In a recent interview, Prof CNR Rao, made a categorical comment while discussing Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s contribution. “People have tried to improve upon the Scientific Policy Resolution of 1958, but they cannot even improve its language,” he said. Prof Rao, in my opinion, reiterated the views of many intellectuals who have read the document. Historically rooted in the notion of “scientific temper”, SPR was the distillate of at least a hundred years of discourse on science, development and emancipation. Nehru had summed up the debate in a few pages of his book Discovery of India, written in jail and published in 1946, where he proposed the phrase “scientific temper”. The debate continued with vigour even after India became a democracy.
Nehru, the first prime minister of what was then a decade-old democracy, introduced the draft of the Scientific Policy Resolution (SPR) in Parliament saying, “Sir, I beg to lay on the table a copy of Government of India, Scientific Policy Resolution No 131/CF/57, dated 4th March 1958. I shall read it out because we consider this resolution as an important one, defining our attitude to science and technology, generally.” Then the prime minister went on to read the entire draft.
Importantly, he emphasised that “technology can only grow out of the study of science and its application.” In carefully chosen words, he expressed a clear understanding that science is the prime mover of technology: “The dominating feature of the contemporary world is the intense cultivation of science on a large scale, and its application to meet a country’s requirement.”
Nehru has been accused, by many scholars, of suggesting that propagation of “scientific temper” is a “passport to modernity” and a “vaccine” against “a wide variety of superstitions”. Rhetoric wrapped in an intellectual folio and the dynamics of demagogy often blur the vision. Even if Nehru had suggested “scientific temper” as a limited “passport to modernity”, it cannot be projected as a dreadful conspiracy against superstitions, which are held in high esteem by some scholars and politically motivated illiterates, in the name of culture. Recent history shows that leaders of countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the African and Latin American republics did not have even that “narrow vision” to transform their societies.