Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar (2008)

The catalyst


During the Second World War, in view of the snapping of communication lines, the colonial rulers asked the Indian government to take up the task of “supplying the technical equipment of a modern army”.

The government decided to conduct research under its own auspices, and more importantly, to fund scientific and industrial research in centres outside its system.

History chose the hour and the hour produced the hero. Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, then a professor at Punjab University, Lahore, was appointed the director of scientific and industrial research in 1940.

The same year an advisory board of scientific and industrial research was set up to receive and appraise research proposals from universities, industry and trade.

On March 12, 1942, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research was established, which was later transformed into a vehicle for industrial development by prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The old timers would recall with a chuckle how Bhatnagar would meet Nehru during the latter’s morning walk, get approval for a new laboratory and have the paper work ready by the time office opened.


S.S. Bhatnagar

S.S. Bhatnagar

Bhatnagar held a number of important posts. He was secretary to the government in the ministry of natural resources and scientific research, secretary of atomic energy research and chairman of the University Grants Commission. 

He was a bridge between two cultures and two eras. He was a chemist as also the author of the ceremonial Sanskrit hymn of the Banaras Hindu University.

He was proud of the honours bestowed upon him by the British government while, as a government servant, he had the courage to publicly touch the feet of the Congress president in 1942.

If science was his passion, Urdu poetry was his refuge.

 Quick take

Q: Bhatnagar was an avid writer. What did he write?
 Urdu poetry

Q: What was his reaction when he learnt about plagiarism by a fellow professor in BHU?
 He leapt on him and gave him a good drubbing

Q: Who called his association with Jawaharlal Nehru the “Nehru-Bhatnagar Effect”?
 Sir C.V. Raman

He was greatly influenced by the Brahmo Samaj in his formative years.He was very attached to his wife, Lajwanti. A romantic at heart, he nursed the hope that he would take to farming after retirement and his wife would bring him lunch and a pot of butter milk in the fields.

— The author is former director of the National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies

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