With China, Modi Overdid
Athithi Devo Bhava

Modi gives Zero to Indian Scientists?

Narendra Modi enshrined a gamut of personages and non-entities in his roll call of “must-remember-must-thank-must-venerate” worthies after the mission to Mars successfully entered the Red Planet’s orbit today but excluded those who pioneered, nurtured and took forward India’s space programme.

Not once did he mention Jawaharlal Nehru, Homi J. Bhabha, Vikram A. Sarabhai, Indira Gandhi and Satish Dhawan when he spoke in Bangalore this morning, alternately in Hindi and English.

Bhabha had laid the foundations of the Indian National Satellite or Insat, regarded as the most advanced non-military satellite ever launched anywhere.

Encouraged by first Prime Minister Nehru and later Indira, Sarabhai, born into an affluent Ahmedabad family, cut through the bureaucratic maze and set up the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) in 1969. Dhawan succeeded him as chairman in 1972.

As early as 1961, Nehru, eager to push the frontiers of science and technology, had put space research under the purview of the atomic energy department. On April 19, 1975, India launched its first satellite into space. Indira was Prime Minister then.

Modi mentioned the BJP’s first Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore from contemporary history. From the hoary past, he mentioned Aryabhata, the astronomer who conceptualised zero and calculated the motion of planets and the time of eclipses, and has been deified by the RSS, Modi’s ideological parent, as a “mathematical colossus”.

Even Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala, a former minister in Modi’s Gujarat government, merited a mention because Vala is from Rajkot. “And one instrument in this Mars has been made in Rajkot,” the Prime Minister said.

Keen to stress the Gujarat connect to the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), notwithstanding Sarabhai’s deletion, Modi recalled: “I visited Ahmedabad’s Isro again and again. I was greatly interested in finding out what the ‘bechare’ (poor) scientists were doing, they never left the lab, so at least someone should go and meet them. I kept going. Then I learnt that the sensor to detect methane was made there, a camera was also being made and perhaps the first effort to detect and enlighten the world on methane was pioneered there.”

Sarabhai’s daughter Mallika, a danseuse and political activist in Ahmedabad, had relentlessly taken on Modi during and after the 2002 Gujarat riots.

On June 30, nearly a month after he assumed office, Modi had spoken at the launch of the PSLV C-23 rocket at Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh. He lauded everyone from the scientists to Vajpayee but left out Nehru.

He almost projected Vajpayee as the father of India’s space programme, claiming that the country’s Moon and Mars missions were “inspired” by his “vision”.

The Mars programme had taken off in 2010 under the Congress-led UPA government.

Today, harking back to the originator of “shunya” (zero), Modi said: “Grasp the idea of ‘shunya’ or nothingness. Map spatial knowledge, such as the rotation of the Earth, the motion of planets and the occurrence of eclipses. We also have a great legacy and responsibility to live up to. Our ancestors had helped the world understand the mysteries of the heavens.”

Modi said it was because of works such as Aryabhata’s that “our great rishis” who were also scientists have been rewarded and honoured by this gift (MOM). It was a reiteration of a theme that plays like a leitmotif with the RSS: had India not been enslaved by Islamic rulers and then the British, it could have been the world’s powerhouse of science and knowledge.

“And this work,” Modi went on, “was accomplished and delivered by a present generation after thousands of years. We are proud that we have ourselves honoured a tradition. Modern India must continue playing this leading role of ‘Jagath Guru Bharat’ (World Teacher Bharat).”

Nehru had couched his goals for space science in his overarching vision of nation-building whose other markers were big dams, IITs and IIMs.

Modi, however, chose to hark back to the RSS’s version of India as the mythical “sone ki chidiya” (golden bird)

Radhika Ramaseshan