'There could be some aberrations here and there. This has nothing to do with the government or the ruling party. The government machinery is put in action when atrocities take place. They are not sitting silent.'
'Beyond making sensational news, what purpose does returning the awards serve?'
When a hitherto non-political person like G Madhavan Nair, the former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, spoke about the need to have Hindu unity in Kerala, many were surprised.
He stressed that if Kerala wanted development, there had to be a Third Front with the Bharatiya Janata Party leading it.
Madhavan Nair explains his political vision to Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com and why he has decided to ignore what UPA-II did to him.
You have not been a political person at all till now. What made you support Vellapally Natesan's idea of uniting all Hindus in Kerala?
I have not been a political person, and I have no intention of becoming one.
What made me sad was a beautiful state such as Kerala with so much natural and human resources and high level of education has been reduced to such a pathetic level by decades of rule by the Left and the Congress.
Unfortunately, so far, the political leadership has not been able to provide solutions to all the problems that the state faces.
Do you mean lack of employment opportunities and industrial development?
I meant the overall development of the state itself. The basic ingredients required for development are all there, but there is no leadership to put them together and take the state to a high level of prosperity.
Look at the states such as Punjab where people have to face a lot of hardship; yet they fight all the obstacles and lead in the fields of agriculture, industries etc. On the other hand, Kerala has been static and no development has taken place in the last two decades.
Do you blame both the Left and the Congress for this, or just the Left for halting industries from coming here?
I blame both the fronts. On one side, there is an overplay of Leftist ideas which has made labour prohibitively expensive in Kerala; and on the other side, you have rampant corruption. Funds are going to middlemen and not to the development process.
The state is surviving only because of the money coming from the Gulf. That is one reason that the level of poverty is less here.
I feel there has to be a political alternative to find a solution to these problems.
Have you been thinking on these lines for quite sometime?
I have been in Kerala for the last two years after my stint in Bengaluru. I have observed that hundreds of debates take place for each and every issue, but nothing happens after that.
I also noticed that though Hindus are the majority in this state, their status in society, quality of living, income level, employment potential has gone down.
They have virtually become a backward community in all aspects.
Hindus have suffered over the years. Of course, we had great leaders such as Achutha Menon, Pattom Thanu Pillai, Panampally Govinda Menon, once upon a time from the Hindu community, and they have done great service to not only the community, but for the entire state.
When I was asking myself, can we bring back those days? I heard about Vellapally Natesan's idea of Hindu unity in Kerala. I found the idea good and decided to support it intellectually and see how we can make it a reality.
In what way do you plan to support the idea intellectually?
By having discussions with like-minded groups and formulating a common theme. Then, we will see that right people are chosen for the panchayat and assembly constituencies. We want to choose those people who have a development agenda and not indulge in petty politics.
But when you start a political party based on religion, won't development get the second spot?
I am not talking about a new political party. A political party based on religion alone will not survive.
What we have to do is assemble like-minded parties and start a Third Front. It can have the BJP and many other groups.
It doesn't matter whether they are Christian or Muslim groups. As long as they are wedded to the development agenda, they can be in the Third Front.
This Front, I am sure, can bring about changes in Kerala.
Does that mean uniting all Hindus and forming a Third Front are two different ideas?
I see Hinduism from a different context.
If you study Kerala's history, you will see that all groups are spun off from Hinduism only.
So, the Third Front should be open to all those irrespective of the religious background.
The Hindu groups should take the lead in uniting all those who want development in the state.
While Natesan is talking about Hindu unity, National Service Scheme chief Sukumaran Nair is against it.
These are the people who are supposed to work for unity, but would spoil Hindu unity.
Social reformer Mannathu Padmanabhan did it when there was a crisis in the state.
Likewise, the present leadership should wake up. They are sitting in an ivory tower, living on past glory in an empire that was created 20 years back. They have to change.
The NSS is there only in Kerala. On the other hand, the national forum that has its members from all over India and the global forum that has Nair members from all over the world are interested in working for Hindu unity.
There are many Hindus who have been following Communist ideology or have been Congressmen for generations. Is it possible to bring them to a Third Front?
It is going to be a real challenge as many people are wedded to other ideologies. But they have to think and analyse about the relevance of these ideologies today.
You know very well that some ideologies have become museum pieces all over the world and some ideologies were relevant during the Independence period.
Today, they concentrate on individual development and not national and state development.
So I am sure that many people are not satisfied with the present political set up. And we want to see that such people are roped in to the Third Front.
The general opinion over the years was that there was no space for a Third Front in Kerala as Keralites are totally behind these two fronts...
But when I spoke to many individuals, they are of the opinion that if someone takes an initiative, the idea of a Third Front can be possible.
At present, the BJP has an advantage as they are in power at the Centre and they have already shown that how the development agenda can be taken seriously forward and eliminate corruption from administration.
If these positives can be spread, it is a good opportunity for the BJP to take the initiative. I am not too sure they will come forward and do this.
