A few days ago we lost Professor M.S. Swaminathan. Our nation lost a visionary who revolutionised agricultural science, a stalwart whose contribution to India will always be etched in golden letters. Prof. M.S. Swaminathan loved India and wanted our nation, and our farmers in particular, to lead a life of prosperity. Academically brilliant, he could have chosen any career but he was so impacted by the Bengal famine of 1943 that he was clear that if there is one thing he would do, it would be to study agriculture.

At a relatively young age, he came in contact with Dr. Norman Borlaug and followed his work in great detail. In the 1950’s, he was offered a faculty position in the US but he rejected it because he wanted to work in India and for India.

I want you all to think about the challenging circumstances in which he stood as a colossus, guiding our nation towards the path of self-sufficiency and self-confidence. In the first two decades since Independence, we were dealing with immense challenges and one of them was food shortages. In the early 1960s, India was grappling with the ominous shadows of famine and it is then that Prof. Swaminathan's unyielding commitment and foresight ushered a new era of agricultural prosperity. His pioneering work in agriculture and specific sectors like wheat breeding led to a significant increase in wheat production, thus turning India from a food-deficient country into a self-sufficient nation. This tremendous achievement earned him the well deserved title of, "Father of the Indian Green Revolution.”

The Green Revolution offered a glimpse of India’s “Can Do Spirit” - that if we have a billion challenges, we also have a billion minds with the flame of innovation to overcome those challenges. Five decades after the Green Revolution began, Indian agriculture has become far more modern and progressive. But, the very foundations laid by Prof. Swaminathan can never be forgotten.

Over the years, he undertook pioneering research in combatting parasites affecting potato crops. His research also enabled potato crops to withstand cold weather. Today, the world is talking about Millets or Shree Anna as super foods but Prof. Swaminathan had encouraged discourse around millets since the 1990’s.
My personal interactions with Prof. Swaminathan were extensive. They began after I took over as Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001. During those days, Gujarat was not known for its agricultural prowess. Successive droughts and a super cyclone and an Earthquake had impacted the growth trajectory of the state. Among the many initiatives we launched, was the Soil Health Card, which enabled us to understand the soil better and address problems if they arose. It was in the context of this scheme that I met Prof. Swaminathan. He appreciated the scheme and also shared his valuable inputs for the same. His endorsement was enough to convince those who were sceptical about the scheme which would eventually set the stage for Gujarat’s agricultural success.

Our interactions continued during my Chief Ministerial tenure and also when I took over as Prime Minister. I met him at the International Agro-Biodiversity Congress in 2016 and the next year in 2017, I launched a two-part book series written by him.

The Kural describes farmers as the pin that holds the world together because it is the farmers who sustain everyone. Prof. Swaminathan understood this principle very well. A lot of people call him a “Krishi Vaigyanik” – an Agricultural Scientist. But, I have always believed that he was even more. He was a true “Kisan Vaigyanik” – a Farmers’ Scientist. In his heart there was a farmer. The success of his works is not restricted to their academic excellence; it lies in the impact they have had outside the laboratories, in the farms and the fields. His work narrowed the gap between scientific knowledge and its practical application. He consistently advocated for sustainable agriculture, emphasising the delicate balance between human advancement and ecological sustainability. Here, I must also note Prof. Swaminathan’s special emphasis on improving the lives of the small farmers and ensuring they also enjoy the fruits of innovation. He was particularly passionate about improving the lives of women farmers.

There is another aspect about Prof. M.S. Swaminathan which is remarkable - he stands tall as a paragon of innovation and mentorship. When he won the World Food Prize in 1987, the first recipient of this prestigious honour, he used the prize money to establish a not-for-profit research foundation. Till date, it undertakes extensive work across various sectors. He has nurtured countless minds, instilling in them a passion for learning and innovation. In a rapidly changing world, his life reminds us of the enduring power of knowledge, mentorship, and innovation. He was an institution builder as well, having to his credit many centres where vibrant research takes place. One of his stints was as Director, International Rice Research Institute, Manila. The South Asia Regional Centre of International Rice Research Institute was opened in Varanasi in 2018.

I will again cite The Kural to pay tributes to Dr. Swaminathan. It is written there, “If those who have planned have firmness, they will attain what they have desired the way they have desired.” Here was a stalwart who decided early on in his life that he wants to strengthen agriculture and serve farmers. And, he did it exceptionally innovatively and passionately. Dr. Swaminathan’s contributions continue to inspire and guide us as we navigate the path of agricultural innovation and sustainability. We must also keep reaffirming our commitment to the principles he held dear, championing the cause of farmers and ensuring the fruits of scientific innovation reach the roots of our agricultural expanse, fostering growth, sustainability, and prosperity for generations to come.

