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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 47, November 15, 2014

Meaning of Agni

Sunday 16 November 2014, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

The week, that marked the twentyfifth anni-versary of the passing away of Jawaharlal Nehru —on May 22, 1989, India projected a political image of its strength and determination before the world which no amount of borrowed arsenal could have achieved. The firing of the intermediate range missile, Agni, hitting a target a thousand kilometres away, was not just an engineering feat, its importance lies in the fact that it was designed and manufactured in India by our scientists—no mean achievement for a developing country hamstrung as we are by constant pulls and pressures by great powers particularly by the US Administration.

It is widely known that for months, if not more than a year ago, Washington was trying to pressurise the Government of India to abandon the firing of the long-range missile. The so-called Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), set up in 1987 by seven Western countries under the leadership of the USA, is meant to stifle initiative in this line by any country on the plea of preventing the proliferation of deadly missile much in the same way as the nuclear non-proliferation treaty aims at preventing the manufacture of nuclear weapons by any country and thereby protecting the monopoly of the nuclear-weapons powers which virtually aims at establishing their hegemony over the rest of the world. Under the MTCR, there is a ban on the export of instruments, parts and information that could be used for the purpose of manufacturing missiles. The US Administration went a step further and for the last four months had specifically been pressuring New Delhi to call off the launching of the Agni, threatening that it might invite retaliatory measures affecting India’s trade with the USA.

The delay in the launching of the Agni by about a year and its postponsement twice after announcement of the schedule did spread the misgivings that the Government of India might be caving in to the American pressure, parti-cularly when one noticed such wilting on the part of the Rajiv Government on the important question of intellectual property. The US cam-paign has not ceased even after the firing of the Agni as could be seen from the hectic activity of the US mission in Delhi and of the State Department in Washington presaging dire consequences. Viewed in this background the successful launching of the Agni has been doubly welcomed by all sections of the Indian public, cutting across party barriers.

There has been an instantaneous manifestation of acclaim for the Indian scientists and engineers who are responsible for this remarkable achieve-ment. It is actually a patriotic upsurge—recog-nition on the one hand of the dedication of our scientists and engineers who, battling against overwhelming odds, have achieved this feat, and, on the other, of the sense of national pride at having attained a degree of self-reliance in sophisticated technology. What needs to be emphasised is that in this country there is an almost inex-haustible fountain of national pride at attaining swadeshi in any field, particularly in those where outside powers might try to block ouir advance.

A point worth noting in this context is that in the fraternity of our dedicated scientists, there is an overpowering commitment to upholding national interests which ensures a remarkable degree of mutual trust and confidence. At a time when our politicians are engrossed in counting their constituencies according to communal demography, when such sensitive issues like the Babri mosque-Ram Janmabhoomi are exploited to vitiate communal amity, when the government itself fights shy of taking a firm stand for the promotion of durable communal amity, it is indeed heartening to find that at the head of this successful missile development programme is a distinguished scientist belonging to the minority community. It is also significant that while the Pakistan Foreign Minister Shahibzada Yakub Khan has branded the launching of the Agni as a threat to the security of the region, Pakistan’s distinguished Nobel Laureate, Dr Abdus Salaam, has greeted it as a ‘very good’ achievement. Here is a clear example of the fraternity of goodwill that the scientists represent within their own country as also acorss the frontiers.

It is good to see that the Prime Minister greeting our scientists and hailing it as a “major achievement in our continuing efforts to safe-guard our independence and security by self-reliant means”. Coming from him, it is parti-cularly significant because one cannot help recalling that in the phase of his Prime Ministership Rajiv Gandhi had been almost uninhibited in his attack on the work of the Indian scientists, so much so that a virtual wall of misunderstanding would have come up between him and our scientific community but for the sagacity and fortitude of our leading scientists. The policy of virtual open-door to foreign collaboration, the reckless wastage of hard-earned foreign exchange for importing consumer durables and encourage-ment of foreign investments even in areas where Indian science and technology have made considerable headway—the hallmark of Rajiv economics—all these reflected an outlook which could hardly be regarded as congenial to the promotion of self-reliance. It is to the credit of ouir scientists that with their sturdy patriotism they refused to be swept away by such policy reversal on the part of the Rajiv Government and in a determined manner pursued their line of self-reliance which lies behind the successful launching of the Agni.

While there is nationwide spontaneous jubilation at the achievement by our scientists and engineers, one has to guard against any jingoist outburst about our country’s military superiority over our neighbours—a tendency which our politicians with their narrow vision are prone to indulge in and a government haunted by the spectre of electoral reverses may conveniently resort to. Such a course would bring irreparable damage to our national interests and to the reputation of this great country. Appropriately, the message of the Five-Nation-Six-Country Initiative urging the two superpowers to redouble their efforts towards nuclear disarmament was released on the ery day of the launching of the Agni, reminding ourselves that the supreme task before us all is not to prepare for war but to strive for peace. India has to emphasise this by actual deeds, not merely by the rhetoric of high-falutin declarations.

One has to guard against any euphoria of our military strength, as there are few in authority in our public life today who understand the dividing line between patriotism and chau-vinism—a point which Jawaharlal Nehru never wavered in emphasising as an axiom of his foreign policy.  

(Editor’s Notebook’, Mainstream, May 27, 1989)