Moon talk and a political spat

Any party would want that it well cashes in on the advantage it can accrue from the success of a scientific mission. Therefore to expect the BJP not to do so would only betray one’s political naïvety

When an elated Indian Space Research Organisation Chief S. Somnath told the country that “India is on the moon”, it resonated with every nation loving Indian. That evening many jumped with joy. This, of course, preceded many nervous moments, with one question staring hard: “Will we make it?”

Clearly it was “15 minutes of terror” as former ISRO Chairman K.Sivan has dubbed soft landings because they present a challenge due to the precision in timing that is required for the rocket engine to fire.

 If figures are anything to go by, only 37% soft landings have so far been successful: enough to give anyone the jitters.

 Moon landings, in any case, are a challenge because of the limited atmosphere and dust. Add to this the fact that the surface has rocks and craters: a far cry from the poetic chand sa chehra, moon-like face analogies which most romantics have grown up believing.  

The nervousness was palpable given that Chadrayan-2, India’s last mission, was a failure. The lander called Vikram just did not make it.

 Images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugging a distraught ISRO Chief, then K Sivan, flashed across minds. Sivan had fought back tears after the space agency lost contact with the lander just when its descent to the moon was initiated.

But with tears came lessons but more importantly the determination to make it happen which ultimately led to a safe landing this time around.  

 A few days before the Chandrayan-3 mission, was the launch of Russia’s latest Luna 25. Unfortunately that crashed on the Moon’s surface making it Russia’s first failure in 47 years: reason enough to give the world, including India, the jitters.

Luna 25 spacecraft spun out of control and crashed into the moon following a problem even as it prepared for pre-landing orbit.

Given Russia’s space prestige, it was indeed a setback.

 Remember Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin: the first man to travel to space in 1961? And Moscow being the first to launch a satellite, Sputnik 1, to orbit the Earth, way back in 1961: clear examples of Russia’s enviable space programme.  

 So it was fingers crossed even as India and the world, in that order, waited with bated breath.

 And once it happened, India became the first country to soft-land a spacecraft near the lunar south pole, something Prime Minister Narendra Modi made known during his address to the citizens following the remarkable feat.

With the success of this mission, India is the fourth country to land on the Moon and join the ranks of the United States, China and Russia.

As per reports, through the mission, India will not only gain access to a wealth of knowledge about the lunar surface but also acquire its potential for human habitation in the future.

Chandrayaan will collect data on the composition and geology of the moon as well as conduct experiments to study the lunar atmosphere, including its history, geology and resource potential.

 ISRO’s former Chairman, G. Madhavan Nair is on record stating Chandrayaan-3 mission’s landing a “complex manoeuvre”.  There are, he had said, a host of things that must work in unison and any glitch could mean trouble.

However, fears were put to rest with the successful landing; prayers offered by different faiths finally answered; and History created.

History has certainly been created but it is a History that has its share of challenges and a road map for the future. It is also one from which the BJP intends to send across a political message. And this is not without reason.

 Any political party worth its name would give its right arm to ensure that it well cashes in on the advantage it can accrue from the success of a scientific mission: particularly one that places India in an enviable position on the world map as well as places it as being the first country to soft land near the lunar south pole.

Scientific jargon apart, the fact that the world is looking at India is reason enough to make sane Indians smile and hold their heads high.

It is a proud moment to demonstrate that we have arrived and reached where others could not or did not, the more recent Russian failure being top of the mind.

Therefore when Prime Minister Modi said that with this moon mission, ISRO was elevating “the dreams and ambitions of every Indian” he was not off the mark.

The statement may be a bit exaggerated given that “every Indian” would include his critics and the cynics, yet it is not a statement devoid of truth.  

Every right minded Indian is elated and proud of the feat so even while cynics are questioning the necessity and are busy calculating the cost of such a mission in the face of the hunger and poverty issues dogging the country, there is no denying the fact that the mission has made majority of Indians swell with pride: a moment of glory for us and the country as one would say.

Therefore to expect the BJP not to make capital of a god sent opportunity would be politically naïve to say the least.

The general elections are less than a year away and the political slugfest has already started.

For starters, a credit war broke out between the Congress and the BJP.  

Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge, said that ISRO’s accomplishments were a testament to India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

 The BJP was quick to respond saying the Congress was “stuck in the past” for crediting Nehru.

Congress general secretary KC Venugopal, meanwhile, asked the PM to explain his “hypocrisy” accusing the Government of not supporting the scientists. He also accused it of not paying salaries to some scientists.

Ditto West Bengal minister Aroop Biswas who alleged that ISRO scientists had not been paid for 17 months: a claim that has been debunked.

Irrespective, the BJP is all geared up to milk the feat as far as possible.

TMC’s Mahua Moitra has already said that the mission will be used to whip up nationalistic frenzy before elections.

Media reports too indicate that the mission’s success will be the main campaign message for the 2024 elections.

And why not? With the Party’s spin doctors at work, they would ensure that they accrue political advantage from a scientific achievement.

On the face of it, Modi will, therefore, use the tools of religion and science in that order.

With the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya scheduled to be completed early next year, the Ram and Modi bhakts, devotees, will be on seventh heaven. In all likelihood, they would go to town with the Modi hai to mumkin hai spiel.

In India, nothing works like religion. Therefore the Mandir frenzy will, in all probability, bring together Ram lovers. On its part, the BJP would prop up Modi as the doer and a promise keeper, as it were.

For the others, there is the moon mission which has internationally enhanced  India’s image and made the world sit up and look at it with the seriousness it deserves.

Therefore, for Modi to dedicate the achievement to the “world” and say that the mission’s success is not India’s alone but “a success for all humanity” did touch a chord.  

Armed with these two tools, the BJP seems all geared up to face the 2024 challenge: a challenge  because on many counts the elections may not be a cake walk for the BJP.

But the moon mission has certainly given it the heft it badly needed. This, plus the temple, would come handy in the elections for Modi to once again thump his chappan inch ka seena, or the 56 inches chest.