The Indiawallah PAGE M126
there (the Kilvenmani massacre when 42 striking Dalit agricultural laborers influenced by the Communist Party of
India were burnt alive in 1968).
The CPI had a base going way back to the 1930s in this particular area of Thanjavur district. So, that was one of the
questions in the study. Why did the Communists have a support base there even after the rise of the DMK (Dravida
Munnetra Kazhagam, a Tamil Nadu-based political party)?
What was going on here?
It was really the larger scholarly question I was trying to
answer. Why did India never have a peasant revolution?
China had a peasant revolution. Vietnam had a peasant revolution. Algeria had a peasant revolution. Even Indonesia in
some respects had a peasant revolution although it was a little more complicated because of the way the Dutch colonized
India was the great glaring exception to the rule that part
and parcel of the Independence movement process at some
point was an uprising among the peasantry.
How did you get to be Ambassador Robert F Goheen’s special assistant?
I was on the job market in 1975, but the bottom had fallen
out of the academic job market. I was approached by a man
named Robert Goheen ( who later became the ambassador to
In (October) 1974 (Henry) Kissinger paid his first visit to
India after The Tilt. The origins of this sub-commission of
education and culture, that I came to work for (under
Goheen), is called Kissinger’s Penance.
Kissinger went to Delhi, and as unaccustomed as he was to
doing such a thing, he accepted Mrs Gandhi’s proposal that
there be a joint commission (between the US and India) in
very Soviet style!
The joint commission consisted of the Indian minister of
external affairs and the secretary of state. Underneath that
joint commission were to be sub-commissions, one on the
economy, one on science and technology, one on commerce
and one on education and culture….
The State Department approached the Asia Society, New
York, and asked if it would house the secretariat for this to-be formed Indo-US sub-commission of education and culture.
The State Department invited (Vengurla, Maharashtra-born) Robert Goheen (son of Presbyterian missionaries to
India and a president of Princeton) to head this. This was
Goheen was the US co-chair and the Indian co-chair was G
Parthasarthy, who was sort of cut from the (virulently anti-American Congress party leader V K) Krishna Menon cloth.
We had one meeting of the sub-commission every year,
alternately in the US and India. We created a committee on
museums, a committee on universities, a this and a that, we
started organizing exhibitions back and forth and we organized fellowship programs to send American scholars, who
were not India scholars, to India.
Then (Jimmy) Carter got elected and he turned around
Marshall Bouton, left, with then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the Asia Society in 1999. Much before Vajpayee became prime
minister, Bouton had told his friends in the State Department that the Indian politician would conduct a nuclear test if he came to power. They
didn’t believe him.
COUR TES Y: MARSHALL BOU TON
and asked Bob Goheen to be the ambassador. Goheen asked
me to become his special assistant. That was 1977.
So, we moved to Delhi and I worked as Bob’s special assistant for three years.
I arrived in Delhi just before Indira Gandhi went to the
slammer. Morarji Desai was prime minister. The Janata
(Party) government was struggling.
What was it like living in India?
I had developed a passion for the place. A passion born of
experience. A passion born of enquiry.
I found India to be an enormously attractive, intriguing
and frustrating place…
In every way — intellectually or otherwise — I was drawn
to it. There was a lot of political change going on. The econ-
omy was stuck in low gear. Early on, I became one of those
people who argued for what later became the reforms and
When I first went to India, that was the time when India
was — as it is today, but in a much more complicated way —
the counter balance to China.
Do you take a traditional society and modernize it under an
autocratic system or a democratic system?
Which works better?
What’s the fate of Asia, which is what it comes down to?
The under-girding of the rock bed of my involvement with
India is about two things — it is about the people and it is
about the enormity of what India means to human civiliza-
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