Ready to fire by Nambi Narayanan and Arun Ram: Review

Book: Ready to Fire: How India and I Survived The ISRO Spy Case

Author: Nambi Narayanan with Arun Ram

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Pages: 340; Price: Rs 499

If anyone has doubts that Lt Col Purhoit was jailed in a false case, should read this book. The book records in detail how the then dispensation, and its Defence Minister, Kerala Police and Intelligence Bureau (IB) ganged up to frame Nambi Narayanan and others from ISRO as spies and in turn delayed the development of cryogenic engine at least by a decade. Just the way the Army kept quiet despite knowing Lt Col Purhoit’s innocence, even ISRO kept quiet despite knowing that Nambi Narayanan is innocent.

A fact rued by the author again and again in the book. What a fall for an institution, which was once headed by stalwarts like Homi Bhabha and Satish Dhawan. Incidentally, both died a suspicious death. Maybe, after that, ISRO was tamed enough so as to not speak for its own employee.

Six eminent personalities of ISRO – Satish Dhawan, UR Rao (both former chairmen, ISRO), TN Seshan (Former Cabinet Secretary & Chief Election Commissioner), Prof. Yashpal (former chairman, UGC), R Narasimha (former member of Space Commission) and S Handrasekhar (Prof IIM, Bangalore) did write an open letter supporting Nambi, but no one from the Indian Army had the guts do so for Lt Col Purohit.

The book is authored by none other than Nambi Narayanan himself along with Arun Ram. Nambi led a team of Indian scientists to France in the 1970s, to jointly develop the Vikas-Viking engine with the French. He was the Project Director for the second and fourth stage of PSLV, and served as the Deputy Director of the Liquid Propulsion Systems Canter. He was also the first Project Director for Cryogenic Propulsion Systems in the early 1990s and retired as Director, Advanced Technology and Planning, ISRO.

It is unbelievable that a man with such a profile can be framed and treated with third degree torture (something similar happened with Lt Col Purohit, too). The book has two parallel-running narratives, which converge towards the end. It is an extremely well-written book, the credit for which should go to Arun Ram. One narrative speaks of the spy case, while the other details the life story of Nambi and ISRO to a great extent. The book is quite intriguing and at point gives a lot of goosebumps: Cold, fear and excitement, the book creates all the three conditions on the readers mind and body.

Apart from the spy case and life story of Nambi, the book provides insights into a lot of related aspects, like: the other side of A P J Abdul Kalam, rolle of T N Seshan (former Chief Election Commissioner) in making of ISRO, role of R B Sreekumar (who played a controversial role in the Gujarat riots 2002) in framing the false case, how a scientist’s role is not confined to labs, but also extends to diplomacy, intelligence and taking quick decisions based on them, how nationals from other nations stood by India when Indians did not, how India’s national carrier Indian Airlines refused to play its part and other airlines stepped in to do the needful, to what extent the bureaucracy can go to harm national interest, how NGOs and Shanti Bhusan stood with the conspirators and a lot more.

The author doesn’t directly name USA as being behind the frame up, but gives details and reasons why and how USA benefited from the fake spy case and how IB Joint Director Ratan Sehgal was forced to retire for his closed proximity to USA just when the case was concluded.

While the book makes one wonder how easy it is to buy off Indian Intelligence Bureau officials, it has also heaped praises on the CBI. The professionalism of CBI in the whole case comes as a surprise looking at their investigation in recent cases. May be, it is the political interference and a few bad apples that give both the agencies a bad name.

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