Dr. Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar belonged to the history genre of patriotic scientists like Homi Bhabha, C.V. Raman, and Satish Chandra, who envisioned India’s self reliance in infrastructural areas. Country’s flagship science institution CSIR was established with Dr. S. S. Bhatnagar at the helm of its affairs. By his sheer intelligence and hard work, Bhatnagar rose to the status of Fellow of the Royal Society of London, the highest honor that an Indian scientist could aspire for, other than the Nobel.
Whoever came in contact with him was touched by his intellect, diligence, honesty and above all, inherent simplicity.
This account of Bhatnagar’s life has been written for young people of India, who will shape the future of this country.
This book is the story of a man who succeeded against overwhelming odds; a man who was not ashamed of being told a day-dreamer; a man who worshipped science; a man who in his childhood dared to dream great things that science could do for India and the part he himself would play; a man who never lost faith in his own abilities; a man who worked for the betterment of the society and not for his country’s future; and a man who could think about the future without being intimidated by the adverse circumstances of the present. Who was this man? He was called Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, one of the most ablest and illustrious Sons of India.
Bhatnagar lost his father when he was just eight months old. His mother had no inheritance or income of her own for the upbringing of her children. Bhatnagar lived in his maternal grandfather’s house till he was 13. Thereafter he was on his own. He managed to study either by getting scholarship or by working outside school and college hours. He had an indomitable will for higher studies. He worked through step by step. By his sheer willpower and hard work, Bhatnagar was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London- the highest honour that an Indian scientist could aspire to get other than the Noble Prize. Whoever came in contact with him was touched by his intellect, diligence, honesty and above all, an inherent simplicity.
Bhatnagar demonstrated that knowledge could create wealth. Perhaps he was the first Indian scientist, who could earn a significant amount of money by applying his scientific knowledge. Whatever he earned by doing scientific research, he did not keep it for his own benefit but h e donated it to the university for using it for scientific research. For him doing science meant worship. It was unthinkable for him to do science for money When his services were needed for shaping industrial research in the country, he plunged himself with all his energy and dedication without caring for his own interest. With his devotion and hard work he created an excellent infrastructure for industrial research in the country where there was none. His untiring efforts led to the creation of one of the largest scientific organizations in the world-India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
Bhatnagar was a multifaceted personality- a teacher, a scientist, an educationist, a leader of men, an administrator, and a poet. Bhatnagar was a staunch patriot. Though he was a Government official in British India, he had the courage and conviction to publicly touch the feet of the President of the Indian National Congress spearheading the movement for attaining India’s independence.
Bhatnagar’s life can be and should be a model for anybody living anywhere in the world and at any juncture of human history. Here my attempt has been to bring out the salient features of his life and work. I am fully conscious of the fact that it is always a difficult proposition to write about someone on whom people have already written and there are no unknown facts which could be looked into. The sources form which new insights could be gained are lost with the passage of time. This means that there cannot be any fresh original insights. But certainly the presentation can be different. A story often looks different when it is told by different people. This is because perhaps unknowingly a story- teller influenced by his perception, understanding and experience tends to highlight certain portions of the story. Moreover some stories are such that even after being told again and again do not lose their uniqueness. With such stories it is not important who tells the story, the very nature of the story is such that it is bound to attract the attention of people. The story of Bhatnagar’s life is one such story.
While writing about Bhatnagar’s life and work, my role is more of a story- teller and not of a story writer. I have decided to tell his story because I know even if I fail to perform the role of a good story-teller, the message or the message or the moral of the story will not be entirely lost. My story is based on the narrations earlier written on Bhatnagar. To make my story complete I have a beginning, a middle and an end. Like many others I believe that a story cannot be called a complete story if it does not have these three parts. In the introduction that is the beginning of the story, I have presented a brief overview of Bhatnagar’s life and work. The idea is that after reading the introduction one will be persuaded to know the complete story. The middle part or the main part of the story deals with different aspects of Bhatnagar’s life and work in somewhat detail. The last part of the story tells what Bhatnagar stood for and what he has left us to carry on for the future. With regard to personal qualities of Bahatnagar, there may be slight repetition here and there but it is intention and not an oversight. This has been done to make people remember certain personal traits, which made him different from others. It is a well- known fact that people remember something if it is told more than once. At some places there may be little digressions from the main story. Some technicalities could not be avoided while describing Bhatnagar’s scientific contributions. If a reader finds certain terms or names of people appearing in the text unfamiliar he may find them explained in the Supplementary Notes. A list of references consulted (other than those mentioned in the acknowledgements) for writing this account has been given at the end for the benefit of more inquisitive readers.
