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Science as a symbol of new nationhood India and the International


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									                                                                                                       HISTORICAL NOTE

Science as a symbol of new nationhood: India and the International
Geophysical Year 1957–58
Rajesh Kochhar

The International Geophysical Year 1957–58 (IGY) enabled India to join the world club of science as an
equal, modernize its existing institutions, support basic sciences unapologetically, and prepare ground for
new initiatives directed towards nation-building and national prestige. More specifically, India’s space pro-
gramme emerged from the IGY exposure. At the same time, it accentuated the dependence of Indian science
on the West for assessment and encouragement.

The International Geophysical Year             marily field science. It was thus latitude-   after the war. (India became free on 15
1957–58 (IGY) was the largest interna-         driven (unlike the IT-facilitated Western     August 1947.) Indians were already in
tional field research programme ever un-       interest in India today, which is longi-      important positions in government as
dertaken. Although the programme was           tude-driven).                                 well as in industry and science. Though
funded by various national governments,           European men of science employed in        still working under British auspices, the
the management and organization was            the 19th century India were the highest       Indians sought to dovetail their country’s
left to the scientists. IGY was overseen       paid anywhere in the world. In the course     post-independence interests into the Brit-
by the International Council of Scientific     of time, Indians were trained and em-         ish exigencies of war’6.
Unions (ICSU), a non-governmental              ployed at lower levels. Inherent in the          Since the government needed Indian
organization representing both national        British rule over India was the slow and      help in its war efforts, a purely advisory
scientific bodies and international scien-     increasingly reluctant training of the In-    Board of Scientific and Industrial
tific unions. To act as the governing          dians to eventually overthrow that rule.      Research was set up in 1940. It was a
body for all IGY activities, a Special         Indo-European linguistic commonality,         landmark, ‘because it was the first time
Committee for the IGY (known by its            then interpreted in racial terms, ‘placed     official funding was systematically
French acronym, CSAGI) was formed in           in the hands of the British Government a      forthcoming for research being carried
October 1952, under the chairmanship of        powerful instrument of connexion and          out by individuals and organizations out-
Sydney Chapman. It was enlarged in             conciliation’ with the (upper-caste) Hin-     side the government system’6. The Council
March 1953 to include representatives          dus, who in the course of time began          of Scientific and Industrial Research
from the constituent unions. IGY proper        turning Indo-Europeanism to their ad-         (CSIR) established in 1942 ‘was seen
lasted for 18 months from 1 July 1957 to       vantage. From 1870s onwards, the Indian       merely as a clearing house’. It is note-
31 December 1958. Its activities were          leadership started demanding that it was      worthy that Norah Richards’ authorized
continued till 31 December 1959, under         the bounden duty of their English breth-      1947 biography of Shanti Swarup Bhat-
the heading International Geophysical          ren to impart them (Indians) science edu-     nagar (1894–1955) who headed both the
Cooperation. Eventually 64 countries           cation and raise them in the scale of         Board and the Council, does not mention
participated in the IGY.                       nations2–4.                                   CSIR at all.
   India with its vast size, extant institu-      Clamour for basic science education
tions and scientific manpower turned out       was the strongest in Bengal. The science
to be an important and enthusiastic parti-     laboratories of the government-run Pre-       Indian science at the time of IGY
cipant. IGY has been called ‘a poor            sidency College, Calcutta, were among
man’s programme’1, in the sense that its       the best equipped in the world in their       Throughout the world, all available sci-
scientific and technological requirements      time5. Its two professors, the physicist      entific expertise was mobilized by the
were quite modest and easily met by the        Jagadis Chunder Bose (1858–1937) and          governments for their war efforts. But as
industrial and educational India of the        the chemist Prafulla Chandra Ray (1861–       soon as the war needs were over, the uni-
1950s. (Subsequently as world technolo-        1944), who began their work in the            versities were re-energized. Not so in
gies developed at a fast pace and basic        1890s, were the world’s first non-White       India. Unfortunately what was an out-
sciences became more a child of high           mainstream modern scientists. Similarly,      going foreign government’s temporary
technology, India fell behind sharply.)        Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman’s (1888–         compulsion became the abiding philoso-
                                               1970) 1930 Nobel Physics Prize was the        phy of a new nation. Independent India
                                               first one to go outside the Western world.    opted for government science laborato-
Historical background                             At the time of the outbreak of the Sec-    ries at the cost of universities. CSIR was
                                               ond World War, there were two mutually        given a high profile and priority by
The British could not have built and           exclusive streams in Indian science: rou-     Jawaharlal Nehru, who made the Prime
maintained an empire in India without          tine science under the government, and        Minister the ex-officio president of the
the help of modern science and the natives.    nationalism-inspired research activity by     CSIR.
