Somethings are beyond protocol. At the portico of the ISRO Command Centre, where ISRO Chairman Dr K Sivan was present to see off Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the usually demure scientist could not control his emotions. He broke down and the PM immediately hugged Dr Sivan close, patting him on the back, and holding on to him for several seconds consoling him. It was not just the picture of the day, it was the picture of India standing by ISRO.
An hour before this emotional moment played out, the Prime Minister had returned to the ISRO Command Centre in Bengaluru for the second time in six hours. The night had not gone as planned and expected. A distance of 2.1 km came in between India and lunar success, with communication snapped with Vikram, the lander.
Over 25 minutes, Modi in his speech attempted to put that distance in perspective. Calling the inability to cover the last mile as a valuable lesson, he motivated the scientists whose shoulders were drooping. He told them India was proud of them and backed them all the way.
When the PM said he had not come to ISRO to lecture them but to get inspired from them, he could not have spoken more true words. The ISRO headquarters in Bengaluru or the launchpad in Sriharikota, which I have had the privilege of visiting and reporting from, is one of the most inspirational places in India. It is another world in itself, where scientists push each other to explore frontiers hitherto unconquered. Everytime I have gone there, interacted with eminent scientists, I have returned enthused, child-like, marveling at the brilliant minds trying to calculate with absolute precision, distances and explorations in the outer space.
Modi’s presence at ISRO should not be seen only in the context of Chandrayaan 2. What it would have done hopefully today, is to enthuse an entire generation of young Indians to look at pure science as an option instead of only looking at conventional streams of engineering and medicine. The fact that the most powerful man in the country is seen rubbing shoulders, shaking hands with every ISRO scientist who was part of the prestigious Chandrayaan 2 mission, should be a huge motivating factor.
In that sense, Modi led from the front and his significance of his gesture, to return to ISRO on Saturday morning, cannot be underestimated. Which is why I see Modi’s address at ISRO not about India of today but India of tomorrow.
But the inability of Vikram to land successfully does not mean in any sense that the mission was a failure. ISRO expected 100 per cent, it ended up with 95 per cent. The fact that for ISRO chairman K Sivan was so upset with it and broke down while bidding goodbye to the PM, shows the dedication levels of those working at the organisation. Sivan has been an exemplary leader who has led the most audacious space mission undertaken by ISRO so far. But to be fair, the credit should also go to the Chairmen who have preceded him, because all have contributed to making ISRO such a wonderful organisation.
Much has been made about the PM hug. About how Dr Sivan was not man enough and wept. I think it is insulting to both – the chairs they occupy and the individuals they are. For one, there is nothing unmanly about weeping, they are an indication that you too are human, they are an expression of your inner emotions. Two, those criticising Modi for consoling Dr Sivan, isn’t that precisely what the head of a family expected to do. To tell you, it is ok, let us try one more time. It is strange that while we are happy applauding a Sanjay Dutt for his Jaddoo ki Jhappi find fault with the PM doing the same.