In July 1979, the sky was falling. Panicked residents in the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha began moving inland, schools were closed, the fear of death from above loomed. Skylab, NASA’s first space station — put into orbit in 1973 — proved that human beings could live in outer space for extended periods. The mission was supposed to last four years longer than it did, but the Skylab began to be pulled into earth’s orbit in 1979, and there was every chance that it might crash into a populated area.
Cut to India 2022. In this election season, leaders are crossing over, joining new parties — notably in Uttar Pradesh. Swami Prasad Maurya, former minister in the Yogi Adityanath government, said that the UP CM was parachuted into the position in 2017, “dropped into the chair like Skylab”. The metaphor is a deep one, invoking awe and dread, distance and despair. It’s also a swipe at his former cabinet colleague, hinting that Adityanath was not in the running for the post and that his appointment came as a surprise and disappointment.
Unfortunately for Maurya, his comment is also leaving many people a bit flummoxed. Given that UP has among the largest proportion of youth in its population, the Skylab reference might be a bit dated: Those under 35 are more likely to think it’s a rooftop restaurant than a space station. Then, the subject of Maurya’s ire was certainly launched like Skylab. But it is unlikely that Maurya meant to leave it there. Given that Skylab’s journey is evocative more for its rise than its subsequent crash, perhaps, next time, a more recent James Bond reference might come in handy, help him to say it better — Skyfall.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on January 19, 2022 under the title ‘Falling from the sky’.