By Ashok Parthasarathi
Indira Gandhi was a remarkable person in a number of ways. First & foremost she was a woman in a man’s world. Secondly, she was a highly talented, patriotic and courageous woman.
When she became Prime Minister in January 1966, the “Syndicate” of old Congress Leaders led by the then Congress President K. Kamaraj thought she was a Googgi-Gudian a puppet they could manipulate her easily. However, over January, 1966 to October 1969, she not only “earned the tables” on the old guard but eliminated them totally.
This short piece focuses on her contributions to promote Science And Technology (S&T) and apply them to the development and security of the Nation.
As Nehru’s daughter and one who had been fully enrolled in our freedom struggle from around 1938, she was deeply imbued with values in world view.
Former S&T adviser to late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi
This applied of course to S&T as well however, there was a distinctively different flavor and orientation to how Indiraji looked at S&T.
Nehru was passionately wedded to science. He fervently believed that scientific knowledge and the rationality of science-what he called the “scientific temper” could by itself transform a feudal agrarian uneducated and poor India in its modern, industrialized nation. In that was why Nehru drafted along with the top scientists of the day, Homi bhabha, P.C. Mahalanobis, S. Bhagavantam and D. S. Kothari, the famous scientific policy resolution of march, 1958 and got it passed by Parliament.
Indiraji, on there other hand was a strong votary of technology in all its forms. She realized that science was all about knowledge, where as technology was all about action. That was why, in 1983. She got formulated and approved by her Government a technology policy statement (TPS) this TPS draft will technology very comprehensively.
Similarly when her Minister of planning and S&T, Mr. C. Subramaniam, who over 1965 to 1969 brought about the green revolution in agriculture proposed to Indiraji that for the first time ever the 5th fiver year.
Development plan should be accompanied by a comprehensive multi-sector at S&T plan derived from the development plan and that a special body, called the National committee on S&T should be set up under his (Subramaniam’s) chairmanship, she readily agreed when its TPS was ready in October 1983, she got it approved by the entire cabinet & then released its to the nation and the world herself.
Indira Gandhi read widely on S&T related subjects two examples would suffice to illustrate this point in early 1970, she read an article in the famous British magazine. The article spelt out in some detail how nuclear powered submarines carrying nuclear tipped long range. Ballistic missiles had become the ultimate weapons sent for Dr. Raja Ramanna, then director of its Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) and the leader of our ultra secret nuclear weapon programme, let him read the economist article and then said, “Ramanna: start working on nuclear submarines in close collaboration with the navy 35 years later we built our first nuclear submarine built with soviet assistance joined the navy. We owe that money will be no limitation I have spoken to Finance Minister. Submarine Arihant and the four more that are in various stages of construction to her vision and strong commitment. The second example also derives from those remarkable attributes of Indiraji. She saw and read carefully and editorial in the same British magazine, The London Economist in early 1980.
The editorial was entitled: “Silicon: The steel of the 21st century”. It described in detail how ultra pure silicon was the basic raw material for both micro chips and solar cells- two produce its that would shape the 21st century. She then sent for me and asked: “Ashok, what are we doing in regard to silicon. I replied that we were only doing some R&D on silicon in the National physical laboratory of CSIR. She then asked me what should we be doing in silicon. I replied that we should be setting up a production plant for all grades of silicon for all end uses. She promptly said “Give me a note for my approval for setting up such a plant. It was from this beginning that we decided under Indiraji’s leadership to set up a National silicon facility at Baroda as a unit of the department of electronics to meet the whole range of national needs of all types of silicon.
To sum up Indiraji had two credos: self reliance in all areas of National life and a firm conviction that one can’t be an Indian & not be proud.
(Author is former Secretary to the Government of India in various Scientific Departments which includes former Science Advisor to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi)