Chandrayaan-3, A Salute To Indian Scientists

Chinese master Laozi is credited with the saying that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. The journey of Chandrayaan-3 ended on the lunar surface on Wednesday, August 23rd, 2023 at 6:04 pm when its lander with the rover inside gently touched the terrain about 600 miles off the moon’s South Pole unfurling the tricolour. It was nothing but pure ecstasy.

Now, let me narrate how the lunar journey began in India. The United Nations wanted to support the setting up of a rocket launching station. There were three contenders — India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It had to be in an area where the magnetic needle, when freely suspended, remained horizontal.

Alas, there was one problem, a big one at that. The areas identified as suitable in all the three countries were thickly populated. Thousands of people would have to be evicted and their houses or dwelling units destroyed. It would have been a great human rights violation. The UN did not want its image to be sullied in this manner.

Neither Pakistan nor Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was known then, had the magic wand to clear the area of human habitation. Because of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was formed with Dr Vikram Sarabhai as its head.

Nehru contacted the Kerala Government to explore the possibility of getting Thumba cleared of the fish workers living there. He was able to convince Chief Minister R. Shankar about the greatness of the proposed Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) and how it would one day transform the nation’s image from a land of snake-charmers and rope-tricksters to a nation with the largest pool of scientists.

Shankar’s second-in-command was PT Chacko, who held both the Home and Revenue portfolios. In other words, he had the power to acquire the land and evict the people forcibly, if necessary.

Thumba was a short drive from the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, and he knew the imposing Cathedral Church at Pallithura nearby, dedicated to Mary Magdalene, considered the “apostle of apostles”. She is mentioned in all the four Gospels as one of several Galilean women who followed Jesus and supported Him and the other disciples out of their personal means. After resurrection, He appeared first to her.

Chacko also knew that the area Nehru was eyeing for the rocket project was inhabited by the Latin Catholics, a majority of whom were fish workers. They had immense faith in Mary Magdalene as their lodestar while they were fishing in the deep waters. They were not very educated but their attachment to the church was unwavering.

When the church bell rang for whatever reasons, thousands would assemble at the church in an instant. Chacko had a brainwave. He did not take long to call the bishop of Trivandrum, Rt. Rev. Dr. Vincent Dereira OCD, who was assisted those days by the Auxiliary bishop, Rt. Rev. Dr. Peter Bernard Pereira. The former was a Belgian and the latter was from Thiruvananthapuram.

Chacko, who is himself a Catholic, talked to the bishop and convinced him that nothing mattered more for the church than the progress of the nation. “We should not be found wanting when the nation called for us to sacrifice’, he implored the ecclesiastical authorities.

Soon afterwards, Dr Sarabhai came to Thiruvananthapuram and on the suggestion of Chacko, he called on the bishop at his residence at Pallithura. He was accompanied by a young recruit of ISRO, who later became famous as the Missile Man of India and, eventually, the President of India.

When Sarabhai and APJ Abdul Kalam met Bishop Pereira, he had one suggestion: “Please attend the mass on Sunday”. The thought that might have occurred to the Hindu and the Muslim was whether it was the Bishop’s attempt to convert them to Catholicism.

As promised, the duo took their seats at the Cathedral Church of Mary Magdalene at Pallithura. When it was time for the sermon, the Bishop introduced the two guests to the faithful and told them that they were there to take over the church and his own house for a scientific project that the Government of India wanted to initiate. “When Jesus could sacrifice His life to redeem us, why can’t we sacrifice our houses, including my own house?”, he asked.

The faithful who had come to partake in the Holy Qurbana, also called the Eucharist, were stunned by the Bishop’s sermon. At the end, the bishop said a word of prayer that ended when the people said, “Amen” in a chorus. There was not a word of protest from anyone assembled in the church.

Abdul Kalam has in his autobiography titled ‘Wings of Fire’ describes how the church became ISRO’s first laboratory. The scientists also occupied the bishop’s house. His cattle shed became another wing of the laboratory. What followed was a story of faith and grit. 

About 500 families living in the area were relocated to another place nearby so that they could continue their fishing job. A new church, though less impressive than the old one, was built to meet their spiritual needs. Some of them were given jobs by ISRO. The new land where they were settled was owned by the church. Bishop Pereira was instrumental in building as many as 220 houses for the displaced.

There were political forces which tried to instigate the people against the church leadership but they did not succeed because the people’s faith in their spiritual leaders was unalloyed. 

Some of the people at Pallithura had to wait till a few years ago to get the title deeds of the land they now occupy. Yet, they never protested. The church which became the headquarters of ISRO had many idols, including that of Mother Mary, Jesus, Joseph etc. They were carried away in a gunny bag. Nobody considered it sacrilegious.

