India: Bold, beautiful and the ugly
By H. K. Dua

In a really great moment of history that sometimes witnesses a dream turning into a reality, India’s “Chandrayaan” said goodbye to the mother earth yesterday and quietly moved into another orbit, willing to be embraced by the moon.

India’s rendezvous with the planet it has always looked at with a loving eye in its folklore may take place after a few more exploratory trips around it, possibly before the weekend. And if all goes well, Chandrayaan-I should be able to land at a chosen spot, turning some of the tales grandmothers tell to the children into truth.

“My heart skipped a beat or two”, said ISRO chief G Madhavan Nair, the only time he displayed a bit of emotion. Ever a scientist, and as if it was his daily job, he explained that Chandrayaan’s enormous velocity up in the deep space was arrested in time and it was “set on the right track” in the moon’s orbit.

A possible landing on the moon by the next weekend takes me back years ago when my boss then asked me to cover Dr Vikram Sarabhai’s interaction with newsmen. We did not know what the ISRO chief was going to say but he took us, a bunch of young hacks, by surprise by unveiling a 10-year profile of India’s space programme. He explained, with his modesty, and in simple terms what India was aiming to achieve in 10 nascent years of its experiments with rocketry.

“Will the rockets you want to develop have defence implications?” I asked to get more news out of him. “They are not Diwali rockets,” he said with a restrained but appreciative smile that could be only his. He paused and added: “Why not aim for the moon?” Looking back, he was not speaking figuratively.

India’s success in getting into the moon’s orbit is a privilege that as yet belongs to an exclusive club of the US, Russia, China and Japan. Behind it lies the farsighted vision of men like Dr Vikram Sarabhai and others who led ISRO after him to build a team of hundreds of dedicated scientists, who resisted temptations to work abroad for more money and perks and chose to work for India with dedication and single-minded application.

While Chandrayaan-I, in its romantic mood, is hovering around, eager to kiss the moon, India is being held back by the gravitational pulls of some of its past it should have shed by now, but has always been reluctant to do so.

Madhavan Nair’s Chandrayaan-I may be on the right track. Sadly, India is certainly not.

The idealism and vision of some of the leaders who worked for freedom from foreign yoke and for a new India later have vanished. You can count the leaders in public life at your fingertips who have the vision and are working essentially for the nation. A few people in public life, who are still around have the vision and idealism and the honesty to work for the country, but they have become prisoners of others around them who are unmindful of what they are doing to the nation. Outside public life, there are people – young and not so young, and men and women – who have idealism still surviving deep inside them, but they are being kept at bay by an unwelcoming political system in a state of decay.

Irrespective of party affiliations, the self-before-country crowd and the power brokers have caught hold of most levers of power at the Centre and in the states to ensure that the system works for them and their kin. Greed has become the reigning ideology of most politicians.

Before freedom was won, Jawaharlal Nehru said that in Independent India, heads of the corrupt would be hung on the lampposts. Decades later, it seems we have run out of the lampposts, or they have become too costly for supporting decorations.

Our MPs, who seek vote for doing service to the country, shamelessly accept cash for asking questions in Parliament. A non-descript president of the BJP — the national party in power at that time — was caught on camera for accepting money in his office. Tales of under-the-table deals when known can be more disgusting, but are common enough to make corruption the order of the day.

And now a party spokesman and general secretary of the Congress makes a statement that her party’s tickets were bought and sold in the Karnataka elections. The ugly phenomenon is not unfamiliar to other parties and other states.

Sixty-two years after Independence, lakhs of villages have no toilets, no clean drinking water, not enough calories for most in the diet, not enough houses or jobs or opportunities. A chunk of the people are still to manage with thumb impressions, because writing their own name does not come easy to them.

A climate of indifference and callousness to the people is prevailing. No political party — or even a social thinker — is fighting against the caste that has been keeping its hold on the Indian mind and conduct for centuries. Superstitions and ingrained prejudices still determine community actions. When Chandrayaan-I was traversing spatial barriers, two teenage daughters were being killed by their own families for what is strangely called “honour killing”, just 30 miles away from the capital of India.

Terrorist strikes are no longer sporadic and cannot be regarded as a monopoly of one religious group. Caste-vs-caste, religion-vs-religion have polluted the atmosphere creating violence that the state is finding difficult to manage. Raj Thackerays of the day are making their own contribution to undermine the very idea of India.

Our scientists earlier enabled India to become a nuclear power because they had a vision of Homi Bhabha and Jawaharlal Nehru; success in space is coming because of men like Vikram Sarabhai, Satish Dhawan and many other scientists who shared their vision and purposefulness. These men did not think of themselves or opportunities abroad; they were aware of the potential of their country; they thought big and set their sights high.

If only our political leaders and those in other walks of life were to think equally big — and beyond themselves — as our scientists do, the country will be better off.



HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Letters | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |