Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Anti-colonial uprisings in Karnataka 1800-1860

Anti-colonial uprisings in Karnataka 1800-1860

Shivanand Kanavi

The micro-stories from different parts of Karnataka during the six decades of 19th century (1800-1860)give us an indication of the wide- spread nature of anti-colonial struggles in different parts of India. Clearly they had spread among commoners and gentry and a national anti-colonial consciousness had seeped down to the remotest village.

(This article appeared in Ghadar Jari Hai Vol 6, No, 2-3, May-Oct 2012)

 Rani Chennamma of Kittur (1824) an iconic figure in the anti-colonial history of Karnataka

It is unfortunate that we in India have not studied the facts regarding the 1857 revolt nor have we digested the lessons from it. Our conception is dominated by the British narrative. In short, they painted the revolt as a feudal reaction to the modernity of industrial Britain. British historians took great pains to paint all the leaders and heroes of 1857 as decadent, two-faced, selfish, reactionary, turn-coats who were fighting against loss of privileges and had no conception of national consciousness or peoples’ welfare. More over according to British historians, to carry out their personal agendas, the leaders inflamed religious fanaticism and misled people who were otherwise happy to be ruled by the British. Of course they also displayed British colonial  “even handedness and fair play”, by pointing out that there was “some disaffection in the population and even the troops of the British Indian Army caused by the high handedness of some Company officials, however things became fine after the Company was replaced by the British Crown through Queen Victoria’s Proclamation in 1858 and “the rule of law” was established.

However a remarkably rich literature exists in various Indian languages in the form of ballads, folk songs and legends and even documents and reports, which is not accessible to English readers. An excellent beginning in giving the Indian point of view was made by V D Savarkar in his book “The Indian war of independence 1857”, published underground in 1907. It has been followed up in the last 20 years by various micro studies and finally by a significant two volume work, “War of Civilisations: 1857 AD” by Amaresh Misra.

This article tries to put together some highlights of anti-colonial struggles in the post-Hyder-Tipu-Karnataka from 1800-1860. In 1779 itself Hyder and Tipu had tried to put together a confederacy and worked out an agreement with Nana Fadanvis, Janoji Bhosle, Mahadji Scindhia and Nizam according to which Hyder was supposed to attack the Arcot area and Madras, Janoji Bhosle on Bengal, Nana Fadanvis and Mahadji Scindhia on Bombay and the Nizam on Circar districts. While Hyder and Tipu went ahead with the plan the others did not. If this grand plan had succeeded then perhaps India would have been rid of British colonial rule 80 years before 1857. However the narrow concerns of some rulers enabled the East India Company to meticulously play on petty selfishness and rule a continental sized diverse country like India for almost two hundred years.

In this article we have put together some highlights of anti-colonial uprisings in Karnataka between 1800 and 1860. The great struggle between Hyder Ali-Tipu Sultan and the British was already over by 1799 with Tipu’s death in the 4th Anglo-Mysore war. The micro-stories from different parts of Karnataka in those six decades tell us how wide- spread the anti-colonial struggles were in different parts of India and how they had spread among commoners and gentry and how deep the consciousness had seeped down to the remotest village.

On the occasion of Golden Jubilee of the formation of Karnataka State many historians have documented to a considerable degree the colonial history of Karnataka. They have recorded dozens of armed uprisings in Karnataka prior to 1857 besides the most famous one led by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. One can see concrete linkages of these revolts with the uprising in the North. Many letters of request of support written by Nanasaheb to various principalities in North and coastal Karnataka, which were responded to by local kings have also come to light.

After the defeat and Tipu’s death in the battle field in the fourth Anglo-Mysore war (1799), Karnataka was literally torn asunder between the British presidencies of Bombay and Madras; Nizam of Hyderabad and Marathas. A small dependency was created under the tutelage of Wodeyars as the kingdom of Mysore, which increased the land revenue and the burden on peasantry in an arbitrary manner to satisfy British demands. This led to uprisings in kingdom of Mysore as well as areas of Karnataka which had now been brought under, Nizam, Maratha and British rule. A few of them are briefly described below:

Dhondiya Wagh (1800):
One of the first to revolt against the new arrangement was Dhondiya Wagh. He was born in Chennagiri near Mysore. He joined Hyder Ali’s cavalry in 1780. Later he developed differences with Tipu, who incarcerated him. Hence British soldiers found Dhondiya in Srirangapattana’s prison when they ransacked the city after the death of Tipu. Dhondiya was released, who however immediately vanished and tried to gather the demobilised Tipu’s soldiers. Very soon he built up a significant armed force with a cavalry etc. He kept moving from territory to territory and capturing small towns and forts that had been taken over by Marathas, British and the Nizam. Governor General, Richard Wellesley was exasperated by Dhondiya’s revolt and assigned his brother Arthur Wellesley (Later to be known as Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napolean at Waterloo) to suppress Dhondiya’s revolt. He sent troops not only from Madras but even summoned some from Bengal.

The theatre of Dhondiya’s war encompassed forts at Chitradurg, Savanur, Shimoga, Bidanur, Honnali, Harihar, Shikaripur, Kittur, Londa, Ranebennur, Kundgol, Shirahatti, Kunigal, Dharwad, Gadag,  Raichur, Hungund etc. Practically it encompassed all of Central and North Karnataka. He was supported by the people and smaller principalities (samsthana) that were discontented with the British. Tipu’s son Fateh Hyder supported him and Tipu’s former soldiers were the core of his forces which at one point grew to over 70,000 with a 30,000 strong cavalry. The British troops were led by Col, Stevenson, Col Wellesly, Col Tolin, Col Mclean, Col Darlymple. The heroic campaign lasted from June 1799 to September 1800. In the end Dhondiya was cornered by British, Maratha and Nizam’s troops and fell for a bullet in the battle at Konegal.

British historians have painted him as “rogue bandit”, whereas Dhondiya himself had the title of “lord of both the worlds” among his people. Edward Clive a British officer later admired his organising ability and said “what started as an anarchic revolt became a major international war”. Nationalist historians have described him as, “a person with great determination and a magnetic personality”.

Venkatadri Nayak (1803)
Aigur (Ballam) Venkatadri Nayak was another leader who started his revolt when the British were tied down by Dhondiya Wagh. His father Krishnappa Nayak, was made the ruler of Aigur by Hyder Ali. But Krishnappa betrayed him and joined the Marathas in 1792 and helped the British. After the war he was scared of Tipu and ran away to Kodagu (Coorg). However Tipu did not punish him but instead reinstated him. On Tipu’s defeat in 1799, Krishnappa’s son Venkatadri Nayak became the ruler of Aigur. He was ambitious and started expanding his territory. Venkatadri Nayak captured Subrahmanya Ghat, a crucial pass in the Sahyadris with access to Mangalore. He attacked the British troops at Arakere and also defeated a 2500 strong army sent by Wodeyar of Mysore.

Venkatadri Nayak came to be known as the Bull Raja and Ballam Raja. Wellesley took his revolt very seriously and made an elaborate plan to capture him by getting troops from Mangalore as well as Bombay, Bidnur and Sondha. The British tried to organise all the Patels of surrounding villages against him and also terrorised the population by executing many of his sympathisers. They generally followed  a scorched earth policy to prevent him getting any food supplies. The campaign lasted nearly three years and finally on February 10, 1803 he and his 6 followers were arrested when they were in search of food supplies. All the insurgents were later executed. Thus two great warriors were suppressed by the British with Machiavellian tactics using the Mysore Wodeyars, Marathas and the Nizam.

