November 2, 2008

It is indeed commendable that we have successfully hit space; but then, there is a lot that needs to be done on the ground!!!

Indian Space Research Organisation’s Chandrayaan-1 has sculpted history by making India only the sixth nation in the history of mankind to send an unmanned mission to the moon. No doubt, this feat is commendable for India not just because the launch follows immediately after India has positioned itself as a de-facto nuclear power (post signing of the Indo-US Nuclear deal), but it also follows immediately after a Chinese taikonaut (astronaut) set his foot in space. Moreover, as per reports, this successful launch would not only help India to look out for Helium 3 (an integral source for nuclear energy), but also can create a possible revenue stream in the future. But above all, the biggest achievement is that India could successfully attain all this at a relatively lesser cost than that of China (that is, if media reports are to be believed).

Although there are umpteen reasons to celebrate this remarkable technological feat, what has followed immediately after the successful launch was the usual rhetoric of how India is inching towards China. Evidently, the China-complex has grown out of proportion within our political leadership. No doubt, any kind of such competitive syndrome is always healthy, but what is ironical is that such a syndrome surfaces within our leadership quite selectively. It is needless to state that by launching a Chandrayaan-1, India might have come closer to China in terms of the space-race, but when it comes to having the urge and the need to match China in terms of socio-economic indicators, neither is India anywhere near the behemoth, nor does there seem to be any hurry on the part of Indian policymakers to try to catch up. For argument’s sake, one look at the medals tally at the recently held Beijing Olympics – where China won 51 golds, the highest by any country; and a total of 100 medals, second highest after America – clearly indicates the number of years it would take us to even try and get close to China (that is, if at all we ever get close, considering our one gold medal and two bronze medals).

That’s just one part. Even otherwise, the brilliantly structured manner in which China has gone about its economic development ensures that it would take decades for us to catch up with her. Even today, China makes it a point to make health and education as national priorities, which the government makes available for all. For something like that to become a reality and effectively operational in India would be an achievement no lesser than the very launch of the Chandrayaan-1 in space. But then, as I said before, our political leadership conveniently suffers from a pretty selective Chinese syndrome!

On another front – though there isn’t any direct correlation with this successful launch per se – one more important aspect is that in our case, there remains a lack of integration of technological achievement and socio-economic development. One might wonder why efforts are not being made to merge science with the basic needs of mankind. In India, just like in economics, we have not been able to bring science out of the rooms of abstract discussions and marry that with the dire needs of the masses.

The world is full of examples of how economies have successfully gone about judiciously using technology for uplifting the society as a whole. Take the case of Information Technology! Agreed, that this sector has been instrumental in generating huge employment opportunities and also has helped us earn valuable foreign exchange. IT had the potential to change the face of this country in terms of governance and delivery mechanisms. But then, for all the success that India garnered in this field (and having the honour of being called the IT hub of the world), such would have been the case, provided intentions had been sincere enough to employ IT judiciously towards public governance and delivery mechanisms.

The same holds true with respect to technological advancements in the field of pharmaceuticals. While the expertise in generic drugs has been followed by strides in molecular research, human genome research and new drug delivery systems, it is unfortunate that getting decent and affordable treatment in India still remains a distant dream. Forget getting the expensive anti-retroviral drug therapy for HIV treatment, even basic drugs are out of reach.

In the given context, the technological feat that we have attained by the launch of Chadrayaan-1 looks more of a tokenism, which builds nothing else but shallow prestige. But for a nation like ours, which is marred with solvable problems, all such feats and comparisons become meaningless till the time they directly connect to the socio-economic development of the masses. Till we realise this, I have only one message for the political leadership – it is indeed commendable that we have successfully hit space; but then, there is a lot that needs to be done on the ground!


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