Chintamani Nagesa Ramachandra Rao was ‘surprised‘ at receiving India’s highest civilian honour ‘Bharat Ratna’ last week. What pleasantly surprised the rest of the scientific community in this country was his vocal outpouring at the state of science funding in India. Though Rao has always advocated more funding for science and rued the lack of a strong science leadership in India, his current outburst calling politicians ‘idiots who have not given this country’s scientists their due’, is the most scathing on the country’s science bureaucracy. Rao later dismissed the hullabaloo saying the remarks were made ‘casually’ and that he did not ‘mean to be harsh’.
To an email seeking to understand this widely reported outburst, Rao replied, “There was no outburst on my part. I only wondered about the idiocy of people.” Rao said he feels that India should take up rejuvenation of scientific and educational institutions on a “war footing”. “Competition is increasing by the hour. I want India to be in the top 5 countries in science. Will it be?”
Besides this, he also coaxed Indian researchers to work harder, “as hard as the Chinese”. “Starting next year, China will top the world with 16.5% of world research publications, overtaking even the US. The quantity of publication of research papers from India have remained at 2-3%. India is the worst. China is doing exascale and petascale computing. I am fighting with the government to invest money in computing,” he was quoted as saying.
Rao’s public expression of anger (or frustration as he chooses to call it) is the outcome of long years of fighting the system. That he used the occasion of announcement of the Bharat Ratna to air his feelings so strongly does not come as unusual to peers, colleagues and friends to know the fiery-spirited scientist for long years. “Knowing him well I can say CNR’s comment about politicians is only an emotional outburst,” Valangiman Ramamurthi, former secretary to the Department of Science and Technology told Nature India.
It is this outrage that many in the science community in India feel but seldom express. Some do, but are rarely heard. A Nature India forum post discussed the issue of scientific funding some time back quite aggressively and another one was replete with issues that young scientists face in this country.
Coming from Bharat Ratna Rao — all of 79 and raring to go (his wife says he is still a ‘young scientist’ with lots of science in him) — it will certainly be taken rather seriously. Or so one hopes. Rao happens to be the scientific adviser to the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and recently created a buzz with a Scientific Advisory Council report which warned that the present situation in India is “not altogether encouraging” as there are many areas of science where India has fallen behind even small countries. Rao was the first Indian to reach the h-index of 100, publishing more than 1,500 research papers in his career spanning over five decades (h-index is based on the scientist’s publications and the number of citations they receive). He has close to 50,000 citations.