other attributes that are associated with the word ‘modernity’ were achieved in this socialist society. This new socialist modernity inspired many a struggle all over the world.

After about two decades of this ‘dictatorship of the disenfranchised’, it was realised that the time had come to rise above a class based definition of democracy. There were attempts to remove one-sidedness by introducing equal political rights for all, through a new constitution in 1936 that gave a greater role to the people directly in making public policy decisions, instead of the communist party arrogating to itself this right as its prerogative.

However, before these innovations could take deep root,  a retrogression set in both in the internal and external policies of the Soviet Union. Eventually the system collapsed and the new elite embraced the old capitalist modernity. This was visible in its most naked form when the ‘new oligarchs’ grabbed huge chunks of Russia’s state-owned industry and natural resources, with the rise of Yeltsin.

Today, Russia is home to 7 of the 25 richest people in the world, and 12 of the 25 richest in Europe. There are more billionaires living in Moscow, than in any other city in the world, with an average wealth of $5.9 billion (Rs 25,370 crore each). Russia ranks second in the world in number of billionaires, with 87, behind America’s 469, according to Forbes magazine.

At the end of the Cold War, the US, Western Europe and Gorbachev’s USSR along with several other countries of Eastern Europe got together in Paris in November, 1990 and redefined modernity, which they described as a simple admixture of market economics and multi-party democracy. Signatories of the Paris Charter soon made their belligerence known to anyone who did not fully fall into line with this and who tried to experiment with their own sui generis systems!

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the debate on modernity has taken a new form. Now it is claimed that if you talk of socialism and collective property you are a fossil, but if you believe in neo-liberal market economics and say puerile things like ‘the business of the government is to not be in business’ and so on, then you are a ‘modern’ individual.

What we are seeing in India after the Paris Charter is an Indian version of the same recipe of multi-party democracy and market economics in full bloom. In fact, on July 21 and 22 this year, the Indian parliament once again demonstrated on 24x7 TV, that market economics operates inside a multi-party parliament as well!

How do we get out of this cul-de-sac and truly modernise India?

I would argue that one needs to dispassionately study the experience of socialism and why it collapsed, in order to modernise the theory underlying a superior democracy and economic order.  Here I do not at all mean ‘socialist market economics’ as some are proposing, since I think that would not be very different from neo-liberal market economics in the final analysis. What needs to be done is to study why socialism got alienated from the people whom it was supposed to belong to.  How to unleash the human factor in governance and economic management, and in all aspects of life? How to harmonise the individual, collective and societal interests?  How do we achieve this in the present rancorous and highly polarised, sectarian atmosphere? Here it is worth examining our own traditions and learning from the rest of the world.

The traditional Indian ethos, according to some, did not talk about rights explicitly.  Nevertheless, it integrated individual rights and duties and societal rights and duties in the concept of dharma, which is often narrowly and wrongly translated as religion. Moreover, the right to conscience and a mechanism to harmonise different viewpoints through anekantavada was upheld long ago, through beautiful philosophical and methodological constructs.

The right to conscience was upheld as the right to find one’s own salvation through a self chosen belief system and a way of life that goes with it. This was not confined to spiritual matters, as expressed splendidly by the Bhakti movement, but included temporal matters as well. For example, a reading of the Svetashvatara Upanishad shows that in those days there were many theories about the origin of the universe: 1) kala (time), 2) svabhava (inherent nature), 3) niyati (fate), 4) ydrachha (accident), 5) bhoota (elements of matter), 6) prakruti (female principle, primeval matter), 7) purusa (male principle, spirit). The author is in favour of the seventh theory but he does not condemn or ridicule the other six. Similarly, Kautilya in Arthashastra states in the very beginning the views of Manu’s followers, Brihaspati’s followers and then enunciates his own. There is respect for tradition but there is also assertion of his individuality.

The Indian method of discourse too was highly respectful of the ‘other’ view. A proponent would first put forward in the strongest possible terms the opponent’s case, (purva paksha) and then go on to posit his views, (siddhanta) without rancour, ridicule and demagogy.