I have given brief descriptions of the CSIR laboratories that were founded or made functional during Bhatnagar’s life-time but they should not be considered as full descriptions of these organizations. The aim is only to give some idea of the objective with which these organizations were established and what Bhatnagar expected of them.
I wish my account of Bhatnagar’s life be read by you people of India, who shape the future of India. Bhatnagar’s example will persuade them to work for the country, to take up challenges and new initiatives and to be useful members of the society. They should know that there is greater pleasure in working for a bigger cause. In any case we need more Bhatnagar’s to ensure a great future of our country. After reading this book, if there is one young India who decides to follow the ideals of Bhatnagar, my efforts will be amply rewarded.
Shanti swarup Bhatnagar was one of the builders of scientific and industrial foundations of modern India. Bhatnagar along with Homi Jehangir Bhabha, Prashanta chandra Mahalanobis, Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai and others played a significant part in building of post- independent S&T infrastructure and in the formulation of India’s science and technology policies. Bhatnagar’s position in the annals of Indian science is truly unique. He was a highly accomplished scientist, an able science manager and an administrator, a great creator of institutions and a staunch patriot. He was a great leader of men. He was an effective communicator and he urged fellow scientists to develop an effective communication skill.
Bhatnagar had an abiding faith in the scientific and technological potential of India. As Nitya Anand, formerly Director, Central Drug Research Institute, a CSIR laboratory, says: “If India is shining today, it is because of its S&T strength, the foundations for which were laid by bureaucrats like Ramaswami Mudaliar,scientists like Bhatnagar and political leaders like Pt. Nehru, who were committed to protecting national interest in their own spheres of activity, and saw in science and technology the instrument needed for social transformation.”
Bhatnagar dedicated his life in creating scientific and industrial infrastructure in the country. In the post- independence India he played an important role in shaping the scientific and industrial base of the country. In his mission he was fully supported by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.
Like many other great achievers, Bhatnagar had to struggle to realize his goal in life. His father died when he was just eight months old. The family was in dire poverty. Bhatnagar was brought up by his maternal grandfather till he was 13 years old. After that Bhatnagar supported himself. Throughout his studies he earned scholarship. Bhatnagar’s inclination towards science was evident since his childhood and he maintained his inquisitiveness thought his life. His questioning mind created trouble for his teachers in schools. In fact his teachers at Dyal Singh School at Lahore complained to the Headmaster that young Bhatnagat” was a great trouble to them, perpetually plying them with questions; that he was restless in the classroom and always too ready to retort when admonished.”
Bhatnagar in his childhood took delight in conducting scientific experiments. While in school he even created a “laboratory” of his own in one of the galleries of the school hall for conducting experiments, where he gathered all kinds of things which he thought would be useful in conducting experiments- old tubes, broken flasks, batteries and so on. In 1911, Bhatnagar published a letter to the Editor in the Leader, a newspaper published from Allahabad, on a method of making substitute carbon electrodes for a battery by heating molasses and carbonaceous substances under pressure. The same problem was again taken up by him, when he was in charge of the industrial research in the country. In his board of Scientific and Industrial Research (BSIR) Laboratories at the Government Test house, Alipore, he developed a process for carbon electrodes in which indigenous Indian materials were employed to meet the shortage of imports during the Second World War.
Bhatnagar was a university professor for 19 years (1921-40), first at the Bhatnagars Hindu University (BHU), Varanasi and then at the Punjab University, Lahore. He had a reputation of a very inspiring teacher. Bhatnagar’s research contributions in the areas of magneto-chemistry and physical chemistry of emulsions were widely recognized. Bhatnagar developed accurate and simple methods for measuring small changes occurring in magnetic properties of materials. His methods have been used to solve many complex problems connected with colloids, alloys and atomicity of mercury, iodine and selenium under different conditions. He also did considerable work in applied research. As an unprecedented magnanimous act Bhatnagar donated his earnings from his applied research to the Punjab University, Lahore, where he was working. Bhatnagar held many important position in the government. He was instrumental in setting up of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIr).He was its founder Director (a post later re- designated as Director General). This became a major a number of researches in independent India. At the time of his death a number of national laboratories were fully functional. Today, the CSIR has grown into a chain of about forty laboratories with a total scientific and technical staff strength of about 10,000. The CSIR laboratories cover a large spectrum of science and technology. The major activities of CSIR can be grouped under three sections namely, Missions and National Programmes, CSIR Thrust Areas of Expertise and Capability Development.
