Avik Chattopadhyay: By BMKJ, it’s ISRO!

12 Sep,2019

By Avik Chattopadhyay

 

For the last one week the nation has been obsessed with the moon, and for the right reasons. After all, a bunch of unsung people who have dedicated their lives to true scientific research were about to perform a feat that brings adulation and accolades for the nation from all corners of the world. There would be no divided opinion, no detractors and no sceptics for this. This was pure ingenuity combined with dedication and determination, ably supported by a frugal budget, out to once again prove that the “Indian” can and is above caste, politics, isms and polarisation.

 

ISRO is a unique brand, in a brand called India.

It is unique in its very history and legacy…right from being set up by a man who understood what scientific temper would mean for future generations, supported by a Prime Minister much maligned and ridiculed now, to inducting people purely on merit and passion, to constantly punching above its weight in the missions it takes up.

 

ISRO is what the public sector undertaking was envisaged as by the ridiculed PM when he called the PSU the ‘temple of modern India’. It is all that a newly independent country’s aspiration was… building world-class institutions, filling them with the best talent from within and the world and then giving them the freedom to go ahead and achieve…for collective benefit and progress. That is the model of true nation building.

 

There are no ‘reservations’ in ISRO. There are no quotas. Politicians do not recommend appointments. There are no hidden agendas to cater to. At the same time, it is very un-private enterprise like too. It works on shoe-string budgets for “launches”. It typically shuns the limelight. It believes in nurturing its employees for life, and it has 16,000+ of them. And it does not make investor pitches or shareholder presentations.

 

In this context Chandrayaan 2 has been a curious exercise, for me as an observer. Never before has there been so much hype generated for any Indian space mission.

 

This looked like an event manager’s delight with an omni-channel overdose of “space science”. The social media was alive and clicking with all types of messages and memes. Television programmes were created with otherwise boundary-line jesters at cricket matches being flung at us. There was even one ex-NASA astronaut who was roped in for one such circus. Poems were written. T-shirts were made. News channels found a reason enough to fill in 24 hours of content, day after day.

 

And then the marketing wunderkids from the government flew in onto this entire jamboree being conjured. Their MBA schools had taught them about focused communication. And that had to be the moment Pragyaan would imprint the Indian national symbol and ISRO’s logo on the lunar south pole! So, the entire Chandrayaan 2 mission came out to be that single defining moment when we Indians would leave our imprint on the moon. Just like we do on historical monuments! “Ravi loves Archana” kind of stuff, literally. The entire focus was on Vikram and Pragyaan. “Fifteen minutes of terror” as the national lapped up. This was “national pride” re-defined. Thankfully the Pakistanis have had nothing to do with space or we would have had another occasion to bash them up digitally.

 

Someone, just someone, had to step back and tell these spinmeisters to back off and give the entire mission the proper perspective it deserves. The Prime Minister sitting with the scientists there and texting away to the nation is not camaraderie. That comes from increasing the mission budgets and allowing the team to truly flex its muscles without constraints. Frugality is not a virtue expected from a space mission. It very much is from government spending on MPs’ salaries. And there is no need to have every moment of the Prime Minister’s sojourn recorded for the “wow” moments to be beamed up to the world. Some events need their correct dose of gravity and sterile distance. They need to be accorded that level of respect. Not everything is to be instagrammed or tweeted upon. Not every event is a photo opportunity until the mission is complete. Wish the same level of collective national excitement could be built on the 1st day of the harvesting season.

 

A milestone space mission is not a ‘Mata ki chowki’.

And for the Prime Minister to conclude his pep-talk with “Bharat mata ki jai”…completely off the mark and inappropriate.

 

Obviously, the scientists at Bengaluru know their jobs and have already dusted off this little trespass!

 

Avik Chattopadhyay is a senior marketer and strategy consultant. This column appears on MxMIndia every Thursday. His views here are personal

 

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