Koppal Veerappa (1819):
As mentioned earlier Karnataka was torn asunder between Nizam, Marathas and the British after Tipu’s defeat. The North eastern parts were taken over by Nizam, who put unbearable burden on the peasantry. The Nizam was totally under British control with the Subsidiary Alliance signed in 1800. As a result of which the Nizam had to pay for the British Subsidiary Force stationed to “protect him” and even accept the humiliating condition that the British would decide who the top bureaucrat—the Diwan of Hyderabad would be. As Nizam’s unbridled oppression with heavy taxation increased, there was no way but for the peasantry to revolt. One such revolt was led by Veerappa in Koppal in 1818. Veerapaa was a small landowner in Koppal, he built a force and captured Koppal and Bahadur ( forts built by Hyder Ali 40 years earlier. British forces led by Major Doughton and Brig General Pritzler rushed to crush Veerappa and Nizam’s general Idruskhan also joined them. Veerappa fought valiantly for five days with only 500 men and died in battle. Even though Veerappa’s rebellion was confined to a small area around Koppal, it represented a popular peasant revolt and inspired many more in the region.

Deshmukhs of Bidar (1820)
After Tipu’s defeat the remnants of the old Bahmani Kingdom of Bidar too were incorporated into Nizam’s rule and burdened with heavy taxation. As a result revolts started appearing in 1820 in Udgir. Using Suliyal as their base the local Deshmukhs led by Shivalingayya, Tirumal Rao and Meghsham led this revolt. Hence this revolt is known as the revolt of Deshmukhs. The Nizam relied on British help to suppress the Deshmukhs. Lt Gen Sutherland was assigned for the same and he defeated them in a campaign lasting two months and imprisoned them.

Sindagi Revolt (1824)
The popular revolt against the British spread to Bijapur too and in Sindagi, 40 km from Bijapur the local people led by Chidambar Dikshit, his son Diwakar Dikshit and Diwakar’s comrades Shettyappa, Raoji and Rastiya declared sovereignty of people of Sindagi. They took over Sindagi Taluk and boldly declared that “British Raj does not exist here and we anyway do not recognise it. We are sovereign”.  British could not tolerate this challenge to their rule in such a brazen way even though it was confined to a Taluk in North Karnataka. They sent forces led by Lt Stevenson to capture the leaders. However the forces could not locate the leaders. A traitor Annappa Patne however showed the hiding place to the British. The local people who came to know the same lynched Annappa on the spot. However the British were able to capture the leaders and imprison them. The revolt was confined to a Taluk, but showed advanced consciousness.

Rani Chennamma and the Kittur Revolt(1824)

Rani Chennamma of Kittur is a veritable icon in Karnataka and was perhaps one of the first women leaders who fought against British Raj. To this day she inspires people. She was born in the Desai family of Kakati, a small village in the wealthy kingdom of Kittur, which stood around 5 km north of Belgavi in Karnataka. In her youth she received training in horse riding, sword fighting and archery. She became the queen of Kittur on her marriage to Shivalinga Rudra Sarja, of the Desai family of Kittur.

Kittur was a principality (samsthana) covering large parts of Dharwad and Belgavi districts and was paying tributes to Marathas after the fall of Tipu. However after the fall of Marathas in 1818, Kittur came under British rule. Shivalinga Rudra Sarja did not have children and when he fell sick, he asked his close confidant Gurusiddappa to choose a boy from the surrounding region to be adopted as the heir to the throne. Shivalingappa was such a boy who was then trained in appropriate manner, renamed Mallasarja and adopted as the heir to Kittur. Shivalinga Rudra Sarja died soon after on September 11, 1824.

Chennamma started ruling the kingdom in the name of the minor prince. However Thackeray the then collector and political agent in Dharwad arbitrarily refused to recognise this and asked the British Governor, Elphinstone in Bombay to take over the kingdom under paramountcy—a ruse three decades later formalised by Dalhousie as the Doctrine of Lapse.

In a clear act of provocation he declared that the treasury of the kingdom was not safe and hence brought in his own guards and administrators to “protect” the same. He even left a few soldiers to “guard” the main gate of Kittur Fort. These provocations enraged the people of Kittur. Chennamma patiently tried to get justice and sent her emissaries to talk to the “Company Sarkar” (British East India Company) and at the same time started strengthening the fort and carrying out various military preparations anticipating a conflict. She called all the loyal fighters from the surrounding region and discussed the situation with them, sought their advice and loyalty. Thackeray was surprised by the Rani’s gumption. He invited the Rani for talks, which she refused. While Thackeray was gathering his forces the fighters of Kittur readied themselves inside the fort and carried out a daring attack on the British forces. Chennamma directed the battle from the ramparts of the fort. On her orders, Balasaheb Sayyad, Rani Chennamma’s loyal sharpshooter, killed Thackeray. Thus Thackeray came to a sorry end on October 23, 1824 and along with him two more officers Capt Black Stevenson and Lt Dicton also died. British forces were roundly defeated and many were taken prisoners by the insurgents.

This was a great setback for British Raj and its cultivated image as an invincible force in the region. They soon gathered forces from Sholapur, Mysore and Bombay and neared Kittur. Rani sent them a message that if they attack Kittur then all British prisoners of war will be put to death and then the people of Kittur will fight to death. Taken aback, Chaplin, Commissioner of Deccan sent a message that if the British prisoners are released and Sardar Gurusiddappa is handed over then the status quo will prevail. Chennamma refused to hand over Gurusiddappa but released British prisoners as an act of good faith. However Chaplin had no intention of keeping his end of the deal and sent his forces under the leadership of Lt Col Deacon to siege Kittur on Dec 3, 1824. The fighters of Kittur fought bravely for three days, however due to treachery they found that their gun powder had been mixed with cow dung and made useless. The fort fell. Rani Chennamma escaped with the younger Rani Veeramma through a secret passage towards Sangolli where she had supporters.

However British were able to intercept her on her way and capture her. She was imprisoned in Bailhongal prison. After incarceration of four years Chennamma died in prison on February 3, 1829. The Kittur countryside was full of rebellion for over five years. The leader of this rebellion was Rani Chennamma’s ardent admirer Rayanna of Sangolli.

Sangolli Rayanna (1829)

Sangolli Rayanna, a Rani Chennamma loyalist, who led revolts around Kittur after Rani's
capture. A subject of popular plays and lavanis (ballads)

Rayanna was born in a shepherd family in Sangolli, a village in Belgavi district. The family had a fighting tradition and was loyal to the Desais of Kittur. Rayanna fought with the Kittur army in 1824 and was captured by the British after the defeat of Rani. However soon he was released as a part of British pacification program. His family members had generous tax free lands given as Inam by the Desais, for their earlier bravery and loyalty. However the Company Sarkar now increased the taxes and eventually confiscated his lands. In November-December 1829, when he was restless, some of his friends invited him to lead a revolt against the British. Rayanna soon started a guerrilla war suitable to the surrounding landscape. He gathered a compact group of fighters and started attacking treasuries and rich land owners who were British collaborators. He seized mortgage and debt documents of peasantry from them and burnt them. He soon gathered over 1000 fighters and harassed the British and their collaborators relentlessly.

Realising that it was not possible to capture Rayanna by conventional warfare, British adopted other means to do so. They sent in some spies into his army and caught him unarmed when he was bathing in a river. He and his associates were executed and many sent abroad for life imprisonment.

Interestingly though British rewarded the traitors who betrayed Rayanna very generously through land grants, the entire community socially boycotted them. Even today the legend has it that those families are cursed for generations and if anyone goes to their homes for a lunch or dinner as a guest then the food in their plates will turn into maggots!

Rayanna’s revolt inspired other loyalists of Kittur too to rise up time and again. Gurusiddappa, Shankaranna, Gajapati, Savai Shetti, Kotagi, Shaikh Suleiman, Bheemanna, Kaddigudda Balanna, Waddar Yellanna etc led several uprisings against the British in support of Kittur for almost a decade. The rebels executed the traitors who had betrayed Rayanna and rose up time and gain demonstrating their love and pride for the Rani Chennamma of Kittur.

