10 Indians To Watch Out For In 2019
A list of names whose work we would be following closely this year.
Introducing the Swarajya list
Think of something you are passionate about. Something you would follow regardless of the weather outside or the time on your watch. It could be anything from politics to economics to culture to sports to science to legal debates. Now, what if I ask you to name two people from the area of your interest to watch out for in the New Year?
I can bet you wouldn’t give me the obvious names. You know the field too well to do that. You also know that had I wanted the obvious answers I would have approached the Internet, not you. You would give me the not-so-obvious names and with your domain knowledge convince me as to why I should follow their work.
This is precisely how we have created this list of ‘Ten Indians To Watch Out For In 2019’. We brought together Swarajya editors and contributors, each with a specific area of interest, and asked them the same two questions — what are they passionate about, and in that field, which are those names they suggest we watch out for in 2019?
That is why, Jaideep Mazumdar, who follows all things eastern India, chose Pema Khandu and Biplab Deb. Khandu, as Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister, is creating and upgrading basic infrastructure in the strategically important state, and Biplab Deb has spent his first year as Tripura Chief Minister in cleaning the state administration from ground up.
Sanjeev Sanyal is here because in a politically and economically crucial 2019, his ideas, their clarity, and his communication have become even more important, as per Arjun Singh Kadian.
Pratyasha Rath is an Odia living in Telangana and follows the politics of both Odisha and Telangana closely. She thinks Dharmendra Pradhan and K T Rama Rao (KTR), are the people to watch out for from the two states.
Aravindan Neelakandan, as you would know by now, gets excited reading about scientific breakthroughs, especially if they are brought about by Indians. Hence, for the two positions that we asked him to suggest names, he chose the molecular anthropologist Dr Gyaneshwer Chaubey and the astrophysicist from Coimbatore, Nivedita Mahesh.
Arihant Pawariya stands at the junction of law and society and surveys all that passes. In his view, J Sai Deepak is one mind we all need to watch out for in the New Year.
Veejay Sai is passionate about Indic culture and heritage. He profiles S Vijay Kumar, who is as passionate about bringing back those Indic artefacts, which have been smuggled out of the country.
And finally, while Sumati Mehrishi tracks cultural stories for Swarajya, she is a hockey fan like few others. Here, she tells us why we need to keep our eyes on P R Sreejesh, the India goalkeeper, for 2019.
Where there is a list, there are those who disagree with it. That’s completely fine. If it requires any saying, this list is not exhaustive, and neither does it claim to be the only accurate representation of the areas from which the names have been chosen. Rather, it is more a preview of the content and themes you can expect Swarajya to cover in-depth this year.
Now, I am running out of space, and so, without further delay, and with the drum roll, here is Swarajya’s list of 10 Indians to watch out for in 2019.
1. Pema Khandu
When Pema Khandu joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) two years ago in December 2016 with other 32 members of legislative assembly (BJP) of the then ruling People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA), he did more than just change political colours. Khandu ushered in a whole new era in governance in the state and lit new hopes and aspirations for the people of the remote northeastern state that borders Tibet.
The eldest son of Dorjee Khandu, the sixth chief minister of the state, who died in a tragic helicopter crash in his home district of Tawang in northwestern Arunachal in April 2011, Pema Khandu has proved to be an able administrator, a politician who thinks out of the box and is in a hurry to achieve progress and development for his state. Soon after graduating from Delhi’s Hindu College, Khandu joined the Indian National Congress (the party his father belonged to) and became the secretary of the Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee at the young age of 26 in 2005.
Two months after his father’s death, he dived headlong into electoral politics and won unopposed from his late father’s constituency — Mukto in Tawang district — in June 2011. Nabam Tuki, who became the chief minister in November 2011, made Khandu the tourism and urban development minister. At the age of 32, Khandu thus became the youngest cabinet minister in the North East. But his lack of experience in governance did not show in his performance as a minister; Khandu won acclaim for his various initiatives to promote tourism and improve urban infrastructure.
But it was as the chief minister that he truly came on his own. Khandu replaced Nabam Tuki as the Congress chief minister of the state in July 2016 following a series of political manoeuvrings. In September that year, he and other Congress MLAs joined the People’s Party of Arunachal and Khandu ruled as the PPA chief minister for three months from September before switching en masse to the BJP in December 2016. “The people of Arunachal wanted a government aligned with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of developing this region and we all joined the BJP in deference to the people’s wishes,” said Khandu.
Immediately after taking over, he initiated a series of measures to provide clean governance. Successive governments in the state have been rocked by allegations of corruption, especially in the process of awarding government contracts and procurements, and also in recruitments for government jobs. Khandu made it mandatory for all government departments and agencies to call for e-tenders through a transparent process. The procedure of calling for, examining and awarding government contracts was also made totally transparent and fair.
Over the past two years, there has not been a single allegation of wrongdoing in awarding contracts or procurements by government departments, a major and laudable achievement in itself.
Khandu then brought about a change in the process of recruitments. The state government is the largest provider of employment in Arunachal, and Khandu decided that anomalies and irregularities in the process, and the allegations of corruption and favouritism in recruitments, had adversely affected the image of past governments. Khandu established a centralised Staff Selection Board (SSB) and empowered it to conduct recruitments to all government departments and agencies, thus replacing the opaque system of piecemeal and arbitrary recruitment by individual departments and agencies.
