Does anyone care?

The BJP will do well to remember ISRO’s journey, which started from launching a satellite on a bullock cart. Instead of being focussed on image management, it must solve people’s problems

Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment (APPLE), a product of India’s first geostationary experimental communication Satellite Project during 1977-83, was successfully launched by Ariane-1, from Kourou, French Guyana, on June 19, 1981. The journey to its successful launch was tricky though. In 1981, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) did not have mainframe computers and the satellite’s antenna needed to be tested as problems were detected in certain links, specifically the telemetry, tracking and control links that were crucial to ensure regular communication with the satellite in space. It was, therefore, crucial to ensure that these links were functional before the launch.

But it could only have been done in a proper antenna range, with the satellite structure placed under a thermal blanket and the ISRO did not possess such infrastructure at that time. The satellite needed a non-metallic structure where it could be placed and where testing could be carried out. Since time was of the essence, such a structure could not be developed. So, there came an ingenious idea of placing the satellite on a bullock cart so that the  test could be carried out. The bullock cart, which was hired at a nominal cost Rs 150, provided a non-magnetic environment and enabled ISRO to carry out the antenna test in an open field.

The great thing about this story is that it underlines Indian ingenuity and ambition at its finest. The ancillary benefit, of course, is that it provides a lovely story behind an incredible Indian organisation and provides colour to the country’s impressive space adventure. However, this is just an ancillary benefit. ISRO did not set out with putting a satellite on  a bullock cart and then happened to successfully ensure proper testing of the satellite. The publicity that this story generated was a byproduct of what ISRO wanted to achieve, not a motivator.

Political parties today, especially the BJP Government at the Centre, would do well to remember this story. The clearest example of how “publicity” and “politics” is the primary motivation and the end result for this Government is that of the recent migrant crisis. As everyone is aware, millions of labourers from States across the country were suddenly left stranded after the nationwide lockdown came into force. Without pay, they were barred from returning to the comfort of their homes. Their families, too, had to face this emergency. This forced the migrant workers to walk thousands of kilometres under the sweltering summer sun. Some even hid inside cement mixers to try and reach their homes. However, our international evacuees did not have to endure such indignity when the lockdown started.

There have been no stories of individuals swimming across the English Channel to the shores of India but our migrants have had to suffer that indignity. Then the Centre asked the States to look after the migrant labourers even as no provisions were made for their travel and return. This was further exacerbated by the fact that States such as Delhi did not receive any fund from the Centre to aid their fight against Corona. In the end, they were largely left on their own to ensure that the migrants are not adversely affected, even though the primary plea of the labourers has consistently been to return to their respective homes. Since inter-State transport falls under the Union list, the expectation was that the BJP Government at the Centre would take care of this concern.

However, in reality, what happened was that though certain special trains were made operational, the migrants were charged thousands of rupees. If any worker had that kind of money, would he/she be hiding in cement mixers or even attempt to walk home? It was this action that prompted Subramaniam Swamy, a BJP leader, to call the Government’s idea to charge poor migrants for their journey home as “moronic.” I hardly ever find myself in agreement with  Swamy but these are strange times.

Thereafter, a political rival of the BJP said that the State units of the Congress would pay for the tickets of the migrants. This generated negative publicity for the BJP and, therefore, the Government cleared that the railways would pay 85 per cent of the ticket prices with the States footing the remaining 15 per cent.

However, this face-saving move by the BJP did not come with any intention to help the migrants but to score political points or to rather prevent losing more political points. How do we know this? Well for starters, the Centre is not paying 85 per cent of the fare being charged to the migrants.

Moreover, there is no order to that effect anywhere as on the date of writing this article. Instead, what the BJP is doing is media manoeuvring. The Indian Railways has always subsidised in general to keep the ticket prices low. The BJP wants us to believe that this subsidised fare amounts to covering 85 per cent of the cost and in asking the States to bear the remaining 15 per cent of the cost is actually asking them to pay the entire cost of the ticket.

Even in the Supreme Court, where the question cropped up before the Solicitor-General if the Centre was actually bearing 85 per cent of the fare, he said that he had “no instructions” to reveal what proportion  would be shared by the Railways and the States. Why this uncertainty to a rather straight forward question?

In fact, in Karnataka, the BJP went one step further and cancelled all the trains for migrants to relegate them to bonded labourers. BJP MP Tejasvi Surya even went on to tweet that such a move will help the migrants “restart their dreams.”  The moral flexibility on the show is almost admirable. However, after all the uproar and noise, the Karnataka BJP has apparently now reversed its decision, much like how it came out and said that it would “bear” 85 per cent of the ticket fare for migrants after it was pushed to a corner.

The question is: Why does it always take bad Press for this Government to be forced into good governance? It’s because a large part of what it does is image management. Questions (when taken) are either refused on technicalities or obfuscated as in the present case of the migrant trains. The need of the hour instead is to focus on problem-solving by including the States and Opposition parties and being honest with the citizens. In doing so, the BJP would finally put the “bull” before the cart. It can learn a thing or two about it from ISRO.

Ajoy Kumar

(The writer is a former IPS officer, a former MP and currently a member of the AAP)

Source : The Pioneer