This brought Indians into contact with         Indians in the universities. The twain met       The foundation stones of five national
modern science. The empire-supported           during the war. ‘It was a foregone con-       laboratories were laid between December
science in India was utilitarian and pri-      clusion that the British would leave India    1945 and April 1947. National Physical

CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 94, NO. 6, 25 MARCH 2008                                                                                     813
Laboratory (NPL), New Delhi was                   Among the Government science orga-          Halley and Gauss, before delivering a
opened in 1950, with an internationally        nizations IMD, established in 1875, and        class-room lecture on the science under-
respected physicist K. S. Krishnan (1898–      All India Radio (AIR), founded 1930,           lying IGY, ‘undoubtedly the most extensive
1961) as its director. Krishnan was the        had, and still have, a vast network of field   programme that has ever been under-
Vice-President of International Union of       stations. They were particularly useful        taken by an international organization’.
Pure and Applied Physics during 1951–57        and active during the IGY.                     Krishnan went on to point out that ‘All
and of ICSU during 1955–58. (Chapman                                                          the various scientific organizations in the
is wrong in stating that Krishnan was the      Preparations                                   country, the observatories, the Universi-
ICSU Vice-President for six years1.)                                                          ties, the Council of Scientific and Indus-
   A radio propagation unit was esta-          India was thus ready for the IGY. It is        trial Research, the scientific departments
blished at NPL in 1954 by Ashesh Prasad        not that India had not participated in in-     in the Ministry of Education and Scien-
Mitra (1927–2007). A doctoral student of       ternational science before. Bose and Ray       tific Research, Information and Broad-
the pioneering atmospheric scientist,          as well as others had been deputed to at-      casting, Communications and Defence
Sisir Kumar Mitra (1889–1963) at Cal-          tend many conferences abroad, but there        are participating in the programme’. He
cutta University, A. P. Mitra went for a       was an understandable defensiveness and        concluded thus: ‘We are looking forward
year to CSIRO, Sydney in 1951 and              consciousness about their country’s slave      to a period of intense scientific activity,
thence to Pennsylvania State University,       status in their participation. S. K. Mitra     and we hope it will help us to solve at
USA, where he spent two years as an as-        was a participant in the International         least some of the outstanding problems
sistant Visiting Professor and Associate       Polar Year 1932–33, but in a strictly in-      in Geophysics’.
Professor in the ionospheric lab. His unit     dividual capacity. But here was the new
at NPL became the hub for ionospheric          nation country with its whole apparatus        Source material
research under the IGY.                        ready to help its band of scientists to be-
   In 1945 (or 1944) the Indian Govern-        come an equal partner in the new world         Regrettably, the extant source material is
ment appointed a committee under               of science.                                    extremely limited. No minutes of any
Meghnad Saha (1893–1956) for the                  Indian association with the IGY began       committee are available nor any old cor-
[post-war] ‘planning of Astronomy and          early enough. Two Indians, T. V. Rama-         respondence or photographs. A film on
Astrophysics in India’7. Though nothing        murthy (NPL) and Sarabhai were among           the IGY was made by AIR but it is not
substantial came out of its efforts, it does   the 12 observers drawn from nine coun-         traceable. Mitra wrote a popular account
show the national concern for scientific       tries who attended the first meeting of        for The Statesman, Calcutta, but it is not
upgradation in the newly independent           the enlarged CSAGI in Brussels in June–        readily accessible. Whatever is available
nation. The Solar Physics Observatory at       July 1953 to plan the IGY programmes.          in print deals with the scientific output
Kodaikanal, set up in 1899, which lay          Similarly, Ramanathan participated in          rather than the history. On the occasion
just half a degree north of the magnetic       some of the later meetings of the CSAGI.       of Krishnan’s 60th birthday in 1958, a
equator, was provided with a new mag-          The Indian national committee for IGY          special issue of the JSIR10 was brought
netic observatory in 1948 (the earlier one     was formed in 1955 with Krishnan as the        out on ‘work carried out under the aus-
set up in 1923 had long been dysfunc-          President and Mitra as the Secretary.          pices of the Indian National Committee
tional). In 1951, an ionospheric division      S. K. Mitra, Ramanathan and Sarabhai           for the IGY 1957–1958’. A small 1985
was added8. In 1954, the Uttar Pradesh         were members of the Committee. There           monograph, Indian IGY Programme:
State Observatory was established, and         were others drawn from various Gov-            Achievements by A. P. Mitra, provides
moved the following year to Naini Tal9.        ernment scientific departments. The            useful but mostly technical information.
