By Saket Suman
Bharat Ratna awardee and internationally-renowned chemist C.N.R. Rao has said that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was very supportive when it came to science and much was done for science and technology during his tenure, while also hoping that Narendra Modi too will consult good scientists.
"Dr. Manmohan Singh was a good Prime Minister to work with. We could do many things in science and technology during his tenure. He was very promotive. We look forward to a promising future with Prime Minister Modi.
"Trust that he will consult a cross-section of good scientists and chalk out a road map for the development of science and technology in India, so that India becomes a really advanced, sophisticated nation," Rao told IANS in an email interview from Bengaluru.
The author of over 1,500 research papers and 45 scientific books, Rao shared his perspectives on his memoir, "A Life in Science", which was released last November.
"Science is important for India and the rest of the world. Nobody can deny this. Only those countries which are advanced in science rule the world. We have to do a lot more for science in India.
"Independent of the government that is ruling, we have to realise that science and technology give the basic foundation for development and economic progress," Rao noted.
"Prime Minister Modi has great vision and wants to do much for India and I am sure that he knows that only a country with a strong base in science and technology can lead the world and also solve problems that we are facing in innovation and industrial development," he added.
In "A Life in Science", the noted chemist talks about his journey into the discipline, giving readers valuable insights into what it takes to become a great scientist.
"I faced many odds and limitations in carrying out competitive research in India. However, with tenacity and perseverance, I have often changed the nature and even the direction of the research where and when necessary to suit the conditions and available facilities," he recalled.
Rao, however, said that in the last 15-20 years, he has had facilities of the kind "where I can do exactly what I want, but it took a long time before I could get such facilities".
"The main thing is to have patience and perseverance. These are important qualities for succeeding in India. Another important aspect is the choice of the research problem. One has to pick the right kind of problem that one can pursue," he said.
"A Life in Science" provides a rare glimpse into the life of one of the most eminent, dedicated and widely-respected scientists of post-Independence India.
"In spite of many difficulties I have faced in the early days, and certain limitations that one faces even today," Rao said, "I consider myself to be a happy man after over 60 years of research in India. I have had a wonderful career and I have enjoyed everything that I have done."
Responding to a question on the areas where Modi can focus more with regard to science, Rao said that there are three types of scientific research required in India.
"Firstly, India should promote blue sky research independent of its applications so that India is competent in the latest developments of science. Then, we should work on main pressing problems of mankind such as energy, water, environment, disease, etc. And finally, we should also work on problems unique to India and those of value to our industrial progress," he advised.
In the book, Rao regrets that since independence, we have given "undue importance to big science, while small science is ignored".
Elaborating, he said: "There is no question that much of the money goes to big science agencies and real scientists working in the small laboratories get little. It is what I call little science that makes science progress and solves problems facing humankind.
"It is high time that we make sure that real science is not ignored. I feel that the government should work out methods of supporting science as well as the priorities that they would like to pick on. Independent of what priorities are picked, frontline basic research has to be supported," Rao argued.
Rao is a member of almost all the major science academies in the world and is a recipient of the Dan David Prize for materials research. He also has honorary doctorates from 70 universities.
"I have been doing research for 65 years of my life and 57 years as a member of a faculty and professor. I have gone through challenging times when we had no money and eventually built an outstanding laboratory that I have for the last few years. What we require is patience, tenacity and doggedness.
"With these qualities, I am sure that young people will succeed. However, I do hope that there will be better funding in the years to come for fundamental research in important areas and also for the higher education sector for rejuvenation of our universities," Rao concluded.
(Saket Suman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )