Science and Progress

Jawaharlal Nehru's speech at the foundation of the Palaeobotany Institute at Lucknow, 3 April 1949.

Science, a scientific approach to problems and a scientific outlook, have to be developed if India has to progress in the modern world. Science is a search for truth. It is a rational method of looking at things in their true perspective. If we cannot march with the march of science we shall be left behind. We may have plans, schemes and so many ‘isms’. We may even accept the motive force of science but what is most essential is to understand the fundamental principles of science. I have participated in this function because I believe that now the attention of all in India should be concentrated on science. There will be retrogression if we do not develop this mental attitude.

The world is changing and people have to keep pace with those changes. The questions of today have got to be studied to find answers. While fossils provided a valuable study and a link with the past, the past alone cannot be the basis of our thought and action for tomorrow. The modern world claims much advance in the realm of science, but much progress has yet to be made and it seems that we are yet at the threshold of real scientific knowledge. India has yet to traverse a long distance. Politicians think that they alone run the whole show of the world, and that- the world will topple down if they withdraw from the scene. But they are so much entangled with various problems that they find little time to consider the fundamental issues. Those who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of science are really blessed.

The role of scientists in the present-day world is noble and great and politicians cannot ignore it. The world is passing through a revolution, not a revolution through bloodshed and violence which is the conception of some young men. And it is necessary that we keep pace with it. The study of science is an approach to the world’s problems, it is the basic motive force.

Young people should not use slogans and resolutions as a means for achieving their petty objectives. They should contribute to the development of the country. Work is awaiting them and they must not be found wanting.

We think in terms of opening new industries by indenting machines from foreign countries like America and England. And I think there will be no scarcity of money for this but the fundamental thing which is needed for an all-round industrial development is technicians and technique.

Mere installation of machines for industrial purposes is not industrialization. Machines have got to be understood like living things. You can be a good motor driver if you know the mechanism of your motor.

Earlier speakers have talked of India’s pride in having the first Institute of Palaeobotany, but said nothing about what it is, though, I too, can say little on the subject. Palaeobotany is connected with geology, minerology and botany. I do not know much about it but I had an interest in botanical science, so I used to attend lectures of the Professor of Botany in Cambridge.

Every step towards science is beneficial for the country. I congratulate Dr. and Mrs. Birbal Sahni [1] who have donated their entire property and collections of curios and fossils for establishing this unique scientific research institute in India.


[1] Birbal Sahni (1891-1949); Founder-Director of the Institute of Palaeobotany, Lucknow and Vice-President of National Institute of Science, 1935; received Barclay medal of the Asiatic Society, Bengal, 1936; Fellow of the Royal Society, 1936; President, National Academy of Science, 1937-1938 and 1942-1944; worked on extinct plants, fossil flora and their geological bearings.

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