The SSB’s procedures were made totally transparent and fair, and details of vacancies, procedures for applying, tests and interviews and the final selection are all advertised widely not only in newspapers, but also on the state government’s website.
A novel initiative launched by Pema Khandu was the Arunachal Transformation and Aspirational Leadership (ATAL) Conclave held in September last year. A thousand young men and women in the 18 to 30 age group participated in the conference and brainstormed and presented their ideas, proposals and solutions for government policies before expert panels. Intensive interactive sessions between the participants and key policy makers, bureaucrats, sectoral experts and grassroots change makers were also held. The whole idea was to tap into the youth, who constitute 40 per cent of the state’s population, and make stakeholders in governance. The idea of such a conclave, which will be an annual feature, has been lauded by many prominent people across the country, including Prime Minister Modi.
The outcome of this conclave was ‘Vision 2040: Opportunities and Challenges For New Arunachal’ that charts the road ahead for the state.
Earlier, the Chief Minister had made the budget preparatory exercise inclusive to get inputs from all sections of society. This exercise, the first for any state in the country, started in December 2017 with the ‘Dream Change Arunachal 2027’ conclave that saw participation from over a thousand progressive farmers, educationists, entrepreneurs, students, public policy experts and researchers and experts in various fields from Arunachal as well as other states of the country.
The inputs provided by them were incorporated in the 2018 state budget, which has been hailed as one of the most progressive and visionary in the country. This conclave has also become an annual feature.
Apart from these initiatives, Khandu has laid out a roadmap for promoting the tourism sector in the state and improving Arunachal’s physical infrastructure. The state’s first airport will come up soon and the state is witnessing frenetic pace of construction of roads, bridges, rail lines and tunnels.
The Chief Minister has also initiated a slew of measures to improve the healthcare and education sectors and enhance livelihood opportunities through hand-holding of entrepreneurs in the micro, small and medium sectors. His dream is to make Arunachal a model state in governance and social sectors for the rest of the country to emulate.
2. Biplab Deb
The tenth Chief Minister of Tripura is not an archetypal politician. The 47-year-old Biplab Kumar Deb led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a resounding victory last year in what was until then considered to be an impregnable fortress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M), which had been ruling the state uninterruptedly for the past quarter century. It was no mean achievement — the CPI(M) was deeply entrenched in Tripura, it had stamped out all opposition and the BJP was a virtual non-entity in the state.
Also, Tripura was not like any other state: the CPI(M) was well-known to be totally intolerant of political opposition and its frequent use of violence to silence opposition. Given these adverse circumstances, building the party apparatus from scratch was a challenge, but one that Deb met and overcame within a very short period of just two years.
Deb was born into a middle-class family at Rajdhar Nagar village in Tripura’s Gomati district on 25 November 1971, and completed his graduation from Udaipur College in the state in 1999. His father Haradhan Deb was a local leader of the Jan Sangh, the precursor of the BJP. Deb went to Delhi soon after his graduation to join the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which he served for 16 years. He was mentored by RSS seniors like Govindacharya and Krishnagopal Sharma. He was deputed to Tripura in 2015 to take charge as head of the BJP’s publicity and public outreach wing.
In January 2016, he was elected as state president of the BJP. Deb, and BJP national secretary Sunil Deodhar, together scripted the party’s success story in Tripura.
But Deb has not rested on the laurels of the victory, and the vanquishing of an extremely powerful rival last year. Proving the doubters and opponents — who had scoffed at the lack of his experience in governance — wrong, Deb has gone on to provide a responsive and people-friendly governance in Tripura. Under Deb, who places a premium on physical fitness, the new state government has set the stage for progress in the farm, infrastructure, health and education sectors.
Under the Left Front regime, Tripura degenerated into one of the worst performers in the public healthcare sector. The state’s physical infrastructure lay in shambles, agriculture was in deep distress, unemployment was high, and the state’s education sector, as well as the bureaucracy, had been thoroughly politicised. The police force had become an adjunct of the ruling party and the state as a whole was in deep despair and distress. The only hope for the state’s youth lay in migrating to other states in search of jobs, and they got mostly menial or low-paying ones since the degrees they got from Tripura’s institutions were worthless.
Deb realised that the many ills afflicting Tripura would have to be tackled at the very micro level. One of the first things he did was to draw up a plan to boost the state’s agriculture sector. Tripura’s strength lies in its horticulture sector, and a slew of measures have already been undertaken to not only boost horticulture, but also provide assured markets to the state’s produce by entering into agreements with even foreign countries.
Within two years, incomes of horticulturists and cultivators of cash crops like rubber are expected to treble. The state’s slumbering and apathetic bureaucracy is being shaped up; the fulfilment of the poll promise of extending the Seventh Pay Commission benefits to state government employees has energised them, and other measures have been initiated to make the state machinery responsive and efficient.
The school curriculum is being revised to weed out the many toxic and pernicious communist influences. According to educationists, the curriculum in schools and colleges in the state was terribly outdated, flawed and only aimed at indoctrinating youngsters into communism. That is being changed and the entire education system, including the dilapidated infrastructure, is being modernised.
