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Nehru’s faltering Legacy

Shrijeet Phadke

Shrijeet PhadkeSep 13, 2021, 02:34 PM IST

Nehru’s faltering Legacy

Every nation looks upon science and technology as a salvager to her problems, an instrument of mass amelioration from poverty and all types of hardships. Development without science and technology is impossible therefore be it a common individual or great nation, they are equally ready to remodel their culture in line with the requirements of science and technology. It is worth emphasizing that science has become a religion nowadays and societies are rushing towards ‘Technopoly’ if we go by Neil Postman’s term, whether this is good or bad is an altogether different topic and not the subject of this article, however, in the world of knowledge, there is no alternative but to get a tune in into the development of science and technology to the optimum level. 

The progress of Indian science and technology is attributed to Jawaharlal Nehru. His prescience in the establishment of premier institutes like the Indian Institution of Technology has earned him showers of praise from the different quarters of the society and his hagiographers never step ahead without mentioning Nehru’s yeoman’s contribution in the infusion of what is famously called as ‘scientific spirit’ in the nation. No doubt his speeches from 1938 onwards were focused on creating science as the edifice of Indian society, however, the real assessment of his walk the talk was not made. Today, the Narendra Modi government has received uncharitable polemics for its appreciable efforts to revive deserving ancient Indian science and the very run-of-the-mill allegation is that Mr. Modi is unsettling a scientific base created by Jawaharlal Nehru with dubious presumption at its base that Nehru was a great facilitator of modern science in this nation. The efforts are necessary therefore to debunk this oft-peddled myth.

Science is all about objectivity and truth-finding but deep analysis of the state of science in India turns out to be more hagiographic than these fulcra.  While the political legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru is often subjected to parsing analysis his indifference towards the concentration of power in hands of few scientists, killing of the impartial and quality-oriented trajectory of science and technology, and politicization were never discussed in open fora. We, as Indians miserably failed to ask ourselves a question as to why we would be able to count only a few luminaries in Indian science if ever we are asked to do so. Was the galaxy of modern Indian science limited to those few names and if the answer is no then what happened to those scientists who lived up to the long-lasting tradition of science, based on the constant inquisition. 

While assessing Nehru, few questions come into the mind as to why there was not even a single memorable achievement by Indian scientists under his regime which could catch the attention of the world? Was it sufficient to form big institutions and allow them to mire in the bureaucratic hassles like any other government institute? Why did Indian scientists fail to publish enumerable research papers in prestigious science journals despite working in a so-called scientifically spirited environment? The answer should be the policy paralysis and myopic vision of the founding fathers of the nation more particularly Mr.Nehru who played long inning as premier of the country. Since 1938 political interference in Science and Technology and even in economics which is also a science in itself caused a debacle in both the fields. National Planning Committee a genus of Congress was spearheaded by Jawaharlal Nehru though the committee was to be chaired by Visvesvaraya a seminal contributor in the field of technology, however, he stepped aside and made a way for Jawaharlal Nehru. This was a starting point for the politicization of science in India. 

In March 1938 Nehru spoke to the National Academy of Science, Allahabad, and urged for co-operation between disciplines of science & technology and politics nevertheless this objective remained short-lived because imposing circumstances pushed the boundaries and cooperation transmogrified into interference. A behemoth apex body, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (‘CSIR’) was chaired by Jawaharlal Nehru is the best example of unnecessary interference of maladroit political person into science, practically it was necessary to have a prolific and dynamic scientist at the helm of such bodies to achieve better coordination, ensure hassle-free funding for research and seamless cooperation but when political figure takes the reins in hand, politics takes a front seat, foments internal strife and opportunism.  

Patrick Blackett is not a familiar name in common Indian masses, however, he was a most influential name in early independence days in the field of Indian science and technology due to his close association with Mr. Nehru. He worked as an advisor to Nehru without holding any official position in government. This man’s remit was not limited to civilian Indian science rather he called himself a military consultant. There was a time when Indian scientists had to maintain good rapport with Blackett for having access to Jawaharlal Nehru. The rising clout of Blackett was visible when almost all the employment applications to the then head of DRDO, Dr. DS. Kothari routed through Blackett.

Great Indian scientist Mr. Meghnad Saha heavily came down against the government for counting on Europian Scientists but his voice remained unheard.

It was the biggest anomaly in the world when the premier of the country could boundlessly rely on the foreign advisor from the country which not only trampled his motherland for several years but also had a dubious distinction of assisting an enemy country like Pakistan against India. I think this act of Nehru itself amounted to the final straw in the camel’s back against the development of indigenous research in Indian science and technology.  

Ministers in Nehru’s cabinet were also at the forefront in politicizing, science in India, Maulana Azad once openly appreciated Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar touching his feet in front of onlookers without forgetting to mention that Bhatnagar touched his feet although he was rebelling against the government at that point in time. Why a person like Maulana did think it appropriate to polarize a scientist who was always expected to be of an independent mind? Why did Maulana Azad appoint Mr. Bhatnagar as a secretary in the ministry of education when he was an Education Minister in Nehru’s cabinet? It was the first appointment of a non-career civil servant without approval from the sub-committee and a much against procedure set up by Sardar Patel. Why Nehru did not nip in the bud this political skullduggery dealing a lethal blow to the growth of Science & Technology in India?

Another example was that of Dr. Kosambi, a scientist and founding member of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). He was sidelined after his criticism of Jawaharlal Nehru’s book ‘Discovery of India’. This vouch for prevailing intolerance and lack of propitious environment for nursing scientific temperament in the country. 

In this country, it is blindly accepted that merely establishment of grandeur institutes suffice the purpose, however, veritable growth of any organization devoted to the cause of science and technology depends upon the freedom of thoughts and cordial environment for their exchange, engagement of core force for the purpose it was hired for, discouragement of nepotism and favoritism, relieving scientists from administrative responsibilities, minimum political interference and last but not the least scientists should have the freedom to commit mistakes without that it is impossible to churn out the nectar of inventions and discoveries. It is time to reassess the policies we have adopted in this domain and also the errors we have committed since independence. 

Pathology of Modern Indian Science-Genesis of its eco system by Rajiv Bhatnagar.



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