Nagar Peasant Revolt (1830-31)
Nagar comprised of the taluks of Sagar, Nagar, Kowlidurga, Koppa, Lakwally, Sorab, Shikarpur, Shivamogga, Honnaly, Harihar, Chennagiri, Tarikere, Kadur, and Chickamagalur.  Besides, there were 5277 villages, 1277 hamlets. Its population was 459,842. The Ikkeri dynasty ruled this region and gained respect and prestige through an independent distinguished rule from the Vijaynagar times to late 18th century when they were taken over by Hyder Ali and Tipu. The region had a fighting tradition. When the Wodeyars and Diwan Poornaiah were installed in Mysore by East India Company after Tipu’s defeat, the region came under heavy taxation. In fact nearly 60% of the Kingdom’s revenues were coming from this region alone. After suffering from the duo’s arbitrariness for three decades, 1800-1830, the region was ripe for rebellion against the Wodeyars and their protectors—the “Company Sarkar”.

The administration was entirely corrupt and filled with nepotism and casteism. The local Nayak’s and Patels and ryots were fed up of this state of affairs and the heavy tax burden. This situation was utilised by Boodi Basavappa, who assumed leadership of the uprising and declared himself the new ruler. He declared sovereignty and pardoned the heavy taxes and peasant debt to Sahukars (money lenders).
The result was one of the largest peasant revolts in colonial India.

According to Dr Siddalinga Swamy, the greatest burden to cultivators was an advance payment of money to the government before the grain was harvested.  As no renter, or cultivator had money to advance, he was obliged to take recourse to the Sahukars, who advanced money at the rate of two per cent per month and extracted a present of five per cent upon the advance. For the second and third instalment, a present was not demanded; but when the fourth was to be paid the crops were to be mortgaged. Most lenders insisted upon an immediate sale, and became the purchasers themselves at the bazar price, which would then be lower than at any other period. Many debt burdened ryots flocked to the government to make complaints against Sahukars. But the sahukars were powerful. The Government also owed large sums of money to Sahukars. In February 1826 the peasant debt to Sahukars in Nagar was estimated at 4 lakh.
This sorry state of affairs depicted a weak and ignorant government managed by corrupt   officers, unable to correct the sources of evil inherent in it. As the Wodeyar’s Government was corrupt, no control was exercised over the district officers. Naturally the people were enraged by the unjust and arbitrary acts of those officers. There was no process in the country which required public servants to hear the complaints of the ryots. This was the fertile ground for the insurrection in 1830.

Taking advantage of this, Basavappa spread the news that he had assumed the sovereignty of the country and promised the ryots full remission of all balance debt. A reduction of the Government tax demand on their lands was also promised, if they would espouse his cause. Many inflammatory speeches were made by supporters of Boodi Basavappa in August 1830, asking ryots to join them. One of his supporters, made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the fort of Anandapur in Nagar province. On 23rd August the ryots of Nagar circulated a letter in the other fouzdaris, inviting other ryots to assemble in a koota (assembly). On 23rd September the ryots of Chennagiri refused to pay their taxes, and other taluks in Nagar fouzdari followed them. In December, Fouzdar Viraraj Urs employed troops to disperse demonstrators at Holehonnur.  The ryots of the Chitradurg and Bangalore Divisions also refused to pay taxes and joined the movement.

In the meantime efforts were made by Diwan Venkat Raj in Bangalore and Chitradurg Divisions to pacify the ryots. The Maharaja himself under took to tour some of the taluks in December 1830. However he was humiliated by the ryots in Channarayapattana and in many other places.
The rebels gave a good fight to the troops. They captured some of the forts in Nagar, and in many places they repulsed the Mysore troops.

On the 21st of December 1830 a Proclamation was issued directing all persons carrying bones and Neem leaves (the symbols of insurrection) to be seized, tried and if convicted, to be hanged. On the following day instructions were given to the fouzdar of Bangalore to fire on the protesters and to catch one or two protesters in each taluk and hang them to spread terror among the populace. Many of the rebels were caught and hanged.  Some of the rebels’ noses and ears were cut off resulting in several persons being badly disfigured. 

The Raja said that this measure was indispensable to put down the rebellion. As a result hundreds of ryots were hanged throughout the territory. The Raja asserted that in ordering executions he did not act of his own accord, but in compliance with the advice of the British Resident.

The reverses to the Mysore troops led to the employment of Company’s forces to quell the revolt. On 31st May 1831, the stronghold of the rebels, Nagar, was captured and the revolt was practically quelled.  But stray bands of insurgency continued till 1832 when it was completely suppressed.

The rebellion was spontaneous and did not have a visionary leadership but it however demonstrated the widespread anger among different sections of Kannadigas against the British rule and as well as their puppets like the Wodeyars and Poornaiah. The Company however used the occasion to further strip any element of autonomy from the Wodeyars and Governor General William Bentinck, appointed commissioners to administer the region.

Coastal Uprisings (1830-31)
There were widespread uprisings against heavy taxation in the coastal regions of Karnataka. These regions had first protested the taxes earlier in 1809-1810. The later agitations learnt from this experience and were consequently more audacious.

The documents of East India Company have called these revolts as Koota revolts. Kootas were general assemblies of people of a village or town, where they asserted their sovereignty, and hence a form of direct democracy.

The mass struggle started in early 1830 and assumed a host of forms. The most important of these, however, was the koota or simply ‘gathering’. The mass awakening was ignited through their assembly into kootas which was a broad forum to organize the masses. While the struggles might have been spontaneous, the form was quite well developed.

The signs of the peasant unrest could be seen in the closing months of 1830, when the ryots gave general petitions complaining of their losses. But they developed and came to the fore in the beginning months of 1831. The ryots of Kasargod, Kumbla, Mogral, Manjeshwar, Bungra-Manjeshawar and Talapady sent general arzees (petitions) and complaints of their losses to Dickinson the Collector of South Kanara.

In their petitions, the ryots not only complained about the harsh revenue assessment of November 1830, but they also demanded remission to them all at a uniform rate.

In the second stage, beginning of January 1831, the ryots started their Kootas or assemblages.
It was in Bekal (Kasargod) that the Kootas started in the first week of January 1831 and within a few days they spread to the northern parts of Kanara.

Barkur, Brahmavar, Buntwal, Madhur, Manjeshwar, Mulki, Kadri, Kumbla, Malluly (Malali), Wamanjoor, Mogral, Udyawar, Uppinangadi and Vittal were some of the important places where the ryots of the respective regions had assembled in Kootas or assemblages. The Kootas extended to North Kanara also. Manjunatha temple at Kadri was the centre of these peasant uprisings, where the Grand Koota [Maha Koota] was organised towards the end of January 1831. Ryots from other important centres of the district such as Kasargod and Buntwal came and met at Kadri. The Venkataramana temple at Basrur, the Mahamayi temple at Mangalore, the temple at Manjeswar and another temple at Wamanjoor were other important centres of the Koota movement.

In order to organise these Kootas, the ryots assigned one Patel and two head ryots in each of the villages. When any aspect was discussed and plan or action was proposed in the Kootas, these leaders disseminated them to the ryots in the villages. Further, each of the Kootas had its own leaders and all of them met and discussed (at the Grand Koota in Kadri). The organisers of these Kootas also made use of a ‘Secret Council’ or a secretariat. The object of this Council was to maintain the secrecy of the whole organisational affair of the Kootas. However, the result of the deliberations of this Council was communicated to the various assemblies or Kootas. Thus the Secret Council played the role of a linking and organising body in these peasant uprisings. It in fact acted as a think-tank of the rebellion. Further, anonymous pamphlets were made use of by the leaders to spread their ideas and programmes among the ryots.

