ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organization, hit the media headlines all over India and perhaps all over the science and technological world for its feat of putting one hundred and four satellites in the space in one go. In this it has surpassed even the USA as far as scientific and technological prowess is concerned.
We Indians are fond of celebrating such events by way of appreciation, dancing, showering all praise on the ISRO community and then forget it till they accomplish another such feat. We are not curious to know why and how it has been able to do it particularly in the vast desert of incompetency and inefficiency exhibited by most other public and private enterprises. Why are the other sectors unable to match, at least to some extent, the ISRO, in their own areas of operation?
In spite of covering the event, writing editorials and conducting TV shows in all the media, without exception, in its appreciation, practically no light is thrown on why it has been possible for ISRO to do it and why it has not been possible for all others in public and private sphere not to achieve something like it? Its relevance to Indian polity in terms of ISRO as an almost ideal system still remains an enigma wrapped in mystery for the most.
We Indians are known since times immemorial as seekers of truth and probing it in its entirety to understand its relevance to our lives in making it happier. Indians by evolution and practice, after realizing the truth of human life, have translated their lifestyles only in one direction and that is to seek salvation, expressed in the form of achieving ‘Moksha’, ‘Permeshthi’, ‘Narayans’, ‘Nirvan’, ‘Arihant’ and so on, as suited individually. As a result material life, in general, was relegated to the background as compared to the attainment of salvation. That is why in spite of producing articles from metals, ceramics, fabrics and their complexes, of internationally recognised standards and achieving one-fourth of the international trade, it remained confined to art and craft and not science and technology on a wider scale.
It could not lead to industrial revolution and its fall-outs in the form of organising the production and distribution activities and thereby the society ever on increasing scale. The net result is that all that quality standards could not compete with the economics of industrial outputs. The latter overtook the former in the market. That is why we could not match the military strength first of the Muslim invaders and then of the Europeans in every respect. Finally, we were enslaved for over a thousand years.
Even after getting independence, we are, by and large, living on borrowed technologies in almost every sphere of social life. No wonder we are unable to produce any international brand product in any field worth the name. Surprisingly tiny South Korea and Israel have many international brands.
Against this dismal picture, the success of ISRO shines far better. What is the reason? Is it that ISRO only gets the talents whereas the rest are deprived of it? The facts are contrary. It needs analysis in detail. No politician dare do this analysis because it is bound to expose their nepotism, corruption, putting selfish interests above national interests and so on.
All over the world the intellectual and creative abilities of Indians are well recognised. That is why the information technology is dominated by the Indians all over the world. In spite of this, the Indian business world is happy to buy new technologies in almost all branches of productive activities. In a way, it is all trade and service and, not any innovative work. Many technologies developed by the advanced nations are only adopted in India without any innovative work to do literally trade only. The public enterprises are no exceptions. The exceptions are only the ISRO, Atomic Energy and DRDO.
In that also the ISRO tops the list. They were developed under compulsions in public sector. The advanced nations refused to give us the technologies in such strategic areas, to maintain India only as a market for them to sell their products and technologies. The only alternative left to India was to develop these strategic technologies indigenously in national interests. The Government realised it and provided necessary finance.
It also picked up the best available Indians to head these organisations and provided them with the required autonomy. That is how Homi Bhabha could build our own nuclear complex that finally culminated in carrying out the atomic and hydrogen bomb test in 1998. In the absence of that, we would never have become a nuclear power. It is the reason why Vikram Sarabhai was entrusted to develop the ISRO in 1969.
Equally true is that DRDO and required research and production facilities were developed at Hyderabad. DRDO, however, was not provided with capable experts and the required autonomy perhaps because of secretive military management and hence it could not flourish to the same extent as the other two. Yet it produced from within the great rocket scientist Abdul Kalam, who was later adorned as President of India by Prime Minister Vajpayee. There is, therefore, some historical overtones how and why these three proved highly successful and ISRO rose to the top amongst the three. Due credit must be given to the visionary Prime Minister Nehru to promote these three in the beginning.
