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Nucleus and Nation

Scientists, International Networks, and Power in India

In 1974 India joined the elite roster of nuclear world powers when it exploded its first nuclear bomb. But the technological progress that facilitated that feat was set in motion many decades before, as India sought both independence from the British and respect from the larger world. Over the course of the twentieth century, India metamorphosed from a marginal place to a serious hub of technological and scientific innovation. It is this tale of transformation that Robert S. Anderson recounts in Nucleus and Nation.

Tracing the long institutional and individual preparations for India’s first nuclear test and its consequences, Anderson begins with the careers of India’s renowned scientists—Meghnad Saha, Shanti Bhatnagar, Homi Bhabha, and their patron Jawaharlal Nehru—in the first half of the twentieth century before focusing on the evolution of the large and complex scientific community—especially Vikram Sarabhi—in the later part of the era. By contextualizing Indian debates over nuclear power within the larger conversation about modernization and industrialization, Anderson hones in on the thorny issue of the integration of science into the framework and self-reliant ideals of Indian nationalism. In this way, Nucleus and Nation is more than a history of nuclear science and engineering and the Indian Atomic Energy Commission; it is a unique perspective on the history of Indian nationhood and the politics of its scientific community.

736 pages | 16 halftones, 1 map, 9 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography

History: Asian History, History of Technology

History of Science


“Anderson . . . bring[s] insights from his long years of study to bear on a wide variety of topics in Indian science and technology. By looking at science and technology more generally through the perspective of India’s nuclear program, Anderson is able to examine India’s efforts in space, high technology, steel, low-cost cars, and batteries, among other areas. This is a valuable contribution, given the many lacunas in the history of Indian science and technology. . . . [A]nyone interested in the history of science and technology in India can learn much from Nucleus and Nation.”

Ross Bassett | Isis

“In this fascinating book, based on considerable research, Anderson recounts in detail the role and relevance of scientific activists, their interactions with Western scientists, and the encouragement they received from the Indian government and support from the West.”

V. V. Raman, Rochester Institute of Technology | Choice

Nucleus and Nation is a scholarly masterpiece—an indispensable text. Anderson fills in a huge scholarly gap by telling a big, complex, fascinating, and important story exceedingly well—with a judicious mix of empathy and a scholar’s critical distance. This highly accessible, nuanced, balanced, thoroughly researched, profoundly thought-provoking, and lucidly written book should be a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in science, nuclear power, technology, colonialism, or modern Indian politics.”

Shalendra D. Sharma, University of San Francisco | Journal of Asian Studies

“Anderson . . . chronicles the complex and many-sided development of Indian nuclear science with considerable skill aided by meticulous research. . . . Nucleus and Nation is especially recommended for anyone interested in studying, or engaged in a struggle against nuclear nationalism and militarism. Anderson helps us comprehend the history of an Indian science that has given the country the Bomb but no solution to socio-economic backwardness.”

J. Sri Raman | Economic & Poltical Weekly

“Robert Anderson was the first to study systematically the rise of nuclear science and physicists in India. This landmark study, the outcome of four decades of careful archival and ethnographic research, has been long awaited. It is by far the most comprehensive study of the international and domestic networks of scientists and scientific policy makers ever completed. It fills countless holes in the historical record and provides a wealth of new details regarding the functioning of Indian scientific establishments and the careers of the founding ‘political’ scientists who shaped independent India’s scientific and technological institutions.”

Itty Abraham, University of Texas

“It is not easy to write a gripping narrative of the technical details, institutional arrangements, and interpersonal relationships within scientific institutions and between political powers, but Robert Anderson has pulled it off. Nucleus and Nation is a complex, wide-ranging, and engaging work.”

Benjamin Zachariah, University of Sheffield

“The history of Indian science since independence is the canvas on which Anderson has painted an intricate picture of the development of nuclear power in India. Nucleus and Nation embraces a breathtaking range; it includes incisive portraitures of key participants, analysis of political events, and deep insights into social and public contexts of modernization and industrialization that reveal the links between the public and the private at significant junctures in Indian history. Anderson’s mastery of his archival materials and their narrative exposition, as well as his personal observations about the functioning of scientific institutions in India combined with his informed grasp of science and debates within Indian nationalism and the contentious context of globalization, make the book one that many of us working in this area have been waiting for.”

Indira Chowdhury, Historian and Archivist, Archival Resources for Contemporary History, Bangalore, India

Table of Contents



Note on Spelling, Photographs, and Currencies  

Map of Atomic Energy, Space, and Defense Research Centers  

Atomic Energy and Space Research Establishments in 1974  

one  Introduction  

two  Building Scientific Careers in the 1920s: Saha and Bhatnagar, from London to Allahabad and Lahore  

three  The Bangalore Affair, 1935–38: Scientists and Conflict around C. V. Raman  

four  Imagining a Scientific State: Nehru, Scientists, and Political Planning, 1938–42  

five  Homi Bhabha Confronts Science in India, 1939–44  

six  Indian Scientists Engage the Empire: The CSIR and the Idea of Atomic and Industrial Power  

seven  Saha, Bhatnagar, and Bhabha in Contrast, 1944–45  

eight  Restless in Calcutta: Meghnad Saha’s Institution-Building  

nine  Bhatnagar Builds His Chain of Laboratories and Steps Upward  

ten  Bhabha Builds His Institute in Bombay  

eleven  The Politics of the Early Indian Atomic Energy Committee and Commission  

twelve  Scientific Networks, Nehru, and Defense Research and Development  

thirteen  A Scientist in the Political System: Professor Saha Goes to Parliament, 1952–55  

fourteen  The Cabinet and Scientific Advice in the 1950s and 1960s: Bhabha, Atomic Energy, and Scientific and Industrial Research  

fifteen  A New Scientific Elite: Sarabhai Builds Another Atomic Energy Network, 1966–71  

sixteen  A Day in the Life of Two Research Institutes in Bombay and Calcutta  

seventeen  Governance, Management, and Working Conditions in Research Institutes Founded by Saha and Bhabha  

eighteen  Governance and Influence in the Research Institutes Bhatnagar Built  

nineteen  Articulating Science and Technology Policy for Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet  

twenty  Building a High-Technology Economy through Atomic Energy, Space, and Electronics  

twenty-one  Nuclear Expectations and Resistance in India’s Political Economy  

twenty-two  Scientists in India’s War over Self-Reliance  

twenty-three  The First Bomb Test: Its Context, Reception, and Consequences in India  

twenty-four  The Scientific Community, the State of Emergency, and After, 1975–80  

twenty-five  Conclusions  

Chronology of Events  

Biographical Notes  



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