November 4, 2013.
Multimillion-dollar space rocket launch showcases India's prowess but critics say resources could be better deployed
The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle that will carry the orbiter awaits
launch at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre.
(Photograph: Arun Sankar K/AP)
"In the last century the space race meant the US against the Soviets. In the 21st century it means India against China," said Pallava Bagla, one of India's best known science commentators. "There is a lot of national pride involved in this."Read the rest here.
That the mission was about national pride was never in doubt. It was announced last year by prime minister Manmohan Singh in his annual address from the battlements of Delhi's famous Red Fort, the bastion of the Mughal emperors. Its success would mean the Indians would join the Russians, the US and the European space agency which have all also reached Mars.
A plunging currency, ailing economy and the state's seeming inability to deliver basic services have led many Indians to question whether their nation is quite as close to becoming a global superpower as it seemed in the heady years of the last decade when economic growth pushed the 10%. For a government beset by charges of corruption and mismanagement, the Mars mission is one way to repair its battered image. It was announced in the week more than 600 million people were hit by the world's worst power cut.
Such expenditure is, however, controversial, with some questioning whether India, where more than 40% of children are malnourished and half the population have no toilets, can afford the mission. One development economist called it a symptom of "the Indian elite's delusional quest for superpower status".
*****Comment: I can't but think that this mission to mars is absolutely unnecessary. My thinking - and I am not alone obviously - is that India should to be more inwardly preoccupied with meeting its daunting developmental problems.
This preoccupation cannot be flouted by neo-liberal pretensions that speak to the ever expanding growth mantra - it is simply unsustainable as Dr Vandana Shiva recently argued. See her article entitled "How Economic Growth Has Become Anti-Life" (November, 2013).
My further thinking is that development should be humanitarian in focus and content. In other words, sustainable development must be framed by humanitarian needs. This does not mean that science - including missions to mars or the moon - should not be part of our ever expanding frontiers; that is not my point.
My point is that India is in no position to be spending billions of Rupees to probe mars when its developmental context - in humanitarian terms - is dire.
India needs clean water, clean air, adequate housing, extensive sewerage systems, rural support programs, and not neo-liberal pretensions about growth and expanding its global power.
But the elite that run the power construct in New Delhi - just like everywhere else - are unlikely to be listening.