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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 33 New Delhi August 8, 2015

Dr N.P. Gupta — A Committed Worker for Peace

Saturday 8 August 2015, by Arun Kumar


Dr N.P. Gupta, a doctor by profession, passed away on July 30, 2015 at the age of 93 years. He had retired three decades back as the Deputy Director General, ICMR.

I knew him in my early days as a contemporary of my father, Late Prof Asha Ram. They were together with friends like P.C. Joshi, Sulekh Chandra Gupta, and R.K. Garg (a student of my father in Allahabad University). They were all Communists to begin with but remained Marxists till the end even if disillusioned with the wider movement. They all believed in the wider unity of the Left forces in the country—so essential in today’s context.

I always thought of this set of people as having a civilisational vision of society. During their heydays they had all worked for change for the better in society. They had an interest in everything around them and were alert to all developments nationally and internationally. Dr. Gupta called me up several times to discuss my articles that appeared in the popular press. That generation emerged from the national movement and had grown up in the context of the Second World War. One could not but be aware of the wider setting of the national developments.

P.N. Haksar, Dr Gupta and others organised a major international conference on Science, Technology and Development in Vigyan Bhavan in 1987. I wrote a paper on India’s Science and Technology Policy for the conference. This group wanted to highlight the social aspects of Science and Technology and its importance for democracy and development. The context was the bipolar world with the threat of nuclear war. Peace was crucial. While Science is recognised as universal, the idea was that Technology ought also to be so. A resolution was passed to this effect at the end of the conference.

Based on the resolution Dr Gupta and others founded a group called the ‘Scientists and Technologists for a Non-Violent World Order’. It was later registered as a Society. The group tried to involve Scientists and Technologists in the wider social context of violence in society. This group had organised many seminars and meetings like on Patents and WTO in Jamia.The group became dormant for a while but Dr Gupta was keen to resurrect it and associated me with its activities from 2010.

To Dr Gupta, violence was all around, in every aspect of social existence and not just during war—in gender relations, caste relations, politics of suppression and inequality and so on. That is why he was keen that this group should continue to function and hold seminars, discussions and talk. There was also an impatience in him since he felt that this group had the potentiality of working on a wider plane. The group had operated on an international plane in the 1980s.

At the meetings of this small group at his home we discussed a wide variety of topics over rounds of tea with jalebis and samosas. A seminar was organised in 2013 and he came to the meeting in spite of his inability to walk properly. He was in pain but participated whole-heartedly. Similarly, there were meetings to discuss the political aspects of the newly emerging AAP and then to discuss the economic agenda of the political parties. He tried to come but could not make it due to lack of mobility.

Times in which Dr Gupta and my father grew up were different—commitment was important. Commitment to the social often superseded the individual. They sacrificed during the national movement for independence—their jobs and their studies. As Communists they also had to go against the establishment and the traditions. They had to be idealists and even fight battles for change in consciousness within their own families which is always the most difficult thing. Today, for most intellectuals such obligations are not required. Not only that most aspire to climb in the system so that everything is geared to that and sacrifice and commitment to the wider cause are marginal concepts.

As Communists, Dr Gupta and his friends realised the value of peace in society. Without it, democracy would get truncated, develop-ment would slow down and consciousness would not transform, and above all, the poor would remain deprived and marginalised. Dr Gupta felt that in ensuring peace in society Scientists and Technologists had to play an important role. In my own experience as a Physicist in the mid-1970s, doing Ph.D at Princeton, USA and interacting with some of the top Physicists of that time, I found that there is a great deal of individualism among them. They easily lend themselves to the militaristic endeavours. This is especially true of big science which needs lots of funds that often come from the Defence Department or other government departments.

It was only by countering this trend of thinking among the Scientists and Technologists and arousing in them a spirit of the collective and that too in the liberal tradition that one could perhaps help society become non-violent. This was the reason why the work of the group was important to Dr Gupta. He also linked these ideas to the furtherance of the idea of ‘Scientific Temper’ in society. Dr Gupta was determined and did not give up on the ‘Society’ till the last, even though times have changed and commitment is lacking.

From what I knew of him, he lived a full life and we ought to be happy about that and celebrate his life and contributions to society. My condolences to the family members and especially to Bano-ji who knew him for 10 years before marriage and remained married to him for 54 years.

The author, a well-known economist, was the Sukhamoy Chakravarty Chair Professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has just retired from service.