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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On January 9, 2022

    By Karan Thapar

    I had no idea how seriously people can listen to convocation speeches. In my time at Doon School, I paid little attention to the chief guests’ Founders Day addresses. Even at Cambridge, when I graduated, my mind was firmly focussed on what was to follow – a much awaited escape from education. I barely listened to Prince Philip, the Chancellor, and there was no question of the alumni doing so. In fact, there was no way they could.


    It seems things were rather different when the Prime Minister delivered the Convocation Address at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur on the 28th of December. I don’t know about the students but it turns out the alumni were listening intently.


    Modi deplored the ‘fact’ little was done in the first 25 years after independence to make India self-reliant. He spoke in hindi but the Press Information Bureau has translated his speech. However, this is a more accurate version: “25 years after independence we should have done a lot more to stand on our feet. There’s been further great delay from then till now. The country has lost a lot of time. In between, two generations have passed. Now we can’t afford the loss of even two moments.”


    However, is it a ‘fact’ little was done in the first 25 years to make India self-reliant? At least one of IIT Kanpur’s illustrious alumni thinks it is not. Mukund Mavalankar, who says of himself “education in IIT Kanpur gave me a solid, scientific and technological foundation and helped me build a 43-year strong manufacturing career”, has written to the Prime Minister to explain why. I want to quote from his letter and I have his permission to do so.


    He mentions 12 key achievements of the first quarter century that India should not only never forget but always be proud of. In the year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of independence, these are landmarks that are worth reminding ourselves of.


    First, the political ones. India gave itself a constitution to eternally boast of. It enshrines the values we cherish. That happened less than 3 years after independence. Two years after that the country held its first national election. Every adult, rich or poor, man or woman, had the right to vote. We take that for granted today but it simply wasn’t at the time.


    Next, come the educational institutions we built in those years. Between 1950 and 1964, five IITs were set up. Before 25 years were over three Institutes of Management were also established. And let’s not forget prestigious research laboratories like the Indian Institute of Science, the Defence Research and Development set up, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and the Space Research Organization. They are world class and the envy of our peers.


    Mavalankar’s letter mentions a lot more – Bhakra Nangal, Hindustan Aeronautics, the Oil and Natural Gas Commission, Bharat Heavy Electronics and an assortment of steel plants. But in this time of Covid how can anyone forget the Indian Council of Medical Research and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences? The first was established in 1948. The second in 1956. The hundred acres on which AIIMS stands was donated by then then health minister Rajkumari Amrit Kaur.


    Let me end with Mavalankar’s parting words: “Sir, the list could go on and on. Our democracy invested its energy, blood, sweat and toil in the first 25 years to lay the foundation of this country which we are so proud of. All this was done in spite of poverty, great natural disasters, epidemics and four wars with our neighbours.”


    He adds: “I agree with you a hundred per cent that the work of building the country is not over as yet.” It certainly isn’t. But the intent of his letter is to ask the Prime Minister not to forget or undervalue what politicians of the past have done. We need to add to their efforts but that won’t happen by denigrating them.

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