Atal Behari Vajpayee was a great votary of science and society tie-up, he was keen to formulate the nomenclature of development by making strides in Science & Technology
Atal ji at the Pokhran test range after Bharat successfully tested the nuclear bomb
A week after the Pokhran nuclear tests were carried out in May 1998, Bharat’s former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee improvised on the slogan given by Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1965, “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” by adding a crucial dimension of “Jai Vigyan” to it. Vajpayee always believed in the potential and flair of Science & Technology (S&T) in making lives better. He never conceptualised S&T as a high-powered medium to exercise dominance and ascendancy. He associated the advances in the field of science to a better future.
Addressing the 91st session of the Indian Science Congress at Chandigarh in 2004, Vajpayee remarked, “India’s success in achieving self-reliance in food production is only one of the numerous achievements made possible by our science and technology establishment. Indeed, today there is not a single area of India’s socio-economic development that does not bear the signature of Indian S&T in some form or the other.” He continued, “In the years to come, this signature will look even bolder and more pleasing as we script the story of making India a Developed Nation by 2020.”
Vajpayee believed that modern Bharat cannot be made without pursing the excellence in the field of science.
Redefining Scientific Enquiry
After Jawaharlal Nehru, the larger intelligentsia of Bharat and the scientific community tended to move away from the ancient scientific riches of the Bharatiya civilisation. Nehru crucially underlined the term “Scientific Temper” in The Discovery of India (1946). “Scientific temper" describes an attitude which involves the application of logic. Discussion, argument and analysis are vital parts of scientific temper. Elements of fairness, equality and democracy are built into it. However, the term was narrowly defined by the Nehruvian practioners to outcast all the civilisational achievements encompassing texts and practices of ancient Bharat.
On the other hand, Vajpayee was always aware and respectful about the traditions of knowledge which the Bharatiya civilisation produced and circulated in the world. In his inaugural address to Indian Science Congress at Banglore in 2003, he observed that, “Since ancient times India has had an illustrious tradition of scientific enquiry. Numerous fundamental scientific and mathematical concepts are attributed to ancient Indian scientists. They also developed applied knowledge in medicine, metallurgy, chemistry, agriculture, textiles and other fields.” He further continued that, “But far more important than these scientific contributions of ancient Indian scientists and philosophers is their integral approach to Knowledge and Life. They explored all areas of Jnan and Vijnan in a holisitic way, emphasising that material and spiritual development should be pursued in a balanced manner, without ignoring one at the expanse of the other.”
The above key observation of Vajpayee is enough to differentiate his vision regarding science when compared to Nehru’s. While Nehru solely represented the saga of modernity at the expanse of Bharatiya tradition, Vajpayee ensured that both the modernity and tradition should fulfill and complete each other.
Vajpayee's biggest contribution to modern India is arguably the work he put in on the National Telecom Policy in 1999. Apart from ushering in a new era for the telecom industry, Vajpayee was also responsible for some of the biggest reforms in the defence sector in India. However, his most remarkable step towards ensuring the safety and sovereignty of the country was giving the go-ahead for Pokhran II.
The country's first lunar project, Chandrayaan I, was conceived under Vajpayee's governance. Launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in October 2008, the project was first announced on India’s 56th Independence Day by the “Poet Prime Minister” who envisioned an India free of “hunger and want”. Announcing the project, he said, “Our country is now ready to fly high in the field of science. I am pleased to announce that India will send her own spacecraft to the moon by 2008. It is being named Chandrayaan.”
However, these from the top achievements don’t affect the lives of common people notably and sharply. Unlike Nehru, Vajpayee’s vision of S&T was to touch the lives of common people in quick succession.
In his address at the Founder’s Day function at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in 2002, commenting on the significance of radiation processing, Vajpayee remarked that, “Radiation processing has also emerged as an important technology for preservation of agricultural commodities, sterlisation of medical products and upgrading of food hygiene. Cereals, pulses, vegetables and dry fruits can be preserved by this method.” He continued, “The Krushak plant at Lasalgaon will use gamma radiation to prolong the freshness of onion, which is the region’s most important agricultural product. By increasing the shelf life, this would help to maintain the onion prices at lower levels. As everyone knows, the price of onions can bring down a Government in our country!”
This was Vajpayee’s way of understanding and visualising the significance of S&T. Standing in the BARC, he was still thinking about the prosperity of farmers and how radiation processing can be used to prolong the freshness of onion.
The beauty of his ideation lied in the fact that it was a complete blend of micro and macro issues. After having talked about the application of radiation processing in agriculture, in the same address, Vajpayee talked about the other crucial utility of the nuclear power.
Identifying the nuclear energy as the most environmental-friendly energy source, Vajpayee added, “It is well known that nuclear power is the most environmental-friendly forms of energy. It is a cleaner energy alternative to fossil fuel. It is more cost efficient in the long term. At present, nuclear power meets just 2 per cent of our overall electricity needs. This will have to change soon.”
Science among many other things is about a holistic approach towards the problems of the present day. Vajpayee excelled in it. How often we have seen such leaders who lead the country’s science fraternity to test nuclear bombs to strengthen the security and defense of the country, and on the other hand, equally underline the more peaceful and everyday utilities of the same energy source for producing cheaper and safer fuel and power source. Such was his vision of S&T!