In contrast, there was a main road in New Delhi which could not be widened for many years because a religious shrine blocked the widening. Thousands of vehicles had to slow down or stop because of the chicken neck created by the shrine. This continued for nearly a decade.

To return to Thumba, nobody could have imagined that when the young scientists led by Sarabhai were putting together the first rocket, that on August 23, 2023, India would become the fourth country in the world after the US, the erstwhile Soviet Union and China, to hoist its flag on the moon, often described as the ultimate beauty.

Poets down the centuries have described not in so many ways how the Sun loves the Moon so much that he dies every day to let her breathe and, in return, she reflects his love. 

As I watched the lander on the Moon, I remembered someone saying, “Ten years ago, the Moon was an inspiration to poets and an opportunity for lovers. Ten years from now, it will be just another airport”. Few would have believed that ISRO had such a humble beginning but for a photographer who documented it for posterity.

It showed a part of the first rocket being shifted to the assembly area on a bicycle. Another showed a part of the rocket arriving at Thumba on a bullock-cart. Finally, on November 21, 1963, the first rocket blasted off from Thumba. One of my friends, John Philipose, was present there to watch the great event.

He was in his early twenties. One of his relatives was married to a Latin Catholic from the same area. In Thiruvananthapuram, he stayed in the house that belonged to PT Chacko’s private secretary. He recalls that moment: “We were all excited. We thought something big would happen. In the end, the rocket took off into the air leaving a hail of smoke. If my memory does not fail me, the rocket fell into the sea within a few minutes. To me, it appeared a version of the fireworks at the Shiva temple at Thrissur”.

When the rocket was fired, it ignited the minds of countless people in the country. They knew that it was a milestone in the country’s pursuit of science. Philipose is no ordinary person. He is a museologist. It was he who guided the government in setting up many museums, including the Parliament museum in New Delhi.

There is one museum, though not linked to the Philipose, which showcases India’s space journey. It is located in the same church where ISRO began in 1963. Today it is known as Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre Museum. In any discussion on India’s space programme, let’s not assume that India was ploughing a lonely furrow. 

There are many to thank from that first launch at Thumba: the US, for the two-stage Nike Apache rocket; France, for the sodium vapour payload; the Soviet Union, whose Mi-4 helicopter gave the range clearance; and, of course, ISRO’s rocket and payload engineers. 

In 1975, I had the privilege of reporting the starting of the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) from a few villages in Rajasthan in the company of journalists like John Dayal and photographers like Raghu Rai.

I have read with great interest ISRO chief S. Somanath having been quoted saying that all the scientific principles were contained in the Vedas, which the Europeans appropriated for their own scientific pursuits. I wish he had quoted at least one verse that helped him and his agency in launching Chandrayaan-3.

Nonetheless, I have great admiration for Somanath, who studied engineering at the Thangal Kunju Musaliar College of Engineering at Kollam in Kerala. The college was set up by a Muslim. He was not very educated. He was known as the Cashew King. He had 12 factories to process cashew nuts. He employed 25,000 to 30,000 people. No individual in the world employed so many.

With the money he earned, he could have built a house like the one in which Mukesh Ambani stays. Or, he could have built his own statue that could rival the Statue of Liberty. Instead, he used the money to set up the best engineering college, east of the Suez Canal. I am happy that Somanath is the product of Musaliar’s (1897-1966) vision for a better country.

Our space mission is on the right track. It has many ambitious programmes up its sleeves. One of them is to make a station as close as possible to the Sun to do continuous study of solar energy. A manned mission to the Moon is also on the anvil. 

The Russians have proved that they are no longer a space power, busy as they are fighting their own people in Ukraine. Their lunar mission had to be abandoned on August 19. Of course, China is far ahead of India in space technology but we are close behind.

Unfortunately, as our scientists want to take the country forward, there are forces at work which want to take the country back to the mythical period when esoteric plastic surgery was conducted and people moved about in aeroplanes that could move in four directions and perform feats as described in texts written with great imagination.

What we need is the scientific mind. When a person threw his cigarette butt away, he found that it caused a small flame that never extinguished itself. He got the area dug asking the worker to “Dig Boy, Dig”. That is how oil was found at Digboi in Assam. It was the first oil well in the whole of Asia. Even today it produces oil.

Had the man been superstitious, he would have built a shrine and started worshipping the flame calling it “Jwalamukhi”. We need to build a scientific temper among the people. If Chandrayaan-3 makes us more scientific in our approach to life, it will make India really the Vishwa Guru. Otherwise, we will remain calling one another, Hindu, Muslim, Christian etc forgetting that we are Indians. Courtesy: Indian Currents (

Survey Or Raid Has No Difference To BBC

The word survey means “to examine and record the area and features of a place so as to construct a map, plan, or description”. It also means “to collect data over a period in order to assess them and reach a conclusion”.

