'Conspiracy pulled us back in terms of technology'

I had to keep the fight alive, it was necessary: Nambi Narayanan

At the residence of S Nambi Narayanan, at Perunthanni in Thiruvananthapuram, conversations are invariably cut short by ringing phones. Three days after the Supreme Court ordered an Rs-50 lakh compensation to the former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientist, Narayanan is preparing for a visit to the family temple, in Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. But that’s after he speaks with reporters waiting for their turn and after he gives time to others who call for a slot.

It’s convenient to see Narayanan leading a classic survivor story, a man wronged, a man undaunted in his fight for honour and his final, rousing moment of vindication. But this is also a sordid story, with key plot points still missing.

Narayanan was arrested in November 1994 over false charges that he, along with others, had passed on documents related to cryogenic engine technology to Pakistan, through two Maldivian women, Mariam Rasheeda and Fauziya Hassan. He was then heading ISRO’s cryogenic engine division.

In 1996, CBI which took over the investigation termed the case fabricated, effectively dismissing “findings” of the state police and the IB. In 1998, the Supreme Court also discharged him and directed the state government to pay him Rs 1 lakh as compensation. That was only the beginning of more legal battles through which Narayanan sought compensation and action against Siby Mathews, K K Joshwa and S Vijayan, police officials who investigated the case.

In last week’s judgment, the Supreme Court has also constituted a committee to “find out ways and means to take appropriate steps against the erring officials”. Narayanan doesn’t sound bitter about the years of shame; he isn’t euphoric about the fresh probe either. At 77, Nambi Narayanan is a picture of poise – he even manages a smile as he narrates an incident from the dark years. He appears ready to move on. Excerpts from an interview:-

Do you, finally, sense closure?

Definitely, there’s a sense of closure. The compensation comes as a relief because this has also been an expensive fight for justice. Yes, I had sought a CBI investigation and the court has constituted a committee headed by a judge. But their brief is to find ways and means to take action against the culprits and that’s enough for me. It’s as good as a probe by any neutral agency.

24 years after the case, there are ‘who’s and ‘why’s that remain unanswered. 

Yes, but it’s significant that the Supreme Court has said this was a malicious prosecution; that I was unnecessarily arrested and tortured. The court has acknowledged the suffering I went through, for no fault of mine. It’s only with this verdict that I feel absolved, finally.

Do you see an SC-appointed committee following leads, beyond the erring officials, to expose the conspirators and their motives?

It should be able to do that. The media also played along this frame-up and published baseless reports but I’m looking at something bigger – who were feeding them these stories? Any probe has to start with the officials; when they speak, that’s the lead.

The case is also contentious for the Congress since it’s believed that the conspiracy was hatched by a party faction against then chief minister K Karunakaran.

People are likely to have used the scandal to further political interests but the question is – did they also plot it?

 

ALSO READ: Conspiracy charges resurface in Isro spy case

 

You were cleared of the charges in 1998 but you continued the fight for another 20 years. What kept you going?

It was a necessity. My family had suffered a lot. There was a time I contemplated suicide; my children told me that if I went like that, the world would still look at them as children of a spy. The truth had to come out and the onus was on me. That’s why I see this judgment as the prime success in this struggle. I’m an optimist and I had absolute faith in God. The setbacks were a test of my character but I had a deep-rooted conviction that I would survive.

From victim to survivor who refused to give up, is that a fair assessment to make, after the SC verdict?

It’s not for me to say but I do feel that more people are being sympathetic and at the same time, the fact that I never gave up is also being appreciated. I remember how a judge who made no secret of his disdain for me changed after my innocence was established. I’m planning a book based on how courts handled the case.

The personal loss is irreparable but you’ve also talked about what the country lost because of this conspiracy. The involvement of foreign intelligence agencies is a possibility you have referred to.

The timing of the conspiracy makes a case for that contention. The PSLV had just been launched successfully and the cryogenic technology was taking off. It was a starting point for us emerging as a space power. I’ve had friends tell me that I’m assuming connections but I can’t brush it aside as coincidence.

A film is being made on your life.

Yes, they are making it in English, Hindi and Tamil with Madhavan in the lead.

How do you look at opportunities lost due to this non-existent case, for you as a scientist and for the country?

The conspiracy pulled us back in terms of the technology. It was a significant loss for the country because while we were making up for lost time, others enhanced their capability. Yes, personally, I missed the bus too. But I’m a content person; I have some debts to settle and I’m still okay with the amount announced as compensation. I want to take it easy now.

 

ALSO READ 

How Isro case ruined Nambi Narayanan's life

Isro spy case reopens old political sub-plot

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I had to keep the fight alive, it was necessary: Nambi Narayanan

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