The year that has gone by has been one of worst in my memory. Every morning when one opened newspapers, the front page was filled with reports of scams and scandals, and demonstrations by people protesting against the government, which created doubts about the system that we have adopted to govern the country.
To crown all the scandals, the year closed with doubts being raised against us as human beings: that we are incapable of respecting women of the country, mothers, sisters and daughters. The gang-rape of a young student that happened in the capital on December 16, cast doubts on the efficacy of the police, the judiciary, including the system of governance.
In such a situation, the need is urgent to renew faith in ourselves. India has inherited a great civilization and it is possible for us to regain the thrust. 'Thoughts for Change', a book jointly authored by former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and distinguished scientist Sivathanu Pillai, just seeks to do that.
The very first chapter tells us about the scientific inventions of ancient India in different fields. Between the fifth century B.C. and the fifth century A.D., Indians distinguished themselves in different fields, like mathematics, astronomy and physics, medicine and the concept of aviation. India gave to the world the concept of zero, and five centuries before Newton announced the theory of gravity, Bhaskaracharya had enunciated it.
Varahamihira had told us that the earth was a sphere and had calculated its diameter, which was confirmed centuries later in the west. Aryabhattta, who was born in 476 A.D. had proclaimed that the earth rotates on its axis, orbits the sun and is suspended in space, 1000 years before Copernicus published his theory. Indians had distinguished themselves in various other fields like medicine, surgery and aviation. The list is endless.
Successive invasions, and exploitation by colonial rulers, made India miss the Industrial Revolution and we sank back to a state where we lost faith in ourselves. Mahatma Gandhi rekindled faith in ourselves and our founding fathers, led by leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru charted a path to rebuild India.
What have been our achievements as a nation since Independence? From a nation which witnessed famines which claimed millions of lives and depended on ship to mouth existence, we have become self-sufficient in agricultural production. Our scientists have succeeded in bringing about the White Revolution by harnessing buffalo milk, which has been a pioneering effort by the late Verghese Kurien of Amul fame.
In spite of denials by advanced countries of the world, we have gone ahead and become a knowledge power. I myself have been witness to the jokes made about Rajiv Gandhi when he said that India, which has missed the Industrial Revolution, should not miss the Knowledge Revolution. People laughed when he decided to allow the import of computer hardware without import duty.
The revolution in telecommunications has made India a knowledge-power where advanced countries now outsource their needs to India. Our scientists have successfully trained themselves in the field of space technology and today India has the honour of launching satellites of various countries. I had the privilege of interviewing R. K. Sharma in the Soviet Union before he took off on his space voyage in the early eighties. Today, we are thinking in terms of launching our own space ship.
How many of us know that the first rocket in the world was used by Tipu Sultan in the year 1792 at the Battle of Srirangapatna against the British Army. After successive reverses, the British Army managed to defeat him, and the first thing they did, was to destroy his rocket production plants, capture his artillery and take it to England to be copied and then developed. India has been dependent on British artillery for decades, before we decided to import the Bofors guns, the acquisition of which was attacked by many motivated sources.
In the early eighties, I had the privilege as defence spokesman to accompany the then Defence Minister R. Venkataraman to the Defence Research and Development Laboratory in Hyderabad.
One of the items during the visit was to witness the development of a missile launching laboratory. We had to plug our ears when the experiment was conducted and Dr. Arunachalam , the then Scientific Advisor told the Defence Minister, said that we had great potential in developing it, and that we had a team headed by Dr. Abdul Kalam working on the project. Later, I had the privilege of visiting the Odisha coast to see the development of the launching station there.
The month of January this year saw India launching missiles every week. Today we have ballistic missiles Agni I, Agni II, Agni III, Agni IV, Agni V, with ranges extending from 700 to 5000 kilometres. We have developed Nag, the anti-tank guided missiles which can be launched from infantry vehicles as well as from air.
The Trishul series of missiles can counter enemy aircraft and has a range of 9 kilometres. The Akash surface to air missile can engage targets at tree top-level around 25 kilometres. We have also developed our own interceptor missiles. Indian missile scientists have earned a name for themselves and are collaborating with Russia for the manufacture of the Brahmos missile, which can be launched from ship, land , submarine and silo and has multi-target capability. The development of Brahmos has put India along and ahead of many developed nations.
All this has been has possible through the efforts of our own scientists. We were denied the cryogenic engine under pressure from advanced countries of the West, who evidently wanted India to be dependent on them for its weaponry. Today after achieving the status of a nuclear power, Indian scientists are engaged in the development of new sources of energy, bio-sciences and technology, and nano- technology, the harnessing of atomic energy to reduce our dependence on coal and oil. India is rich in Thorium, and with proper development, we can meet our energy needs for centuries.
The authors point out that India has the largest youth power in the world and the ignited mind of the youth is the most powerful resource on earth. They quote the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi, as saying 'men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it. Even if I did not have it in the beginning'.
The conclusion of the authors is that 'We Can Do it'. The excellently brought out book deserves to be on school and college bookshelves to ignite the minds of our youth. (ANI)
Book Review: Thoughts for Change by APJ Abdul Kalam and Sivathanu Pillai
Pentagon Press; pages:277; price Rs.495
I. Ramamohan Rao, former Principal Information Officer, Government of India could be reached at email@example.com