The participants in these Kootas at times made bold to attack Government servants. Before Dickinson left Kundapura for Mangalore at the end of January 1831 he received reports from the Tahsildar of Barkur that the ryots of that taluk had assembled in Koota and had assaulted some of the public servants. The report of the Tahsildar of Barkur says that a Magane Shanbhog, who was deputed to read a government proclamation was severely assaulted. Again at Mulki the ryots roughed up an Ameen who had been sent to read them a proclamation issued by the Government. The ryots were determined to refuse to give taxes to the Government, until a fresh settlement was made, and their mood was so defiant that they unhesitatingly attacked those public servants whom they feared not long back. The growing sense of unity among themselves and faith in their organisational strength had emboldened them to take such postures of defiance. The peasant rebellion that surfaced in the month of November 1830 continued up to the end of March 1831. It was after Cameron’s promise (March 1831) to the ryots that their petitions would be considered and remissions would be made after an examination of their losses to redress their hardships that they dispersed and stopped organising the Kootas. Thus by April 1831 the rumblings of Koota rebellions died down.

Kodagu (Coorg) Revolts (1833-37)
After the defeat of Tipu, the East India Company could not directly rule Kodagu. They had to restore the kingdom to the traditional kings of Haleri dynasty who were earlier displaced by Hyder and Tipu. However these Haleri kings were fiercely independent and particularly Chikka Veera Rajendra (1820-34) was a proud and independent king. He refused to follow British diktat and instead armed his population and built up his forces to resist any British attack. He corresponded with Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab and sought his support against the British.

There were constant skirmishes between him and the British administration, which was based in Bangalore and Mysore and finally a war between the British and Kodava forces was inevitable. Despite brave fight put up by the Kodavas the British were able to capture the Madikeri fort through treachery in 1834 and depose the king. He was sent in Exile to Bangalore, Kashi and later London.

However the fighting people of Kodagu did not take this lying down and several revolts took place. These were led by Swami Aparampaar, Kalyan Swami and Putta Basava. All these fighters claimed to be heirs to Kodagu throne one after another and sought support from the people in their fight against the British in the name of Haleri dynasty. Each one of them was given due respect and recognition by the people as true heirs of Kodagu and thousands joined them. All of them sought to throw out British from Kodagu, cancel the taxes imposed by them and fought for an independent life for Kodavas. These uprisings went on from 1834 to 1837.

Other revolts before 1857
There were several other revolts which were local and minor in dimension but which had a lot of impact on the psyche of the people of North Karnataka between 1840 and 1857. One of them was in Badami, a town in today’s Bagalkot district, which has an ancient history and was the capital of Chalukyas who ruled much of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh between 6th and 8th  centuries CE. An army built by loyalists of the deposed king of Satara took over the fort and established their rule in 1839-40. They were suppressed by British Army and the leaders sentenced to death and life imprisonment.

Similarly there were uprisings in Nippani, currently in Belgavi district, in 1840-41, where over 300 Arab fighters under the leadership of local Zamindar, Raghunath Rao attacked the fort and took it over. Later they were suppressed by the Company Army. In 1849 the Paleygar of Chitradurga rose up unsuccessfully. Revolts led by Lingappa in Bidar in 1852 harassed the British for several months and he had captured several forts.

Uprisings in Karnataka during Ghadar of 1857

There were several uprisings in Karnataka during the Ghadar in 1857 and went on till 1860. Unlike the Gangetic belt, where the revolt was signalled by mutiny of British Indian Army, which were then followed by revolts led by Nanasaheb, Zeenat Mahal, Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, Kunwar Singh et al, the Karnataka revolts were popular uprisings led by local peasant leaders, or small principalities who linked their local struggles with the larger national one that was being fought under Bahadur Shah Zafar and Nana Saheb’s leadership. The area of uprising covered the entire districts from the coastal Canara (present day Karwar and Mangalore) in the Madras Presidency, to the eastern Raichur and Koppal districts under the Nizam; from Bijapur and Dharwad in the North in Bombay Presidency to Sringeri and Hassan in the south.

Notable among them are the uprisings of: Bedas in Halagali near Bijapur; revolt of Nargund near Gadag and Dharwad; revolt of Mundargi Bhimaraya; revolt of Venkatappa Nayak of Surpur near Gulburga and Supa revolts near Karwar.

Bedas of Halagali
One of the fighting tribes which fought the British tooth and nail from 1820’s to 1942 and formed the backbone of many uprisings in the Deccan (comprising Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra) were Bedas who descended from hunters. They have been called Ramoshis, Berad, or Bedas, Boya, Dorabiddu and Valmiki in different areas.

Bearing arms to protect themselves and the community and their king was part of their life and they did it with great pride. The prince of Mudhol had accepted British overlordship and the Bedas in the area were seething with dissatisfaction. The East India Company announced on 11 September, 1857 that all Indians should disarm, submit their arms to the company and then get licences to carry arms. This was simply out of question for Bedas. Hence when the Company Sarkar’s edict was sought to be implemented by the King of Mudhol principality, the Bedas of Halagali and surrounding area considered it a great insult and defied him. They did not allow any official to enter their villages. They did not even allow an arms’ census to be taken and did not accept the offer that they will not be actually disarmed but will all be given licences to bear arms. They said, “Bearing arms is our birth right and why should we take anybody’s permission for the same?”

The revolt, which started in a small village called Halagali, kept snowballing and started spreading to surrounding areas. The British Raj saw it as a serious threat to its rule and when the local ruler was not able to suppress it, Major Malcolm summoned the southern Maratha regiment let by Lt Col Seton Karr. The bedas, though vastly outnumbered, fought fiercely for their rights. The British followed a scorched earth policy in the region and after the final battle captured 290 Bedas and hanged 19 leaders of the uprising in Mudhol market in December 1857.

Nargund Bandaya (revolt)

The principality of Nargund used to be under the Peshwas after the defeat of Tipu. After the defeat of Peshwas in 1818, it came under British overlordship. Bhaskar Rao Bhave also known as Baba Saheb rose to the throne of Nargund in 1842 and administered this region efficiently. However he did not have a son and told the British that he would adopt a son to create an heir for Nargund. The British refused permission and asked him to return some of the land received as Inam. This enraged Baba Saheb and he got in touch with several rulers in Karnataka like Mundaragi Bhimaraya, Surpur Venkatappa Nayaka and many others. He was aware of the north Indian uprising and wanted to time his revolt also in June of 1857. However he postponed the date at the last moment. Meanwhile the British came across his correspondence with other rulers due to some traitors and informers. They were alarmed by it but Baba Saheb’s external conduct with them was friendly and proper and hence they were lulled into not taking immediate action. However, when they came to know that he had accumulated a large amount of artillery and ammunition in his fort in Nargund, they asked him to deposit the same in Dharwad. He readily agreed and sent them with an escort to Dharwad. Simultaneously he secretly organised an attack on the convoy and brought them back to Nargund, while claiming innocence.

In May 1858 when the British sent a force to prevent his networking with other rulers, he attacked them and brought the decapitated head of officer Manson, the head of British force sent to suppress him, to his fort and displayed it to the people. Meanwhile he discovered treachery within his fort leading to sabotage and adulteration of gun powder with cow dung. While he went to attack the fort in Amargol near Hubballi, British came to Nargund with a large force. Baba Saheb had over 2500 soldiers within the fort who fought valiantly, when the defeat was imminent, Baba Saheb consulted his comrades and decided to escape to a nearby forest. However in the forest near Torgal he was betrayed by some camp followers. This led to his capture and later execution in Belagavi on June 12, 1858. Nargund Bandaya is a legend in North Karnataka.

Interestingly, when a large peasant movement started in 1980 in North Karnataka, in the Malaprabha basin, it took a massive turn due to brutal police firing on agitating peasants in Nargund and the vast mass peasant movement that developed came to be known as the second Nargund Bandaya.