Liberal tolerance in the ‘modern civil society’ of the “other” is not even a shadow of the Indian approach. Tolerance hides animosity and condescension just below the surface and too often erupts in majority-minority polarisation. At best, it signifies a temporary co-existence due to circumstances, without mutual respect and necessarily without the basis for long term harmony.
The Indian ethos was steeped in humility and respect. Indians posited that truth reveals itself to the seeker and no seeker can claim to have a complete grasp of the truth. Thus, there would be many points of view which need to be integrated to get a total understanding of a phenomenon. The blind men and the elephant is an oft quoted parable in the Indian ‘marga’ (high brow) as well as ‘desi’ (folk) traditions. This was articulated in anekantavada and shyadvada. That is, truth has many facets and no one can claim a monopoly over it.
Anekantavada goes against absolutism and Aristotlean certainty and yes/no binary logic. Divisions like ‘them and us’, ‘with us or against us’, right or left, belong to capitalist modernity and the Cold War. Clearly the Indian approach leads to harmony,  leads to an inclusive society and absorbs cultural and philosophical influences. It leads to a possibility of coming up with non partisan solutions to today’s complex problems.

The state’s dharma was to look after education, health care, tank and canal irrigation etc. In short, the Rajadharma was to provide sukh (prosperity) and suraksha (security from internal and external destabilisers). Even in the architecture of Harappan excavations, one sees that as early as 3000 BC, Indians thought of individuals as born to society and not in a vacuum. That is expressed in well planned sanitation, grain storage silos, storm water drains etc – in short a societal level planning and execution and that too in all parts of the town, in elite quarters as well as the quarters of the commoners.

The right to conscience, in traditional India, thus becomes a natural reflection of reality, which can be viewed in many ways, unlike in Europe where it became a privilege granted by a sovereign. In the Indian approach to the right to conscience, the state has no role to play. Right to conscience is not a part of political balancing act but is a reflection of multifaceted nature of truth itself.
In modern India, a product of the colonial legacy, we have forgotten all this. The state grants the right to conscience through the Constitution and takes it away when it deems fit. Not only are anti-conversion laws passed in various states, but thousands have been incarcerated in the North East and Kashmir because they question the involuntary union of India or because they are considered fundamentalists in the ongoing ‘War against Terror’. Has this led to harmony and less strife?

Modern India has followed capitalist footsteps and increasingly believes in ‘each one for himself’ and ‘markets will decide’. It thereby abdicates societal dharma that an individual is born to society and society has an obligation to look after the individual and provide him opportunities to contribute productively.

The caste system was a negation of the right to conscience and the right to knowledge, as well as of the duty of the state to provide sukh and suraksha to all. That is why the caste system constantly provoked rebellion against itself from the very beginning. When it predominated, society stagnated and when the caste system was shaken up and overthrown, even if temporarily or locally, the society was rejuvenated.
Along with the summing up of the experience of socialism in the former Soviet Union, Indians would greatly benefit by also getting rid of Macaulayan Eurocentric prejudices and studying our own tradition. This is not to say that pre-British and pre-capitalist India is where we should be heading in the future. But we need to develop an alternative paradigm of modernity that not only promises an equitable, just, non hierarchical and caring society, but that also harmonises the relationship between mankind and the rest of nature as well as the individual, collective and the societal interests. In one word, there is a burning need to build a truly modern alternative to the highly unsatisfactory present, instead of being bound by various versions of capitalist modernity.                                              

Friday, September 19, 2008

Manipal University: Interview

Recently I gave two invited lectures to the students and faculty at Manipal University on "Indian contribution to digital technology" and on "India's Nuclear Programme 1943-2008". At that time I was interviewed by a student of Manipal Institue of Communications. The text published at : follows....

