We have arrived – naysayers excuse us

Tapan Misra

The author (left) at his alma mater, Ramakrishna Mission High School, on Teacher’s Day in 2019

We are our own hindrances

In 1972, I was a student of class five in Shibnath High School, on the banks of river Hoogly in the northern outskirts of Kolkata. Tumultuous time in Bengal – Naxalite movement was in peak. Starry eyed, idealistic young people were angry with everything. Staccato of guns, leftovers of Bangladesh War in 1971, would pierce through stillness of night for no reason. Occasional deaths of young people in gun battles used to remove for ever, one or two smiling, argumentative faces from animated discussions in the road corners. All the walls of the classes were scribbled with quotes from Mao Zedong and Lin Biao. The quotes conveyed a meaningless gravity to young minds. No classes were there. Except one teacher, an old man, Baidyanath Babu daring to defy all the surrounding madness. He was religious in taking maths classes for a handful of students like me, who were bored without schools and roaming around nook and corners of locality, chasing pigeons, wheeling a defunct, rickety cycle tyre, playing card games with cards made from used cigarette packets.

In December 1972, my sister forced me to take entrance examination for class six in Ramakrishna Mission High School in our locality. It had day scholars, boarders and a sizeable orphans as students. I just could not make head or tail of Bengali and English question papers. Too tough for a student who almost missed schooling that year. To my surprise, I got selected. Headmaster Samir Maharaj, who is no more, called my father and told him that his ward was selected for scoring full marks in math paper, though I scored neat zeroes in language papers. When I look back, my selection carried very important message which all educationists and parents must grasp : I was selected for what I was, not for what I should have been.

From subsequent experiences for over three decades, I feel there are two major issues in our present day culture which are preventing us to realise our own potentials.

A. Parental pressure is degenerating our children

There lies folly of our education and parental culture. Parents want to force children to live the parents’ own dreams instead of children’s. They want to dictate what the children should opt for. Parents and teachers seem to know everything about the children, forgetting that children are going to live and adjust to a world which will probably be completely different from what their parents and teachers are experiencing. They confuse coaching classes with schooling. Scoring in IIT or engineering entrance examination is regarded as the highest achievement. There is a hierarchy of subjects which are assumed important to shine in life. Medical, Engineering, Science, Commerce, Humanities in the descending orders of preference. Children are constantly bombarded in prestigious colleges and homes – ultimate aim in life is to live abroad. You are taught and conditioned to resent yourself, apolegetic of India and Indianness. We are producing a set of of students, who are not proud of themselves. They are made to feel that they are lesser mortals.

I have been Chairing ISRO’s interview board for long. We have two steps process, we screen first through written examination. Then final selection is based on viva voce. We observed that the typical screening ratio in written examination of boys to girls is 70:30, commensurate with existing gender ratios in engineering. Surprise sprang up in viva voce. Almost 50% of girls were selected vis-a-vis boys to the tune of 30 to 35%. This reversal puzzled us.

When I analysed, I could understand that Indian parents don’t spend much on daughters, don’t send them to expensive coaching centres. Generally they are sent to nearby, not so known, colleges to reduce expenditure. Parents want their sons to be successful at any cost, sending them to costly tuition centres, faraway expensive colleges. In essence boys lose touch of their originality whereas girls retain them as they have no compulsion to lose them. So when faced with questions to test original thought process in our viva voce, girls fared better.

I had another observation. I found boys want to opt for catchy and easy option of work preference like VLSI, programming etc. Whereas tedious and difficult jobs like RF circuit and MMIC design have no takers. Since girls do not protest much, these jobs were forced on them. I must confess that girls executed RF designs in stellar fashion. In my time, SAC had the largest corpus of own MMIC design in India, ranging from L-band to milli metre wave bands. It gives me pride that 80% of them are designed by girls.

Learning is more important than education. Excessive parental attention ruins originality. The above examples show a relaxed education gives better learning and gives courage to take risk as well as succeed.

B. Prevalence of lack of self confidence

This psychological affliction of lack of self confidence has spread to industry, labs, universities. In general there is a feeling that we can only repeat anything what has been done abroad. There is always a disbelief that we can do on our own for the first time. We ourselves have less conviction when we oft repeat that we are second to none.

During Chandrayan 2 time frame, we had difficulty of getting the optical and infra red spectrometer. The imported one had poorer performance by a factor of 2. ISRO never had any history of design of spectrometer optics. All famed designers were not ready to take the risk, as odds against success were very high. I called a meeting of all the designers and I just asked who of them want to take a career risk by attempting spectrometer optics design. One lady raised her hand. I made her leader. Seeing her, a few more volunteered, raising their hands and fingers to different extents. I made them team members. Rest is history. We flew Made in India spectrometer in Chandrayan 2, built at very minimal fraction of import cost.

