SOME countries dream of building the next generation colliders to unlock
the secrets of the universe, behemoths that will dwarf the Large Hadron
Collider (LHC) that was unveiled in 2008 by the European Organisation for
Nuclear Research, Cern. Others build giant statues of old heroes or focus on
building more temples, a throwback to the communist regimes that have become
history or to more ancient times when building (or destroying places) of
worship symbolised power. And in these differing perspectives we have a clear
delineation between forward-looking and backward-looking nations. If it is the
age of frontier technology under Xi Jinping in China, in Narendra Modi's India
it is revivalism of what is largely an imagined past, a past that is as far
removed from current concerns as it possibly can get.
LHC, built 150 metres underground on the French-Swiss border and boasting a
27-kilometre-wide circumference, has been the core of particle physics
research. For ordinary people, its significance is hard to grasp. Scientists
explain that the LHC smashes subatomic particles at nearly the speed of light,
and has given the world breakthrough discoveries such as the Higgs boson. They
believe the Higgs is a fundamental building block of the universe.
fundamental questions about our universe are still a mystery and cannot be
answered by the limitations of the LHC, the reason why more nations are
embarked on a Holy Grail of building the next-generation experiments or the
super colliders. Japan is planning an International Linear Collider, while Cern
is going ahead with a Future Circular Collider. The most ambitious is China's
project, which is scheduled to break ground in 2021. Experts think this
collider could well define the frontiers of particle physics for the next two
China shows its technological prowess, the Modi regime is pushing India into a
most grandiose of the Modi regime's projects, that is, ignoring the scale of
the calamity inflicted by the demonetisation exercise, has been the
182-metre-high statue of Sardar Vallabhai Patel, a freedom fighter and a
leading light of the Congress party who served as deputy prime minister in
Jawaharlal Nehru's government. While the Statue of Unity, as it is called, was
patently an attempt to appropriate one of the stalwarts of the freedom struggle
to cover the BJP's lack of any of its own, such memorials - there is another
massive statue of Shivaji, the 17th century Maratha warrior, in the Arabian
Sea, off the Mumbai coast - are integral to Modi's idea of a 'New India'. As he
declared in a promotional video, "See our height, measure this nation's height.
This is what we want."
that what Indians really want? Not really, as last week's defeat of the BJP in
three key states in the Hindu heartland show. The statues, the renaming of
cities with Muslim and Mughal names and Modi's special talent for looking back
in anger have failed to provide the outcome the BJP and its ideological
custodian, the Hindu supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), were
did the customary aggressive attack on the Congress and the calumny against
Nehru do it much good. And yet, the focus of the RSS-BJP campaign in the next
general election, according to most reports emanating from these power centres
is expected to be reviving its Ram temple campaign. Since the development
agenda on which Modi swept to power in 2014 has been exposed for the sham it
is, the BJP would use the demand for building the temple, according to some
political analysts, as the overarching narrative to win the general elections.
If that is indeed the case, it would reflect poorly on Indians who surely
should be thinking more of the future than of the past. It's a bizarre agenda
for a country that lays claim to be the rising star of Asia if not of the
do hark back to the past to build bridges to the present but seldom has a
country been naÃ¯ve enough to believe that altering or reconstructing the past
is a panacea for a bleak future. Hopefully, the dissension within the party
should give Modi and the BJP party bosses some pause. At least one forthright
BJP member of parliament has publicly criticised the leadership for pursuing a
backward looking agenda - he named the temple issue as one of the pointless
issues - and alienating the people on its home turf. But panic over losing the
2019 elections may well propel the BJP to ignore sane advice.
is not as if China does not flaunt its desire for a return to the glory days of
its past. The location of its proposed super collider appears to have been
chosen with some thought. It will be built near Qinhuangdao at the end of Great
Wall, bringing together an enormous project that had its beginnings in the 7th
century BC and a stupendous undertaking of the future.
among all nations, may be uniquely placed to pour enormous sums of money into
research projects, but it is pursuing such projects with the clear goal of
becoming the global leader in science, both theoretical and applied. The
approach, notes French historian Francois Godement, director of the Asia and
China programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, is not just about
making China a major cyber power, but "also about China's capacity to shape the
international governance of cyberspace according to its own interests".
India's chest-thumping politicians given to braggadocio should also note is
Godement's observation that although China's developments in the digital and
artificial intelligence arenas "have attracted so much hype abroad it is
sobering to read more modest assessments from Chinese sources themselves".
India's space missions are much to be proud of such as the Mangalayan or the
Mars Orbiter Mission. But did they push back the frontiers? China has just
launched the first mission to the dark side of the moon. It has entered lunar
orbit and scientists around the world are watching the effort with admiration.
India continue to be trapped in an imagined past?