Surpur Venkatappa Nayak
Surpur or Shorapur is situated in the hills, about 50 km west of Yadgiri, a district headquarters. It was ruled by Beda Nayak kings who had a fighting tradition. They had resisted even the mighty Mughals under Aurangzeb. Later they were harassed by the Nizam, the Peshwas and the British and the kingdom was reduced in size to only Surpur and Shapur taluks. When Raja Krishnappa Nayak died in 1842, prince Venkatappa Nayak the 4th , was only 8 years old. So the British created regency where the prince was enthroned but Meadows Taylor a Briish administrator was appointed as the Regent. Taylor was a scholar-administrator and greatly improved the condition of the kingdom in terms of treasury, accounts, clearing the old debts owed to the Nizam and Peshwa, public works, irrigation etc. In 1853 Taylor handed over the reins to 19 year old Venkatappa Nayak and retreated into the background.

In 1857, British got wind that some representatives of Nana Saheb came to Surpur and had secret meetings with young Raja Venkatappa Nayak. In the meanwhile, Mahipal Singh, a rebel from 1857 revolt, was captured by the British and he disclosed to them that he was carrying out instructions of Raja Venkatappa Nayak. The Company had actually administered the kingdom under regency and the King had a close almost filial relationship with Col Meadows Taylor. Even then, the British were very suspicious of Bedas in general as they were playing an important anti-colonial role. So they started interfering more and more in the affairs of the kingdom. Finally in February 1858, they sent troops led by Capt Windham and Maj Hughes to attack Surpur, but the fort of Surpur was very strong and a fierce battle ensued. When they were outnumbered, the Raja escaped to Hyderabad and tried to get Nizam and his Diwan’s support for the uprising. Unfortunately however, they handed him over to the British. The Raja was sentenced to life imprisonment and while he was being transported to Chenglepet jail from Sikandarabad, he was killed. The Raja Venkatappa Nayak of Surpur was a lynchpin in a coordinated uprising covering Miraj, Kolhapur, Koppal, Raichur and Surpur and hence the British were greatly relieved by his defeat and the kingdom was given to Nizam for the services rendered to the East India Company.

Mundaragi Bhimaraya

Bhimaraya of Mundaragi is a legendary hero of Ghadar of 1857 in Karnataka. There are many lavanis (ballads) written about him. He was not a Raja but a commoner with extra ordinary vision and organising and mobilising ability. His father was a local judge and Bhimaraya himself served as a Mamledar (a land revenue official) in Bellary, Hoovina Hadagali and Harapana Halli. He could not stand the exploitation of peasantry under British rule and in protest he resigned and came back to Benne Halli, his village.

He had observed the development of anti-colonial movement in Karnataka and networked with various like-minded leaders. Nana Saheb’s call to the people of India and all Desais, Deshmukhs, Deshpandes, Jahagirdars, Patels and Kulkarnis of Karnataka greatly influenced him. He had sent many emissaries in the garb of Sadhus and Swamijis to contact others. He is also rumoured to have secretly visited Bangalore and written a letter in vain to the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishna Raja Wodeyar 3rd. Bhimaraya encouraged people in various areas to refuse to pay taxes to Company Sarkar. He contacted various groups of Beda fighters and started accumulating arms and creating ammunition dumps at various places. On 23 May 1858 the fouzdar of Dambal raided one such arms cache and sealed it. On hearing the news Bhimaraya came with his army attacked the armoury and took back all his arms and ammunition and shifted to a safer place in Shirahatti. Then he started raiding British armouries in various places. Many local land owners and kings supported Bhimaraya and joined him in the revolt. When British took Bhimarayas wife and kids as hostages, Bhimaraya came with his army freed his family and went to the fort in Koppal and prepared to fight with a large stock of food, arms and ammunition. British gathered a large force from their stations at Dharwad, Raichur, Hyderabad and Bellary and marched on Koppal fort. After a fierce fight Bhimaraya fell to British bullets on 1 June, 1858. British carried out brutal reprisals against Bhimaraya’s associates and supporters.

Canara Revolts
The district of Canara consisted of present Mangalore (Dakshina Kannada) and Karwar (Uttara Kannada) districts and after Tipu, they were made a part of Madras presidency. However these coastal districts were thickly forested and mountainous and the large distance from Madras led to further reasons for a weak British colonial state in the area. As uprisings in coastal Maharashtra spread during 1857, Canara too became a refuge for revolutionaries and also a centre of resistance. Here the revolutionaries who came from Savantwadi played a major role. They also tried to get support from some Goans as well as Portugese and moved into Khanapur, Supa, Ulavi, Dandeli etc. They were also joined by Siddis (African slaves brought to India by Portugese and who had escaped to the dense forests of Canara near Karwar). Though many British historians have said that these revolts were caused by the increased land and salt taxes, it is clear that they were inspired by the stories of 1857 uprising in the North and were waiting for Nanasaheb to move southwards. Despite the death and capture of many leaders, new ones kept springing up in this region for nearly three years. Finally British divided the district into two and attached Karwar to Bombay presidency in 1862.

This brief account of anti-colonial uprisings in Karnataka suffices to understand the deep felt hatred of British rule in every corner of India. Karnataka threw up its own heroes and legends in resistance like Dhondiya Wagh, Swami Aparampar, Rani Chennamma, Sangolli Rayanna, Nargund Baba Saheb, Mundargi Bimaraya, Surpur Venkatappa Nayak, Bedas of Halagali and others. Moreover, the revolts and networks clearly demonstrate the development of a broad national consciousness among Indian people much before the so called modern era, despite India being composed of many nationalities, languages, religious sects, cultures and castes.

1) “Kannada Bhoopradesha galallina Sashastra Bandayagalu” (Armed uprisings in Kannada Region)- by Dr D N Yogeeshwarappa, from Charitrika Karnataka (History of Colonial and Contemporary Karnataka)-Ed by Dr C R Govinda Raju (2010), Kannada
2)“Peasant Revolt of Nagar in 1830-31”-Dr Siddalinga Swamy, pre-print
3) N. Shyam Bhat, “South Kanara, 1799–1860: a study in colonial administration and regional response”,1998,
4) “Ramoshi/ Berad-Lingayat-Maratha Heroism, Jain Dilemma and the Haider Ali-Tipu Sultan Memory:  Perspicacious 1858 Karnataka Battles”, Chapter 55, War of Civilisations- India AD 1857, Vol II –by Amaresh Misra, Rupa & Co (2008)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Indian IT: From artisans to global industry

Indian software: From artisans to global


Shivanand Kanavi, global head, marketing and strategic communication, CMC, writes 

about the global contribution of TCS in developing a new business model in IT services 

Today, India has achieved an undisputable leading position in the global software services. Most outsiders think that this has been primarily achieved due to labour arbitrage or availability of low cost computer programmers in India as compared to the US and Europe. However, that is only one of the contributing factors. The primary factor has not been noticed yet by many business historians. In fact, software development used to be an essentially artisan-like activity about four decades ago. This paper argues that innovative industrialisation of such an individualistic activity to large-scale industrial activity by Indian firms has led to the current pole position of India in the field. To illustrate this thesis, the author will use the example and experience of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) because he is familiar with it and also because being the oldest Indian software company it has also been an innovative pioneer.

Snake charmers and software

In 1968, when TCS came into being, there was no Microsoft, Apple, SAP, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Dell and many others. Hewlett Packard (HP) was known for its oscilloscopes, signal generators, handheld calculators and not computers. EDS and Capgemini had just come into being as data processing companies. Clearly, it was an audacious startup from India. 

TCS had a couple of IBM machines of 1401 vintage and an ICL machine as well. They were providing bureau services, better known today as business process outsourcing (BPO), services for Indian telephone companies, power utilities, universities and so on. At the same time TCS also started scouting around for any work it could get abroad.

