Our ‘Sputnik Moment’ – a collective and creative will to redefine ourselves


India or for that matter the world is passing through a churning process of history; it is very difficult and trying times. The COVID-19 has not only affected the world at large, but also India as well. The entire nation is caught between life and livelihood. But nothing is more precious than life. No wonder Prime Minister Narendra Modi very aptly said, “Jaan hai to Jahaan hai”. His address had a mesmerising effect on the people. His connect with the people is palpable- so natural and so genuine, profound that one hears to him with rapt attention. When we hear his address to the nation, one is reminded of the historic words of the famous American President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” The country is certainly doing enough for the country, the state and the government is not abdicating its responsibility for the rich and poor alike including its Diaspora abroad. Now it is the time what the citizens can do for the country.

When people in the developed countries, with due sympathy to them, are dying for lack of medical facility, in India we do not have such a grim situation. If it is somewhere there, as it is, it is more man made than lack of governmental action. Let’s not get into such unnecessary debate. The outbreak and spread of COVID-19 has devastating consequences on the economy and consequently on the life of the people. While it is now a matter of investigation as to the origin and spread of the pandemic, and no one knows how independent will be the probe, the pandemic has resulted in the death and suffering of the people the world over including in India. But look at the country’s resolve and people’s fortitude and compliance to the exhortation of Prime Minister’s appeal for social distance and the norms of lock down. It is not clear when the dreaded virus will be wiped out or not or we will have to live with it, one thing is clear we will have to take it as a challenge and opportunity, as I wrote elsewhere “Sputnik Moment[i]” to reinvent ourselves and dedicate our time, attention and energy to rebuild the nation. It is a historic moment which needs to be sieged and not squandered.

The work ethics and work norm have to be redefined. Often jobs in India are perceived as livelihood, there is no quarrel on that. But it is time, can we, while earning a livelihood, also contribute to nationhood, the wellbeing of the nation; Can we combine individual wellbeing with social wellbeing or collective wellbeing? Each one of us can contribute for the wellbeing and growth of the nation. You need not be an MP or MLA to contribute your mite for a healthy and harmonious society. Just be a law abiding citizen- pay your taxes, obey the traffic rule, do not spit in public places, adhere to social distancing norms, wash your hands and in doing this you will have succeeded in preventing the pandemic. If you are good parents, inculcate in your children some discipline like honesty, integrity, truthfulness, sensitivity, commitment and produce a responsible citizen, this in itself is a great contribution. At the call of the Prime Minister, people from all walks of life have joined in our collective fight against the pandemics even at the cost of their lives- be it doctors, the nursing staff, security personnel, civil servants, Foreign Service officials, civil aviation officials and staff. The way PM Modi has mobilised people is mind boggling, which was evident on the day of Janata curfew and the lightening of the ‘Diya’.

Now as I call it, the ‘Sputnik moment’ for India. We have to realise our infinite potential to secure India’s rightful place in the comity of nations. We have resources, we have talent, we have energy, we have vision and finally in Prime Minister Modi, we have the leadership. Each one of us needs to contribute in our resolve and commitment to make this country great. We have to work hard, very hard indeed. Our products and services should be world standard and competitive. Under the banner of ‘Make in India’, India should go for genuine joint ventures with private sectors, public sectors and foreign collaborators. We have to aim at excellence to meet the world standard. As prime Minister very correctly articulated India’s call for self-reliance is neither isolationism nor protectionism, rather it is integration and not isolation. The world has witnessed different patterns of growth and development; some are mercantilist or predatory in nature sort of neo-imperialism. But India stands apart. In India’s developmental assistance strings are not attached. Our development assistance is aimed at empowering, not tied to strings.

The bottom line of this article is that each one of us is a stake holder in the development and growth narrative of the country and we are all capable of making our humble contribution to make this country great for the betterment of the humankind.

(The writer is a senior fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi. Views are personal.)

[i] Covid-19: Can it be India’s Sputnik Moment?, Vivekananda International Foundation, April 11, 2020, https://www.vifindia.org/2020/april/10/covid-19-can-it-be-the-sputnik-moment-for-india

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