By Kaleem Kawaja
Three years after its independence from British colonialism, and 68 years hence, India became a sovereign independent republic in 1950 with a shining constitution for the newly minted nation that claimed a heritage of several millennium. The new nation was fired up with much expectation born of success at the end of the long freedom movement. In a hurry, India unleashed a wide range of bold social, technological and cultural reforms and initiatives. Today, we can almost see the twilight of the sun on the yonder eastern horizon when the centennial Republic Day will dawn in just thirty-one short years.
The liberalization of the economy in 1991 and the arrival of the multinationals truly transformed the nation’s basic culture and infused a huge spirit of competition and desire to improve capability across the board. It also raised everyone’s expectations of a good life sky-high. From almost nowhere young engineers built India’s ability in the Information Technology (IT) industry to a point where India has become a global leader in this field and IT has become India’s brand.
This points to yet more opportunity and ability to similarly develop the other knowledge-based industries of electronics, hi- tech products, computers, I-phones, medical technology devices, pharmaceuticals etc. to the level of becoming India’s brand. India must aggressively pursue being an exporter of these hi-tech products all over the globe. For that, hopefully before the centennial, the development of the modern industrial infrastructure including the power generation capacity with many more nuclear power plants, would have been accomplished.
India’s premier hi-tech educational institutions, namely Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Science, and Indian Institutes of Management are world class universities. Graduates from these institutes have spread to the western countries and are helping their industry and economy make breakthroughs. Like China, India should increase the funding of these institutes, give them greater autonomy and employ them to raise the volume of the various knowledge-based industries in India itself, and start exporting those products world-wide.
Outer Space exploration and research by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has been the other field where India’s scientists and engineers have scored exceptional successes within their limited resources. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (2017) launched 104 satellites in a single mission; Mangalyan Mars Orbiter (2014) mission explored Mars; Chandrayan Moon Lander mission (2008) explored Moon.
Indeed, today with its low payload per pound launch cost and high success rate in launching satellites, ISRO offers an excellent alternative to France’s ARIANE launcher and China’s Long March launcher. To better compete with other global satellite launching organizations, ISRO needs to augment its capacity to launch significantly heavier payloads in significantly farther orbits, compared to what it is doing today. With better resources and expansion in the next decade, it is within ISRO’s reach to substantially improve its management and marketing of programs for launching and servicing of satellites and to become a major partner to NASA, European Space Agency (ESA) and Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
India is definitely trying to look forward to a tomorrow of modernity but it is still quite a bit behind other modern Asian giants like China and Japan. The problem lies with the political infrastructure of the government that does not give as much attention to science and technology growth as it should. Instead, they spend lots of energy and resources in internal squabbling, making silly claims that most of today’s high technology existed in India several millennium ago. They also cater to the whims of those who give higher priority to making India a sectarian rather than a secular and composite modern nation.
Midway in this march forward to the bright Centennial Republic Day when you look back you see that while the quality of every major segment of the nation has improved so much, the quality of the nation’s political parties and politicians has degraded significantly compared to the 1950s/1960s, when resources were fewer but tolerance and cooperation with others was high and sectarianism was going down. Instead of advocating the long standing commonality of the people to motivate them, now quite a few powerful politicians are harping on divisions based on religion, caste and ethnicity, to win elections.
As an Indian-American Muslim who has studied at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and had dreamt that my generation will modernize the country and the society by imbibing science, technology, modern thinking and a pluralistic society and make India first among equals in the comity of world class nations, I become wistful as I think of the approaching centennial of our Republic Day.
The opportunistic promotion of religion based hyper-nationalism by some politicians and political parties to win elections is causing existential worry for many in the minority Muslim, Christian and Dalit communities, who are about half of the nation. It appears that the sectarian situation in the country may become worse before it improves, thereby veering India away from succeeding in the competition with other world class nations.
As we approach the hundredth anniversary of the founding of our republic and the two-hundredth anniversary of the first war of independence in 1857, let us remind ourselves of our key strengths: a can-do spirit, a composite pluralist society, a tolerant democracy and a secular nation.
The writer is a senior aerospace engineer at NASA. He is also the Executive Director of the Association of Indian Muslims of America, Washington DC.