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Creating an innovative society
Innovation, variously described as everything ranging from a mindset to a quest for continual improvement, has been the subject of endless curiosity, profound inquiry and careful analysis.

A new book authored by Kiran Karnik brings the term back into the spotlight. It could not have come at a better time.  As we march towards ‘industrialisation 4.0,’ innovation has become more critical than ever.

And who better to deliberate on the topic than Karnik? As a member of the National Innovation Council and a participant in the spectacular growth of three sectors of the Indian economy – the information technology, India’s space programme as also the media and entertainment sector –  Karnik knows what it takes to innovate.


The most cost-effective satellite launcher...

Let us look at our nation’s space programme. Our innovations in the area have helped us become the most cost-effective satellite launcher in the world. Our expeditions to the Moon and the Mars have been lauded as flawless. Our successes in the area have given us the confidence to launch and donate a satellite for the benefit of other countries in our region.

To cap it, a team from India, Team Indus, is among the top teams competing for Google’s Lunar X Prize mission. Team Indus is a completely privately funded initiative. It is about landing a “Rover” on the moon, ambulating it for five hundred metres, and sending high-quality pictures from the lunar surface. A young, dedicated team is working passionately on this project in Bengaluru, on a shoestring budget, supported only by retired ISRO scientists.

We have indeed come a long way to become a globally admired space power. The roots of that reputation lie in the great leadership provided by Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and the vision of Jawaharlal Nehru. The founding father of ISRO, Dr. Sarabhai had the confidence to envision and build a space programme in the then impoverished nation. He succeeded because of his leadership. He was empowered to overcome all challenges, unencumbered by political and bureaucratic interference and enjoyed the support of a national leader.

The story of our successful nuclear program is no different, scripted by the visionary, Dr. Homi Bhabha, who enjoyed the support of  Nehru, initiating India’s rise as a responsible nuclear power. Like Dr. Sarabhai, Dr.Bhabha was able to translate his vision into a grand reality owing in good measure to the freedom he enjoyed in decision-making and the unstinted support he received from all research and scientific institutions of his time.


The true torchbearers

This support came from the likes of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the Indian Institute of Science, the IITs and other leading institutions of higher learning and research. They played a pivotal role in making our space and nuclear programmes formidable forces. These significant initiatives were the outcomes of generous government funding and have been the true torchbearers of scientific and engineering mindset in our country. Be it Information Technology headway led by Dr. F C Kohli,  “the white revolution” of Dr. Kurien, or the green revolution pioneered by Dr. M S Swaminathan, what connects them all is the encouragement and support provided by the political leadership of their times to help those innovative ideas succeed.

The writing is on the wall: as a nation, we can be path-breaking world leaders in creative pursuits only if our leaders supported them and spared us of bureaucratic interference. To accomplish lofty goals, we need significant investments into and the full-fledged support of world-class research and academic institutions in India.

In order to propel India into the league of innovative nations, it is high time our top leadership articulated a fresh vision to support research and higher education in our universities. We can be leaders in areas such as cryptography and cyber-security, material science, genetics, medicine and renewable energy. We have the leaders who can dream big. We have the research intellect and institutions. We now have the political leadership. All we need is to remove the chains and set free. History is waiting to be made.

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