On 23rd August, Indian space research organization led lunar mission successfully landed on the moon. The soft landing online live event by ISRO has been named as the most viewed live streaming session globally with more than 80 lakhs of Peak Concurrent Views (PCVs). It has even surpassed the online viewership of the most popular football match in the history of commercial sports between Brazil and Croatia, that took place in FIFA World Cup 2022. Right after the lunar module landed on the moon surface, almost all the Indian National or Multinational business enterprises appropriated the ‘National Space Sensation’ with the fastest possible online ads, social media posts and others, as if the bunch of these national and international corporations, looting the country and its people, care much about an integral scientific and social development. Private enterprises that supplied some or many components for the mission were covered by the Lords and the Barons of the broadcasting industry only to add ‘value’ to those newly opened space subsidiaries or the recently listed ‘space stocks’. Like all other National Space organizations, ISRO which has been built to cover up the tracks for the Military might and missiles technology in the name of civilian space research, finally served the purpose of the ruling elite with fifty and more days (July 06 – August 24) of exhilarating show pumped by ultra Nationalism, sponsored by Sangh-Dal-Parisad syndicate and their native and foreign friends. The marvelous scientists, technicians, engineers, scholars and the mighty workers of our country, who contributed to this greatest scientific and engineering feat, have been fraudulently made the face of a Government which promotes communalism, pseudo-science and the interest of the national oligarch in the most obnoxious, exploitative and shameless manner. A government that has been exempting corporate loans that exceed its education budget and allocating larger amount of funds even for Mandir beautification in Ayodhya than the Chandrayan-3 cost, is an agent of the wealthy minority of our country and it only resorts to the glory of the generations of the scientific tradition at ISRO just because the ‘Scientific and Technological esteem’ of the glorified ‘Space Race’ are of great use this time to invigorate the nationalist fanaticism.
The greatest tragedy of this 21st century digitized PR stunt is that the audience at the consumer end of the gigantic space sensation show doesn’t bother to ask whether this great national feat will serve any of the crisis and the uncertainties of the nation at all! ISRO’s 90 lakh of peak concurrent livestream viewers were probably taking a break from the catastrophic reality where 2.8 crore aspirants apply for 90k railway jobs or 25 lakhs aspirants sit for 6000 group D posts. Some of the viewers must be trying to bask on the warmth of the great national publicity of Rocketry and Moon just to avoid the hellish facts on agrarian front that pushes 15 farmers and 15 farmworker to commit suicide each day. Many millions who were not a part at the consuming end of this national sensation, were perhaps busy in making their ends meet in a country where poorest 50% holds only 13% of national income; They must be taken aback with the absurdity of space exploration in a country which stands as poor and extremely unequal with its filthy rich minority along with half of the demography living on income of rupees 146 a day only.
A careful introspection of the tragedy points to an ambiguity in the scientific temperament of a society that has historically failed to separate its state affairs free from the religious affairs. What scientific character an ecosystem would promote, that drives the finest scientists at DRDO to sit for a Puja by a Brahmin right before the test launch of Agni V (2014), if not the nationalism fortified by the religion of the majority? What truest of knowledge and progress a government will manifest, that persuades their Defence minister to write a religious note after Sastra Puja at the induction ceremony of fighter jets, if not bigotry and jingoism? ISRO chairman Dr. K Radhakrishnan offering his prayer to Venkateshwara Temple (right before the Mars Mission in 2013) or the Dr. K sivan (before the 50th launch of PSLV) and Dr. S Somenath (before Chandrayan-3 launch) doing the same in 2019 and 2023, demonstrates the attitude of the respective Governments to vilify and obscure the scientific ethos of a nation. And finally, naming the Chandrayan-3 landing site as ‘Shiv-Shakti’ is the ultimate mockery of the true scientific temper and the technological vocation of the great ‘Viswakarmas’ that this country has produced. History says that the governments that legitimize science and Technology only for their Military and Space aspirations, are the Governments that have failed miserably in terms of social and economic welfare of its people.