Deb is paying a lot of attention to the tourism sector; besides improving infrastructure and putting in place facilities for tourists, micro-tourism ventures are being promoted. From next year, Tripura will start hosting tourism festivals to attract tourists and put the state on the tourism map of the world.
The BJP, under Deb, had also successfully reached out to the indigenous tribals of the state and bridged the tribal-non tribal divide that had caused a lot of social strife. Special attention is now being paid to the development of tribal areas and the first priority is to construct roads to even the remotest tribal hamlet. Roads, says Deb, hold the key to the state’s progress. Apart from making it easy for those in remote areas to access educational and healthcare facilities, roads also help boost farm incomes by making markets easily accessible to farmers, explains Deb, who has got his priorities right and laid out before him.
He says that his goal is to make Tripura a frontline state of the North East with the highest per capita incomes and the fastest growing state gross domestic product by 2023, when the next elections are due.
3. Sanjeev Sanyal
Arjun Singh Kadian
A modest and passionate Sanjeev Sanyal sat with Swarajya in the balcony of his apartment in Central Delhi. With some tea, we look at the sun descending, and discuss a variety of topics to understand the man we have heard many times before.
Having known him for years now, it is easy to spot the zeal and glitter in his eyes on every new idea that is brought forth in the discussion. He represents the firm voice and new vision in the right-wing discourse that spans ideas, economics and history. Sanyal dons quite a few hats and switches them with wonderful ease.
Sanyal is the Principal Economic Adviser at the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA), Ministry of Finance. His grand uncle Sachindranath Sanyal was one of the founders of the Indian revolutionary movement in Bengal who influenced a breed of next-generation freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad. Following the same zeal, Sanjeev Sanyal has been inspiring the young and old across the country to break moulds and make every crisis an opportunity. In discussion forums and lectures, he insists that the country is going through a phase of churn, and a new wave of leaders across subjects is going to make India a global power.
Sanjeev Sanyal attended the Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi and the University of Oxford, where he was awarded the prestigious Rhodes scholarship (1992-95). He was awarded the Eisenhower Fellowship for his work on urban dynamics. Sanyal has been a visiting scholar at Oxford University, adjunct fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, Singapore, and a senior fellow of the World Wide Fund for Nature. In 2010, Sanyal was named Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, Davos.
His childhood in Bengal was a well-crafted intermix of missionary education, babudom, and stories of the revolutionaries from the Indian independence movement. However, departing from the life of his bureaucrat father, Sanjeev Sanyal chose a career in the corporate world. His first job was that of an economist covering South Asia at Societe Generale. He spent around two decades in the financial sector. He was chief economist (India and South Asia) at Deutsche Bank. Working between India and Singapore, he keenly followed global economic trends and honed his skill in research and writing. Sanyal took on the role of global strategist and was the managing director at the Deutsche Bank until 2015.
Sanyal assumed his present role of Principal Economic Adviser in early 2017. His vision and clarity have made him one of the most visible faces of the government on economic issues. Sanyal played a key role in managing the Non Banking Financial Company (NBFC) crisis and the bank clean-up. While speaking about the principle behind his economics, Sanyal proudly asserts that his understanding of macro systems is based upon the theory of complex adaptive systems.
The complexity theory lies at the centre of Sanyal’s worldview. His opinions on economics and urban design come from his understanding of the complex adaptive systems. Taking a macro view of problem sets and swiftly changing to evolving dynamics, Sanyal believes is the best course forward.
Apart from his work in economics, Sanyal is known for his work in history writing. He often talks about the importance of writing history from an Indic perspective. Sanyal quotes an African proverb often, “until the lions have their own storyteller, history will always glorify the hunter”. Driven by the same passion, Sanyal wants to rewrite the history of India’s freedom movement from the perspective of the revolutionaries. In the coming years, readers should also hope for a book on the applications of complex adaptive systems.
As an urban theorist, Sanyal has served on the future city sub-committee of the Singapore government tasked with building a long-term vision for the city-state. He is also a member of the committee to work out India's new urbanisation policy. It is after three decades that the committee will present the new urban policy framework. The policy is believed to reflect on Sanyal’s approach to urban infrastructure by imbuing the ‘local flavours’ in urban designs. Sanyal has been a pioneer in environmental accounting as well and weaves together cities of the future with sustainable development in a dynamic framework of economics.
Sanyal is married to Smita Barooah, an addictions counsellor and columnist, since 1995. Complementing each other, they hop in from one meeting to another conference, inspiring the world around them.
4. K T Rama Rao (KTR)
If there is one thing that could describe the performance of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) in the past state elections in Telangana, it is ‘absolute dominance’. Astute political judgment along with development schemes which struck gold in the state, led TRS to a 3/4th majority in the youngest state assembly of India. As K. Chandrashekar Rao took the oath for the second time as the Chief Minister of Telangana, his son K.T Rama Rao (popularly known as KTR) was appointed the working president of the party. With this, the dynastic succession plan in yet another party in India was cemented. Except that KTR has proved to be more than just his father’s son.
The 42-year-old KTR won the recent elections from his seat of Sircilla with a margin of 88000 votes. But that was not his only success story in the state. Apart from playing a major part in the re-election bid as a star campaigner, KTR was crucially involved in some of the key development activities taken up in the state which managed to capture the imagination of the people.
