Lecture on ‘India’s Economic and Scientific Development: As Envisioned by the National Movement’



Aligarh : Reflecting on the contribution of science and technology to the National development in the past 75 years of Indian Independence; Prof Mohammad Sajjad Athar, Department of Physics, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) presented a curated history of the Indian economy and science in a talk on ‘India’s Economic and Scientific Development: As Envisioned by the National Movement’.

The special lecture was held to mark the ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ celebrations of the Department of Physics.

In an easy-to-understand speech, Prof Sajjad examined the influences of each era since Independence, giving a glimpse into the making of a billion aspirations and opportunities.

“Even as the launching of satellites, probe missions sent to Moon and Mars, the establishment of nuclear power stations and other scientific developments in the past 75-years of Independent India touched our lives; let us not forget that all these fabulous achievements of Indian scientists and technologists had a beginning. The inception period of these activities can be traced to the popular phase of the freedom struggle”, he stressed.

Prof Sajjad said, “The dreamer of progressive India and our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, played an instrumental and decisive role in convincing the field of experts in different areas to provide inputs to plan a self-reliant, socialistic, cohesive, and equitable society”.

“To Nehru, science and technology had to be employed for the agrarian and industrial development of India. He believed with absolute certainty and conviction that the future belonged to science”, he stressed.

Prof Sajjad pressed, “Leafing pages of the history books on the Indian National Movement, one can easily find that Nehru spoke extensively on definite responsibility of scientists and political leadership at the National Academy of Science in 1938”.

“Nehru was famously quoted saying ‘We have vast problems to face and solve. They will not be solved by politicians alone because they lack vision or expert knowledge; they will not be solved by scientists alone because they lack the power to do so or the larger perspective that encompasses everything. They can and will be solved by the cooperation of the two for a well-defined and definite social objective’,” he pointed out.

Recollecting further from the history of the Indian National Movement, Prof Sajjad said, “At the conference of the Indian leaders led by the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi on October 22 and 23, 1937 at Wardha, a resolution was passed calling for a nation-wide free and compulsory education with mother tongue as the medium of instruction for up to seven years”.

“A committee under the chairmanship of Dr Zakir Husain was also appointed to formulate the scheme of basic education. The committee submitted its report in 1938 titled, ‘Basic National Education’, with a foreword by Mahatma Gandhi”, he elucidated.

Reading bits from Dr Zakir Husain’s 200 page report presented in 1938; Prof Sajjad said that Dr Zakir Husain had then laid emphasis on quick and far-reaching changes to reshape both national and international life and making new demands on the citizens stating that the education system in India during the pre-Independence period was functioning listlessly and was apart from the real currents of life—unable to adapt to the changed circumstances.

“Dr Zakir Husain had then said that the education system of the colonial era was neither responsive to the realistic elements of the present situation nor inspired by any life-giving and creative ideal”, said Prof Sajjad.

He stressed that one can find many facets of Dr Zakir Husain’s report in the recent ‘National Education Policy 2020’ and that it is important to understand that leaders of the Indian National Movement at that time were making themselves ready to make India self-reliant immediately after Independence.

“The scientific temper and spirit of the great Indian leaders was reflected in the decisions to come after India attained Independence. The first Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru brought rapid development by introducing Five-Year Plans, built several steel plants and laid the foundation for India’s industrial infrastructure. The first Education Minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad under the leadership of Pandit Nehru set up the Indian Institutes of Technology in Kharagpur, Bombay, Kanpur, and Madras. Several hundred schools, colleges, the Indian Institutes of Management, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, National Museum, Sahitya Akademi, Lalit Kala Akademi, University Grants Commission, Department of Atomic Energy, Indian National Committee for Space Research and other institutions were also set up in this period”, added Prof Sajjad.

He further said, “The birth of the Indian space programme had much to do with the closeness between Nehru and Sarabhai—and Bhabha and Nehru’s belief in science and accomplished scientists”.

“Fortunately, within a span of two-three decades after Independence, India witnessed a rapid growth in agriculture, industry, modern education, and other core areas’, said Prof Sajjad.

He also spoke on the art, culture, architecture and town planning of the Indus Valley civilization; the governance, public works and social welfare in the reign of Ashoka the Great; Aryabhata’s sine table and his work on trigonometry; the Iron Pillar at the Qutub Complex in Mahrauli, Delhi erected during the time of Chandragupta-II and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s pivotal role in encouraging common Indians to study modern sciences.


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