Accountability and its absence in India is the primary reason why the country is still close to the bottom of the scale in several economic and social sectors. Even after 15 August 1947, the country has remained the playground of powerful external interests acting through their domestic stooges. An example is the manner in which some of the very agencies tasked with protecting the security of the country foisted a false case on two patriotic scientists in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) after they had succeeded in making India a missile power. The effect of such a criminal move was to set back the cryogenic engine program of ISRO by 19 years. Thanks to faulty leadership, the post-colonial history of India is littered with missed opportunities, examples of which have been given in a book by former ISRO expert Nambi Narayanan, who was among the duo falsely accused on the basis of evidence that was cooked up by unscrupulous officers who have almost entirely escaped accountability. An example given in the book is how a Rolls Royce laboratory that could have given a boost to domestic R&D was shifted to India. Once installed, the hydraulics laboratory would have resulted on several innovations but this was not to be. Those in charge at the time stood by as the lab was cannibalised on reaching India, with its components getting scattered or being placed uselessly in storage. This took place nearly a half century ago, yet to date there has not been any inquiry into the matter. None of those who participated in or facilitated through inaction such vandalism suffered any setbacks. Indeed, most got promoted to higher posts. Around the same time, a French company offered the priceless cryogenic engine technology to India for just Rs 1 crore. Then Secretary of ISRO, T.N. Seshan was in favour of this unprecedented offer, only to have his advice turned down by Satish Dhawan, who was his senior. Two decades later, Russia sold cryogenic technology to India for Rs 235 crore, but his error of judgment cost Dhawan nothing, and he continued to accumulate honours. Narayanan has pointed out how Dhawan refused to install a multi-engine test facility at Sriharikota, perhaps on the assumption that India would never progress to that stage. And how he refused an offer by the French to transfer advanced technology to India after Delhi cleared the purchase of Airbus over Boeing. Such lapses are presented in sober prose in Ready to Fire, the book by Narayanan together with Arun Ram. The main subject of the book is the ISRO spy case and its fallout on a program critical to the defence of India, that involving the development of the very cryogenic engines, an early variant of which was inexplicably turned down by Satish Dhawan in the 1970s.

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