The word raid means “a rapid surprise attack on an enemy by troops, aircraft, or other armed forces”. In the civil context, it means sending a large number of officers to an office or home to collect evidence, without giving time to the people concerned to hide or camouflage wealth or data”.

The Income Tax Department says it did not conduct a “raid” on the offices of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in Delhi and Mumbai. What it conducted was a “survey”. What exactly did the department do? It did not give any advance notice to the BBC about the “survey”.

What happened was that a large number of Income Tax officers descended on the two buildings and started searching the offices. The staff, including journalists, were not allowed to make telephone calls, hold meetings or leave the offices. Their computers were opened and they were asked so many questions. The “survey” continued for two days.

How can this be called a survey when it resembles a “raid”? The government wanted to give the impression that what it did was a routine “survey” of the two offices and there was nothing more than met the eye in the action. Let it be made clear that only fools can be misled in this manner.

There was a report circulated by Hindenburg Research, which the mainstream media tried to ignore when it came out. But when it became viral on social media, the media was compelled to take notice of it. What did the report say?

It said that the Adani Group, headed by Gautam Adani, was using devious means to achieve its growth rate. It mentioned how it saved money on tax, how it parked money abroad and how it used the parked money to re-invest in the company and how the company used the expansion process to become richer and richer, day by day.

Adani was just a small company when, in 2014, he gave Narendra Modi his commodious helicopter to campaign all over the country. He is a good investor and he knew that the investment he made in providing a helicopter with full tank aviation fuel and staff throughout the period of the campaign would fetch him rewards.

What a proud moment it was for Adani when Modi arrived in Delhi to take over as the Prime Minister of India in his aircraft! Modi was very grateful to him. Whenever he went abroad, he took with him a group of businessmen in his special aircraft.

He stopped the practice of letting journalists travel with him. Among the businessmen who accompanied him on such trips was Gautam Adani. Neither JRD Tata nor Dhirubhai Ambani had the privilege of travelling with Prime Minister.

Adani used the connections so well that he began to outstep every company in the country. The Tatas, the Birlas, the Ambanis and the Mahindras were all overtaken by the Adani Group in no time. When Covid struck the nation and the government imposed a lockdown on the country, millions of people lost their livelihood.

We saw tens of thousands of people leaving cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad and walking all the way to their villages in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, etc. It was the period when even middle class people were dipping into their savings to manage their day-to-day affairs, as many companies were closed or could not pay salaries.

One extraordinary thing was happening in the country during this period. The Adani Group was growing by leaps and bounds. Everyday its assets were increasing by about Rs 1700 crore. Did Adani invent a new product like a car which can run 10,000 miles on a single litre of petrol?

No, he was doing what a good trader always does. He was fleecing the customer, in this case, the Indian state. He was bypassing every law of the land to become richer. The government helped him in the process by letting him have the contracts for new airports and new seaports.

Suddenly, Gautam Adani became the richest person in India, richer than Mukesh Ambani. What’s more, he became the richest person in Asia that includes China. He also became the third richest person in the world, overtaking Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Speculations already began when he would become the world’s richest person. That is when the Hindenburg Research report came. It was just a prick for the over-aired Adani balloon. Within days, he came down from the position of the third richest person to the 24th richest person!

Social media is full of stories of how he cheated investors and the government to become so rich. All his wealth was based on cooked-up figures. The Group tried to brave the challenge by going forward with its follow-on-public offer worth Rs 20,000 crore.

As was required, some shares were earmarked for the employees of Adani. Who knows the company better than the employees? Is it, therefore, any surprise that only 50 per cent of the shares earmarked for the staff were sold? Only 11 per cent of the shares meant for the general public were lifted?

It means that the people believe in the Hindenburg Research report that the Adani Group used “brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud”. What the report said was known to everyone who matters in the country. If one searches Parliament records, he will know how Opposition MPs had pointed their accusing finger at the Adani Group.

The company was forced to withdraw its follow-on-public offer. It offered to return the money invested to the investors. If the investors were various outfits of the same Group, it could be treated as a coincidence.

As the controversy over the Adani saga filled the minds of the people, one person remained silent. He is Narendra Modi. Even when he was asked specific questions in Parliament, he preferred to attack the Congress for what it did in the hoary past.

A sensible government would have ordered a check of all the institutional mechanisms to ensure that if the Adani Group went down the Sabarmati River, it would not affect the general public, especially those whose money is deposited in banks like the State Bank of India and public sector companies like the Life Insurance Corporation of India.

