« Back to articlePrint this article

Govt, Oppn spar over who did more for space mission

September 21, 2023 23:17 IST

The Lok Sabha on Thursday witnessed sharp exchanges between the Opposition and treasury benches during a discussion on Chandrayaan-3's success with INDIA bloc members asserting the mission was not the result of one particular individual's efforts but of continuity in national governance and the Bharatiya Janata Party hitting back, accusing them of indulging in "Nehru bhajan".

IMAGE: BJP MP Tejasvi Surya speaks in the Lok Sabha during the special session of Parliament, in New Delhi, September 21, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

During the day-long debate, the lines between science and religion often got blurred with many invoking religious texts and the contribution of 'rishi munis' to highlight India's tryst with the extra-terrestrial world.


However, opposition members stressed on encouraging scientific temper and keeping religion and science separate.

Initiating a discussion on the success of the mission and other achievements in the space sector, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said of the 424 foreign satellites launched by India so far, 389 have been done in the last nine years of the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

He said with the successful launch of foreign satellites, India's space sector is rapidly gaining a prominent place in the world.

"This special session of Parliament is dedicated to the 'Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam'. In such a situation, I consider the bill as a gift presented by a grateful nation to the women scientists of ISRO, and along with them the entire female scientific community of India," he said.

"Science is value neutral. It can give us knowledge of nuclear power, but it is our culture which tells us whether we use that power in the form of energy for our own development or in the form of a weapon to destroy others," he said.

He said it doesn't matter how much progress science makes, it will remain incomplete without culture and values.

He said that due to the foreign invaders, there was a halt in the progress, but now once again it is roaring with more strength than before.

The defence minister stressed the importance of cultural security, describing it as equally important to border, space, cyber, economic, social, food, energy and environmental security.

"No nation has made economic, social, political and scientific progress without cultural renaissance," he said, adding that to take the nation forward, it is imperative to learn from India's own culture.

Singh said India's faith and culture is of inclusive nature and its cultural nationalism teaches everyone the concept of brotherhood of all humanity.

Responding to the discussion, Union minister Jitendra Singh said Indian Space Research Organisation scientists are eagerly waiting for the Vikram lander and the Pragyan rover of Chandrayaan-3 to wake up from their 14-day sleep during the lunar night.

After the minister spoke, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said one should not confuse science with superstition.

He said the government was crediting Modi for every achievement.

Hitting back, minister Singh said it should be counted how many times he took the name of the prime minister and how many times the opposition members took the name of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said the landing of a spacecraft on moon was the culmination of the efforts put in by all governments over the past six decades, starting from the days of Nehru.

He said today some in the government seek to make this rare moment to bask in glory and "polarise" the country by speaking as if all space endeavours only began in 2014.

"The truth is, our space success are consequence of continuity in national governance and what has been achieved today stands on the shoulders of many past achievements... This is the achievement of successive years of making the right governance choices," the Congress member said.

The Chandrayaan-3 triumph is that of across the political divide and it does not belong to any one person or one party, he said, adding, "Who can deny India owes its remarkable progress in space exploration in large part to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's dedication to developing a scientific temper among Indian people."

Hitting out at the opposition for "indulging in Nehru bhajan" instead of "ISRO bhajan", Bharatiya Janata Party MP Tejasvi Surya said the reality is that most of the scientific institutions were started by people in pre-independence period and former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had no role in it.

He said Arcot Ramasamy Mudaliar and Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar established the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in 1942.

"What role did Nehru play - in one of the meetings, Pandit Nehru said 'the members of the governing body will appreciate that it is difficult for me to devote much time to many aspects of the work of the Council.... For the present, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee will, however, look after the day-to-day routine work of the Council'," Surya said.

He claimed it was Mookerjee, the founder of Jana Sangh, under whom the country's earliest scientific establishments were strengthened.

"The opposition indulged in 'Nehru bhajan' since morning instead of ISRO bhajan. An impression is being given that every scientific achievement is credited to Nehru but the reality is far from that...most of the scientific institutions were started by people in pre-independence period when Nehru had no role in it," he said.

