North of the Narmada!

Some history facts from school days have stuck in my mind. One of them is the 634 AD victory of Pulakesin – II the great Chalukya King over Harshavardhan who ruled almost all of N India. A pitched battle was fought on the banks of the Narmada and Harsha lost. Since then the Narmada river has been a natural border between North &  South and a distinct culture, ethos and value system separates the two regions.


Rudyard Kipling in The Ballad of East & West says “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet“. I am going to extend this to the North & the South of India, and look at some interesting facts that differentiate the two.

I did a quick search on Google and found that since Independence almost 80% of the tenure of Finance Ministers in India have come from states that are below or along the Narmada (Bengal & Gujarat Included) – Chidambaram , Pranab Da, R.Venkatraman, C.S.Subramaniam, T.T.Krishnamachari, R.K.Shanmugam Shetty, S.B.Chavan, Y.B.Chavan, C.D.Deshmukh, Morarji Desai are some of the famous politicians who have held the post of Finance Misnister of india – all of them are from below the Narmada. ( the remaining 20% of the time we have had the Singh’s and Sinhas and Tiwari’s to name a few)

So is the case with the RBI Governors , here probably 90% of the tenure has been held by people from below the Narmada since independence – From the Current Raghuram Rajan to the formers – Subba Rao, Y.V.Reddy, C.Rangarajan, S.Jagannathan, H.V.R.Iyengar, M.Narasimhan, A.Ghosh, P.C.Bhattacharya , K.G.Amegaonkar and many more.

But the trend changes when you look at the Chief Justice of India, Chief of Army Staff and even Prime Ministers. Here people from North of the Narmada have brutally dominated in these posts since independence.

Lets analyse some more cases.

People of Indian origin or close linkage to India who have won the Nobel prize. 

Rabindranath Tagore, C. V. Raman, Amartya Sen, Hargobind Khorana, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and V.S.Naipul – Barring one again all are S Indians or Bengalis. Ramanujam the mathematical genius was also a S Indian and J.C.Bose the prolific inventor a Bengali.


Since independence till the 70’s the IAS officer were predominantly Tamil Brahmins or Bengalis or Maharashtrians – and then reservation changed the game. Even today the largest no of CA’s come from the Chennai and Kolkatta centre. It so happens that the Kolkatta centre has started sending a lot of Marwari’s but yes birds of the same feather flock together – so a large number of Gujaratis, Jains and Marwaris have actually migrated to Chennai and Kolkatta.

Large Indian Software Companies and Indian MNC Heads 

CEO’s of almost the top Indian Software Companies were S.Indians (before Mr Sikka) but India Country Managers of most MNC’s are of  N Indian origin. The former needs scale and strategy and the latter is purely quarterly sales driven and the art of diplomacy to manage the masters. Nadella at the helm of MS is a S Indian and so was Krish Prabhu who was heading Alcatel many years back. Sundar Pichai the CEO of Google is also a South Indian.

Spiritual Saints 

Lets look at some Spiritual Giants – Shankara, Ramanuja, Ramana Maharishi, Shirdi Sai, Ramakarishna, Vivekananada, Sant Dynaneshwar, Sant Tukaram, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Raghavendra Swami…… almost all the names that are renowned in the spiritual world come from below the Naramada. And present day gurus or god men like Sai Baba, Sri Sri, Jaggi Vasudev (Yes we have Baba Ramdev from North and Nithyananda from the South  – but I guess they don’t fall in this league)

Ramakarishna, Vivekananada,

So the big Q – what makes this happen ?

Is it the Power of Rice? Yes Bengal,  T.Nadu and Andhra are predominantly Rice eaters and looking at the high % of Intellectuals and spiritual Gurus from these states one may reckon that this has something to do with the Power of Rice. And is it the  power of Wheat and Chicken that makes the Defence Chiefs  and the thick skinned politicians come largely from North of the Narmada.

Studying in a REC (Now NIT) I had the opportunity to observe three batches before me and after me – so a total of 7 batches of students across 4 years from every state in the country. Thats a large sample size for any survey analysis.

Three key observations I recollect from my College days

  • Diplomacy and aggression became more visible the more Up North you went from the Narmada. Trust Quotient went down.
  • Guys from the South and East tried to commit and deliver and there was a sense of guilt on going back on your commitment. There was no such remorse in students from the North – offence was the best form of defence for them. They were brutally thick skinned.
  • College Secretary post was always won by a N Indian but the Literary Committee secretary was always a Tamilian or Bengali.

In the 25 years I have worked in the Corporate world travelling all across India – I have tried to break the above logic but sadly I see it being true even today. Sure there are exceptions and I have a few N Indian friends who beat the stereotype totally – but thats more an exception than the norm. (And in S India you will find an A.Raja and N.Srinivasan) – but the big picture is clearer. A curd ricing eating S Indian symbolises – hard working, straightforward, not political and a Dilli Wala stands for ” Jugad, Smart Talk – and in a way an empty vessel that makes noise”

What makes North different? Is it the years of facing invaders at the borders and seeing your family, kith and kin slaughtered in front of you. Is  flexibility and adaptability an outcome of having to live under the rule of brutal invaders & Mughals for almost a 100o years ? I don’t know – but clearly there is a difference.

Yes the Idli has invaded the country, and Salwar Kameez is as popular in Tamil Nadu as Punjab but when it comes to genes and DNA the core is very different –  and I have no qualms in saying that  North is North and South is South and the twain shall never meet ideologically.




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