Instead, a raid-like survey of the BBC was ordered. Ideally, the Income Tax authorities should have conducted the raid on the Adani Group offices to find out the truth contained in the Hindenburg Research report that the people in general believe. Why did it choose BBC, instead?

Let there be no mistakes. It is a retaliation in the context of the two-part documentary the BBC broadcast on the Gujarat riots of 2002 and later developments in the country titled “India: The Modi Question”. Officially what the IT Department said was that the BBC was indulging in “transfer pricing” and “diversion of profit”.

In these days when the Income Tax Department has access to all the banking transactions of a person or a company, it is not difficult to find out if there are any suspicious transactions. In any case, the BBC is a public broadcaster which runs on the licence fee every British citizen pays to listen to or watch its programmes.

Its offices in Delhi do not have transactions which are worth even a fraction of the transaction of the Adani Group which is now under a cloud. The BBC is not new to India.

Former Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s son was so perturbed over the BBC documentary that he even risked his membership in the Congress to attack the BBC.

He asked rhetorically whether the BBC had not shown the Indian map, showing Kashmir as a disputed territory? Did he not know that Britain and the US did not give Modi a visa to visit their countries when he was the chief minister of Gujarat?

Did he not know that the BBC has been reporting India even before his father was born, i.e., when the Rashtrapati Bhavan was known as the Viceroy’s House and the Union Jack received the salute of the Indian Army. If tomorrow India occupies what the Pakistanis call Azad Kashmir and what we call Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, the BBC will show the map differently to indicate that Muzaffarabad and Gilgit are now part of India.

I would have been happy to know Antony Junior’s response to the raid on the BBC, which Rajiv Gandhi tuned into to confirm whether the Intelligence Bureau report about her mother’s assassination was correct or not. Modi was once an unabashed admirer of the BBC when All India Radio was known as All Indira Radio! It is a different matter that Modi evaded arrest and went abroad when the Emergency was clamped on the country.

Even a child knows that the IT survey was related to the BBC documentary which critically examined the riots in Gujarat in 2002, even giving the views of the ruling party. The overall impression it gave to the viewers was that the leadership in Gujarat at that time had a lot to explain for its acts of omission and commission. Modi was the chief minister at that time.

The commentary was a compilation of facts, figures, videos and statements that could be left to the people to reach their own conclusions. The aggrieved parties like the BJP could have come out with their own version of how and why the “pogrom” happened, particularly when the Union Home Minister Amit Shah himself claims credit for the achievements that flowed from the riots.

Even before the second part of the documentary was released, the Government ordered online media platforms to disable the links they had given to the first part of the documentary under rules which should not have been invoked at all.

It also ordered blocking of all tweets that had links to the documentary. Such a hyper-active reaction was unwarranted. It only raised doubts about the government’s own credibility. It is against this backdrop that the people in general have reservations about the IT Survey.

Nobody argues that if the BBC violated Indian tax laws, it should be let off simply because it is a multinational broadcaster with enormous clout. However, there are established ways in which its transgressions, if any, could have been dealt with. The survey was certainly not the way.

It is not the first time that government agencies like the CBI, the IT Department and the Enforcement Directorate have been used to pressurise media organisations which had either critically examined government policies or exposed some wrong-doing.

Organisations like NDTV, NewsClick, the Dainik Bhaskar Group of Publications and the organisation that funds the Centre for Policy Research have over the last few years experienced the high-handedness of such agencies. What the BBC has been undergoing is a similar kind of treatment.

Perhaps, the government wants to proclaim that it can get even with any organisation that embarrasses it, even if it is by way of espousing the truth. Revenge has now become a state policy!

A few years ago, the BBC did a documentary on the Uighars of the Xinjiang province of China, which was not to the liking of the government there. It brought to limelight the problem of missing Muslims. The broadcaster was condemned for what it did.

However, there is a fundamental difference between India and China. While it is a dictatorial regime that rules China, India takes pride in the fact that it is the largest democracy in the world.

A nation cannot be considered democratic, if it does not have a vibrant media that can critique the government. The media serves the purpose of a watchdog and if it is bridled, it will cease to be a democracy.

Ask any media person in Delhi and he will tell you how the government has stopped journalists from visiting the Central hall of Parliament to interact with political leaders. He will also tell you how the government has imposed more restrictions on journalists covering Parliament.

In short, the media has become “unwanted” in the country. Modi believes that he can communicate directly with the people through his tweets and Mann Ki Baath, little realising that a controlled media can play havoc, as it would give credence to rumours. Indira Gandhi realised the danger of controlling the media. Modi too will realise it, sooner than later.

See how the secrecy that surrounded the Adani companies finally brought it down when a mirror was shown to it by Hindenburg Research. (Courtesy: The Indian Currents)