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by Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam

Professor, Technology & Societal Transformation, Anna University, Chennai


Untravelled Path

I am indeed delighted to participate in the 46th annual convocation of XLRI, Jamshedpur, My greetings to all the graduating students and professors and teachers who shaped them to have qualities of leadership to take up various missions and tasks of the nation. I was thinking what thoughts I can share with the graduating students on this important occasion when you will be entering into professional phase of life. I would like to tell the young, "low aim is the crime". In the knowledge era, successful people will always take untravelled roads rather than beaten path. This needs excellence in intellect that demands three unique traits or qualities, experienced during education phase and also career phase. They are noble leadership, indomitable spirit and universal mind. Friends, with foundation of these three qualities, let me take you on the journey of transforming India into a developed country.

Noble Leadership

In 1947, at the dawn of freedom, we had the best of leaders in science, in technology, in history, in politics and in industry and they are the results of first vision of the nation commenced in 1857. One incident I would like to narrate to you, which fascinated me when I was a young boy. On 15th August 1947, my high school teacher Rev. Iyyadorai Solomon took me to hear the mid-night freedom speech of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. We were all thrilled when Panditji spoke that the mission was achieved. On the next day, that is on 16th August 1947, I had a great experience. An experience of best of education I can think of. In the Tamil newspaper, on the front page, two news items appeared. One item was India achieving freedom and Panditji’s speech. The other news item and the most important one which has been embedded in my memory is about Mahatma Gandhiji walking barefoot in Naokali, removing the pain of riot-affected families. Normally as Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi has to be the first to unfurl the national flag on August 15, 1947 in Red Fort. But he was not there at the Red Fort, instead he was at Naokali. Mahatma Gandhi was an embodiment of nobility, elevated thinking and concern for human beings. What an everlasting positive impact in the mind of a schoolboy?

Indomitable spirit

In this environment, I would like to quote Sir CV Raman, at the age of 82, while addressing young graduates. The message is still reverberating in my mind: "I would like to tell the young men and women before me not to lose hope and courage. Success can only come to you by courageous devotion to the task lying in front of you. I can assert without fear of contradiction that the quality of the Indian mind is equal to the quality of any Teutonic, Nordic or Anglo-Saxon mind. What we lack is perhaps courage, what we lack is perhaps driving force which takes one anywhere. We have, I think, developed an inferiority complex. I think what is needed in India today is the destruction of that defeatist spirit. We need a spirit of victory, a spirit that will carry us to our rightful place under the sun, a spirit which will recognize that we, as inheritors of a proud civilization, are entitled to a rightful place on this planet. If that indomitable spirit were to arise, nothing can hold us from achieving our rightful destiny. "

That was a great saying to the young. You would see the bridge of science and society. Friends, I request all who are responsible for the young, all who are creators of the young, for their children's’ growth, allow them to dream. Dream transforms into thoughts and thoughts result into actions.

Universal Mind birth of space science and technology in a divine environment

I would like to recall an incident, which happened four decades ago. As you all know, Prof Vikram Sarabhai is the visionary of space programme in the country. He is well known for his cosmic ray research area that led to evolving the space research programme for the nation. Both Dr Homi Bhabha and Prof Vikram Sarabhai were looking for a site to establish space research station in the equatorial region. These two great scientists visited a number of places. Thumba in Kerala was selected by the scientific community for space research as it was near the equatorial region and was ideally suited for ionospheric research in upper atmosphere apart from study of atmospheric structure. When Prof Vikram Sarabhai visited Thumba, the locality had series of villages and thousands of fishermen folk were living in that area. It also had a beautiful ancient church, St Mary Magdalene Church, Pallithura and a Bishop’s House. Prof Vikram Sarabhai met many politicians and bureaucrats to get the place for the work of space science research. It did not move further because the nature of the place. He was asked to see the Bishop of Trivandrum, at that time in 1962, His Excellency Rct Rev Dr Peter Bernard Pereira. It was a Saturday when Prof Vikram Sarabhai met the Bishop. The Bishop smiled and asked him to meet him the next day, i.e. Sunday. In the morning Service, the Bishop told the congregation, "My children, I have a famous scientist with me who wants our church and the place I live for the work of space science research. Dear children, science seeks truth by reasoning. In one way, science and spiritualism seek the same divine blessings for doing good for the people. My children, can we give the God’s abode for a scientific mission? "There was a chorus of ‘Amen’ from the congregation and the whole church reverberated. Subsequently, the big event took place in 1962. His Excellency Rct Rev Dr Peter Bernard Pereira, the Bishop of Trivandrum, took the noble decision to dedicate the church in recognition of the national goal for the establishment of the Indian Space Research Organization at Pallithura, Thumba. That was the church where we had our design centre, started rocket assembly, design of filament winding machine for FRP product and the Bishop’s house was our scientists’ place. Later, the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) led to the establishment of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) and multiple space centres throughout the country.

When I think of this event, I can see how enlightened spiritual and scientific leaders, all converge towards giving reverence to the human life. New church and new schools were established in record time. Of course the birth of TERLS and then VSSC gave the country the capability of design, development and produce world class huge rocket system and subsequently, India has the capability of launching geo-synchronous, sun-synchronous and meteorology spacecraft, communication satellite, remote sensing satellite thereby provided fast communication, weather forecasting and also locate water resources for the country. Today, among us, Prof Vikram Sarabhai is not there, Rev Dr Peter Bernard Pereira is not there, but those who are responsible for creation and make the flower and blossom will themselves be different and set unique path for the nation. What a beautiful message for all generation of this nation, on integration of minds and universal sense. With the tradition of this experience of noble leadership, indomitable spirit and universal mind, young like you are armed with challenges of national development.

