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  Above, left: India in 1700s had the second highest contribution to the global GDP; Above, right: Fort William in Calcutta, the base of British East India Company; Right: The Crystal Palace Exhibition, London, 1851, when Indians contributed to Research Fellowship grants hoping to bring scientific advancement to India
physicist Erich Regener in Berlin. Shan- kar Agharkar took up doctoral research in Berlin at the behest of Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee under the tutelage of the famed botanist Adolf Engler. SN Bose, JC Bose’s other student, chose to go to Paris for his postdoctoral research with quantum physicist Louis de Broglie and Nobel-laureate Marie Curie. CV Ra- man’s student, Sisir Kumar Mitra, at- tained his doctorate from Paris under the guidance of the famed spectroscopist Charles Fabry. For his postdoctoral stud- ies, he collaborated with Marie Curie and radar-physicist Camille Button.
Raman’s Nobel Prize opened doors for India in numerous scientific circles around the world. Training under the tutelage of some of the world’s best scien- tists also helped India’s science diplomacy in many ways. SK Mitra’s long stint in France allowed him to become the first and perhaps only Indian scientist to at- tend the International Polar Year con- ference of 1932-33. His solitary inroads would later help India send a big scientific delegation, in its first post-independent scientific mega-undertaking, to the In- ternational Geophysical Year of 1957- 58. Our scientists, including those who researched in Britain, cultivated friendly relations with scholars from all over the world, thereby laying the plinth of science
diplomacy post-independence.
These achievements had a multiplier
effect in erasing the colonial subversion that Indians cannot excel in exact sci- ences. These successes gave Indians the confidence to take the next major step of diplomatic protocol — formally inviting global-renowned scientists to the institu- tions they had built. The most significant example was Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya’s invitation to Albert Einstein.
Einstein was in flux after he departed from Germany due to Adolf Hitler’s anti- Semitic policies; he had not yet fixed his subsequent affiliation. He was a visit- ing scientist to numerous institutions in Britain and the United States. During 1935-36, Mahamana invited Einstein to take academic residence at the Benares Hindu University. Einstein responded fa- vorably to the invitation, but history had something else in store. It is not hard to imagine the course of events had Einstein accepted the offer. Had Einstein accepted the offer, he would not have written the letter to US President Franklin Roosevelt calling for the Manhattan Project. Had the Manhattan Project not proceeded, the atomic bombs would not be dropped. Had he come to India, one of the cham- pions of the formation of the Israeli na- tion would have been linked intimately
with India. And much like the German Jews who migrated to the United States and helped its subsequent scientific prog- ress, would have come to India. All this is undoubtedly conjectural. The causes Einstein believed in fitted well with the Allied Powers. But Mahamana’s decision to invite Einstein will always be one of the marvelous diplomatic overtures in modern India’s history.
By mid-1930s, even Britain could not resist the thrust coming from this massive scholarly surge from India. During this period, Shankar Agharkar, the founder of Maharashtra Association for Cultiva- tion of Sciences, unblocked the Indian donations to the 1851 Research Fellow- ship, making Homi Jehangir Bhabha its first recipient. Not many realise that it was a botanist who aided India’s atomic programme in its infancy.
As it exists today, India’s science stands on the shoulders of hundreds of intellectuals who toiled over two and half centuries battling colonial subversion. The bicentennial history of this ideologi- cal and non-violent battle and the stories of these unsung freedom fighters need to be told repeatedly. Particularly now when India, along with the world, is on the edge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
*The writer is Founder of DAWON A&I, a space and aerospace consulting firm based in Pune. He has an award-winning PhD in Astrochem- istry and has spent doctoral and postdoctoral years in Germany, France, US and Japan. He was a crew member of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission to comet 67P/ Churyumov -Gerasimenko.
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