While his father KCR was seen as the rustic, seasoned politician who got the rural pulse of the state with his big ticket welfare schemes, KTR was the young leader, brimming with ideas who symbolized the infrastructural and technological surge. What KCR meant to the farmers, KTR meant to the white collar workers and industrialists. Between them, it was the perfect combination of age and youth, of welfarism and innovation and of distinct yet in-sync ideas of development that Telangana needed. Therefore KTR was as much a part of the vision of the emerging Telangana, though he was always two steps behind his father.
As the minister of Information Technology and Industries in the cabinet and an IT professional in the past, the IT hub of Hyderabad was where many of his pet projects were concentrated.
One of the major achievements steered by him is the T-Hub which has made Hyderabad, the largest start-up incubator in the country. The hub can facilitate around 300 start ups at this point.
To add to the skilled workforce in the state, he also pioneered the Telangana Academy for Skill and Knowledge (TASK). This is equipping engineering graduates with employable skill sets so that a ready workforce is created to meet the increasing demand. Major tech giants like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and now Google have now established base in Hyderabad and investments by major FMCG players are also pouring in.
Both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana lead in the Ease of doing Business ranking of the World Bank which sometimes also leads to the criticism that KTR and the TRS are reaping the benefits of the earlier good work of Chandrababu Naidu. But the entry of marquee investors in the state, adulation of the youth and measured yet aggressive political statements by KTR have managed to keep such criticism at bay.
In a period where the criticism against dynastic politics has reached a crescendo, it takes a lot to ensure that your work does not get overshadowed by your privilege. KTR certainly has had the silver spoon in politics like many other dynasts his age and even older than him, but his immense popularity in Telangana is something he has earned for himself.
As the mega elections of 2019 loom closer, the TRS with its recent success is in a pole position to stitch together the third front and challenge both the NDA and the UPA. KTR has played his part in silencing all detractors and winning the state of Telangana for his party for the second time. In 2019, his father seems to be headed towards Delhi with a larger national role in mind. This makes KTR the man to look out for when it comes to Telangana.
5. Dharmendra Pradhan
If there is one political acronym that could best define the state of Odisha, it is TINA (there is no alternative). It is not because there are no political parties in the state, but because there is just one political face, which defines one political party.
Naveen Patnaik has been at the front and centre of the political imagination in Odisha and there has been no leader in either the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who could even come close to presenting an alternative to the people of the state. Along with that, the almost non-existent organisational base of the BJP in the state and the widespread anger against the Congress, further strengthened the TINA factor in the state and took the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Patnaik from strength to strength.
It was in the early days of 2017, that the first fissure was noticed and it came in the way of the panchayat election results. The BJP surprised many of its critics and registered a spectacular performance inching its way to the second spot in the state. Suddenly, the cadre seemed more motivated, the organisation seemed more strengthened and, importantly, there was a new face to lead the charge against the ruling government. It was not an obscure face but one, which was already leading one of the central ministries and was in charge of one of the key projects of the Union government, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana.
Dharmendra Pradhan is the son of Dr Debendra Pradhan, who served as a minister of state in the National Democratic Alliance-1 (NDA-1) government. But, Dharmendra Pradhan, who now serves as the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Skill Development and Entrepreneurship was better known as the one who could organise and deliver states for his party.
His biggest success came in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, where he was in charge of Bihar, and the NDA combine managed to win 31 out of 40 seats in the state. Pradhan had been a Rajya Sabha member from Bihar since 2012 and again took the Rajya Sabha route in 2018 from Madhya Pradesh. Therefore, the biggest criticism he has been facing is his inability to be a public face and win a popular election. It is not exactly true as Pradhan was a member of Odisha assembly from 2000-2004 and a member of the Lok Sabha from 2004-2009. But his organisational roles from his Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) days to becoming a general secretary of the party, have been his biggest strength.
It is perhaps a testament to his behind-the-scene importance in the party, that he was handed over one of the most crucial ministries in the Narendra Modi government, and spearheaded one of the big ticket projects. But the inability of the party to even make a small difference in Odisha in 2014 even when the country was swept by the Modi wave was a cause for concern in the BJP. The mission of the BJP to tap the non-saffron eastern belt of the country started in earnest and party chief Amit Shah turned to their most-trusted face from Odisha to turn around the TINA factor.
Pradhan is now a regular fixture in Odisha and has slowly and surely become the face of the opposition. He is aggressive in his attacks against the BJD government and has more than once openly aired his aspiration of contesting and winning from Odisha. His investment in the state politics has provided the cadre with a high-profile leader, who has the ear of the higher party authorities and has resulted in a dormant party set-up becoming visibly more active.
The key contribution of Pradhan has been to extend the footprints of the party to the whole of Odisha through more than 35,000 activated booths. The organisational base of the BJP had never been expanded as it had become comfortable as a junior partner of the BJD during the years of the alliance. After the break-up of the alliance in 2009, such a concerted effort at reorganisation had not been made, until Pradhan came into the picture with the full support of Shah.