Shivanand KanaviPhoto By: Shaz Mohd

Interview: Shivanand Kanavi
Ajinkya Deshmukh TMJ

Shivanand Kanavi is an intellectual extraordinaire. A theoretical physicist from IIT Kanpur, he pursued higher studies and research from Northeastern University, Boston and IIT Bombay. Till June 2004, he was the Executive Editor of Business India magazine. The same year he received the Madhu Valluri Award for IT Journalism. He is now the Vice President, Special Projects at Tata Consultancy Services. He occasionally writes for Business India and has authored the book ‘Sand to Silicon: the amazing story of digital technology’. He was in Manipal as a guest lecturer on ‘India’s contribution to technology’ and ‘India’s Nuclear Programme’.

Q: In your book and the lectures you gave, you underscored India’s contribution to the IT industry. Do you think India’s role is downplayed in the mainstream media?

A: India’s success story in the IT business on shores and in the Silicon Valley is well known and receives ample coverage. It is India’s technical and research contribution to IT that is undermined. In fact, ‘Sand to Silicon’ was the first book to document this momentous contribution, prior to which there was no credible literature on the subject.

Q: But, we see most research papers coming out of the West, where universities have lab establishments that encourage ingenious research. The Indian education system is not very research oriented; neither do we have high percentage of budgetary allocations for R&D.

A: Even in the West, students write very few research papers. It is usually seasoned specialists in the field, young graduates or post-doctoral research scholars who produce papers. Also, unless one requires specialized equipment for experimental work in IT, I don’t think there is a problem of money. For example, in 2002 there was groundbreaking research in IIT Kanpur by Chair Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Manindra Agarwal and two undergrad students. They cracked a problem that had evaded solution for over 300 years! IT and communication research is very mathematical.

Q: The infamous red tape in India in not conducive to business houses. The Tata-Singur row and LN Mittal preferring foreign shores prove…

A: Traditional businesses – yes. Business in India is a challenge. But, it has done well nevertheless; overcoming all odds and being profitable. The Indian business environment gives some of the best returns in the world. Further, in modern businesses in the knowledge economy there aren’t many obstacles. The main hurdle in services like IT and telecom applications is capital and India has its breed of venture capitalists ready to invest in sensible business ideas. The number of entrepreneurs in India is its chief strength when compared with a China or an America.

Q: Coming to the biggest deal today: if nuclear energy is crucial to India’s energy security, what do you say about the US getting cold feet just as the NSG stage of negotiations came – a strategic U-turn?

A: The US and other big powers made certain calculations by which they had to include India in the global system of N-trade sans any restrictions. However, the US has its way of taking along many countries in its strategic flow and then taking a complete 180 ̊ turn, leaving many countries stranded. The NSG operates by consensus, not voting. Domestic political situations in countries like Austria and New Zealand (upcoming elections) compel them to oppose the waiver lest they be termed US puppets. Otherwise, India is garnering worldwide support with all the big powers. Things will straighten out in a while. The NSG was always going to be a problem.

Q: You span theoretical physics, nuclear geopolitics, economics, journalism, IT and are also involved with the publication Ghadar Jari Hai… How does this come about?

A: I have a natural curiosity to understand the society around me – economy, philosophy, science, history. And then comes the need to communicate this understanding to others. It is only out of intellectual curiosity and I never started out to make a career in these fields, but the opportunities today are vast. Educational qualifications don’t matter much as long as one makes an honest effort at tackling the challenge at hand.Ghadar is a quarterly magazine published from Delhi, an attempt by intellectual activists to view our pre-colonial and colonial history with a fresh set of eyes and attitudes. The colonial era left us with an inferiority complex because the British painted all of our pre-colonial history black. As a people we have to face this outlook tainted by Euro centrism. It calls for a movement to assess each of our contemporary problems on its own merit, and harmonise diverse faiths, opinions and political ideologies – something our 5,000 year old civilization has long since been capable of.

Q: Finally, what is next in store for you?

