Nehruvian Scientific Temper

Science as a collection of facts has been taught at schools. However, the word science doesn’t mean merely as a noun. When studying science, students primarily applying the scientific steps, and then make them as habit, and finally the habit becomes temper.

Actually, this temper is more needed in this era. While the “Periodic Table” in chemistry or “ The Law of Supply and Demand” in Economics may have been forgotten, this temper which once has developed while studying science must keep growing and thriving in every human, although one has been long leaving formal education.

Scientific Temper

The temper from the result of that science learning experience is called Scientific Temper by Jawaharlal Nehru. This first prime minister of India, called Uncle Nehru by Indian children, detailed scientific temper as an adventure spirit in order to search for the truth and new knowledge. Furthermore, scientific temper involves one’s open-mindedness to be willing to change his/her old beliefs based on the new findings, rejecting new initiative without evidence, stand on facts which can be observed, and having discipline on using it with (Nehru, 1946).

However, it is not only in the field of science. PM Nehru said that scientific temper is needed by human beings on their daily life in order to deal with the daily problems they are facing. Moreover, every person needs scientific temper in order to function as a responsible citizen effectively.

So, it is not accidental if in the Republic of India’s Constitution, it is explicitly stated that one of the main duties of Indian citizens is to develop their scientific temper. More precisely, the clause 51A, point (h), “Every citizen has (one of them) main task to develop scientific temper, humanity, and passionate to be curious, and also improve oneself.”

This is a great legacy of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, whose birthday on November 14th was commemorated as India Children Day, for he loved children. However, similar as his Indonesian best friend, President Soekarno, PM Nehru has also many dimensions of perception.

There are sceptical opinions to scientific temper. For example, some say that scientific temper is only good in the level of idea. However, there are many praising opinions about it as well. The fact is, one can observe and feel this temper on most Indian students, from elementary school to high education. For those of us who have ever experienced studying with Indian students mostly will acknowledge that this scientific temper is very well built-in on them. One of the examples of this temper is the fondness of Indian students to ask questions as well as to argue in classroom up to their workplace.

A Nobel Prize winner, Prof. Amartya Sen, also touches on this issue. He argues that the description of Indian people who is famous with their argumentativeness or love to debate is an embodiment of Indian culture itself and the scientific temper stated explicitly in the Constitution. Moreover, he continued, scientific temper has already become Indian culture, long before India became Republic. This can be observed from the story of Mahabharata, for example, which is full of unending debates. Hence, scientific temper is natural for Indian people. More importantly, one should note that this temper is not copied from western culture.


In the beginning of independence, when the national budget was very limited and poverty was in rampant, PM Nehru steadily stated that he was going to develop scientific knowledge. The money available was not enough to satisfy the hungers, but it definitely could be used to develop science and technology. Nehru believes that through scientific knowledge, Republic of India will prosper in the future.

PM Nehru pioneered on the founding of strategic institutes, such as Indian Institute of technology (IIT), Indian Institute of Management IIM), and All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). PM Nehru also invited businessmen such as TATA and Birla to truthfully involved in advancing science and technology. One should comprehend that these initiatives are not only just for creating an image of “gratitude” or CSR. Today, Indian citizens are harvesting the fruits of Nehru’s great and visionary ideas.

Last year, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) succeeded to send a spacecraft in order to do a climate research on Mars. The world was impressed, not only because India is the first Asian nation to do so, but also this mission was mind blowing, because it succeeded on the first attempt with the cost of only one tenth of the same mission conducted by NASA. It is also an important technology breakthrough, because of their genius and low-cost initiatives, the orbiter was able to save the energy significantly. This is an illustration of the implication of the success on the scientific temper on Indian people (de Souza, 2014). However, unfortunately, when it celebrated the success of the Mars mission, Guru Nehru was not acknowledged enough.

The other evidence of the success of scientific temper can be seen on the increasing of the life opportunity of Indian citizen. In the 1960s, life opportunity in India was only 32, but today it is 67, whereas this increase happens without the increasing of per capita income. As Brahmachari said, the increasing of this life opportunity might happen because of the achievement of technology on a well-made medications, generic, and affordable to all communities. Certainly, this is resulted by the advancement of scientific knowledge and the effective impact of scientific temper (Brahmachari 2012).

Uncle Nehru, has given the heritage of this scientific temper in the very heart of every children and in the Indian scientific knowledge communities. The challenge faced by PM Nehru in constructing the Republic at that time was far from easy. Not only because of the limitation of the budget, but the people at that time also still believed on superstition and fairy tales.  In one hand, Nehru wanted his people to think critically on superstitious ideas, but on the other hand, Nehru wanted his people improve their wisdom through deeper understanding on Indian classic literatures and Sanskrit works. On this issue, history will tell how successful it will be.

Surely, Pandit Nehru is among the great teachers of science, culture, as well as Indian good-citizenship. In this 21st century, where poverty and the provision of quality elementary education are still tormenting India, Nehruvian scientific temper is once again being challenged to show its great power to boost children of the nation creating Indianish innovations, that are simple, effective, genius, and affordable. By this, the dream of this largest democracy nation on becoming the center of world innovation powerhouse can be realized.

Iwan Pranoto

Professor of Mathematics, Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB)

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