Pradhan is of the opinion that Odisha and West Bengal will be critical to the BJP story in 2019 and a good performance of the party in Odisha can be a feather in his cap. He is already being seen as one of the best-performing ministers in the Modi government with the Ujjwala Yojana becoming a major success story across states. For long, he has been dismissed as a Rajya Sabha leader with no hold in his own state. But, he has taken up the challenge by ensuring regular presence and visibility in the state, and by doubling down on his efforts at establishing ground connect and guiding the narrative of change.
The BJP in Odisha has until now, at least, turned around the perception battle and now nothing that the BJD government does or says goes unquestioned. The odds are immense and the ruling party with its entrenched power structure in the state, and the complete co-option of the bureaucracy and the media, are a Goliath like adversary. Moreover, the popularity of Naveen Patnaik is still extremely high and whether Pradhan has the same charisma is a question still out in the open.
But, 2019 will be a year to watch out for Pradhan because after decades, there is a challenger standing opposite Patnaik in Odisha. Pradhan is now the lone challenger and 2019 will tell us, if he will be the victor.
6. Gyaneshwer Chaubey
It is said that if modern genetics has proved anything it is that we do not have any claim to genetic purity. All that any member of the human species can claim is that she is as much a member of any constructed notion of a particular race as she is the member of all humanity. We are all carrying in us confluences of many so-called ethnic groups. So, to map a particular race or language or culture to a specific set of genetic identifiers is, apart from being injurious to good science, fraught with danger to society.
In a famous National Geographic panel discussion titled, Who We Are, in 2015, Dr Gyaneshwer Chaubey pointed out that we all have genetic admixtures of other groups. Taking the example of the Mushar people, who speak an Indo-European language but whose genetic makeup is more akin to the Austroasiatic groups, he showed why to hate a fellow human being in the name of a different ethnic or linguistic or religious ‘other’ does not make sense at all.
This is one strong lesson that Dr Chaubey wants everyone to take home from what the studies of molecular anthropology reveal. Today, in 2018, we know that human species has in it the genetic legacy of Neanderthals and Devonians, something that Dr Chaubey had remarked in the passing in that 2015 discussion.
Dr Chaubey, an internationally-recognised molecular anthropologist at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), is today an authority in molecular population studies of that larger Indian land mass, also called South Asia that contains nations including India.
How did he get interested in this field? “It is a long story,” says Dr Chaubey. It started with fruit flies — Drosophila — the legendary insects dear to geneticists working on which the famous Morgan discovered mutations. Dr Chaubey, then a post-graduate student in BHU, was interested in Drosophila. This would take him to the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad. There, in his last week, he found a paper, published the same week, authored by Dr Toomas Kivisild (The Genetic Heritage of the Earliest Settlers Persists Both in Indian Tribal and Caste Populations, American Journal of Human Genetics, 2003). “It turned 180 degree my view on peopling of India,” says Dr Chaubey.
As a youth, he had grown with the usual narrative that the Aryans invaded and inhabited north India, pushing the Dravidians to the south. “I was surprised to see that both of my maternal and paternal ancestries were from South Asia (maternal haplogroup M2 and paternal haplogroup R2). This was the major turning point of my life to switch towards a completely complex and different field of genetics called molecular anthropology,” he told Swarajya.
The words ‘completely complex’ explain the field that he had chosen. His mentor in the field was Dr Kivisild, a senior researcher at the Estonian Biocentre, with whom Dr Chaubey had published quite a number of papers. As a scientist, data is the leading light for Dr Chaubey.
“I accept with full marks if data is consistent with the interpretation,” he says with pride, “otherwise I would not have published Austroasiatic migration from South East Asia (Population Genetic Structure in Indian Austroasiatic Speakers: The Role of Landscape Barriers and Sex-Specific Admixture, 2010) and U7 migration from West Asia (Origin and spread of human mitochondrial DNA haplogroup U7, 2017).
The former study supported the hypothesis of pre-Neolithic origins and dispersal of Austro-Asiatic language family from South Asia. The latter paper studies a haplogroup U7 — a mitochondrial DNA haplogroup associated with “the initial maternal founders in Southwest Asia and Europe” and shows that “the carriers of haplogroup U7 spread to South Asia and Europe before the suggested Bronze Age expansion of Indo-European languages from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe region”.
So, for India, what do his studies as a molecular anthropologist show? What does he want to tell the people? This is particularly important for me. I live in the southernmost part of the Indian mainland — Kanyakumari. I have seen ethnic politics often give itself a scientific veneer. When one speaks of a particular linguistic or cultural group as outsiders against another as autochthonous, the common Indian knows that there is something wrong in such a narrative. But, is she right?
“We all share a common ancestor going back to a ‘few generations’ in our region and ‘several generations' from a distant region,” says the molecular anthropologist. Through the chrono-scope of molecular anthropology looking at Harappan civilisation, what is that Dr Chaubey and his colleagues see? “A heterogeneous genetic structure,” he says. That can also be said about any Indian city. In fact, the very defining feature of India is this preservation of diversity in its unity.
And Dr Chaubey, as he goes on putting the pieces together into that complicated puzzle of the origin of India, is also reaffirming this fundamental truth about India and all of humanity.
7. Nivedita Mahesh
On 1 March 2018, a paper titled 'An absorption profile centred at 76 megahertz in the sky-averaged spectrum' appeared in the journal Nature.