In those days India had gone through a severe financial crisis, the rupee had been devalued by 57.5 percent. The US dollars required for importing large and expensive mainframe computers were definitely in short supply. Besides, there was also a perception amongst the public and the politicians that computers would take away jobs and, hence, were best avoided. 

However, TCS leadership was convinced that computers could play a major role in not only making Indian businesses and banks more efficient but also in helping much of Indian society leapfrog from the 19th to the 21st century. Surely, many people thought that the dream was incredible, but they kept chipping at the walls relentlessly. How TCS has been able to contribute to nation building in India through these efforts is a story to be told another time.

Collaborate and flourish

In the mid-1970s, TCS decided that it would be good to get into an alliance with a computer maker. The one they chose was Burroughs Corp. Though Burroughs was not the biggest name in computer industry their technology was impressive. The deal was that TCS would sell Burroughs computers in India and support them. This helped TCS engineers gain first hand expertise in operating their systems and troubleshooting. TCS also bought a system for their computer centre to provide Burroughs-based services to their clients. Burroughs soon realised that they had hit a gold mine of engineering talent and started outsourcing software work to TCS. Burroughs’ clients in Europe, US etc., who were switching their systems from some other manufacturer to Burroughs, would need their already running software to run on the new Burroughs machines. In those days each machine had its own dialect of COBOL and, hence, unless one carefully mapped the old programs onto the new Burroughs-understandable instructions, they would not work. TCS executed some interesting and challenging migration assignments in this mould.

TCS set up a strong Systems Group, which took the lead in assimilating technology as well as developing new ones. This group came up with a tool called Data Dictionary, which helped automate software migration considerably. Burroughs was impressed. It tried its best to convince the Tata group for a buyout, but the latter decided against selling out TCS and instead agreed to form a new joint venture, Tata Burroughs Limited. Interestingly, IBM, which was a competitor of Burroughs, was also impressed with TCS tools. TCS continued to execute migration and development work for Burroughs and at the same time look for other clients. Later, TCS decided to invest in IBM’s technology and started the most sophisticated IBM-based computing centre in Asia of that time at Chennai. It was risky and expensive, moreover TCS had to convince the Department of Commerce, US Administration in Washington, DC that it was not going to use IBM computers to develop nuclear bombs, but in fact help US businesses become more efficient!

Henry Ford and Toyota

An important achievement of TCS has been the successful industrialisation and globalisation of software services. It has many similarities and a few dissimilarities with what Henry Ford and Toyota did to manufacturing. This has enabled TCS to execute large projects successfully. Year after year TCS has been delivering software solutions in targeted time and budget with a great amount of certainty.

TCS did not have a model to follow, it had to invent one. Forty years ago, computer programming was practiced by a few exceptional individuals. Each programmer had her/his own way of doing things, many of them brilliant but hardly replicable. It was difficult to debug or improve a program written by someone else. Naturally, it was almost never a product of teamwork. Obviously, it could not be scaled up. The situation was very similar to that faced by the auto industry when Henry Ford and his peers were developing quadricycles in their workshops in the 1890s. These workshops could not scale up and serve a mass market. That is why Ford’s assembly line, for Model-T, was pioneering and revolutionary in 1913. It was a product of meticulous planning and hard work in the background and it changed manufacturing forever [1].

Today TCS has achieved the depth and breadth to follow the same processes and achieve the same high quality and deliver them from any of our centres, be they in Hangzhou, Budapest, Sao Paolo, New Jersey, Toronto, Tokyo, Melbourne or in different parts of India. In Clayton Christensen’s terminology it would no doubt qualify as a “disruptive business model” [2].

Innovation engine

Like any grand narrative it would be presumptuous to say that four decades ago TCS saw clearly its goal of industrialising software services, then charted the strategy, the path and, eventually, planned and executed to reach where it stands today. Like all big things, TCS started small with powerful ideas like Data Dictionary, a migration tool. TCS was involved in the software engineering standards and quality movement with IEEE from the very beginning. It also had to set up appropriate training of recruits, when there were hardly any colleges teaching computer science in India. TCS had to develop and set up processes to test and debug software.

In the late 1980s, TCS executed a large challenging project to set up the clearing and settlement system for banks in Switzerland. It was won against competition from established companies, purely on the basis of TCS’s innovative design. The project helped TCS “push the envelope” in all directions and also helped hone its software design and architecture skills as well as develop a core group of software architects. TCS also developed the systems required to integrate its client site work with the work done by teams of developers in India, known as ‘off-shoring’ and so on. 

In 1981, TCS set up its R&D centre, Tata Research Design and Development Centre (TRDDC) in Pune [3]. A strong group in software engineering took shape at TRDDC in the mid-1980s. The group started articulating and evangelising concepts of software engineering, some of which were already in practice within TCS. This group was able to develop a highly successful suite of Computer Assisted Software Engineering (CASE) tools and carried forward the work initiated by TCS Systems Group in a methodical way. At another level, TCS also internally evangelised the System Engineering approach to software problems.
The agenda now involved identifying reusable components, knowledge repositories, creating a software tool foundry, developing highly sophisticated reverse engineering tools for software maintenance. The jigsaw pieces of industrialisation of software development started falling into place. One of the byproducts of this industrialising process was the development of the highly acclaimed MasterCraft™ – a suite for automatic code generation once the business logic is fed into it [4].

Setting standards

On the front of standards TCS intensified its earlier work with IEEE and brought in SEI’s CMM philosophy into the organisation quickly. TCS is the world’s first organisation to achieve an enterprise-wide Maturity Level 5 on CMMI® and P-CMM® based on the most rigorous assessment methodology.

TCS has now combined its own vast store of home-grown processes with the best aspects of global standards, such as the SCMM, the PCMM, Six Sigma, ISO 9001 and the Tata Business Excellence Model, to develop its own proprietary quality model, the Integrated Quality Management System (iQMS™). TCS hopes that this archetype will soon become an industry standard.

The iQMS™ is central to project management at TCS; it comprises a major chunk of its DNA. This system provides guidelines for the conduct of every project and the means for monitoring it. Together with the various software development methodologies laid out by TCS’s software engineering process groups, iQMS™ lays out a comprehensive roadmap for each project. TCS has ensured that all its development centres, be they in China, Hungary, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, US, Canada, UK, Singapore, India, Australia, Japan etc., follow the same processes and achieve the same high quality.

Learning from manufacturing

TCS could not have set up the software equivalent of Henry Ford’s assembly line, if it did not build an efficient supply chain. In the 1960s and 1970s TCS started working in close collaboration with the newly set up Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) at Kanpur, Bombay and Madras and later expanded the company’s academic interaction to over 200 engineering colleges in India and several universities abroad. Today, TCS’s Academic Interaction Programme covers a whole spectrum of activities from faculty development; curriculum development in some colleges; scholarship and financial aid to deserving graduate programmes as well as sponsored research and collaborative development of intellectual property.

In India, this programme has contributed to raising the standards of computer science and software engineering education. As a result, TCS could recruit over 100,000 high quality engineers in the last four years and move them through its strong internal training programme that covers everything from software engineering to soft skills. The spade work and internal systems have helped to absorb this large human resource into the organisation quickly and deploy them into large projects.

To make TCS operations more efficient it set up a system meant for a global services company, very similar in concept to ERP in manufacturing. This system covers everything – project billing, employee services, leave, pay roll and other HR services, internal communication, branding, online appraisal processes, knowledge management etc. Youngsters in TCS (incidentally, the average age in TCS is 26 years) thought that such an ultimate tool should be named Ultimatix, a la RenĂ© Goscinny and Albert Uderzo.