This came up on the initiative of Sam-         Committee formed 14 sub-committees to             On 18 July 2007 Mitra kindly recorded
purnanand, then a Cabinet Minister and         look after specific disciplines, ranging       in an interview with me his impressions
later Chief Minister.                          from aurora to world days.                     of those days, which give us some feel
   In the meantime, two private laborato-         IGY’s prime mover, the American sci-        for the times. (Mitra passed away on 3
ries had made a modest beginning. Homi         ence administrator Lloyd Berkner, met          September 2007.) I will draw attention to
Bhabha (1906–66) established the Tata          the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in         some of the scientific highlights and low-
Institute of Fundamental Research at           January 1957 and was assured all help.         lights, but try to place the scientific out-
Bombay in 1945 while Vikram Sarabhai           On 12 June 1957, a fortnight before the        come in a wider perspective.
(1919–71) set up the Physical Research         formal inauguration of the IGY, Krish-
Laboratory (PRL) at Ahmedabad in 1947.         nan gave a talk titled ‘The International      Scientific activity
It was headed by K. R. Ramanathan              Geophysical Year and its significance’
(1893–1984) who had just retired from          on AIR. The type-written text with cor-        In the 19th century, India’s geographical
the India Meteorological Department            rections in Krishnan’s hand is in the cus-     vastness was put to good use by measur-
(IMD). He served as the President of           tody of his grandson, V. R. Thiruvady          ing a great meridional arc. India’s size,
International Union of Geodesy and Geo-        (Bangalore). (I thank D. C. V. Mallik,         coupled with the fact that the magnetic
physics from 1954 to 1957. Though              Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Banga-       equator passes through its southern tip,
privately owned in a legal sense, these        lore, for making the text available to         made the country an asset for the IGY.
laboratories were generously supported         me.) It represents an effort to educate the    India already had good facilities for
by the Government. While Bhabha or his         initiated. A typical product of the histo-     ionospheric, geomagnetic and meteoro-
institute had no role in the IGY, Sarabhai     riography of the times, it begins with Co-     logical studies. They could now be up-
and PRL were actively involved.                lumbus and then moves on to discuss            graded and expanded.

814                                                                                CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 94, NO. 6, 25 MARCH 2008
                                                                                                           HISTORICAL NOTE
   The whole of the 75°E longitude zone        observatory’s machine-shop and labora-         tically track artificial earth satellites.
