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What is wrong with Bloomberg comparing Modi to JFK?

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Indian Space Research Organisation chief K. Sivan has some ideas about implementing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s big idea of putting an Indian ‘vyomanaut’ into space. Gaganyaan will be preceded by two crew-less missions, with the final crewed flight due in 40 months from now.

Within 16 minutes of taking off, the crew will be in space, where they will remain for five-seven days. The return journey is expected to take 36 minutes.

Sivan told journalists in Delhi Tuesday that he and his team at ISRO were “constantly in touch” with Rakesh Sharma — the only Indian to have gone into space so far on a Soviet launch vehicle. “We are calling and getting his advice and experience and it is very useful,” he said.

ISRO believes that Gaganyaan 2022 will generate 15,000 jobs.

Several foreign news media outlets have taken note of PM Modi’s speech on India’s space exploration ambitions. Interestingly, a Bloomberg report comparing Modi to John F. Kennedy, the US President who did more than any other American leader to challenge Soviet hegemony in space, is one among many. The Guardian also called Modi’s speech a “JFK moment”. Bloomberg’s Anurag Kotoky pointed out that the goal will lead India to “break into an elite club”.

With ISRO’s exploration of the universe ongoing for some time, India has, in some ways, already broken into this club. Most recently, NASA conceded that an Indian satellite sent back images of ice from the Moon. The second moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, carrying an orbiter, a lander and a rover, will be launched in January 2019. India’s Mars mission, Mangalyaan, famously made on a budget less than Hollywood space hit Gravity, impressed the world with its successful takeoff in 2013.

The key difference, of course, is that  JFK’s speech on space was a plea to the US Congress to provide funds for his (ambitions), while Modi’s was more in the nature of a proclamation. As ISRO Chief Sivan said, “PM has given the target of 2022 and it’s our duty to meet it.”

The question that remains is, why does the foreign media have to explain a “foreign” event in terms of their own experience? For example, the Nehru-Gandhi family is routinely described as being “akin to America’s Kennedy clan” (Reuters), while Bengaluru is widely described as “India’s Silicon Valley”. Apart from the matter of cultural appropriation, this insistence on looking at everything through its own lens also lends itself to simplistic categorisations.

Perhaps the explanation is far simpler. As Rudyard Kipling said a hundred years ago, the twain, the East and the West, shall never meet. All characterisations of a “global village” today are more pretentious than we think. That’s why the “JFK moment” is important. It’s important to remember, though, that some countries that don’t have a media of their own tend to take what is said by the powerful First World press as the God-given truth, thereby eliding their own nuance.

Activists arrested in nationwide raid

Unprecedented raids across the country led to the arrest of five human rights activists, reports The Times of India. Police have accused the five of being linked to the CPI (Maoists) and “Elgar Parishad, a public meeting, held in Pune on 31 December 2017, a day before the violence at Bhima-Koregaon”.

According to The Indian Express, retired Supreme court judge P. B. Sawant said of the raids, “These are really worrying developments. This is a campaign of misinformation.”

News it’s just kinda cool to know

Scientists from Stanford University have created an AI programme, Atom2Vec that can organise elements on a periodic table in few hours, reports Hindustan Times.

NASA shows pictures of aerosols, reports The Hindu. Airborne particles or droplets, which come in different forms are a result and a contributory factor in global warming. The differentiation in colour marks black carbon particles in red, dust in deep purple and sea salt in blue.

Courtesy: NASA

Business Class

Warren Buffett-led Berkshire Hathaway has picked up a minority stake in Paytm. The Economic Times explains how the deal was clinched.

The Anil Agarwal-led Vedanta Ltd got 41 out of 55 blocks on offer in the country’s first round of oil and gas auctions under the Open Acreage Licensing Policy, reports Business Standard.

Point of View

Last week in London, Congress president Rahul Gandhi denied the party’s involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The Indian Express writes in its editorial, “The Congress was in power when the killings took place and its Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi sought to justify the violence; in 2005, another Congress Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, apologised to the Sikh community in Parliament…”

The Punjab government has proposed an amendment in law to make sacrilege of religious texts punishable with life imprisonment…” Politician Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda writes in his column in The Times of India, “Ultimately, to be truly secular, a modern democracy has no real alternative to keeping the state out of religion.”

Courts in mature democracies are mandated to interpret the Constitution and uphold the liberties of people. Journalist Varghese K. George writes in his column in The Hindu, “The turbulence within the Indian judiciary and in its relations with the political executive and the legislature could also be seen in the context of the ongoing populist project to reshape the country.”

Prime Time

India Today TV discussed the arrest of five activists for alleged Maoist links.

Rajdeep Sardesai began the broadcast with a question: Were police ‘soft’ on Sanatan Sanstha, the Right-wing outfit whose members have been named in the rationalist assassinations, but tough on Left activists? Gaurav Bhatia of the BJP claimed the arrests came after thorough investigations. However, according to senior journalist Gurbir Singh, the writing was on the wall: “Don’t criticise the government.”

#BhimaKoregaonraids were the talking point on CNN News 18 as well.

MP and RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha said the activists were charged on three serious accounts of inciting violence, receiving foreign funds and being part of a larger conspiracy against the Prime Minister. Prof. Dinesh Varshney of the Communist Party of India countered the statement, saying the arrests were a result of the government’s attempts to divert attention from the Sanatan Sanstha.

(With inputs from Rajgopal Singh)

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