The paper created waves among astrophysicists for it was based on discoveries of the first radiations from the very first stars. So far, cosmologists considered the time gap between the Big Bang and the first star formation to be 400 million years. But, the discovery made by the paper — the result of 12 years of research by astrophysicist Judd Bowman and his team at Arizona State University —has reduced this cosmic dark age to 180 million years. This challenges the existing models on the beginnings of our universe.
According Dr Rennan Barkana, a physicist from Tel Aviv, an authority on the timescale of cosmic evolution, the discovery the team has made, “the combination of radiation from the first stars and excess cooling of the cosmic gas” can be explained as being “induced by its interaction with dark matter”. It is perhaps the first important evidence for the dark matter and the way it behaves, including how it could have affected the way our universe evolved from its birth pangs after the Big Bang.
The premier popular science magazine Scientific American spoke of a radio antenna the size of a kitchen table and two years of hard work in the desert that resulted in this discovery that is rewriting our cosmic creation story. The discovery is seen today as one of the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2018.
Nivedita Mahesh, who is from Coimbatore, India, is one of the co-authors of the paper. A graduate student at the School Of Earth and Space Exploration in Arizona University, she was excited about the discovery, “nonetheless at that point I knew — we all knew — we had to do multiple verification tests”. Swarajya spoke to her on the discovery, and here are edited excerpts from the conversation:
Why is this discovery by the “Experiment to Detect the Global EoR (Epoch of Reionisation) Signature (EDGES)” important?
EDGES probes the cosmic period known as the Cosmic Dawn. It is when the dark ages ended with the birth of the first stars. By dark ages, we mean that it was the time when there were no astrophysical sources to emit light. Therefore, we have detected one of the earliest possible signals from the first structures in the universe. By understanding the period of Cosmic Dawn, we will learn a lot about the formation and properties of the first stars and hopefully infer some information about the dark ages too.
We already understand star formation in our local universe but we expect it to be different for the first generation stars due to the different conditions they were formed in.
How does this discovery change the initial evolution of cosmos as we have been so far told?
The signal that we have observed from the first stars is at a frequency we expect but, the strength of the signal happens to be twice as big as the standard models predict. This means that the neutral gas was likely colder than what was expected/predicted. Thus, Dr Rennan Barkana, in his paper, explores the dark matter-baryon interactions as a possible explanation to the excess cooling. Hence, the theory explains the discovery not the vice versa. There will be a number of groups now trying to explain the detection or improve upon the theory put forth by Dr Barkana.
How has this discovery changed our view of dark matter and its role in the evolution of our universe?
It is an exciting possibility that the unexpected amplitude may be evidence of non-standard physics, such as interactions between dark matter and baryons (normal matter, like atoms). According to Dr Barkana's work, the observed signal implies that the dark matter particle is no heavier than several proton masses, which is well below expectations for a weakly-interacting massive particle. The signal also confirms that the dark matter is highly non-relativistic and fairly cold.
Tell us more about EDGES.
EDGES works very much like how an FM radio receiver or a TV receiver works: radio waves enter the ground-based antenna, are amplified by a receiver, and then digitised and recorded by a computer. The difference is that the instrument is very precisely calibrated and designed to perform as uniformly as possible across many radio wavelengths.
EDGES was started by Dr Alan E Rogers and Professor Judd Bowman in 2005. They spent 12 years in understanding the instrument and its complete response and calibrating it. This is essential as the signal we are looking for is nearly 10,000 times fainter than all the foreground astrophysical sources emitting in the same frequency band.
What is the Indian aspect to this research?
India has everything in place to carry out such cosmological experiments. In fact, in Raman Research Institute, there is a group working on a project called SARAS (Dr Ravi Subrahmanyan, Dr Uday Shankar and Dr Saurabh Singh). This is the only other group in the world which has an instrument of the desired sensitivity to confirm the detection. It won’t be long before we hear from them. The giant meterwave radio telescope (GMRT) is one among the four interferometers in the world capable of carrying out the similar studies but with a different approach. They measure the variations in the signal across the sky. In fact, the very first limits on the strength of these variations came from the GMRT.
In addition, many groups in India, eg NCRA-TIFR, RRI, IIT Kharagpur, etc, have been actively pursuing theoretical and modelling studies of how this signal would look like in detail.
8. J Sai Deepak
J Sai Deepak, 32, caught the nation’s attention when he argued for Lord Ayyappa’s right to privacy in the Sabarimala Temple case before the Supreme Court of India in July last year. Appearing on behalf of women’s rights groups, Sai presented the deity of Sabarimala as a living person, who has rights under the Constitution. While this became the most widely-reported aspect of his arguments, in a 144-page written submission replete with documents from scripture and colonial records, Sai made a compelling case to establish that the Sabarimala Temple’s tradition is based on the naishtika brahmacharya (eternal celibate form) of the deity and not any notion of menstrual impurity.
Though, the four justices, who delivered the majority view in the Sabarimala judgement weren’t convinced, two of them, the then Chief Justice Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Rohinton Nariman, applauded Sai’s submissions calling them “instructive” and “an impressive articulation of both rhetoric and logic”. Nonetheless, Sai’s arguments were endorsed by Justice Indu Malhotra, the sole lady on the bench who delivered the dissenting opinion.
