The globe is eyeing space supremacy and India is not far behind in the list. ISRO has seen tremendous success in the last decade and is competing to be one of the elite space research organizations in the world. From carrying rocket parts on cycle to being the first ever to successfully orbit mars, ISRO has crossed and broken many barriers. One of the things that India is particularly proud of is the launching of a record 104 satellites in a single rocket, and the fact that we hold the capacity to launch satellites at ¼ of the cost that is incurred by syndicates like SpaceX.
Among many great scientists like Shri APJ Abdul Kalam, Shri Satish Dhawan, and the father of the Indian space program, Shri Vikram Sarabhai, one name which should make us Indians realize the importance of self-belief is Dr. Nambi Narayanan, a man who was scouted as a young talent by Shri Vikram Sarabhai himself. He was arrested in 1994 on charges of supplying crucial information to Pakistan. Jump to 2021, the Supreme Court has ordered a CBI inquiry into the suspicious arrest and the error of the cops involved. To understand this, we need to step back into the 90s.
After his master’s in rocket propulsion, Dr. Narayanan wanted to take India to places where no one had been. So much so that he rejected job offers from NASA to work with ISRO. He developed the Vikas engine, which is still used in PSLV rockets. The genius of this man was to the extent that he could see what others could not. He was one of the first people to realize the importance of liquid fuel engines in manned space missions. In the 90s, Russia and India signed a contract regarding the same worth 235 Crores. The same was offered by France and the USA for 650 and 950 crores respectively. This was a clear indication that ISRO was gunning for the top spot in space research.
The farsightedness of the USA predicted this and planned to fight tooth and nail to keep the cryogenic engine technology away from India. Then-president George Bush started putting pressure on Russia which resulted in the cancellation of the contract. Nevertheless, India had already set its goal of achieving the cryogenic engine by 1999 and continued its operations. International forces wanted to keep India away from its bright future in which they succeeded. In October of 1994, a woman from the Maldives was arrested in Thiruvananthapuram named Mariam Rasheeda. When arrested, her belongings included blueprints of ISRO’s rocket engines. She was believed to be an agent who would sell this information to Pakistan.
At that time, Dr. Narayanan was heading the project. Next month, he was arrested by the Kerala Police on the orders of the congress government and kept in jail for 50 days where he faced physical and mental torture. He was told to blame other senior officials of ISRO to which he out rightly denied. Media houses started to malign the image of this great mind and carried on with a narrative. What they failed to understand was that cryogenic technology did not exist in India in 1994. Moreover, if the articles of the media were referring to the Vikas engine, they should have done their homework as the plan was openly available. The logical fallacy here was that Dr. Narayanan had rejected NASA (higher-paying job with perks) so that he could work for ISRO, so why would he sell out a secret for some amount of money which he could have earned in the first place?
In 1996, the Central Bureau of Investigation confirmed that the case against Dr. Narayanan was false and that no evidence of espionage could be found against the scientist. Even after this report, the case went to the SC and they too sided with Dr. Narayanan. In 2019, he was honoured with the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award. The Modi government made it clear that Dr. Narayanan is a patriot and should be respected.
The sad part is that the arrest and the events that followed pulled our country’s space dreams back to the 70s. If we would have stood by Dr. Narayanan and not have fallen for the propaganda, a mistake we still make, ISRO would have been the best in the world as of now. We made the same mistake with the COVID vaccine too. Let us learn from this and no more doubt our scientists and doctors work day and night for the betterment of this country.
DISCLAIMER: This article reflects author’s view point. Goa Chronicle may or may not subscribe to views of the author.