A: Career wise, I do not know. But, I am writing a book on the history of TCS and another one on Indian role in atomic physics. A more ambitious project would be a book that I am planning to write on the Bhakti Movement in India. The 800 years of history will take another four or five years of research to turn into a book.I’ve also wanted to write a book on the philosophy behind quantum physics for the past 25-30 years. Let’s see when I can get time for that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Indian Nuclear Industry, 1993

Business India, December 6-19, 1993

The nuclear fallout

With the nuclear power programme facing a serious resource crunch, industries will have to explore new options for using their nuclear-related skills

Shivanand Kanavi

When we talk of nuclear power we talk about its economic viability, environmental hazards, fears of radiation leakage, waste disposal, or even problems regarding closing down the reactor after its useful life. But the other spin-offs to our economy - in terms of scientific-technical manpower, engineering skills and capacities, not to talk about the bottom lines and business turnovers - have not been studied in any detail.

These spin-offs have been varied. Since the 1960s, when India started generating electricity using nuclear power, a host of industries have sprung up in heavy engineering, fabrication, and construction. All these owe their entire development of skills, quality consciousness, confidence to tackle bigger and bigger problems (in size as well as in technological levels), to their participation in the indigenous nuclear power programme.
Anyone who does not know the abysmal condition of our laboratories and universities in the 1940s, and even our engineering industry in the 1960s and early 1970s, cannot easily appreciate the spin offs that have occurred due to the nuclear programme. M.S. Krishnamurthy, joint general manager, of the engineering giant, Larsen and Toubro, who has been associated with the nuclear program for over 25 years, says, "Without the push given by the nuclear power programme we would not be able to do what we are capable of doing today. In the pre-nuclear era, we used to make some equipment for dairies and small cement plants, that weighed a couple of tones. Today, we have moved into the third generation of heavier precision engineering at Hazira that can fabricate components weighing up to 450 tonnes."

This technological advantage works out in other areas as well. For P.J. Bhounsule, sales development manager, L&T (an IIT graduate who has worked on nuclear projects for nearly two decades), the engineering challenges they encountered while catering to their nuclear commitment were of the toughest variety. "One of the toughest assignments we faced was the welding of the two halves of the half-a-metre thick steel disk, that was the deck plate of the Dhruva reactor," says Bhounsule. "The weld had to be so perfect that even the tiny atoms of helium couldn't leak through. Simple heating of the two lips in the joint, led to unequal expansion along the diameter and circumference of the half disks, leading to gaps between the lips of the joint. We had not calculated the different heat sink characteristics. This led us to use computer simulation for the first time."

An analysis of the results revealed that the problem could be solved if the disks were thermally insulated and heat provided at twenty-five distributed points all over. "Finally, we machined channels into the lips so that they could lock into each other and after careful deep welding from both sides of the disk, we got the defect-free weld," claims Bhounsule proudly.

This precision and problem-solving capacity that they have acquired is what all the industries associated with nuclear technology praise. T.S. Sakethan, general manager.
special products division, Walchandnagar Industries (WIL), proudly shows his hi-¬tech dust-free shop floor, ingeniously assembled right in the midst of the cranes and fork lifts. He points out a welder meticulously welding the tubes to a tube sheet in a heavy water heat exchanger. The Welds have to be totally defect free," he says. "Normal methods of non-destructive testing (NDT) like sonography, radiography, dye penetration, and magnetic particle patterns cannot be used here, so we do statistical quality analysis. The welder has to be trained in the technique for months together and pass all sorts of tests."
But even this is not enough. The welder's skill is constantly checked out, since there is little or no room for error. "Every day before he starts work, he has to weld a few samples, which are then physically sawed off and tested for defects," says Sakethan. "Only when the samples show zero defect is he allowed to touch the job that day." This may sound unnecessarily time consuming but with the risks of nuclear leaks taking precedence over all else, it's a necessary precaution.

One corollary to this kind of nit-pickety precision is that customers of nuclear manufacturers are positive that they will get quality that's of the best kind. P.J. Bhounsule of L&T says, "The philosophy of quality control had to be changed from post manufacture checks to planned quality assurance, systematic definition of manufacturing procedures and documentation. All these have helped us obtain authorisation to use various quality stamps of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the ISO 9001 certification. "

M.L. Mitra, director, environment and public awareness, Nuclear Power Corporation, who was deeply involved in the handholding operations in the early years, recalls, "We had to convince many in the industry that quality does not mean higher cost but lower project cost."