Ayyappa devotees across the world sent their blessings his way for putting up such a spirited defence. More importantly, he won many converts among the fence-sitters hitherto unaware of the tradition of Sabarimala.
Given his representation of the cause of the Sabarimala Temple, one might be tempted to assume that Sai is a public interest litigator or an activist. On the contrary, he practises full-time as an arguing counsel in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court, with civil commercial litigation, anti-trust litigation and constitutional litigation being his primary areas of core competence.
Interestingly, law was not his first love. As a student of mechanical engineering in his under-graduation, Sai’s life dream was to pursue a masters in aeronautical engineering. But in 2005, in his penultimate semester of engineering, he was attracted to the idea of pursuing law when he heard IIT Kharagpur was starting a law school in 2006. Not everyone was gung-ho about this switch. Sai didn’t let the naysayers get in his way, and took the headlong plunge into law in 2006, and hasn’t looked back since.
In his days in IIT Kharagpur’s law school, he took to blogging on legal issues in 2008. His very first blogpost was cited extensively by a division bench of the Madras High Court in 2009 to vacate the interim injunction granted against TVS Motors in a suit filed by Bajaj Auto for infringement of its patent on the twin spark plug ignition technology. This was one of the rare instances in legal history wherein a law student’s work was cited and relied upon by a court in its judgement.
After graduating from IIT Kharagpur in 2009, for seven years, Sai committed himself to honing his skills as a litigator at a National Capital Region-based law firm. He rose to become an associate partner in the firm in under six years of practice, during which period he spearheaded several landmark cases.
In 2010, he was a part of the team, which successfully represented Greenpeace India against Tata Sons in the Delhi High Court, wherein the law relating to interplay between intellectual property rights and fundamental rights was laid down for the first time. Since 2011, Sai has led the team which represents the basmati farmers of Madhya Pradesh and the state government of Madhya Pradesh in the ongoing litigation on grant of Geographical Indication, a form of Intellectual Property Right (IPR), to basmati rice.
In 2015, he led the team which successfully represented the Internet and Mobile Association of India in its challenge to the constitutionality of Section 79(3)(b) of the Information Technology Act as part of the Shreya Singhal judgement, wherein the Supreme Court held that until so directed by a court of law, online intermediaries do not have the obligation to adjudicate on the legality of and take down user generated content. Since 2013, Sai has been a part of the on-going mobile patent litigations between patent owners such as Ericsson and Indian mobile phone brands, wherein he represents the latter. Perhaps for the first time in India, these cases have thrown up issues relating to interplay between intellectual property rights and competition law.
In June 2016, he went independent to establish Law Chambers of J Sai Deepak and set up practice as an arguing counsel. For the past couple of years, Sai has been advising the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Union Ministry of Commerce, on the implementation of the National IPR Policy.
Recently, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes engaged him as its special arguing counsel wherein Scheduled Castes are being denied reservations by institutions claiming the status of minority-run institutions.
Between 2016 and 2018, Sai represented the well-known scholar and activist Madhu Kishwar in a defamation suit filed by NDTV against her in the Delhi High Court for her articles on NDTV’s alleged involvement in laundering money on behalf of a former finance minister. NDTV recently withdrew the defamation suit.
Despite his demanding schedule as a professional litigator, Sai finds time for Indic legal issues which he takes up on a pro bono basis on behalf of the Indic Collective Trust and People for Dharma, in which he is supported by a network of Indic activists and a team of litigators.
His legal expertise, committed representation of Indic legal causes and his insightful talks have earned him a huge base of admirers and have made him a coveted figure in lecture circuits.
9. S Vijay Kumar
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says, Karmanyevadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana, Ma Karmaphalaheturbhurma Te Sangostvakarmani (You have a right to perform your prescribed action, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be associated to not doing your duty).
(Chapter 2, Verse 47)
While we are all aware of this popular verse, it seems almost impossible to put it into practice in a world that is driven by the, rather Western, philosophy of ‘no pain, no gain’. But once in a while you come across a small glimmer of hope that all is not gone as yet. This is one such story.
Imagine tracking an ancient stolen object from scratch, chasing it in an arduous journey, uncovering it, and in some cases reclaiming and bringing it back to its place of origin. All of this is for nothing, but for just a little satisfaction of serving dharma.
How many of us would be ready to have several sleepless nights and put us through rigmarole such as this, and not expect anything in return? Hardly any. But, there is one person worth knowing, and whose all-consuming passion is the Indian heritage. S Vijay Kumar has set his name in stone much like the countless sculptures he is tracking down and bringing them back home, even as you read this.
In India, heritage and culture have always been the last on the list of priorities of the state. If you are curious to find out more, just check when was the last time any government allocated a separate budget to the field of art and culture which is actually a silent majority. Ages ago, I remember sitar maestro Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar saying, “even animals have two channels dedicated to them! We artistes and our field must be really bad!” This lament in exasperation was a reflection of the state’s indifference towards anything to do with art and culture.
Art, culture and heritage are not just a small section of performing arts. It extends to heritage conservation, archiving and documentation of important traditional knowledge systems, and consistent nurturing of art and the artiste communities and more. Our ancient temples are an encyclopaedia of our rich traditions. Heritage conservation and protection in this arena need passionate efforts to address many things at a time, without expecting any gains in return. Kumar’s work is one such.