was monitored for ionospheric studies by       tories with the help of optical components     This part of the IGY programme was
India from 11 field stations, spread over      already available in the observatory’8.        overseen by the director of Naini Tal Ob-
20° of latitude (8°29′–28°38′N). A new            Similarly, a hydrogen-alpha Lyot filter,    servatory, Bappu (1927–1982), who was
observatory was set up at Thiruvanantha-       along with a 15 cm aperture telescope          educated at Hyderabad and sent to
puram, which lay as much south of the          objective and ‘one or two small optical        Harvard Observatory on a Government
magnetic equator as Kodaikanal was north       components’, were purchased from Paris,        scholarship for his Ph D13. Bappu’s Har-
(half a degree). IMD took up the task of       while the ‘whole design and the con-           vard connection was a great help because
developing an ozone sonde with great en-       struction of all mechanical parts for the      the SAO’s new dynamic director, Fred
thusiasm and excitement11. In retrospect,      complete heliograph’ were carried out at       Whipple was also from Harvard14. Unlike
the pleasure of making one’s own in-           the observatory8. The coronagraph and          the other satellite-tracking stations that
struments was a passing phase. Since India     the heliograph were never really used.         were under SAO’s control, the Indian
could not keep pace with the technologi-       Soon thereafter, with the arrival of M. K.     station would be ‘under the complete ju-
cal and industrial developments elsewhere,     V. Bappu as Director in 1960, the focus        risdiction of local astronomers’.
its laboratories soon became dependent on      shifted to night-time astronomy from the          The non-scientific dimension of the
non-cutting-edge purchases from abroad.        new facility at Kavalur, Tamil Nadu.           project was lost on none. Krishnan rather
    During IGY, the Kodaikanal Observa-                                                       indelicately and to the embarrassment of
tory ‘intensified and extended’ its ‘nor-                                                     the Soviet representatives remarked pub-
mal routine programme’. Along with the         Non-successes                                  licly that ‘it was wonderful that the US
Nizamiah Observatory it observed solar                                                        was taking the world into confidence on
flares, prominences, etc. and dutifully sent   Before proceeding further, let us briefly      the satellite program so that all nations
data to the world data centres as well as      take note of non-successes. On the express     could cooperate’. He said further that it
All India Meteorological Broadcasting          suggestion of Chapman, a programme             was a shame that the satellite program of
Centre10. The IGY provided an opportu-         was launched to visually look for the          the USSR was so secret and he hoped
nity for the much-needed modernization         rather low-latitude aurorae. But none was      they might follow the example of the US.
of the Kodaikanal Observatory, which at        sighted. More seriously, longitude and         On its part, USA was sensitive that the
the time stood where John Evershed had         latitude determination under the Survey        project should be viewed as international
left it half a century ago. Three new in-      of India remained more or less a non-          and not American. Whipple wrote that ‘the
struments were commissioned1, but with         starter, because the Survey was used to        scientific advantages would be marked
mixed results.                                 keeping confidential the results of its        for both of our great countries’14. The
   A large solar tunnel telescope with an      work, although this itself was not public.     importance that the US attached to satel-
object glass of 38 cm aperture and 36 m        Although Antarctica was a part of the          lite tracking programme under the IGY
focus was ordered from the well-known          IGY programme, it did not interest India       can be gauged from the fact that New
English firm, Sir Howard Grubb Parsons.        then. It was only in 1981 that India, un-      York Times carried a news item datelined
The installation was done by the obser-        der the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi,          Naini Tal, where the reporter made it a
vatory astronomers and technicians             began its Antarctica programme12.              point to mention that both Soviet and
themselves, without any help from the             Mitra11 lists a total of 265 publications   American satellites would be tracked and
manufacturer. The telescope has been the       as IGY publications. The entries are of        the information ‘will become part of the
mainstay of Kodaikanal ever since. For         uneven quality. Even publications as late      treasury of scientific data’ of the IGY15.
the Lyot coronagraph and the Lyot helio-       as 1966 are mentioned. Some of them               The Baker-Nunn camera was shipped
graph, it was decided to import only the       must be repetitive, being conference papers.   to India in March 1958, and the first track
essential parts and rig the other parts in     It is for scientometric experts to analyse     recorded in September 1958. For the first
the observatory itself. In retrospect, it      the available publication data. But, even      few years an observer from SAO worked
would have been better to buy the instru-      taking the lists at face value, some inter-    with the Naini Tal staff. The project conti-
ment in its entirety, because the observa-     esting conclusions can be drawn. Iono-         nued well beyond the IGY, i.e. till 1976.
tory failed to make these two facilities       spheric studies rank first output-wise         Thanks to the project, the geographical
operational.                                   with 62% of the listed publications, cos-      location of the camera was recorded to an
   In those days, the best coronagraph         mic rays a distant second (11%) followed       accuracy of better than 10 m, so much so
objectives were those made by the asso-        by geomagnetism (8%) and meteorology           that ‘the Survey of India tied its triangu-
ciates of the late Bernard Lyot, who were      (7%).                                          lation network to this benchmark’16.