As the confidence in their technical abilities and quality grew, the industries were able to take on more challenging tasks. Currently, nuclear manufacture involves the standardised design of the 235 MW reactor, the consolidation of infrastructure and manufacture using the convoy system, cutting project time, the design and manufacture of 500 MW reactors for Tarapur III and IV and Rajasthan III and IV. The industries have also built components for the heavy water projects and the Fast Breeder Test Reactor. Now, the pool-type Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor to generate 500 MW, using liquid sodium, has been designed and the industry will participate in its fabrication as well.

Perhaps the best spin-offs to these nuclear-affiliated industries have been in terms of turnover. L&T alone has done Rs.312 crore of nuclear work. Bharat Heavy Electricals, which has gained the maximum benefit, has made over Rs.800 crore. Most of the business is pure profit as the industry has to pay only for labour costs, as the raw materials are provided by the DAE and the NPC.

Besides its contribution to corporate bottom-lines (see table for select data), what have been the spin-offs in terms of new business? "With our expertise, if not on a turnkey basis, at least as critical component manufacturers, we can get contracts from multinationals who want to set up industries in India," says T.V. Rudrappa, general manager, quality assurance, WIL.

Earnings from the Nuclear Programme

1975-80 1980-87 1987-95 Total in Rs crore
BHEL 15 154 640 804
HEC - 42 128 170
ECIL - 70 160 230
L&T 5 35 272 312
KSB - 7 112 119
Mukand 2.5 10.5 24 37
BHPV - - 27 27
BPCL - 3.5 24 27.5
WIL - - 20 20
Mather & Platt - - 20 2020

R.D. Hariani, technical director, GR Engineering, concurs, "Association with the Nuclear Power Corporation has helped us indirectly in getting jobs in other sectors as the quality has been upgraded in an overall sense." Krishan Kumar, general manager of the public sector giant, Bharat Heavy Electricals, is equally upbeat regarding spin-offs, "BHEL has gained considerably technologically through its association with nuclear power. Now, we are in a position to execute the conventional side of the nuclear power plant on a turnkey basis." After the recent fire in the generator in Narora I the turbine generator that was based on GE design is also being redesigned for Indian conditions by BHEL and NPC.

With these design modifications Indian Nuclear-related industries have finally come into their own. They have moved from their total dependence on foreign designs, to making design changes, to finally conceptualising and manufacturing their own designs. K.R. Balakrishnan, general manager, control panels, GEC Alsthom India. Ltd, who have supplied' over Rs.15 crore worth of control protection equipment and switch gear to all the reactors, says unequivocally that association with NPC projects has helped them acquire experience in designing and manufacturing equipment suitable for an earthquake-prone environment. K.K. Sinha, chairman and managing director, Mishra Dhatu Nigam (Midhani), a PSU set up to develop super alloys, is proud that hundreds of tonnes of very special steel called grade 403 (which is a medium carbon steel but whose composition is controlled within a very narrow range) were produced by Midhani. Similarly, another copper niobium special steel, called 17-4 PH grade, was also developed and produced by Midhani for the nuclear reactor components using electro slag refining and vacuum arc furnaces. Not many countries in the world have these capabilities, says Sinha proudly.

Where to, from here? With the resource crunch threatening India's own nuclear programme options, the logical next step would have been to export the technology. But the government has given very little thought to going into the global nuclear business, although Japan and South Korea are feverishly building nuclear power stations. Besides this, there may be a number of developing countries that will go in for the smaller 235 MW PHWR if the fuel supply can be arranged. Indian expertise in building research reactors had been sought world wide. but India did not pursue it.

The real test of our nuclear industry will come in delivering systems and components on schedule for international clients. And in the ultimate analysis, the industry will be able to use the skills it has acquired in other fields. For although the nuclear industry is facing a serious resource crunch, the resourceful among them will turn this adversity into opportunity.