Ram Guha reminisces about the times when being an employee of the Government of India was an honour:
Truth be told, both Bhawani Singh and my father were merely representative of the times. Among Indians of all classes then hung the clean, if somewhat antiseptic, air of the freedom movement. This was especially true of those in public service; whether an unlettered peon or a scientist with a PhD, to be in the employ of the government of India was recognized as an honour that, despite (or perhaps even because of) its lack of material reward, somehow elevated you above your countrymen. With this sense of honour went a sense of duty and responsibility. Hence the respect with which Bhawani Singh treated the laboratory keys placed in his charge; hence also the doggedness with which my father would refuse to allow me to sit in the Dodge that Mahanand drove.
In the latter part of the article, he ties these up with the Mashelkar fiasco. And, he has some more ‘interesting’ information about Mashelkar too:
In his time at the CSIR, Dr Mashelkar had a reputation for dynamism, for infusing life and energy into a somnolent organization. To be sure, he did things scientists were not supposed to do. For example, he was felicitated in a function hosted by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Again, Dr Mashelkar joined the board of Reliance Industries very soon after leaving office.
What is more, given Mashelkar’s background, Guha finds the plagiarism accusation the most serious of all:
Breaking bread with the RSS, cosying up to corporate India — these are things we have become accustomed to, from our journalists and social scientists at any rate. We should perhaps not be too judgmental about a scientist following the same route. However, the charges of plagiarism will be harder to wish away. For nothing can be more damaging to a scientist than to be told that his conclusions are stolen from someone or somewhere else.
Finally, Guha touches a raw nerve of the Indian science establishment in the last paragraph:
As I write this, news comes in that Dr Mashelkar has resigned from the Technical Expert Group on Patent Law Issues. Although belated — it comes several weeks after the charges of plagiarism were made public — it is a welcome acknowledgement of error, if not negligence. With this, the controversy in the press will die down. However, Dr Mashelkar has still to withstand the proper scrutiny of his peers. I would be most interested in the reactions of the scientific academies of which he is a member, sometimes a leading member. Will they chastize him for violating the ethical code that mandates scientists always to scrupulously acknowledge the source of their data or analysis? Or, will they instead close ranks and let off the errant member of their community? This will be a test of their integrity, as well as their courage.
And, as Guha should well have known by now, even during the height of the controversy, no Indian science or engineering academy (we have a couple, I guess), as far as I know, made any official pronouncement on the issue. And, personally, I do not think there are going to be any.
I have seen scientists criticising their peers in the letters to the editor pages of the Hindu or sometimes in their interviews in the Frontline; however, in this case, I have not seen a single response. Nor are there any letters to the editor of Current Science, where again, such arguments are common.
Finally, to be fair to Mashelkar, the committee did consist of four more members; there are not any comments from them or about them in the press either, which again is surprising!
When there was another plagiarism complaint against a physicist for example, the physics community did respond to it effectively. So, the silence of the scientific community in this case, coming to think of it, is indeed eloquent, and something to certainly mull about!