Truly global networked delivery

In global manufacturing, it is well recognised that Toyota has taken the assembly line revolution of Henry Ford to the next level by introducing distributed manufacturing, just in time manufacturing, single minute exchange of dies (SMED) etc., which collectively have come to be known as the Toyota Model [4].

Similarly, TCS had to take its software factory approach to the next level. As its client list and diversity grew across continents, the company could not remain an India-based software developer serving global clients. About a decade ago TCS realised that it needed to further globalise its software development system, which became possible due to the global telecom revolution. The solutions and products offered by TCS are in bits and bytes and not in steel or aluminium. Hence, in some ways, TCS could venture into uncharted territory where a brick and mortar manufacturer like Toyota could not physically go.

Initially, TCS created the hub-and-spoke system in global delivery where India was the hub and other centres were feeders. Today, however, TCS has gone further to an entirely new system where any of its major global development centres could act as a hub or an anchor for a global collaborative effort. This leads to reduction of time zone issues for clients; facilitates services in a variety of languages and cultures; allows real time collaboration and parallel development with teams sitting in distributed development centres and so on. It also brings out optimum utilisation of in-house expert resources. TCS clients also enjoy de-risking greatly from putting all the eggs into the basket of one centre. Incidentally, TCS already has over 10,000 non-Indian employees.

The TCS Global Network Delivery Model™ is the business equivalent of what Paul Baran proposed in his work entitled Introduction to Distributed Communications Networks for Rand Corporation, in 1964. It later became the conceptual framework for packet switched networks with no single centre, and no single path, like Arpanet and, ultimately, the internet [5].

The pioneering conceptual and systemic work done by TCS percolated to other Indian IT companies in the last 10-15 yrs and lo and behold, India now has a vibrant, highly competitive, and high quality software services industry! The author has been asked many times about an order of magnitude difference in size between software companies in India and China. Even IBM, Accenture and HP have very large development centres in India with tens of thousands of Indian engineers. Are the engineering human resources in China any less in quantity than in India? The answer, as we all know, is no. However, Chinese software companies lack scale and the largest among them have less than 5,000 engineers. The reason is simple: they have yet to master the industrialisation of software development.

Many observers have pointed out the role played by English education, mathematical and analytical abilities among Indian students, propensity of Indian youth towards science and engineering as careers, labour arbitrage etc., as the determining factors in the rise of Indian IT industry. No doubt all these factors have played a role.

However, all such deterministic analysis ‘forgets’ the human factor of leadership. It is similar to saying that if a country has steel, gasoline and machinists then they will have a vibrant auto industry! Without the genius and hard work of Henry Ford and Toyota, the global auto industry could not have reached the scale and sophistication that it has today. Similarly, without the development and adoption of software engineering methodology in TCS and other Indian companies, global software services would not be a vibrant large scale industry that it is today.

1. Ford, H. and Crowther, S., My Life and Work, Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., New York, USA (1922),
2. Christensen, C.M., The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, Harvard Business School Press, (1997).
3. Kanavi, S. (Ed.), Research by Design: Innovation and TCS, Rupa & Co. (2007).
4. Liker, J.K., The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer, McGraw-Hill Professional (2004).
Shivanand Kanavi
Global head, marketing and strategic communication,
CMC, Mumbai

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Energy Security and India

Energy Security and India

It is clear that India cannot rely on one source of electricity: be it coal; gas; hydro or nuclear. The bouquet will have all these components. This requires rational and pragmatic planning and not dogmas, says Shivanand Kanavi.

Indian energy consumption profile is varied. We use bio mass like agricultural waste and animal waste like cow dung and wood, char coal for heating and cooking purposes as well as refinery products like kerosene and LPG. While a small amount of electrified transportation has been adopted by the railways most other transportation by road and water is dependent on diesel and to a lesser extent petrol both of which are refinery products. Industry depends on electricity as well as coal and fuel oil or diesel for its energy needs.

Today we are importing over 80% of our oil needs which gets refined into kerosene, LPG, petrol, diesel, fuel oil, naphtha etc hence not only all our energy needs but also fertilisers and plastics needs are susceptible to international crude prices. Even though India has recoverable coal of about 70-80 billion tons, our needs are rising and our annual coal consumption has crossed 800 million tons. Due to various restrictions on coal mining due to environmental or forest issues or bottlenecks in railways for internal transportation; imports of coal from South Africa, Australia and Indonesia are rising and many Indian companies are buying mines in these countries to secure these supplies and building plants in India along the western and eastern coastline. Imported coal is expensive but it has already reached over 110 million tons this year and is expected to rise dramatically as energy needs increase. Thus our economy is not only dependent on international crude prices but also coal prices which are again getting linked to crude prices as natural gas prices already have.

Electrification is an important component of modernising the country’s productive forces and increasing the quality of life of people.

Interestingly, Lenin in the emerging Soviet Union realised it very clearly and accordingly the GOELRO ("State Commission for Electrification of Russia") was set up as early as 1920. He endorsed the slogan, ‘The age of steam is the age of the bourgeoisie, the age of electricity is the age of socialism.’  He said in a report in Feb 1920, “We must show the peasants that the organisation of industry on the basis of modern, advanced technology, on electrification which will provide a link between town and country, will put an end to the division between town and country, will make it possible to raise the level of culture in the countryside and to overcome, even in the most remote corners of the land, backwardness, ignorance, poverty, disease and barbarism. We shall tackle the problem as soon as we have dealt with our current, basic task, and we shall not allow ourselves to be deflected for a single moment from the fundamental practical task.” 

The Soviet Plan included construction of a network of 30 regional power plants, including ten large hydroelectric power plants, and numerous electric-powered large industrial enterprises. It was intended to increase the total national power output per year to 8.8 billion kWh, as compared to 1.9 billion kWh of the Imperial Russia in 1913.The Plan was basically fulfilled by 1931.

India’s current per capita electricity consumption is less than 750 KWH per annum where as it is already 1500 in China. It is to be noted that in almost all economic indicators like electricity, steel, telecom etc India and China were on par in 1991. The consumption in advanced countries of Europe and North America is much higher, while the world average itself is 2500 KWH per capita. There are still over 10% villages which are not electrified and according to 2009 data 33% of rural households and 6% of urban households still do not have access to electricity.

The current profile of electricity generation in India is as follows:

1.Total Installed Capacity:

State Sector
Central Sector
Private Sector

Total Thermal
Hydro (Renewable)

The demand in India for electricity far outstrips supply reportedly the shortage varies between 8-12%, which amounts to a huge 15,000—20,000 MW of power. Leave alone rural areas even large cities and giant metropolises are subjected to regular load shedding that is brown outs and black outs. There have been many instances of riots in many provinces especially during the sowing season due to these brown outs when they need electricity for tube wells and pumps. India needs rapid electrification to raise the standard of living as well as for agriculture and industry.

In terms of medium and long term planning, Indian coal needs to be mined efficiently. However it has large amount of silica, which appears as large amount of fly ash in power stations, when it is burnt. This ash needs to be disposed of in a way that does not harm the surrounding air and rivers and lakes. However much needs to be done in this respect. Imported coal has much higher calorific value but also has sulphur and nitrogenous content which leads to large release of sulphuric and nitric acids during rain, that is dangerous to forests and environment. The fact that open pit mining itself needs to be handled properly to limit the damage to the environment is only recently being addressed in India. According to scientific studies, the fly ash emitted by a power plant—a by-product from burning coal for electricity—carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy ( Some of the ecologically disastrous effects of coal based thermal power plants are already visible in Chhattisgarh, where large clusters of pithead coal powered thermal power plants are scheduled to come up.

