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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Nehru’s faltering legacy in science and technology

Every nation looks upon science and technology as a savior 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 pursue the advancement of science and technology.

The progress of Bharat’s 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 praise from different quarters of society, and his hagiographers never fail to mention 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 Bharatiya society. However, an objective assessment shows he failed to really walk the talk.

Today,the Narendra Modi government has received uncharitable polemics for its appreciable efforts to revive deserving ancient Bharatiya science. The run-of-the-mill allegation is that Mr. Modi is unsettling a scientific base created by Jawaharlal Nehru, with the dubious presumption at this theory’s base that Nehru was a great facilitator of modern science in this nation. It becomes 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 Bharat shows it is more hagiographic in nature. While the political legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru is often subjected to critical analysis, his indifference towards the concentration of power in the hands of a few scientists, killing of the impartial and quality-oriented trajectory of science and technology, and politicization of science are never discussed as openly.

We, as Bharatiyas, miserably failed to ask ourselves as to why we can count only a few luminaries in modern Bharatiya science? Was the galaxy of modern Bharatiya science limited to those few names? 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 enquiry?

While assessing Nehru, few questions come to mind as to why there was not even a single memorable achievement by Bharat’s scientists under his regime, which could catch the attention of the world? Was it sufficient to form big institutions but leave them mired in bureaucratic red tape like any other government institute? Why did Bharat’s scientists fail to publish innumerable research papers in prestigious science journals despite working in a so-called scientifically spirited environment?

The answer lies in the policy paralysis and myopic vision of the founding fathers of the nation, more particularly Mr. Nehru who played a long innings of 17 years as premier of the country.

Since 1938, political interference in Science and Technology and even in Economics (also a sort of science) 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 Sri M. Visvesvaraya, a seminal contributor in the field of technology. However, he stepped aside to make way for Jawaharlal Nehru. This was a starting point for the politicization of science in Bharat.

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 and cooperation transmogrified into interference.

A behemoth apex body, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), was chaired by Jawaharlal Nehru – it provides the best example of unnecessary interference of a maladroit political person into science, when 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 their hand, politics takes a front seat, fomenting internal strife and opportunism. 

Patrick Blackett is not a name familiar to Bharatiya masses, however he was a most influential name in early independence days in Bharat’s science and technology field 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 science, rather he called himself a ‘military consultant’.

There was a time when Bharatiya 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, were routed through Blackett.

The great Bharatiya scientist Mr. Meghnad Saha came down heavily on the government for its dependence on European scientists, but his voice remained unheard.

It was the biggest anomaly in the world when the premier of a newly independent post-colonial country had such deep reliance on a foreign advisor from the very country which not only trampled his motherland for over a century but also had a dubious distinction of assisting an enemy country like Pakistan against Bharat. I think this act of Nehru amounted to the final straw that broke the camel’s back as far as indigenous research in Bharat’s science and technology goes.

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 shows the prevailing intolerance and lack of proper environment for nursing independent scientific temperament in the country.

In this country, it is blindly accepted that merely establishment of grand institutes serves the purpose. However, 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 and minimum political interference.

Last but not the least, scientists should have the freedom to commit mistakes. Without that it is impossible to churn out 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.

-by Shrijeet Phadke

References

https://www.thestatesman.com/opinion/nehrus-contribution-indias-scientific-growth-1502821953.html

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


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