Nehru writes, ‘very little original work on mathematics was done in India after the twelfth century till we reach the modern age. ‘Discovery of India’ was written over five months when Nehru was imprisoned in the Ahmednagar Fort. It was first published in 1946.

However, exactly 132 years before Nehru penned his treatise, in 1834, Charles M. Whish published a paper in Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. This paper is available today for free in JSTOR (and is attached to this article).

Read Charles Whish’s paper

In his paper, Whish explains how Kerala School of Mathematics, under the leadership of Madhava of Sangamagrama, discovered the first principles of classical Mathematical Analysis and calculus. This happened about 200 years before the work of Leibniz and Newton’s work, around 1340 AD. The Kerala School of Mathematics remained active for about 200 more years, after this.

Madhava discovered the infinite series for sine and cosine. He also expressed clear intuition about convergence, which is a cornerstone of Mathematical Analysis (Wikipedia has a long article on Madhava).

It is unclear why Nehru chose not to investigate more, before making up his mind. Journal publication was available for hundreds of years before he wrote his piece. More importantly, this great factual error was not amended in the subsequent editions; not even an editorial comment was added as a follow-up. Should we believe that hundreds of learned people who read the book and were acquainted with Nehru did not know about these later adventures of Indians in Mathematics?

Nehru was a key leader of Indian National Congress who boasted the title of ‘Pandit’ (the learned one). More importantly, his exposition on India went on to create an impression of India in the world. This is why he should have been extremely careful about this type of definitive assertion.

There might be a combination of Eurocentrism and sly communalism at play here. After all, in his own words, Nehru was the last Englishman to rule India.