We should not forget that the trend of hyper-nationalistic space sensation has a historical root that tries to embalm the exploited millions and legitimize the despotic regimes of both liberal and the right, scrupulously diverting the masses from the social and economic perils. To choose between warfare and welfare, the ruling elite of our country meticulously picked the game of nationalism umteenth times in the past. In fact, the first such space sensation in the space history of India came at the years when inflation reached a whopping 35%, price of foodgrains skyrocketed only to add more to the agony of the toiling majority. Years of 1974-75 were the years of hyperinflation, food shortage and hypernationalism too. Pokhran test and then the launch of the first lower earth orbit Indian Satellite commemorated by millions of postage stamps and currency bills vivid with an image of metal box ‘Aryabhatta’ shining high above the earth, all the events took place between May 1974 to may 1975 before the Indira Government finally declaring emergency in July, 1975. Almost fifty years later, having the majority of the working class under the RSS affiliated BMS, with 70 crore plus population living on average income of rupees 146 a day, made an ever popular government in the last parliamentary election just to add more to the price hike and unemployment, privatization and liberalization. The country now embraces killing of its religious minority with an ever stronger echoes of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. A country having 50% of the population below the age of 25 and 65% below 35, tormented by unemployment and uncertainty; Divided by provincial, linguistic and ethnic turmoil; Agonized by the ever offensive casteist chauvinism; Separated between the Hindu and the muslim; Exploited and Alienated in the era of finance and fascism, interrogated by the saffron Sangh-Dal-Parivar coalition, must be in need for another film like Gulzaar’s ‘Mere Apne’ to assess the face of the constellations of Indian youth equipped with mobile phones and cheap internet, endowed by the ever prominent joblessness and hunger, left helpless in a society that has approved religious fanaticism in an ever stronger conviction! It is a fact that an ambitious space program for a poor country is in the interest of military industrial aspirations only. It is truest than ever that a country trying to touch the highest feat of the space race at the cost of its social and economic perils, is to hide the blood on the hands of their affluent elite and fanatic rulers. It is unequivocally the nationalism of the exploiters, that bluffs, deceives and tricks the millions of toiling masses of our country to dance with devils at the cost of their own sufferings.
Here on the dark side, when Chandrayan-3 has just executed the last orbit raising maneuver before it was inserted into trans-lunar orbit, a migrant worker from Bihar fell from the highest he has ever reached in his lifetime, at an under construction building in Delhi. Sheikh Shah Alam, the construction worker who died on spot, was found with no safety gear. Days after the Chandrayan-3 entered lunar orbit and made few rotations around the shiny moon, a dalit man named Durgam Bapu was tied to a pole and beaten mercilessly by upper caste Suram Ramreddy, in Kotapally. Offense of the poor Durgam was that his bulls were grazing on the land of the upper caste in his village. The day Chandrayan Lander module successfully separated from the propulsion module, a 40 years old coal miner Krishna Murari died when a mine wall collapsed upon him in Godhabharikhani of Pedapalli district in Telangana. Right before the historic soft landing of the lunar lander, 22 construction workers died while an under construction bridge collapsed in Mizoram. While millions of jobless youth equipped with smartphones and cheap internet looming on the ISRO live stream, here on the darkest pit of India, a twenty year old sanitation worker named Rohit died in Uttar Pradesh while cleaning a septic tank. At any random distance between the earth and the Moon on Chandrayan-3’s journey, Manipur has been burning. There are clashes in Nuh, Haryana in the name of religion. In Gurugram, the mighty millennium city, was hit too, with riots and islamophobia. The day when the most sophisticated thermal sensor on the lunar rover was just preparing to gauge the temperature profile in and outside the moon surface, here in Uttar Pradesh, a schoolchild was harassed by his teachers and then the rest of the classmates were instructed to humiliate and to slap the child just because of his religious identity. On the dark side of a moonstruck nation, Chandrapur District in Maharastra, alone counted the 73rd body ( Jan, 2023 – July, 2023) of a farmer who committed suicide; For each day when Chandrayan-3 has been approaching the Moon with its highly sophisticated module, here in the ‘proud nation of scientific endevour’, 3 workers die and 11 workers are injured on an average due to the poor factory safety issues. In this ‘New India’, the dream that the ‘Space sensation show’ wants to sow among the children are the infants of millions of mothers who are suffering from anemia and malnutrition, leading to the birth of a generation of stunted children. To talk numbers, let us remember that even our best statewise stunting rates are far greater than that of Ghana, Bangladesh and Vietnam!
Kamalesh Roy is an independent Researcher and Activist