In India everybody forgot the name of R M Vasagam and Leo Lesrado, makers of satellite and SATCOM payload of our first communication satellite, APPLE in 1981. We built its apogee boost motor, first time in Asia. Surprisingly we did not build upon them. We went for importing 4 satellites of INSAT 1 series, of which one only worked reasonably. I still get a feeling that had we shown our courage to build upon our own contribution, we would have advanced our communication programme by a decade.

Similarly with our Radar imaging programme. In our country, Radar imaging is more important than optical imaging because of widespread cloud, smog and dust coverage. But we arrived in space based Radar imaging scene three decades late. Reason was simple, it was difficult to convince who mattered thar imaging radar can be built by ourselves, they can be built in India, at much cheaper a cost and there is no need to look for a “Suitable Boy”. I, being in the ring, always had the pressure of proving ourselves, lest all our dreams get shelved.

We introduced two new imaging modes in RISAT : Hybrid polarimetry and extra long sliding spotlight imaging mode for very high resolution imaging. Just because none of the SARs in international arena, had these features, I had to personally convince people umpteen times that these modes are not flukes, but scientifically feasible. I am happy to state that we set the standards and these features are adopted by all the current and future soaceborne SAR systems.

We built India’s first High Throughput Satellite, HTS, when nobody believed designers. I fact we were ready for launch when wise people were still on the lookout of imported counterpart, at a whooping cost. This caused piquant situation. GSAT 11 was launched, albeit with lot of drama and personal cost, which I ignored as nation is larger than individual egos.

Many people, including those who built India’s space programme, expressed doubt on my posts(**) whether we are imagining too much that our space programme can be more democratic. Whether we have engineers in the country who can dare tread uncharted path. Can they bring the magic of ISRO widespread? I believe, if we are conscious of our limitations, we are in a better position to circumvent it on our way to success. Let us shed our own inhibitions. It is high time to thump on the table, “Yes we have arrived. Naysayers, kindly excuse us.”

1. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10218220635653855&id=1428772703

  1. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10218269300350442&id=1428772703
  2. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10218387671149638&id=1428772703)

The author, Tapan Misra, is a distinguished scientist. At present he is Advisor in the Department of Space, Government of India. Earlier he was Director Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad.

The dynamics of LAC: Tactical events & geo-strategic implications

Maj Gen Rajiv Narayanan, AVSM, VSM (Retd)

Xi Jinping would need to show greater maturity and review his ‘neighbourhood diplomacy’ policy, especially with respect to India. Such coercive diplomacy may work with weaker nations, but not with India. India is ready to work with China as an equal partner in the region, but is Xi Jinping ready?

The current situation in Eastern Ladakh has spawned many write-ups, tweets and talks on media by few arm-chair strategists without a clear understanding of the terrain and the dynamics along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Some are providing only one half of the information, especially about the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China, and tend to provoke a fear-psychosis by insinuating that the Indian Military is not responding adequately. Wittingly, or unwittingly this plays right into the hands of the China’s Psychological Warfare, and its ‘Wolf Diplomacy’. Some unthinkingly compare the LAC with India’s Line of Control (LC), wherein the dynamics are vastly different. Unlike the LC, events along the LAC, especially stand-offs, tend to have geo-strategic and geo-political implications; sometimes geo-political, or strategic events do lead to such stand-offs.

The LC is well defined, delineated, but not demarcated; defined means point-to-point details are written, delineated means these points and the line joining them are clearly marked on large scale maps – large scale is needed to avoid ambiguity and demarcated means this delineation is marked on the ground by surveyed and numbered boundary pillars. While there was an exercise in defining and delineation of the Cease Fire Line (CFL) in 1948, but it was not demarcated, and has shifted during the ’65 and ’71 wars of the last Century for achieving local tactical superiority. The CFL became the LC post the Shimla Agreement in July 1972. There is a heavy deployment of troops on both sides of the LC, and, since ’89, has been highly active with regular firing, shelling, and cross-border terrorism. Thus, any occupation of unheld territory across the LC, by either side, has military implications – the 1999 Kargil War is an example of that.

The LAC, however, has different connotations across the Western (Eastern Ladakh), Central (Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand), and Eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal) Sectors. In the Western Sector, the Indian claim line is based on the 1865 Johnson Line, claiming the whole of Aksai Chin, while the Chinese had generally accepted the 1899 Macartney-McDonald Line along the Laktsang range till East of Karakoram Pass (overlooking the area where the Chinese built the Sinkiang-Lhasa road). Post 1962, the Chinese have come further ahead. The Central Sector, the boundary lies along the watershed with limited claims by China, while the Eastern Sector has the famous Macmahon line dividing Tibet and British India, drawn on a very small-scale map, with no clear definition, except that it follows the watershed, based on the 1914 Shimla Agreement between British India, Tibet, and China.