Bhatnagar was associated with the development of the Atomic Energy Programme of India. In 1945, an Atomic Energy Committee was set up under the aegis of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. The Committee was chaired by Homi Jehangir Bhabha, and it included Meghnad Saha, D. N. Wadia, then Mineral Adviser to the Central Government and Bhatnagar. The Atomic Energy Commission was established in August under the chairmanship of Bhabha. Its other members were Bhatnagar and K.S. Krishna.
He was the first Chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC). He was Secretary, Ministry of Education and Educational Adviser to the Government of India. Bhatnagar played an important role in the constitution and deliberations of the Scientific Manpower Committee Report of 1948. This was the first-ever systematic assessment of the scientific manpower needs of the country in all aspects. The report served as an important policy infrastructure.
Bhatnagar played an instrumental role in the establishment of the national Research and Development Corporation (NRDC) of India, which was visualized to bridge the gap between research and development. Bhatnagar was responsible for the initiation of the Industrial Research movement in the country. The Government of India, being persuaded by the efforts made by Bhatnagar, set up an industrial Research Utilisatiom Committee for translating science and technology in to industrial applications. Technology into industrial applications. Bhatnagar constituted the one man commission in 1951 to negotiate with oil companies for starting refineries and this ultimately led to establishment of many oil refineries in different parts of the country. He induced many individuals and organizations to donate liberally for the cause of science and education.
Bhatnagar exhibited a high poetic particularly in Urdu. Bhatnagar’s maternal side produced many poets; the most famous among them was Munshi Gargopal Tufta who given a title of Mirza by the great Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib. After his wife’s death, Bhatnagar published a collection of his Urdu poems, titled Lajwati (after his wife’s name). It was his wife who preserved Bhatnagar’s handwritten poems. Commenting on Bhatnagar’s habit of writing poetry, his biographer Norah Richards wrote: “From childhood S.SB. (Bhatnagar) had enjoyed listening to poetry and soon began occasionally to write verse. He was in the habit of writing down verses on any scraps of paper and pocketing them. This usually happened while travelling or on holiday. For years his days have been too full for systematic writing, although for a busy man his output is considerable. He versifies all kind of happenings—a meeting with Mr. Churchill, for instance… “During his stay in Banaras, Bhatnagar composed the ‘Kulgeet’(University Song) of the University.
Bhatnagar died on January 01, 1955. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India himself was present at his funeral on 02 January 1955. On his death, the Government of India issued a Gazette Extraordinary on 04 January, 1956, which stated the following: “The President has learnt with deep regret of the death on Saturday, 1st January, 1955 of Dr. Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, Secretary of the Government of India, Ministry of Natural Resources and Scientific Research, and Chairman, University Grants Commission. On his passing away, India has lost an able and trusted public servant who had served his country with signal distinction in the scientific world.
In was given to Dr. Bhatnagar to fulfil the historic mission of realizing the Prime Minister’s vision of putting India on the scientific map of the world and the result can be seen today in the 14 National Laboratories which have sprung up in rapid succession in the years 1950 and 1954. These have laid the foundations of the country’s scientific development…”
Bhatnagar has left his indelible mark in India’s history. India will always remember Bhatnagar as one of her extraordinary sons, who worked wholeheartedly to make her head high in the world. S. Sivaram in an article published in Resonance, a journal of science education published by Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, wrote: “Bhatnagar in his eventful sixty years achieved more than what generation of men could not accomplish. He left his indelible imprint on pure science. He demonstrated that science becomes relevant to society only when its practitioners are willing to descend down from their ivory towers ad translate science in to applications. He was visionary extraordinary who saw the need for a strong scientific infrastructure for an independent India... He created institutions which became the ‘cradle’ for science in India and which have stood the test of time terms of both relevance and need.”
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