‘busy astronomers and optical experts,                                                           It will be no exaggeration to say that
not commercial instrument-makers’. To          Space programme                                the IGY experience paved the way for the
get the 20 cm aperture, 3 m focus objec-                                                      Indian space programme under Sarabhai.
tive made from Paris, ‘personal influ-         While most of the success that attended        He had already been interested in obser-
ences and contacts’ had to be used. Only       Indian efforts was incremental, an en-         vational studies of the impact of solar ac-
the telescope was ordered. As the then         tirely new vista was opened by the IGY.        tivity on cosmic rays. The IGY exposure
Director of the observatory has recorded,      India was introduced to the new field of       helped Sarabhai expand his horizons. In
the equatorial mount ‘has been impro-          satellites. Naini Tal Observatory was one      1962, an Indian National Committee for
vised by adapting components of disused        of the 12 world stations equipped with a       Space Research was set up. The very
old instruments and the optical accesso-       Baker-Nunn camera by the Smithsonian           next year there came up the Equatorial
ries have been designed and built in the       Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), to op-        Rocket Launching Station at Thumba near

CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 94, NO. 6, 25 MARCH 2008                                                                                        815
Thiruvananthapuram. The Indian Space           entist set out from Hawaii for India, only        2. Kochhar, R. K., Curr. Sci., 1992, 63,
Research Organization was established in       to discover in New York that he needed               689–684.
1969, and India’s first satellite, Arya-       an Indian visa. It was an easy matter for         3. Kochhar, R. K., Curr. Sci., 1993, 64, 55–
bhata, named after the 6th century Indian      Mitra to persuade the Indian embassy in              62.
                                                                                                 4. Kochhar, R., Prof. R. C. Mishra Memo-
astronomer, was launched in 1975, and          the US to immediately issue a visa.
                                                                                                    rial Lecture at the 67th Indian History
tracked at Naini Tal from the facility set        The IGY also had a rather negative in-            Congress, New Delhi, 2007.
up during the IGY.                             fluence. Although India’s tryst with              5. Bose, J. C., In Acharya J. C. Bose – A
   Arnold Frutkin, who was the director        modern scientific research began more                Scientist and a Dreamer, Vol. 4 (ed.
of NASA’s Office of International Pro-         than a century ago, it has never been                Bhattacharyya, P.), Bose Institute, Cal-
grammes from 1959 onwards, has an in-          self-assessing. It has depended on the               cutta, 1913, Reprinted 1997, p. 32.
teresting story to tell (www.jsc.nasa.gov/     West for encouragement and recognition.           6. Kochhar, R., In Sir Shanti Swarup Bhat-
history/oral_histories/). USA was plan-        This may have been understandable dur-               nagar FRS: A Biographical Study of
ning the Satellite Instructional Television    ing the Colonial period, but the interna-            India’s Eminent Scientist (ed. Norah
Experiment (SITE), which could broad-          tionality of the IGY gave a new lease of             Richards), New edn, NISTADS, New
                                                                                                    Delhi, 2004.
cast into home-receivers, provided the         life to this attitude. Indian choice of re-
                                                                                                 7. Saha, M. N., Post-war plan astronomical
host country set up some simple equip-         search problems has often been dictated              and astrophysical observatories in India
ment. NASA wished to have a big coun-          by the availability of post-doctoral posi-           (Government of India), 1946. This report
try like India participate. The India desk     tions in the West, especially in USA, and            does not name any author. The commit-
in the state department however declined       the possibilities of an invitation for a             tee was headed by Saha.
to approach India, because India had ear-      conference or a visiting position. At least       8. Das, A. K., Modernization of the Astro-
lier refused permission to Voice of            in the years immediately after independ-             physical Observatory Kodaikanal, India
America to set up its broadcasting stations.   ence, the role of science in nation-                 Meteorological Department: New Delhi,
The fact that SITE was not propaganda          building was recognized. Now, 60% of                 1960. This booklet is not paginated. Cu-
but science cut no ice with the officials.     Indian GDP comes from the services sec-              riously, it does not mention IGY at all.