You feel the BJP can take the lead in the Third Front. They are yet to make a mark on the Kerala political scene though they have tried several times.
I think, as a political party, they have the opportunity, but how they are going to capitalise on it, we will have to wait and see. They can make a mark only if all the agencies associated with the same ideology work together.
You once said that Kerala should learn from the Gujarat model of development. But many, who are opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, say the Gujarat model is not as successful as he made it out to be.
Look at the fundamentals such as poverty alleviation, improving the quality of life, improving infrastructure and providing clean administration. In all these, the state has scored. You have to apply the same fundamentals at the national level also, but challenges are many at the national level.
The first and foremost thing needed is to stop corruption and hats off to Modiji, he achieved that in Gujarat. He cleaned up his own political party and administration and made sure the money that was allotted for development, was used for the purpose.
When the priorities are set, connectivity is very important; both physical and digital. We have to go a long way as far as physical connectivity is concerned. Even in Kerala, there are many places, which are inaccessible.
Digital connectivity will help in knowledge acquisition, which can be converted into skill development and then to a level of entrepreneurship. The BJP has demonstrated it in many states.
When I was in Madhya Pradesh, the chief minister told me that his first priority was to make water available to everyone. He made sure that almost every village got water. MP is one state that has got excess power. He said his next priority was education and healthcare.
I have a fairly good idea about what is happening in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. I find these models quite good.
The other day the prime minister said there was no corruption in his government. Do you agree with him?
To a large extent, he has stopped corruption, but the solutions will not come overnight. It will take one or two more years before he can clean up the system. Once you bring transparency in every deal, it will plug all the holes in corruption.
You spoke of the BJP leading the Third Front, but what they follow now is the politics of beef and bans. Do you approve of all these?
I would say these are all stray incidents. In every set up, there are characters who will not fall in line with the system and the principles adopted by the leaders.
These are aberrations in the system, localised and done by individuals. Even the BJP leaders themselves said that people could choose whatever food they want to eat.
What you need basically is education. Lack of education and lack of awareness lead to these things. And these incidents are happening in places where literacy levels are very low.
On one side, the PM is talking about development and goes all around the globe selling India. On the other side, some people are interfering in the lives of individuals by telling them what to eat. Won't this affect the image of India?
Yes, to some extent, it will affect the image. But the prime minister is very keen on his development agenda. I am sure those who are following these extreme positions also fall in line.
Writers who are returning their awards say that ever since the BJP came to power, and Narendra Modi became the prime minister, India has become an intolerant country. Do you agree?
There are small groups, which are showing high level of intolerance. It is unacceptable. We should see to it that this is stopped.
Just like we are getting rid of corruption, we can change these extreme views also by talking to them and making them realise. Maybe it is a question of time.
Scientists also have joined the writers in returning their awards. Dr P M Bhargava plans to return his Padma Bhushan. Do you agree with such protests?
No. I call this a hasty reaction from all these people. We must recognise that India is a large country with a huge population.
There could be some aberrations here and there. You cannot generalise based on their behaviour.
And this has nothing to do with the government or the ruling party. The government machinery is put in action when such atrocities take place. They are not sitting silent.
Beyond making sensational news, what purpose does returning the awards serve? It will not have any other impact.
Bhargava is a very well-known and respected scientist and he must have his own reasons to do what he did.
The awards are given as recognition to the contribution made by these scientists, and their contribution doesn't go away whether they keep the award or give it away.
I feel we should be patient. When there is a problem, we have to find a solution to it and not protest. We should analyse why it happened and how it can be avoided in the future.
They should make use of their experience and intelligence to find a solution and not react like this.
Was it because of the way you were treated by Dr Manmohan Singh's government that you now lean towards the BJP?
No, that was not a factor at all.
Yes, the UPA-2 government ill-treated me. There were many opportunities for them to correct, but they did not. The CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General of India) report said there was no loss to the government, and when this report came out, they should have withdrawn the order against us, but they didn't.
So, I use my knowledge for the international community. I have been working for the international academia for astronautics.
Though my country does not need my advice, the international community wants my advice.
You wrote to Dr Singh that you wanted your honour to be restored.
I did write, but it has fallen on deaf ears. Every scientist in the country spoke at that time that what was done to me was a barbaric act carried out by the UPA-2.
Did you feel hurt?
I just ignored it. Once you ignore something, it will not affect you. I went ahead doing my duty. Of course, the international community still want my advice. Here also, I could draw the attention of many youngsters. I am trying to transfer my knowledge to the new generation.
After Narendra Modi became prime minister, did you have any interaction with him or anyone else in the government?
I didn't take this issue up. I am sure this government will appreciate my work and act accordingly.
Will you not enter active politics?
No, I don't have any political ambition at all. My role will be in uniting the people.
Making rockets for satellites involves complex technology, and the individuals associated with are highly egoistic, almost like individual islands. Bringing all of them together was my job and I could do that well, and that was perhaps why I succeeded in my missions. So, I will try some of those tactics here too!
Image published only for representational purposes. Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images