Since after September 7, when the Vikram lander of the Chandrayaan 2 mission failed to touchdown on the lunar surface, many writers and thinkers on the political left have been adopting a stance of the mission I find hard to stomach. Their arguments can be summed up thus: that CY-2’s mission is half-assed and should have been decided through a better process (did you know Gaganyaan also makes this mistake but in a bigger way?), that it meant much to those disenfranchised in Kashmir and Assam, that is yet another sign of journalism’s kowtowing to the powers that be that journalists aren’t about asking the financial implications of Vikram’s failure, and that the public rhetoric surrounding the mission was intent on wrapping it up as a gift to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Points 1 and 2 are completely agreeable: there is no doubt that while a lot of people are celebrating CY-2’s overall partial success as an achievement of ISRO and its frugal engineering philosophy, they are also overlooking that it doesn’t present any major scientific achievements, lacks a clear vision about the mission’s purpose, and – as Swami Agnivesh discussed – their own ignorance of these two factors. Second, I have no doubt that the mission meant much to those suffering due to the communications blockade in Kashmir and the consequences of the NRC in Assam.
However, through all their arguments, it is also evident that the left is not interested in retrieving the Indian space programme out of the shroud of patriotism around it and press it once more into serving the needs of people and society. It is true that Modi’s politics has transformed endeavours that once used to be relatively more transparent and well-meaning into things worthy of skepticism and derision, but to extend this to dismissing the space programme itself would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Further, to claim if the money spent on CY-2 could be better used to address food security or healthcare, as The Wire’s public editor did in her piece, may have been a legitimate argument until the late 1990s but today, when the Centre has a budgeted outlay of Rs 27 lakh crore, it is entirely ass-backwards. If the government is not spending more on healthcare, it is not for want of Rs 978 crore spread out over eight years.
The last thing I want to do is make excuses for the government, but when you wonder if sending rockets to the Moon stung those without food or electricity – I have no doubt that it did, and I am sure such exercises render these affected people more cynical about what the state is prepared to do for them. But if the suggestion here is that the state should not have launched rockets and instead concentrated its efforts on ensuring food security, that would be an instance of excusing a government that is clearly equipped to do many things at once but won’t.