While all of this sounds very exciting (Vijay Kumar’s The Idol Thief is a thrilling account of his efforts at idol recovery), it is equally tedious and totally thankless. But Kumar’s persistence and curiosity fuel his intellect and vision, and sustain the drive to protect what is our collective heritage. Today, there is better awareness across the world when temple idols are auctioned off in international art markets. This cognizance has made people ask questions they never did before. The credit for this, however small, but very significant, must go to activists like Kumar.
Today, it can be said with assertion the kind of work Kumar is doing is unparalleled as it takes an enormous amount of passion, determination and patience to accomplish such challenging tasks.
In a country of millions, we are yet to set up an efficient system that can address issues related to culture and heritage awareness. Amidst all this, those with scant regard for dharma have been running riot.
Vijay Kumar has found his calling. Now it is for everyone around to support, encourage and help him in his mission to work for a greater common cause — protect and preserve our heritage. Kumar is a true karma yogi, and posterity will be forever thankful to him for his phenomenal contribution to the restoration of our heritage.
10. P R Sreejesh
The ‘irreplaceable’ goalkeeper is a rare breed in Indian field hockey. It is not a myth. In the fast pace of fiery four quarters, which has not been too gentle to some of the best forwards, midfielders and defenders in the Indian squad, former captain and ace goalkeeper P R Sreejesh, 30, has remained a consolidated constant. The looming demon of injuries has tried to grab Sreejesh’s aggressive and consistent campaign towards 2020. It can’t get him. Not yet.
Every time, especially since 2017, India’s feisty goalkeeper has sprung back to action defeating injuries, scripting for Indian squad a steaming rise, from pit bottom of rank 12 in 2012, to the fifth in the FIH world rankings. Today, the senior squad, a mix of fresh legs and experience is at the cusp of hope. Hope — of touching the podium in 2020 Olympics, after an improved show at 2016 Rio Olympics, and falling a match short of the semifinal berth at the Men’s World Cup in Bhubaneswar. Sreejesh is the squad’s last line of defence in this challenging journey.
Between what the microphones behind him catch from a hollering Sreejesh, if his yells, roars, commands and some not so gentle words could be put to another good use, it could be for a field play of sounds and music from David Gilmour and Roger Waters. To friends outside turf, he shouts “Swamiye Ayyappa”. Born in Ernakulam district, he is a son, father, husband.
He would rebuff himself to be in that short list of “irreplaceable” goalkeepers if he doesn’t help his squad win the way he wants to. The end of 2018 did not bring that season of the win he wanted. Sreejesh got caught on the wrong foot, literally, while defending against Holland in the decisive quarter final match in Bhubaneswar.
This “wrong foot”, his critics would say, gave Holland the path to a World Cup semifinal berth. The semifinal berth would have come to India after 43 long years. Soon after Holland took lead, the stadium turned silent. Towards the end of quarter four, Sreejesh walked away, making way for a kicking back.
This Kalinga stadium was a cold contrast to the electric scenario in 2014, when India, at Men's Hero Hockey Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar, defeated Holland 3-2. At 1-2 in the World Cup quarterfinal, it was a lukewarm finish in contrast to the goal and save hailstorm that unfolded in Raipur in 2015 — the bronze medal match against Holland at the Men’s Hero Hockey World League. These two moments had defined Sreejesh’s own stature in transforming the squad.
He likes to lead. He tells Swarajya, “players can influence other players. Definitely, the player who has the ball is the captain. Being there as a goalkeeper and playing that role is important to me."
Days before the quarterfinal match in Bhubaneswar, Sreejesh summed up the plan of action after the thrilling victory queue against Canada in their pool match, to Swarajya. He said, “in this world cup, the first motive for us was to get into the quarterfinals. We have achieved that. We want to play our best. If you showcase your potential, then the result will take care of itself.”
This approach is a leaf from his own sporting philosophy, and what Aussie coach Michael Nobbs would describe as ‘character’.
Commentators dedicated to the sport describe him as a man ‘shouldering’ India's journey and wins. It's true, but ‘shouldering’ in Sreejesh’s context steals the romance of sweat and fire this man pours into his game. He says, “I got injured in 2017. I was out of the system for six to eight months. I was with the team but totally out of hockey and goalkeeping. That injury taught me a lot of things. People, till that time, think that hockey is everything for you (as a player), and after hockey there is no life. When I got into that situation (injured), I realised that there are plenty of options after hockey. That helped me to start enjoying this game.”
Having made his debut for the senior squad in 2006, 2004 in junior, Sreejesh rose as India's hero at the 2014 Asian Games, in Incheon, where India won a gold medal. He captained at the 2016 Men's Hockey Champions Trophy, London, bringing home the silver.
Senior players like Birendra Lakra, Kothajit Singh and Chinglensana Kangujam, who also featured in Bhubaneswar, recently, know Sreejesh’s language, his volume, stance and silence. In the pool and the quarterfinal, Sreejesh’s language seemed to embrace them in an unseen helix of control around the 25 yards.
Some years ago, while congratulating him on his magnificent performance at a match India had won, I told him that he played like a man possessed. He said that being crazy was essential to be a goalkeeper he had wanted to be. The craziness has not subsided. It has bled into consciousness and calm — for the squad's vision of 2020.
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