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Why Quit India?

Tapan Misra

We grew up with R K Laxman, in the Times of India (ToI) front page, as quintessential common man, who never needed an introduction. Laxman was country’s conscience keeper. He never indulged in harangue, but conveyed his opinion with subtlety, with bold and different strokes of the cartoonist’s brush. Though his cartoons were in stark black and white, his subtlety had varied gray levels.

I was reminded of this cartoon again very recently, when a bright, young colleague of mine requested me to give him a recommendation for going to a prestigious university abroad. He has a dream, to teach and carry out research in the field of computer science at one of those prestigious universities. He was right -few of our IITs or institutions can barely claim that scholarly altitude.

But from my experience, this is precisely the problem. He was told politely but in no uncertain terms – “I never give any recommendation to anybody to join a foreign university if the aim is to “Quit India”. At the same time, I also told him that if he wants, I could personally request some professors, Directors or Vice Chancellors in India to help him. I requested him not to correlate my resolve to the fact that, I am not that highly qualified – As far as qualification goes, I have remained a confirmed bachelor, limited to a humble degree from Jadavpur University.

But not having foreign education, never stopped me from contributing in the field of engineering, by staying in India. And I was fortunate to get recognition too, for my humble contribution in India. In fact people respect you more, when you make contributions in your own country.

Like all Indians, the young man was argumentative. He said – somebody gave recommendations for bright students from India for studies abroad, that is why you have Indians as CEOs of Google, Microsoft, and Pepsi. I expressed my belief – had those bright men and women been encouraged to stay back in India, probably we could have boasted of “Made in India” companies like Google, and Microsoft.

I reflect on pre-Independence days. Surprisingly we had bursts of brilliance in scientific and many other fields without the exalted Temples of Modern India. Think of Indians who made us proud to be Indians – Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, J C Bose, Ramanujam, CV Raman, Satyen Bose, Meghnad Saha, S K Mitra, AP Mitra, Shambhu Nath De, Homi Bhaba, SS Bhatnagar, PC Mahalanobis, Vikram Sarabhai and so on. They all got exposure to or studied in finest institutions abroad. But they all decided to come back to India and devote major part of their contributing lives in India. They made India their “Karmabhumi”. I really shudder at the thought – what would have happened to India, had Gandhiji decided to spend rest of his life in South Africa, Babasaheb Ambedkar, to teach in LSE and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, in Cambridge for rest of their lives?

I do acknowledge, we may not have that excellent working environment and classy labs in India as in many Institutions and universities abroad. Also, if you are meritorious and contributing, you may have to face much more obstacles in your career in India than abroad. Your growth and pace of contributions will be slower. You will be a favourite target of your jealous colleagues. I myself can vouch for those certainties, from my personal experiences and struggles over more than three decades. Some of them even can get counted in the status of appalling. And in your day to day life in India, you may have to face many stark realities of a developing country.

All these problems can be traced to lack of chain reaction of intellectualism in many of our institutions and universities. Every system has its share of contributing and non-contributing intellectual minds. I believe, there exists a critical threshold of ratio of contributing and non-contibuting minds in a system. If the ratio crosses this critical threshold, chain reaction of intellectualism occurs. Non-contributing people are enthused to contribute their mite, to their maximum capability, instead of themselves becoming stumbling blocks. And the system becomes vibrant with passion and innovations.

The performance of institutions vary depending upon how close the ratio is to the critical threshold or has the ratio crossed that threshold. It is important for contributing minds to stick to India, in spite of difficulties, to increase the ratio and for making India better. If our brighter minds choose to leave India in the hands of non-contributing intellectuals, they have only to blame themselves for all the difficulties, faced by their brighter brethren, who chose to stay back and contribute in their own country.


The author, Tapan Misra, is a distinguished scientist, who has served Indian Space Research Organisation for decades and has contributed in a major way in the sphere of space research and exploration. He has been Directoŕ Space Application Centre (SAC), and is presently Advisor at the ISRO Headquarters.

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