Post annexation of Tibet by China in 1950, it has refused to accept the treaty the Qing dynasty had signed with the British India in 1914. That said, the LAC has neither been correctly defined, delineated nor demarcated, even during British India. Thus it suffers from a weakness of differing perceptions of the LAC by both India and China, leading to patrol face-offs and stand-offs like the ongoing one in Eastern Ladakh. However, it must be remembered that unlike the LC, ever since the Tulung La (Arunachal Pradesh) incident in Oct 1975, no shot has been fired in anger by either side despite the many face-offs and stand-offs.

The LAC has a peculiar dimension. There is an area that is under the military control of both sides, then there is the perceived claim of China’s LAC (based of the PLA’s patrolling patterns) and our claim of the LAC, both of which lie within the no-man’s land between the areas under respective military control. Both sides regularly patrol up to their claim lines that has sometimes resulted in face-offs when both patrols are in the same area. Consequent to the various agreements reached by both sides since 1993, there has been a process laid down for select local military commanders to have hotlines, confidence building measures (CBMs), and mutually agreed procedures to manage such face-offs. It is when there is a stand-off(s), like the ongoing one in Eastern Ladakh that the matter needs attention higher up the chain, since the trigger is usually geo-political but the PLA / China tends to give it an operational hue to hide its long-term intentions.

China perceives India as its main challenger in the region, and a threat to its dream of a unipolar Asia under its leadership. A rising democratic and liberal India is also seen as a threat to its narrative that only an autocratic form of governance, like the Chinese model, can succeed economically. However, the Wuhan COVID-19 pandemic and Chinese complicity in hiding its virulence from the world, the global economic impact, its brazenness in pushing a brash narrative through ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy has led to a sharp rise in global anti-China sentiments. These have given rise to aggressive posturing by Xi Jinping from the Western Pacific to Eastern Ladakh. That it is desperate for some geo-political space is understandable, but the strategy chosen seems to be backfiring in the region.

That India has a much better infrastructure and control in Eastern Ladakh than China appears to have slowly dawned on the Chinese Leadership. In the region that they have orchestrated the stand-off, the Indian Army is comfortably placed on interior lines, while the PLA is on exterior lines, with extended lines of communications. There is also a growing perception that India’s military reach to China’s key sensitive points across the LAC has improved with the infrastructure developed in the forward areas.

Thus, this time around, there are no belligerent statements from their Foreign Ministry like there was during the Doklam crisis. The tone and tenor is both soft yet duplicitous, like the Ambassador of China to India stating that ‘China will not let India lose face’; a laughable statement, to say the least, considering that it is China that is now searching for a face saver having bitten off more than they could chew.

China fears the growing close relations between India and USA and is keen to ensure that it can either supress India or coerce it to swing towards it. However, it finds itself in a bind, with growing Indian firmness. It seems it misread the tea leaves while assessing India’s acceptance of the Wuhan and Mamallapuram outreach. With India firm on a status quo ante, USA inviting India to an expanded G7, which India has accepted, the stalled Belt and Road Initiative projects that hurts Chinese economy and the growing voices against the Chinese highhandedness seems to have pushed Xi Jinping to the edge. The current stand-off may not end any time soon, since Xi may face severe internal pressures during the Summer Summit in Beidaihe, in August with the Party Elders.

India’s steady rise as an emerging power leads to a view that it should shed the tag of an Elephant and behave like a Tiger, its national animal, at least in the region. The Tiger is known for its combination of stamina, strength, agility, and tremendous power; the elephant on the other hand, though strong, is ponderous and not usually aggressive. This would entail a rebooting of its geo-economic, geo-political, geo-strategic, diplomatic, and military policies and have a multi-domain integrated approach to firmly preserve its national interests.

While India has overtly shifted to a proactive strategy against Pakistan, it has hedged with China for securing its interests. However, the Wuhan pandemic is not only likely to restructure the global order, but the shifting dynamics provides India with better opportunities in the region to partner with like-minded countries and provide an alternate narrative to China’s model. It would thus enable it to better secure its national interests.

Unless China arrives at a new modus vivendi that is agreeable to India, especially to counter such events, there may be graver situations in future for which the world could hold China responsible.

About the Author

Maj Gen Rajiv Narayanan, AVSM, VSM (Retd), is the Head of Centre for Strategic Studies and Simulation, USI of India. His areas of interest include China, South and Central Asia, Indo-Pacific Region, Future World Order, Regional Multilateralism, and Force Structuring. He has spoken on these topics in many seminars and round table discussions both in India and abroad. He has a vast number of articles, monograph and papers published in Indian Journals and magazines (including web editions) and has curated and edited three books.

Article first published by USI of India on 7 June 2020