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Cover Story

Who sparked-off India’s technology vision?
Former external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh, recounts how Rajiv Gandhi’s initiatives since the early 1980s helped make India a technology superpower
Issue Date - 16/02/2012
Rajiv Gandhi made India aware of the challenges of the 21st century. His strategy was to make India a modern and dynamic country. He said, “technology holds the key for eradication of poverty. The poverty gap is essentially a technology gap. What separates the developed world from the developing is the level of technology that is used directly or indirectly in the every day lives of the people. Within a country, what defines and distinguishes the better off from the worst off is, again, the quantity and the quality of technology that they use in their daily lives.”

Rajiv Gandhi was technically oriented. He studied engineering at Cambridge. I saw at first hand his interest in electronics, computers, aircraft and cars. He could on his own discuss on atomic and space technology. Many of his speeches were related to science and technology. He knew what a nuclear cycle was. He laid great emphasis on R&D. For Rajiv Gandhi, science was a vehicle for change. No one can doubt that during his tenure as Prime Minister, science, the funding for science and technology expanded at an unprecedented galloping pace.

I remember a computer being installed in my office in South Block in 1986. Also a word processor. I am a mechanical guy and I never got to learn how to use either. But many others did. It was a new beginning. Rajiv liked innovation and invention. His technological missions were a success. The scientific community deeply appreciated his sustained interest in science technology, research and development. P. V. Narsimha Rao, had this to say, “Science and technology for Rajiv Gandhi were the keys to India’s future. These were instruments which could help make a strong India and improve the life of her deprived millions. To him, the most important challenges before our scientists was how to reduce technology gap between India and developed countries and use science and technology to eradicate the curse of poverty.”

When he picked up Sam Pitroda to pump new blood into the Telecommunications Ministry, many were critical of “the computer boy” to run the government through people outside the system. He ignored them and gave Pitroda a free hand. Today, nearly 600 million Indians have cellphones! This is the result of Rajiv Gandhi’s vision. He broke new grounds. He wanted to cut down red tape and ensure efficient governance. For him, it was a creative crusade.

He kept a close eye on our nuclear plants, especially after the Chernobyl disaster. He was in favour of using nuclear power for peaceful purposes. He put forward a detailed plan for Nuclear Disarmament at the UN in June 1989.

Rajiv was also keen on was the environment. He said, “We cannot go depleting our environmental reserves, destroying scarce forests, polluting our waters and atmosphere. This must be reversed. The task is a gigantic one. It calls for the combined efforts of scientists, administrators, planners, managers, calls fopr a rapid growth of the environmental sciences.”

Subsequent Prime Ministers, as far as I know have not been so committed to the development of science and technology.


Pramod Kumar           

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