PM Modi at ISRO: Much-Needed Assurance or Undue Pressure?
The handling of the Chandrayaan-2 mission has drawn attention to the hype and publicity which preceded its launch. The questions being asked are, “Was all the hoopla necessary? Could it have been avoided?”
The handling of the Chandrayaan-2 mission has drawn attention to the hype and publicity which preceded its launch. The questions being asked are, “Was all the hoopla necessary? Could it have been avoided?”(Image: Altered by The Quint)

PM Modi at ISRO: Much-Needed Assurance or Undue Pressure?

He is known to be acerbic, sarcastic and caustic. While laced with wit and humour, his speeches are never complete without a cutting remark about his political opponents.

His powerful oratory and the combative tone adopted by him have left scores applauding and demanding an encore.

But on the morning of Saturday, 7 September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a transformed person. The nation saw him in a new avatar – a softer and more humane Modi.

He struck all the right notes when he addressed the scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) headquarters after Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram Lander lost communication with the control centre.

The prime minister’s body language was devoid of the usual swagger. He did not grandstand. He was, at once, encouraging and positive.

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‘There Will Be a New Dawn’: Modi

In what was clearly meant to boost the morale of the disappointed team of scientists, Modi applauded their effort and assured them that the nation stands by them.

“India is proud of our scientists. They’ve given their best and have always made India proud. These are moments to be courageous, and courageous we will be,” the prime minister declared, adding, “the effort was worth it and so was the journey.”

Also Read : ‘Best Yet to Come’: PM Assures ISRO After Chandrayaan-2 Setback

Modi also took this opportunity to dispel any doubts about the government’s commitment to the country’s space programme.

The PM empathised with the scientists, saying he shared their sense of despondency but this minor setback would not discourage them and their determination to “touch the moon has become even stronger.”

“There will be a new dawn,” he said.

Modi’s reassuring words and, more importantly, the manner in which he unhesitatingly enveloped a visibly dejected ISRO chairman K Sivan in a bear hug was an immediate sell-out. It, of course, made Modi look good.

At the same time, “the jaadu ki jhappi” was a huge source of comfort for the team of scientists as this one gesture will encourage them to get back to work with greater zeal.

Also Read : Meet ISRO Chairman K Sivan — The Man Heading Chandrayaan 2 Mission

Modi: The Master Showman

Of course, skeptics have been quick to point out that Modi had lived up to his reputation as a master showman and managed to convert even a failed mission into a personal PR success.

The prolonged “hug” – dutifully recorded by a battery of television cameras – became the story of the day while the moon mission itself was relegated to the background. It is clear that the prime minister was compelled to turn the story around to suit him.

He had, in recent weeks, claimed virtual ownership of the moon mission, making it an extension of his election campaign tagline “Modi hai to mumkin hai (If Modi is there, it’s possible).”

Modi’s publicity managers had been hard at work in the run-up to the launch of Chandrayaan-2 to project it as the prime minister’s personal achievement, which would catapult India into the big league of space-faring countries.

Also Read : Timeline: How Chandrayaan-2 Mission Unfolded Before the Setback

Chandrayaan-2: Failure or Success, Modi Looks Good

Had the mission succeeded, this is the story which would have played out. The work of the ISRO scientists would, of course, have been lauded and appreciated, but it can be said with near certainty that Modi would have got all the accolades.

This is exactly what Modi sought to do before the Lok Sabha elections when, in an address to the nation, he announced that India had become the fourth country in the world to bring down a live satellite with an anti-satellite missile.

Questions had then been raised about the need for the prime minister to make such an announcement instead of giving the floor to the concerned scientists. Modi’s address was then aimed at the upcoming general election and also to keep up the momentum on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s war cry on nationalism. It is no different this time.

The handling of the Chandrayaan-2 mission has drawn attention to the hype and publicity which preceded its launch. The questions being asked are, “Was all the hoopla necessary? Could it have been avoided?”

Also Read : Timeline: How Chandrayaan-2 Mission Unfolded Before the Setback

Premature Congratulations & Modi’s Presence – Undue Pressure on ISRO?

Undoubtedly Chandrayaan-2 was a big-ticket programme for ISRO, and its importance needed to be explained to the people.

But the congratulatory messages and explanations could have waited till the mission was completed. This has been the unwritten norm so far. The scientists at ISRO are left alone to do their work while the congratulations pour in only after a particular project has been declared successful.

Much has also been made of Modi’s decision to go to the ISRO headquarters to witness the soft landing of Chandrayaan-2 lander Vikram. A more charitable view is that Modi’s presence and his words of encouragement helped the scientists to deal manfully with their obvious disappointment when their experiment suffered a setback.

Also Read : Watch: PM Modi Hugs ISRO Chief K Sivan After He Breaks Down

Modi’s speech also ensured that there was an all-round appreciation of the efforts put in by Team ISRO.

On the other hand, it can be argued that the high-voltage publicity in the run-up to the mission and the personal interest demonstrated by the prime minister in this programme placed an unnecessary burden on the scientists.

The ISRO chairman’s public breakdown has been attributed to this pressure, which was brought upon him and his team to deliver a success. They could have been spared this humiliation.

(The writer is a senior Delhi-based journalist who can be reached at @anitaakat. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

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