First Vision for the Nation, Created the Leaders

The seeding for the national independence took place around 1857 or even before. I see the relationship between the urge for independence and the emergence of great minds. As the independence movement grew, it brought out the best of leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai, Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Abul Kalam Azad, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Veer Savarkar. The list, if we take it from each part of the country, will be very big. This National movement had also brought simultaneously best of scientists and technologists. Though there was no full-fledged effort at the British ruled governmental level to bring up Indian science, industries and education, we have seen world class scientific, industrial and educational leaders generated during the pre-independent period.

Prof S. Chandrasekhar, the famous Astronomy scientist, in his biography "Chandra" by Shri Kameshwar Wali says, "I mean it is a remarkable thing that in the modern era before 1910, there were no (Indian) scientists of international reputation or standing. Between 1920 and 1925, we had suddenly five or six internationally well-known men. (He means, JC Bose, CV Raman, Meghanath Saha, Srinivasan Ramanujam and Prof Chandrasekhar himself). I myself have associated this remarkable phenomenon with the need for self-expression, which became a dominant motive among the young during the national movement. It was a part of the national movement to assert oneself. India was a subject country, but in the sciences, in the arts, particularly in science, we could show the West in their own realm that we were equal to them. "

Coming now to the industrial field, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata brought the steel industry in India even though the British rulers were not favorably disposed to the idea. Acharya PC Ray brought up chemical and pharmaceutical industry. Likewise, in the pre-independent period we see the birth of many great institutions like Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore started by JN Tata, Benares Hindu University by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, and Aligarh Muslim University by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. There were also some Indian Maharajas who started and nurtured universities like the one in Baroda. There are many examples in both industrial and educational fields. In all these cases the basic motivations have been to show the urge to build the Nation and demonstrate to the world that "India can do it".

Second vision for the nation

After 50 years of progress, the aspirations are mounting that India should become a developed country. This is the second vision for the nation. How we can prepare ourselves to this challenge? To become a developed India, the essential needs are:-

India has to be economically and commercially powerful, at least to be one of the six top nations in terms of size of the economy. Our target should be a GDP growth of 9-11% annually and that the people below poverty line to be reduced to 10%. near self-reliance in defence needs of weapon, equipment with no umbilical attached to any outside world. India should have a right place in world forums.

Technology Vision 2020 is a pathway to realize this cherished mission. The Technology Vision 2020 consisted of 17 technology packages in the core sectors such as agriculture and food, healthcare, infrastructure and strategic industries. The Task Teams formed by TIFAC with nearly 500 experts of our country worked for two years, deliberated national status of various branches of national development and generated 35 documents detailing the steps to be taken for creating wealth for the nation and the well being of our people. "Technology" is the most vital key for achieving the goals. The vision deals with agro food processing, food and agriculture, healthcare, electric power, civil aviation, waterways, engineering industries, life sciences and bio-technology, strategic industries and materials and processing. There is a tremendous link between each technology package.

Five mega projects to transform the nation to a developed country

We have identified five areas where India has a core competence for an integrated action:(1) Agriculture and food processing – we have to put a target of 360 million tons of food and agricultural production. Other areas of agriculture and agro food processing would bring prosperity to rural people and speed up the economic growth. (2) Reliable and quality electric power for all parts of the country. (3) Education and Healthcare – we have seen, based on the experience, education and healthcare are inter related. For example, Kerala with education and better healthcare can bring down the population growth and provide improvements in quality of life of the people. Similarly, in Tamil Nadu also we have seen the downward growth of population resulting from a unique system of "mid-day meal" coupled with education. Studies about Andhra Pradesh also have different facets. These experiences, we feel, should be taken and spread in big states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Beginning of agricultural prosperity through better yields in these States will help this process. (4)Information Technology – This is one of our core competence. We believe, this area can be used to promote education in remote areas and also to create national wealth. (5)Strategic sectors – This area, fortunately, witnessed the growth in nuclear technology, space technology and defence technology.

These five areas are closely inter-related and lead to national, food, economic and security. A strong partnership among the R&D, academy, industry and the community as a whole with the Government departments will be essential to accomplish the vision.

Concluding Remarks : Inspiring the great mission

For building the developed India, what are needed? We have resources and we have human power in abundance. Then nation needs young leaders who can command the change for transformation of India into a developed nation embedded with knowledge society from now to twenty years. The leaders are the creators of new organizations of excellence. Quality leaders are like magnets who will attract the best of persons to build the team for the organization and give the inspiring leadership even during failures of individuals or organization as they are not afraid of risks. I have seen and worked with creators of vision and missions. The vision ignites particularly the young mind.

I have worked with ISRO and DRDO for two decades each. Recently in multiple areas including industry. The vision leaders ignite multiple minds and mission takes shape. Then the mission takes over. For example, India should build its first satellite launch vehicle to orbit a satellite or the first IRBM has to be built and operationalised, are mission statements, which have transformed into system products many a time. But, a few times failures have also become products. Technology and management were the driving forces. Also, one very important component for success is that the organization creates capable people because the mission triggers capability. Organization works and nation with a mission will advance towards prosperity.

Developed India 2020, second movement, second vision for the nation will definitely result, if our industry take the lead in multi fields. I can see a virtual image of India, the children by 2020 will not see the high illiteracy, poverty and social differentiation. They will see a new India. Our children will sing the song of prosperous India if we sweat in this decade. Today, the Indian mind has to get ignited by our second vision for the nation. The ignited human mind is the most powerful resource on the earth, under the earth and above the earth. My best wishes to you all for transforming industrial and commercial houses into establishments of substance and thereby the nation great.

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