                                                                                                    Das was the director during 1946–60.
Frutkin then decided to take matters into      tor, which is science less. As the Indian
                                                                                                 9. Kochhar, R. and Narlikar, J., Astronomy
his own hand. Frutkin knew Sarabhai            economy becomes more and more deri-                  in India: A Perspective, Indian National
well as he had been dealing with Sarabhai      vative, so does Indian science. India does           Science Academy, New Delhi, 1995.
on sounding rocket programmes. He per-         not seem to need science anymore.                10. J. Sci. Ind. Res. (Suppl.), 1958, 17A.
suaded Sarabhai not only to arrange for           The greatest asset India had at the time      11. Sreedharan, C. R., Curr. Sci., 2001, 81,
India’s participation, but also to write as    was a band of young energetic scientists             1129–1132.
if the initiative was coming from India it-    ready to work hard and make the pro-             12. Walawalker, M. G., Curr. Sci., 2005, 88,
self. The programme was such a great           gramme a success for the sake of science             684–685.
success from the Indian point of view that     and their own career. As Mitra recalled:         13. Kochhar, R. K. and Menon, M. G. K.,
the country unsuccessfully tried to get the    ‘That was a good time to be a young sci-             Bull. Astron. Soc. India, 1982, 10, 275–
availability of the US satellite extended      entist in India’. IGY provided an oppor-
                                                                                                14. Muir-Harmony, T., Paper presented at
for another year. India then decided to        tunity to Indian scientists not only to build        History of Science Society meeting,
make use of commercial satellites and even-    international contacts, but also to come             Vancouver, 2006.
tually developed its own satellite network     to know one another. Also, the image of          15. Rosenthal, A. M., New York Times, 6
as part of the INSAT programme.                science and scientists got enhanced in the           April 1958.
                                               eyes of the administration and the nation        16. Sinvhal, S. D., Bull. Astron. Soc. India,
General remarks                                in general.                                          2006, 34, 65–81.
                                                  At the time of the IGY, the Indian nation
                                               was young and so were its science and            ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. This is a slightly
Mitra, in his recorded conversation made
                                                                                                revised version of a talk delivered at ‘Making
some interesting points. Enthusiasm for        scientists; in the sense that its technologi-
                                                                                                science global: Reconsidering the social and
the IGY was not confined to the scien-         cal and engineering requirements were            intellectual implications of the International
tists alone. It permeated the officialdom      rather modest. Fifty years later, things         Polar and Geophysical Years’, at Smithsonian
also and that too at all levels. It is not     are not quite the same for the Interna-          Institution, Washington, DC, 31 October–1
that instructions had to be obtained from      tional Heliophysical Year (IHY). There           November. 2007. The work has been partially
higher authorities for obedience down          are hardly any young scientists in the coun-     supported by a research grant from Indian
the line. A postcard containing scientific     try. Also, science is now a child of high        National Science Academy’s History of Science
data from Taiwan was intercepted and           technology. If India is to make even a           Division. I thank Teasel Muir-Harmony for
destroyed by the Bombay Customs in ac-         partial success of the IHY, some of the spirit   giving me a copy of her lecture text as well as a
                                               of the bygone days will have to be revived.      New York Times, 1958 report from Naini Tal.
cordance with the prevailing rules. The
Customs was however decent enough to
inform the IGY secretariat. The matter                                                          Rajesh Kochhar is in the National Institute
was taken up with the Ministry of Exter-        1. Mitra, A. P., Indian IGY Programme:          of Pharmaceutical Education and Res-
nal Affairs and scientific correspondence          Achievements, Indian National Science        earch, Sector 67, Mohali 160 062, India.
exempted from censor. An American sci-             Academy, New Delhi, 1985.                    e-mail: rkochhar2000@yahoo.com

816                                                                                  CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 94, NO. 6, 25 MARCH 2008

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