Google Doodle on Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis and S. Swamy’s Combative Spirit


Today is 125th birth anniversary of Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis – noted applied statistician and scientist. Google has posted a doodle honoring PCM’s contribution in the field of Statistics and Mathematics.

Google Doodle - PCM

He is considered as the father of Indian statistical research.

Here is a brief biography of PC Mahalanobis:

Mahalanobis was born on 29th June 1893 in West Bengal and graduated from King’s College, Cambridge. He is known for his pioneering work in statistics and is most often remembered by the “Mahalanobis distance”, a way of measurement used in population studies and was one of the members of the first Planning Commission of India.

He was also awarded one of the highest civilian awards, the Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India.

India’s second five year plan (1956-1961) which laid heavy emphasis on the development of the public sector and rapid industrialization also followed the Mr Mahalanobis model which emphasizes the importance of building a strong domestic consumption goods sector, which was crucial to the nascent Indian economy and had a lasting impact on the nation’s development.

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis also taught at Presidency College (Kolkata) where, in 1931, he was responsible for founding the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI).

He further laid the foundations of Indian statistical system through the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) and the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO)

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, a man of diverse scientific interests combined other disciplines like anthropology, economics, physics to develop better approaches in the field of population studies, consumption and crop yields. Later on, he collaborated with both top economists and mathematicians from around the world.

He died on June 28, 1972, just a day ahead of his 79th birthday.

Interesting information…showing PCM in good light! Isn’t it?

But then I read a tweet by Anand Ranganathan – author and Right Wing proponent where he posted an extract of article written by Subramanian Swamy – the controversial politician, Ph D in Economics from Harvard, and later Professor at Harvard, and the man who is known to have fought with almost everybody. Swamy is known for his grudges and his philosophy, in his own words, has been – “I give as good as I get”.

And what Swamy has written about PCM puts things in totally different perspective. Here is the extract:

It has been my lot throughout my life to be confronted and to confront the corrupt and powerful. As a student of my Masters degree in the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Calcutta, the then Chairman P. C. Mahalanobis took a dislike to me because he and my father were rivals in the government statistical organisation. Mahalanobis was a corrupt leftist. I had come to the ISI as an innocent student with a brilliant first class B.A. Honors degree in mathematics. But Mahalanobis’ dislike of me filtered down to the professors. For no reason except to please him, they began failing me in every subject. A ruined career stared me in the face. So I decided to retaliate (a foolish resolve on first thought, since I was then a 19 year old student facing the darling of the Left, USSR, and Nehru: P. C. Mahalanobis). But I dropped everything, parked myself in the library, and read whatever Mahalanobis had written as a scholar. I found that his celebrated Second Five Year Plan model, the so-called Mahalanobis model, was actually stolen from M. A. Fiedman, an obscure Soviet economist of the 1930s. This discovery I could not use against Mahalanobis however, because neither the USSR nor the then docile Indian press would take notice. But I discovered that Mahalanobis’ magnum opus something called “Fractile Analysis”, had recently been published in a scholarly international journal. That research was, I found worthless when scrutinized under the modern microscope of modern mathematics. It was, literally, well-known earlier research re-hashed.

Mathematics laid bare the plagiarism. Mahalanobis was too big to be challenged by other Indian scholars. But I had nothing to lose.

Naturally when I wrote out my critique and sent it to the journal, it was hot stuff. The journal published it and asked Mahalanobis for a rejoinder. He had none. His reputation abroad was therefore in tatters. He never recovered from it. A 19 year old writing out complex mathematical equations was a novelty for Harvard’s Economics Department to whose notice the journal article came. They offered me a scholarship for a Ph. D. course. My ruined career prospects did a 180 degree turn! I never looked back thereafter. Had I not been cornered like a cat, I would never have ventured to demolish Mahalanobis.



So the roots of Swamy’s fiercely combative approach and legacy of taking of fights with everybody lie in his encounter with PCM! Quite a trivia…



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