From the long term energy security perspective Indian coal reserves will get exhausted in less than 50 years. Even worldwide the coal reserves are shrinking. Increasing reliance on imported coal will lead to Indian economy being more and more at the mercy of global coal prices as it already is with respect to oil prices. This is in addition to the extraordinary burden that will be borne by our ports and railways for carrying coal. The effect on green house gases and climate; effect of ash on pulmonary diseases and people’s health and so on are additional things to be worried about. Coal already provides 65% of power capacity and will likely play a major role in the future also.

Natural gas offers a much cleaner alternative and power stations can also be set up quickly. However while some discoveries of natural gas have been made by ONGC and Reliance they are still relatively small compared to the existing demand. Imported gas through pipelines of Central Asia, Iran, Bangladesh and Myanmar will also be expensive since the gas prices are linked today to oil prices, assuming of course that political relations with these and intervening countries were permitting such pipelines. More over gas is required for urea fertiliser, plastics and steel industry as well and there will be a scramble for the same. Thus gas will play a small role as it does at present (10%).

Methane from Coal Beds is another source that is being explored in Eastern India. Many blocks have been auctioned to various companies and it will add a significant but still small amount to the current gas availability.

Recently ONGC has drilled a R&D well for Shale Gas in Paschim Banga (West Bengal) and studies are continuing. Shale Gas has been a great new success story in energy and has meteorically risen to provide 25% of gas in US. However new environmental concerns are being raised about the chemicals that are used in hydraulic fracking to release the gas from layers deep down. Like Coal Bed Methane, Shale Gas too promises to be another source of much needed gas for India.

Geophysicists tell us that India sits on a large ocean of Gas Hydrates at great depths. However the technology to exploit these is not yet available globally and they may provide a valuable gas source in the future.

Hydroelectricity is a renewable source of energy, since we expect every rainy season to fill up our dams. However due to our high population density such dams lead to large scale submersion of villages and forests causing social displacement and social tension. Himalayas have great hydroelectric potential and that is why dams are being built feverishly in Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Jammu & Kashmir. But Himalayas are very young mountains and there is a lot of soil erosion and the dams would be silted heavily very soon. More over the dams are affecting forests and causing submersion of agricultural land and villages there too, though on a smaller scale than in the plains as in the Narmada Basin. That is why there is already a strong opposition to these dams in the hill states even though we have tapped a very small amount of this potential. Thus hydro’s contribution to power generation will remain at about the current levels of 20% and falling.

Many NGO’s believing in the mantra of “small is beautiful”, say that mini and micro hydro projects are the answers to India’s energy problems. However, the facts on the ground show that such potential is hardly 2,500 MW and that too at a high cost per megawatt making it hardly a panacea.

State Wise Numbers And Aggregate Capacity Of Small hydro projects (Upto 25 Mw) Installed & Under Implementation
(AS ON 31.3.2009)
Sl. No.
Projects Installed
Projects under Implementation

Capacity (MW)
Capacity (MW)

Andhra Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh







Himachal Pradesh





Madhya Pradesh










Tamil Nadu


Uttar Pradesh


West Bengal

A&N Islands

2429.77 MW
483.23 MW

Recently wind farms have come up in several regions. However inherently wind in India is not enough to produce power efficiently unlike in some Nordic countries. It has been estimated that the efficiency of production from wind is around 35%-25% in Europe and North America but only about 15% in the windy regions of India. More over wind farms also require large amount of land which is a problem in land starved India. Of course one has to keep in mind that wind can only add on to an existing steady base level of production in the grid and cannot be relied upon for continuous supply. Though India has impressive figures in wind energy installation, it is a known fact that it has become a source for exploiting tax loop holes for corporations and not a serious source of electricity supply to the grid.

Many people naively believe that India having been blessed with ample amounts of sun light, Solar would be a natural choice as a major source of electricity. However, converting sunlight to electricity is a very expensive process and it currently costs about 4 times the conventional. Even though the technology is more than 100 years old, a lot more advancement has to happen in basic research in new materials to convert sunlight to electricity more efficiently (currently it is only 12-16%) and cheaply. People who claim that solar is environmentally friendly do not understand that the silicon chip making process uses some of the most toxic chemicals, which are then let out as effluents. Today India is buying a lot of solar panels from China and if we decide to start fab for the same in India to lower prices then we will come across the associated environmental issues as well. Moreover, solar electricity needs to be stored in expensive and environmentally harmful lead batteries, since there is no Sun in the night. Any large scale use of solar power would lead to serious issues over disposing of the batteries. Thus environmental friendliness of solar technology is a over simplification. It is expected that further advances in science and technology of materials, efficiency and storage will happen in perhaps the next 50 years. We should also recognise that solar plants of say even a modest 100 MW require several square kilometres of land.

India has very little geothermal potential though there are hot water geysers in the Himalayan region.

India has developed nuclear power reactors using natural uranium and has been improving the technology in the last 40 years. India does not yet have the technology for large enriched uranium reactors and is hence planning to import them from Russia, France and US. Indian Uranium resources are of very small and of very low quality. However the opening up of international trade in nuclear materials in 2008 by the Nuclear Suppliers Group has allowed India to import Uranium from large Uranium producing countries like Kazakhstan and Russia. In the future, it can also do so from Canada and Australia. India has also developed the technology to process the radioactive waste from these reactors and extract useful plutonium from the waste. This reprocessing of fuel has largely resolved the waste disposal problem, which is very serious in North America and Europe. Plutonium thus obtained has been used for making bombs as well as to develop power generation in Fast Breeder Reactors. In fact that is the reason the reprocessing technology has been strictly controlled by US and other powers. The first large Fast Breeder Reactor designed by India is soon coming online in Kalpakkam near Chennai and will take India to the cutting edge of this technology globally. India is also blessed with large amounts of Thorium. The first Thorium reactor of the world has also been designed by India and the construction of a 300 MW Thorium reactor known as AHWR will start soon. The world will be looking forward to these innovations.

Nuclear reactors are small in size but need a radius of few kilometres around them to be ready for evacuation in order to diminish the danger to human life in the highly unlikely case of an accident. So far, in the nearly 42 years of operation there have been no serious accidents in Indian reactors. Today’s reactors have been designed to take care of many accidental scenarios of earthquakes, tsunamis, terrorist attacks etc that have the potential to damage the reactor core. The reactors are being designed to safely shut down in an emergency. Thus no radiation need be leaked to the environment.

Uranium mining, handling, reactor maintenance are all potential sources of radiation exposure to workers. Thus extreme care has to be taken regarding prescribed safety procedures during the entire cycle and no chalta hai attitude will work.

Many people ask, “Is it (nuclear power) dangerous?” Since radiation is invisible it leads to many irrational fears. The short answer is, “Yes it is” and it needs scientifically trained staff to handle it at all stages. However looking at the energy security of India in the future and considering the strengths and weaknesses of other sources of electricity available to us, which have been discussed above, nuclear remains an important source of energy security for India as our planet’s fossil fuels dwindle and become extremely expensive. It is also environmentally benign due to no carbon emission or fly ash disposal and other problems. Nuclear power especially with Fast Breeders and Thorium Reactors will be an important source that can provide electricity at competitive rates to the teaming Indians for more than 100 years based on our own Thorium reserves.

It is clear that India cannot rely on one source of electricity: be it coal (domestic or imported); gas (domestic or imported); hydro or nuclear. The bouquet will have all these components. The weight of different components in the bouquet can change as economic costs and environmental costs vary in the future. This requires rational and pragmatic planning and not dogmas and irrational prejudices.

The problems of land acquisition and rehabilitation exist in all large industrial and urbanisation projects and are not peculiar to nuclear projects as in Jaitapur. The state apparatus needs to handle these sensitively. Any layman’s concerns on safety, technology etc can be addressed adequately. We need to see the energy scenario 20-50 years ahead and prepare for it while trying to address the rising expectation of people in terms of living standards and energy availability for the same. After all it is increased availability of electricity and transportation that will see a sea change in common man’s life in rural and urban India.