It is true that government also provided plenty of funds in many other productive activities in the form of public sector enterprises but almost none flourished as these three did, ISRO being the best among them. This is what is to be probed and put in society for overall enlightenment to build pressure on the government to achieve the same efficiency as ISRO achieved.
ISRO, therefore, is not just some system or organisation that has produced exceptional scientific and technological feat but it has become a phenomenon in itself against the backdrop of other public and private enterprises. The ISRO feat, therefore, needs to be analysed as a phenomenon in juxtaposition with all others. That is why it is referred here as the process in the form of ISRO-isation.
Productive success like the one achieved by ISRO required many things besides the finance, particularly when it was to be imagined, designed and put into practice as a production unit on a unit to unit basis. In such ventures, governmental/ministerial interference must be practically nil or else it is bound to get embroiled in bureaucratic red-tape.
Luckily these three sectors were spared by the successive governments and were left for experts to manage them. The initial leaders for establishing such ventures were true experts in the relevant area and were given full freedom to lead and build the organisation. These three were lucky to get such freedom from governmental bureaucracy. The rest of the public sector did not get the same. In that also the ISRO was on top amongst the three in building an organisation suitable for creative work. The initial leader established best possible practices in organising, managing and administering ISRO.
The greatness of a leader is recognised by the legacy he leaves behind in his organisation. Out of the three, ISRO did establish best practices that were almost ideally required for blossoming into a world-renowned organisation. There is no bureaucracy in these organisations that can hinder achieving excellence. Seniority is no overriding criteria. Had they gone for tendering and buying the least priced parts they would never have been able to put satellites in space. Had they gone on promoting people on seniority basis they would never have achieved the excellence they did. That is how they stand out amongst the public sector organisations.
The basic problem with individual Indians is that their selfish interests override the social/national considerations. The educational system does not teach the students its importance. The initial leaders of these three organisations perhaps understood it and designed the organisations accordingly. The successive governments also readily obliged them. Management of any organisation involves planning, organising, staffing, leading and controlling. All the three organisations have done their job in this respect as ideally as possible with ISRO the best. The result is before us.
Why can’t we produce the same result in any other public or private enterprise or activity? The reasons are simple. The governments in independent India slowly deteriorated to the stage of controlling everything without leaving scope for experts and talents to contribute their might. A Government’s job is to facilitate productive and innovative activities and not doing them directly. They must leave actual administration, except giving direction, and allow the experts to run the organisations by themselves. What will the bureaucrats and ministers do then? How will they amass illegal wealth without mismanaging their organisations? How will they recruit their own protégés in such organisations and promote crony administration? How will they promote crony capitalism under the garb of socialism?
It is a great wonder that all successive governments spared these three organisations in the public sector and allowed the best practices the experts thought fit to run them. In order to extend the same practices in all other organisations, it is necessary to elect a right government and its right leader and thereby offer right autonomy to experts to run the public sector. The Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Quan Yu in the nineteen sixties and seventies exactly did this and the result is before us in the form of Singapore as a very well developed state in spite of the lack of resources.
Unfortunately, we could not produce Lee Kwan Yu here to allow such things in every other sector. Yet the leaders immediately after independence did play Lee Quan Yuism to a limited extent in some such key areas, albeit under compulsion. But unfortunately, it could not be extended to all other activities. The fact is even an average leaders can allow ISRO-isation of public sector at least. It will also impact the private sector to fall in line to eventually produce brand products. The need for leaders is to lead and not get led by the public.
The fundamental requirement is thus to educate the public at large through proper education to ensure the election of proper patriotic government for national progress in all fields. It alone will allow ISRO-isation of entire Indian polity to make India eventually a super power. But without ISRO-isation nothing will be possible, leave apart progress by way of production of internationally recognised brands.