What India’s space mission can teach us

India can teach us a lesson. Although many disagree with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brand of democracy, a recent event in Indian history has proven admirable.

In light of the failure of India’s recent Chandrayaan 2 space mission, a cocktail of international public opinion has been circulating on the reasons for its failure.

The BJP government has been bombarded with messages of “condolences” and encouragement, as well as stinging accusatory attacks. Even our Malaysian public have their own opinions on the matter, given Modi’s latest aggressive “Hindutva project” in Kashmir and the Zakir Naik debacle.

Amid the myriad of analyses, though, one thing remains admirable about the Chandrayaan 2 episode, something Malaysians should envy India for.

The Chandrayaan 2 project saw a significantly high number of women scientists in a completely indigenous scientific venture.

On his exit from the Indian Space Research Organisation, Modi addressed a large group of young students who were also in attendance at the Tracking and Command Network centre.

Two students were selected from each state in India, evenly divided between the genders. They were inquisitive, asked appropriate questions, demonstrated maturity and indicated that India’s future is right on track, evidenced by their youthful enthusiasm.

These events highlight our own shortcomings, not because Malaysia too should have a space programme. Far from it! Even a Malaysian flying car project is totally unnecessary, let alone a probe in search of lunar water resources.

It is relevant because we have a lot to learn about true grit, strategic planning, humility and self-confidence. It is relevant because our leadership should project a vision for the immediate five to 15 years.

The period leading up to May 9, 2018 characterised our former leadership’s lack of moral conviction. The period after GE14, however, is wrought with confusion.

India’s space mission should teach us about national self-esteem, confidence, collective goals and assertiveness.

While India focuses on breakthrough scientific research and national pride, Malaysia continues to tinker in its own destructive form of ideological engineering, devoid of economic and scientific breakthroughs.

We should stop thinking that we make breakthroughs by modifying rules, resurrecting old laws and perpetuating myths. Even though a crisis in India’s poverty persists, closely connected with communalism, they are on the world map for positive reasons.

Their commitment to formulating a 21st-century scientific, technological and geopolitical identity for themselves is a step in the right direction.

In Malaysia’s case, we continue to be embroiled in several crises: economic, political and ideological. From our education policy and miscalculation of poverty indicators, to positions on international human rights, it is obvious that our nation is groping for strategic traction.

Despite the transfusion of “new blood” into our leadership, we continue in a half-hearted, superficial vision of development.

Instead of focusing on education, poverty and our economy, we have chosen to resurrect the religious and racial narrative, energised by extreme identity politics.

Dear leaders, our public is exhausted, disillusioned and fed up. Fellow citizens, you too must refrain from lapping up this silly attempt at distraction.

Lately, there has been an overindulgence in the profane: who is a “pendatang”, who is a religious deviant and purchasing what goods produced by which ethnic group. This is an infantile state of affairs, because it is so obvious that we have deliberately strayed from the real issues. It is also disappointing that the Pakatan Harapan government has failed to take control of the situation. The following is what “control” means.

First, settle the 1MDB scandal. Unless we do this, we will continue as a nation defined by a crisis in confidence.

Lessons from Carter

During the period of the energy crisis of the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter addressed the nation on television to discuss the recession. He mentioned the meeting he had at Camp David, with leaders from the business, labour, education, political and religious sectors.

Carter’s basic message to the American public was that they were suffering from a deep moral and spiritual crisis of confidence. He deduced that these were the reasons why the US seemed unable to hoist itself out of its economic troubles.

More importantly, Carter admitted that part of the problem was his failure to provide strong leadership on many issues, particularly energy and oil consumption.

The American public also saw the federal government as a bloated bureaucracy that had become stagnant and was failing to serve the people. Carter’s response was that politics was full of corruption, inefficiency and evasiveness.

Fellow Malaysians, does this not sound familiar?

Evasiveness has ruled our polity. By delaying the 1MDB decision, we are sparing the rod and spoiling the child.

As of Sept 8, Najib Razak’s opinions on all and sundry are still entertained in the media. Is it really important for the public to know what his opinion is on the haze in Sarawak? Where is the sense of urgency to cut the noose that has been around every Malaysian’s neck?

Being embroiled in a criminal case of global proportions, Najib himself should exercise restraint and dignity. All parties involved should work tirelessly to conclude this case. There is no need to tip-toe around and evade the inevitable: guilty or not guilty.

We, the public, need closure. We need a boost of confidence in our judiciary and the legal process.

Second, hone down on improving the economy. Stop politicising poverty. Leaders should be honest the way Carter was with his fellow Americans. Beef up our civil service; it is inefficient, insolent and too comfortable. Admit that we struggle when it comes to public administration and implementing reforms.
Leading officials within the government should also be less trigger-happy in making un-researched statements and proposals. It is frustrating that when the public questions, the leadership typically responds by back-peddling or denying without any substantiated justification.

Our Islamic narrative

Jakim must change its narrative. Focus on the Muslims who are economically backward. Focus on the current economic realities.

Anti-Shia sermons and what they interpret as a Shia version of Ashura are utterly useless. Our Muslim leadership has to make the effort to educate themselves in Islamic economic history.

The root cause of the economic backwardness of the Muslim world is not Islam or Arab cultural patterns, or oil, the Arab-Israeli conflict and desert ecology. History has proven that an autocratic environment within the Muslim leadership led to the emergence of religious leaders as the only “check” on the corrupt power of political leadership.

Historically, these theologians blamed the invisible hand of Western imperialism, through which puppet Muslim autocrats thrived.

Today, the trend towards Islamic extremism in Malaysia is blamed on “liberal” and “deviationist” imperialism. Thus, narratives on enlightened Islam and the economic progress of Muslims in Malaysia are overtaken by attacks on the “un-Islamic deviants” and Shia ideologies.

What is lacking is a concerted effort to analyse economic policies that will reduce poverty. Sermons in mosques must focus on maqasid shariah. They have to nag about alleviating poverty to improve the human condition. It is about time, too, that our Muslim scholars preached about population control.

Strategising these key areas has to be done concurrently. So far, we have been good at wasting time. We are excellent at deflecting causes, and we are experts at blaming someone or something else.

In a video that has now gone viral, India’s space agency chief K Sivan broke down because of the failure of the lunar mission. Many criticised him for lacking professional decorum.
However, this shows a deep sense of shame and the ability to accept failure.

Malaysians should learn these values.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.