S. Suri, CEO, National Institute of Amateur Radio, recalls his friendship with the former Prime Minister forged on ham frequencies.
Call sign VU2RG is remembered by senior Indian hams, because it belonged to Rajiv Gandhi. It is cherished by S. Suri, because it belonged to his friend. During his visit to Chennai for Hamfest India 2012, Suri (VU2MY) recalled his friendship with Rajiv forged on ham frequencies and how the former Prime Minister pulled out all stops in an effort to promote amateur radio in the country.
“Rajiv Gandhi received his ham licence in 1975. In those early days, he used a Racal transceiver. He was absolutely fascinated with the idea of communicating over wireless,” says 71-year-old Suri, founder-chairman-CEO of the National Institute of Amateur Radio (NIAR), Hyderabad. For five to six years, Suri ‘met’ Rajiv on the ham frequencies almost every day. After becoming a Member of Parliament, Rajiv invited Suri to participate in a mission to popularise amateur radio. “At that time, I was working at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Hyderabad and I was reluctant to take up this challenge. But I eventually went to Delhi to meet Rajiv,” says Suri.
At ‘Communication Past Present and Future’, an exhibition he had organised at Teen Murthi Bhavan, New Delhi, Rajiv Gandhi wanted Suri to help promote ham radio. The highlight of the meet (November 14 to November 19, 1981) was the establishment of an amateur radio station at the Bhavan. With military personnel bringing in their wireless communication system, the horizons of knowledge widened for amateur radio operators. A big hit, the exhibition led to exciting developments for the hobby.
“Rajiv Gandhi asked a simple but incisive question: if someone just 14 years old could communicate easily through amateur radio, why not use it as a tool for alternative communication? In a country where communication systems were poor and costly, cost-effective amateur radio could prove a boon. At that time, getting a telephone connection entailed paying an advance of Rs. 3,000 and waiting for three years. Rajiv was looking at establishing a network of amateur radio stations that would benefit residents of 6 lakh villages in the country. He wanted youngsters to be trained in amateur radio and allowed to play a critical role in this mission. (Incidentally, the age for issue of ham licence was later reduced from 14 to 12.) Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, also thought this system of communication would work wonders for the nation.
Despite Rajiv’s best efforts, the bureaucracy and the military never warmed up to the idea. As a result, the plan had to be radically changed. Before anything was done, I was sent on an international tour covering America, Europe and Asia, to study ham radio models in various countries and report my discoveries to Rajiv. In 1983, around 20 satellites for ham operators were in space and computer-related amateur radio operations were gaining ground, but we were in the dark about these path-breaking developments.”
Figuring out education should come before change, NIAR was set up in 1983 at Hyderabad. “The Government extended funding for the institute in the same year.” NIAR has given shape to Rajiv Gandhi’s dream of inculcating an interest in amateur radio among youngsters and it now has around 10,000 hams as members.