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A tribute to Sant Shiromani Acharya Shri 108 Vidhyasagar Ji Maharaj Ji
February 21, 2024

Sant Shiromani Acharya Shri 108 Vidhyasagar Ji Maharaj Ji attained Samadhi and left us all saddened. His life is a spiritually rich epoch graced with profound wisdom, boundless compassion and an unwavering commitment to uplift humanity. I have had the honour of receiving his blessings on numerous occasions. Thus, I feel a deep sense of loss, akin to losing a guiding light that has illuminated the path for countless souls, including myself. His warmth, affection and blessings were not just gestures of goodwill but profound transmissions of spiritual energy, empowering and inspiring all those fortunate enough to have come in contact with him.

Pujya Acharya Ji will always be remembered as a Triveni of wisdom, compassion and service. He was a true Tapasvi, whose life epitomised the ideals of Bhagwan Mahavir. His life exemplified the core principles of Jainism, embodying its ideals through his own actions and teachings. His care towards all living beings mirrored Jainism's profound respect for life. He lived a life of truthfulness, reflecting Jainism's emphasis on honesty in thought, word, and deed. He also led a very simple lifestyle. It is due to stalwarts like him that the world continues to be inspired by Jainism and the life of Bhagwan Mahavir. He stood tall among the Jain community but his impact and influence were not limited to only one community. People across faiths, regions and cultures came to him and he worked tirelessly towards spiritual awakening, particularly among the youth.

Education was an area very close to his heart. His journey from Vidhyadhar (his childhood name) to Vidhyasagar was one of deep commitment to acquiring and imparting knowledge. It was his firm belief that education is the cornerstone of a just and enlightened society. He championed the cause of knowledge as a means to empower individuals, enabling them to lead lives of purpose and contribution. His teachings emphasised the importance of self-study and self-awareness as the pathways to true wisdom, urging his followers to engage in lifelong learning and spiritual growth.

At the same time, Sant Shiromani Acharya Vidhyasagar Ji Maharaj Ji wanted our youngsters to get an education that is also rooted in our cultural ethos. He often said that it was because we drifted away from the learnings of the past that we were not able to find solutions to key challenges like water scarcity. He also believed that a holistic education is one that focusses on skilling and innovating. He took immense pride in India’s linguistic diversity and encouraged youngsters to learn Indian languages.

Pujya Acharya Ji himself wrote extensively in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Hindi. The heights he reached as a saint, and how grounded he was on the earth, is seen clearly in his iconic work Mookmati. Through his works, he gave a voice to the downtrodden.

In the domain of healthcare too, Pujya Acharya Ji’s contributions were transformative. He was associated with several efforts, especially in underserved areas. His approach to healthcare was holistic, integrating physical well-being with spiritual wellness, thereby addressing the needs of the person as a whole.

I would especially urge the coming generations to study extensively about Sant Shiromani Acharya Shri Vidhyasagar Ji Maharaj Ji’s commitment to nation building. He would always urge people to rise above any partisan considerations and instead focus on national interest. He was one of the strongest votaries of voting because he saw it as an expression of participation in democratic processes. He advocated healthy as well as clean politics, even saying that policy making has to be about people’s welfare, not self interest (Lokneeti is about Loksangrah not Lobhsangrah).

He believed that a strong nation is built on the foundation of its citizens' commitment to their duties—towards themselves, their families, society, and the country. He encouraged individuals to cultivate virtues such as honesty, integrity and self-reliance, which he saw as essential for the creation of a just, compassionate, and thriving society. This emphasis on duties is of great importance as we work towards building a Viksit Bharat.

In an era where environmental degradation is rampant world over, Pujya Acharya Ji called for a way of life which would minimise the harm being inflicted on nature. Likewise, he saw a paramount role for agriculture in our economy, also stressing on making agriculture modern as well as sustainable. His work towards reforming jail inmates was also noteworthy.

The beauty of our land is that for thousands of years, our soil has produced greats who have shown light to others and made our society better. Pujya Acharya Ji stands as a towering figure in this illustrious lineage of saints and social reformers. Whatever he did, he did not just for the present but also the future. In November last year, I had the opportunity to visit the Chandragiri Jain Mandir in Dongargarh in Chhattisgarh. Little did I know that this visit would be my last meeting with Pujya Acharya Ji. Those moments were very special. He spoke to me for a long time, blessing me for my efforts in serving the nation. He expressed joy on the direction our nation is taking and the respect India is getting on the world stage. He was filled with enthusiasm while talking about the work he was doing. Then and always, his gentle gaze and serene smile were enough to instill a sense of peace and purpose. His blessings felt like a soothing balm on the soul, a reminder of the divine presence within and around us.

Sant Shiromani Acharya Shri 108 Vidhyasagar Ji Maharaj Ji’s void is deeply felt by all who knew him and were touched by his teachings and his life. However, he lives on in the hearts and minds of those he inspired. In honouring his memory, we commit to embodying the values he espoused. In this way, we not only pay tribute to a great soul but also take forward his mission for our country and people.