Surya said it was former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who approved Chandrayaan-1 in 2003 but the Congress-led UPA government named the Moon Impact Probe of the Chandrayaan-1 as Jawahar point even though Nehru had no role in the Chandrayaan mission.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's A Raja asked the government not to give any "unscientific colour" to the Chandrayaan mission and said the effects of India's growing scientific prowess should percolate down to society.

Raja said India is among the top four superpowers in the world after the US, Russia and China, and added that till 1950, the universe and the galaxy were treated as "riddle".

"By putting the Chandrayaan in the correct orbit the mythological illusion has been removed and that is the success of Dravidian concept," Raja said.

"I plead the government do not give any unscientific colour to Chandrayaan. America, the erstwhile USSR and China did not do that. Please put Vikram Sarabhai's name for Chandrayaan 3," Raja said.

Chandrayaan-3 touched down on the lunar south pole on August 23, propelling India to an exclusive club of four and making it the first country to land on the uncharted surface.

Raja said, "I feel that on one side you are sending Chandrayaan to the space and (on other side) your heart and brain going down somewhere else. It is contradiction.... On one side the prime minister was jubilant for Chandrayaan-3 and on the other he was very proud to launch Vishwakarma scheme."

He said the PM Vishwakarma scheme encourage people engaged in traditional craftsmanships, like barbers and goldsmiths, to remain in those professions only.

BJP member Nishikant Dubey, however, took objections to Raja's speech saying that Article 25 of the Constitution allows everyone to follow any religion of choice and no person can question their religious belief.

"But he (Raja) is attacking us. We follow Sanatan Dharma and we are Hindu, and you have no right to attack us," Dubey said.

Rajendra Agrawal, who was chairing the proceedings of the House, cautioned Raja and asked him to be careful in his remarks.

"Sometimes mythology and history are mixed. They cannot be separated altogether. In our country it is a tradition to tell history through mythology," Agrawal said.

Trinamool Congress' Saugata Roy said Chandrayaan-3 is not the result of one particular individual's efforts but of 50 years of scientific work done by hundreds of scientists throughout the country. He credited the likes Nehru, former prime minister Indira Gandhi, ace Indian scientists Vikram Sarabhai, Satish Dhawan and U R Rao for the advancement of India's space programme, claiming that the BJP had "no role" in it.

"When somebody at the top says that (lord) Ganesh had plastic surgery, I do not accept it. When someone says Kauravas were born due to IVF, I do not accept this. In Ramayana, the pushpak rath was a discovery by Indians, I don't accept it. I only accept what is proved by science," he said.

Shiv Sena's Prataprao Jadhav said Modi's tenure has put the country at the forefront of scientific accomplishments.

He said the creation, protection and destruction of 'Brahmand' (universe) is in the hands of "Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh", some call them God.

"While giving credit to the scientists, I would also like to credit our rishi-munis who wrote our religious texts and thousands of years ago, made a mention of all these things," he said.

Janata Dal-United's Dileshwar Kamait, BJD's Achyutananda Samanta, BSP's Ram Shiromani Verma, BRS' Kotha Prabhakar Reddyalso lauded the efforts of scientists.

Rashtriya Lok Jan Shakti Party leader Prince Raj hit out at the opposition, alleging that they were trying to take credit for Chandrayaan-3.

Congress MP Karti Chidambaram said, "I completely understand our heritage and history has been very closely associated with science and with astronomy. We need to do research, test and go back to our roots to find out where did we lose this science which we had."

BJP MP Jayant Sinha, meanwhile, contended that science and 'sanskar' (culture) go together for Indians, and there is no contradiction.

He also mentioned the contribution of Nehru in starting the ISRO, and added that Modi has doubled ISRO's budget in the last nine years.

National Conference MP Hasnain Masoodi stressed that while it was a great success, India should not forget the real issues such as bridging the healthcare gaps.

"We should not hide behind praise and forget the real issues," he said.

© Copyright 2024 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.