With Rajagopala Chidambaram set to step down as the principal scientific adviser (PSA) to the Union government, it is the end of an era in Indian science which will have little parallel in history. Chidambaram, 81, enjoys the distinction of being a key figure in bot of India’s successful nuclear tests, Pokhran I and II. One of the top-guns in nuclear physics, and not just in India, Chidambaram succeeded APJ Abdul Kalam as PSA in 2001, and has been a tireless advocate of India developing nuclear capabilities for energy and security needs. In the 56 years he has given to Indian science, Chidambaram has made pathbreaking contributions to crystallography, and has served as the director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and the chairman of Atomic Energy Commission of India. His vision as one of the government’s top science-policy brains led to initiatives like CAR (Core Advisory Group R&D in the Automotive Sector) and RuTAGs (rural technology action groups) that focussed on the delivery of appropriate technology in villages.
A top scientist may not always prove a top administrator or diplomat. But, with Chidambaram, India got lucky. Cogitative, like great scientists are wont to be, he is known for having fended off some of the toughest political questions posed to him on his role in co-steering the Indian nuclear programme, as well as a science-policy-wonk and administrator of the country’s top scientific institutions. He served as the chairman of the board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) during 1994–95.
Unruffled by the forceful opposition to nuclear energy from various quarters, Indian and foreign, Chidambaram remains a proponent of the technology and of India’s position as a peaceful user of nuclear power and possessor of nuclear deterrence. A colossus from an era that featured the likes of Kalam and CNR Rao, Chidambaram has succeeded in carving out his own legend.