1994 ISRO spying case, Politics in Kerala during 1994, Media trials, Role of Kerala state police, Role of Kerala IB, CBI investigation, Framing of the case, Torture of the accused, SEP and ISRO deal for VIKAS/VIKING liquid engine, Early years of ISRO, India’s purchase of cryogenic engines from Russia, USA interests in the India-Russia deal, USA intervention and sanctions, TERL, Solid v/s liquid propulsion, IRBMs & ICBMs, SLV, PSLV, GSLV, ISRO scientists in SEP Vermon, V2 engine, Internal politics in ISRO, Bureaucracy and ISRO, Creation of ISRO test stand in Mahendragiri, CIA’s possible penetration into IB
I was particularly interested to read this book after I came across a news article somewhere about the falsity of ISRO spy case of 1994 and the investigation debacle by IB. The author Nambi Narayan was a prominent ISRO scientist with at least two major contributions to Indian space science.
1. Making India’s first liquid propulsion engine VIKAS with French SEP collaboration possible, that is part of ISRO’s workhorse PSLV rocket.
2. Striking a deal with the Soviet/Russia in getting seven cryogenic engines for India.
In November 1994 he and five others were accused of selling India’s space secrets to Pakistan through the help of Glavkosmos of Russia. In May 1996, the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Ernakulam accepted the CBI report discharging all the accused and proclaiming the ISRO espionage case as false. After that he has continued fighting legally with the state government, police and IB for the injustices done. Last year he received a compensation of INR 50 lakh (5 million) from the state government. The book travels to and forth in time covering author’s autobiography, ISRO’s journey and the spy case.
The main motivation for Nambi Narayan to write this book night have been to document the injustices done to him by the system but he packs this book with a lot of interesting material other than that. One of them is you get to know more about some of the men who have been pioneers of or contributed immensely to Indian space and atomic programs like Vikram Sarabhai, Satish Dhawan, U R Rao, Abdul Kalam, T N Seshan, Rene Morin, K Sivan, Subbaiah Arunan etc. Interestingly T N Seshan served in ISRO as administrative head for a period. It was great to encounter these stalwarts, each worth reading more about. At the same time we get to know about the ego clashes and nasty games played within ISRO to reach the top chair. You get an idea about how space programs and international collaboration work. The deputation of ISRO scientists for some years in the Vermon facility of SEP in France is one such story. The author was the leader of the Vermon assignment and describes stories of cultural difference, success in collaboration, challenges and tragedies. If you ever wondered what SLV, PSLV or GSLV rockets were or their basic working principle, this book can give you a very abstract idea. You also get to know about the nasty games played by superpowers when it comes to accommodating a new player in the block to their exclusive science club!
Regarding the false case, the author is not willing to grant it as a coincidence. And he provides material. Here are some that I find major.
1. Homi J Bhaba’s(“father of the Indian nuclear programme”) untimely death in a plane crash in 1966. The author does not mention the alleged conversation between a journalist and a CIA officer Robert T Crowley with the later claiming CIA’s hand. Vikram Sarabhai’s untimely death in 1971 in a hotel room.
2. The first successful launch of PSLV was on 15 October 1994. Five days later, the Maldivian woman, Mariam Rasheeda was arrested. A month later, on 30 November they arrested Nambi.
3. Nambi and ISRO were to receive last of 4 shipments for cryogenic engines from Russia in December same year enabling the assembly of those engines.
4. US imposed sanctions on India and Russia for two years invoking Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) provisions. Even though USA had also offered the same to India before but USSR offered it at 1/3 of the price.
5. IB joint director was sacked with charges of having ‘unauthorized and clandestine’ meetings with CIA station chief in Delhi between 19 September and 31 October 1996.
Conclusion & Rating:
I highly recommend this book as this is not just about the author whining about the unfair treatment. Nambi Narayan gives you a brilliant insight of ISRO, both the good and bad. And so much more. However it should be read as a lesson not to brand someone as a traitor with the first thing you hear or read, there is so much that happens in the background. Nambi Narayan got his respect back, fought with the unfair treatment and won. But most people do not have that kind of courage.