Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Nair Affair: It's not about science

The former ISRO chief has been banned (along with three of his colleagues) from holding any government position -- apparently as a punishment for a deal between an ISRO arm and Devas, a company headed by an ex-ISRO employee. The appearance of an incestuous relationship should have made ISRO extra-careful in pursuing that deal, but didn't.

The government's order is about administrative decisions (or, more likely, administrative lapses) by Nair and his colleagues. And, Nair himself has been fighting the order on administrative and procedural grounds -- that he has not had a chance to defend himself, as well as that he is still in the dark about what the specific allegations are! [However, this report suggests that he did get a chance to tell (at least a part of) his side of the story to two committees.]

Now, will Nair take his fight to a court of law? Will he continue his outbursts that appear to point to a serious internal power struggle within ISRO? Will he drag other bigwigs down with him? Or, will the government blink before he inflicts any more damage?

While waiting for this harrowing drama to play itself out, it's worth keeping in mind what is being questioned is the Nair's role as an administrator. If, as he claims, he is the target of a vile campaign to malign him, it's most definitely not because of what he did as a scientist!

Calling the latest government move an assault on ISRO scientists (or, more broadly, Indian scientists) is the kind of hyperbole that we can do well without.