Ex-ISRO chiefs disagreed on many things — except RSS

On Sunday, Radhakrishnan, who served as ISRO chief from November 2009 to December 2014, was the chief guest at an RSS event, Swaranjali, in Bengaluru.

Written by Amitabh Sinha , Ashutosh Bhardwaj | New Delhi | Updated: January 12, 2016 10:51 am
K Radhakrishnan with the RSS chief in Bengaluru.(Source: PTI) K Radhakrishnan with the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in Bengaluru.(Source: PTI)

Former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief G Madhavan Nair and his successor K Radhakrishnan may have had public spats over the ISRO-Devas deal, but both seem to be on the same page when it comes to the RSS.

On Sunday, Radhakrishnan, who served as ISRO chief from November 2009 to December 2014, was the chief guest at an RSS event, Swaranjali, in Bengaluru. Earlier this month, Nair, a regular at RSS events for the last one year, was the chief guest at another RSS event, Vishwa Sangh Shivir, in Indore.

For both, the association with the RSS started post-retirement, and in times of trouble. In 2012, the UPA government had barred Nair, a Padma Vibhushan awardee, and a few other space scientists for their alleged role in the ISRO-Devas controversy.

Read: Idea Exchange with former NSA Shivshankar Menon

That same ISRO-Devas case has now come to haunt Radhakrishnan. In October last year, he was questioned by the CBI, which began a probe in May last year, alleging wrongful gain of Rs 578 crore to the Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia which wanted to start satellite-based multimedia services in the country.

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Devas had entered into an agreement with ISRO’s marketing arm, Antrix Corporation, in 2005 for lease of 90 per cent of transponder capacity on two satellites that ISRO was yet to launch. The agreement was cancelled by Antrix in 2011, citing security concerns. Devas had contested the decision and taken the matter to an arbitration panel which, in September last year, slapped a fine of about Rs 4,400 crore (USD 672 million) on Antrix for unilaterally terminating the contract.

G Madhavan Nair with Bhagwat in Indore earlier this month. (Source: PTI) G Madhavan Nair with Bhagwat in Indore earlier this month. (Source: PTI)

Nair is also likely to be questioned by the CBI at a later stage. He was the ISRO chairman when the agreement was finalised, while Radhakrishnan was at its helm when it was cancelled.

Once considered close — Nair is said to have handpicked and groomed Radhakrishnan to become his successor — the two scientists had a public falling out in the wake of the controversy. Radhakrishnan blamed the previous dispensation for getting into an agreement that seemed to favour a private company, while Nair accused Radhakrishnan of personal vendetta and misleading the government.

Last week, former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon told The Indian Express that action against Nair was “proportionate” to what had been found against him, and dismissed suggestions that subsequent inquiry committees had only found procedural lapses against him. “If you look at what was actually done, it was proportionate to what was found… (the lapses) were a bit more than procedural… I am glad that what we did at that time was to protect the (space) programme… I think we dealt with it well,” Menon said at the Idea Exchange programme.

Menon also said he did not see anything wrong with the CBI inquiry against celebrated scientists. “I think if there was wrongdoing, it deserves an inquiry. There is nothing wrong with it. They (the investigating agency) need to look into it,” Menon said.

On his association with the RSS, Nair said he appreciates the work the Sangh is doing in uniting the country and popularising ancient Indian science. “They are trying to make Indians proud of their past achievements. They are doing a lot of work in uniting the country. I get invited sometimes to speak at their functions. I particularly like to speak to children about science, spread awareness about what we have achieved in science — in ancient times as well as now,” he told The Indian Express. Nair also serves as a patron to Vijnana (read as Vigyan) Bharati, an RSS-backed body to promote science.

Radhakrishnan could not be reached for a comment.

Manmohan Vaidya, All India Prachar Pramukh of the RSS, said both Nair and Radhakrishnan had done great work for the country, and welcomed their association with the RSS. “Those who think of the country’s interest are connected with the RSS. A P J Abdul Kalam also attended RSS events,” Vaidya told The Indian Express.

Vaidya said neither Nair nor Radhakrishnan were swayamsevaks. “The Sampark Vibhag of RSS runs an outreach programme, Sajjan Shakti, in which swayamsevaks meet prominent personalities from various fields. Both these scientists have been invited to deliver lectures,” he said.

Though Radhakrishnan does not hold any position in Vijnana Bharati, its secretary general A Jayakumar said he was “part and parcel” of the organisation. “An ideology of Indianness is flowing through RSS philosophy in the scientific community,” Jayakumar said.