Chandrayaan 2 has been launched and with that, India joins the small select club of nations which have major space missions on their CV. It is much more important than even the nuclear capability. It shows that India is able to meet the high standards of space technology.
How has India done this? Gandhiji was against modern machinery, modern medicine and the whole Western civilisation as he explained at length in his first major book, Hind Swaraj. Left to him, India would never have industrialised. It was the younger generation of Nehru, Ambedkar and Savarkar who wanted to westernise and modernise India. Subhas Chandra Bose was of the same view.
Nehru wanted to industrialise India but without the help of private business. As he said to J R D Tata, he thought profit was a dirty word. Business people were shunned. The government took the view that profits of private business were due to monopoly and restrictive practices. In Japan and South Korea, business and government were partners to make the country prosperous. It was a very costly ideological stance which kept India poor for longer than necessary.
The exception was in science and technology. It was the genius of Vikram Sarabhai which launched India on the fast track, which has brought us Chandrayaan.
Sarabhai came, of course, from one of the top industrialist families. Amba Lal Sarabhai and his sister Anasuya had been captivated by Gandhiji. Vikram was not an industrialist but a scientist. He saw that India could leapfrog by using the latest technology of television and of space rocketry.
It was a lucky break for India that Nehru listened to Sarabhai. People complained that when Indians lacked basic amenities, why were we going for space? Such a utilitarian argument may seem attractive but it is false. A country has to take the untrodden path if it is to reach the top. India escaped from the tyranny of government-controlled telephones and TV only thanks to the leap into open economy, privatisation of telephony via mobile telephones and private TV channels. It was a combination of enlightened public policy, private entrepreneurship of Indians and foreign capital investing in India which cracked the ceiling.
If India leads in financial transactions technology, in online payments system, in e-commerce, it is no thanks to any Planning Commission.
There used to be constant fear of the return of the East India Company and a virulent xenophobia. Now India is a major capital exporter to the UK and Indian capital is the largest employer of British manufacturing workers. That is because the UK does not have an antediluvian labour hiring and firing policy, as India adopted in the name of protecting workers’ rights.
If India had the guts to modernise its labour laws and if the trade unions could be made aware that liberal labour laws will expand union membership rather than reduce it, we may make the final leap towards a $15 trillion economy by 2030.
India requires 10% per annum growth of industrial output if this ambition is to be realised. Narendra Modi has to offer the bold leaders needed to take India out of the low-lying areas of industrial stagnation and aim for the heights.
A country which can become a leader in space flights can scale any heights.
This article first appeared in the print edition on July 27, 2019 under the title ‘Out of my mind: Moon Struck, and more of it’.