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Why India’s Mars Mission is about more than power and prestige

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This handout photograph released by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on November 6, 2013, shows the PSLV-C25 rocket carrying the Mars Orbiter Spacecraft blasting off from the launch pad at Sriharikota on November 5, 2013. (AFP Photo)

Space travel has historically been closely tied to competition for political prestige and influence in international relations, but the Nov. 5 launch of India’s Mars mission orbiter spacecraft by India has proved there is much more to it than that.

The fact that India’s first inter-planetary satellite was built by its own homegrown scientists in barely 15 months, at a record-low cost of $73 million, has become a matter of intense pride, and part of Indians’ collective psyche.

It was a can-do, Sputnik-like feeling that defied the usual lament that defines average Indians who feel let down by daily governance failures and infrastructure bottlenecks of a dysfunctional governance system. That same system delivered a psychological ticket into the wider solar system for Indian people who crave grand achievements and global recognition for their scientific human capital.

The widespread joy in the nation at the launch of the India’s Mars mission orbiter, Mangalyaan, should not be mistaken for vanity or escapism, however. Patriotic Indians are acutely aware of the rising profile of their country in global economics and geopolitics, alongside other emerging powers belonging to BRICS and similar groups. Every milestone in advanced rocket science, literally a rarefied and sophisticated field that few nations can master, is a shot in the arm for national self-confidence, showing that India is headed for global leadership. When the chips are down, or if there is a national calamity, memories of the Mars orbiter blazing a trail in the sky will sustain the faith that the future belongs to India.

Perception of competition with China

Many analysts argue that India is engaged in a space race specifically with China, and that the former’s Mars orbiter was spurred on by the failure of China’s Yinghuo-1 mission to Mars in November 2011.

The Indian Space Research Organization’s chief scientist, K. Radhakrishnan, rejects such comparisons, however, saying: “We are in competition with ourselves, in the areas we have charted for ourselves.” For the scientific community, which is directly involved in high stakes projects such as the Mars orbiter, it is obvious that they set goals internally and are determined to achieve them. However, the belief that India is trying to steal a march over China is widespread.

China’s state-owned media have also echoed this perception, by reacting with jealousy or wariness to India’s Mars mission. The Global Times, published in Beijing, tried to reassure nationalistic Chinese readers that in space technology, their country “has already been in advance of India” and that China “has no choice” but to invest more in its own space exploratory abilities “in front of an India that is striving to catch up with China.”

Yet, unlike in the Cold War era, when the USSR and the US engaged in a spectacular tit-for-tat space race while remaining economically and politically estranged from each other, China and India today have a booming trade relationship and are not engaged in any outright ideological confrontation. If there is a “new Cold War” rivalry now, it is more between a whole group of powers led by Russia and the US.

There are elements of a Cold War mindset when China and India square off in strategic competition, but it remains embedded within the liberal framework of economic globalization and cooperation. The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s call for “joint efforts” in space exploration after India’s Mars orbiter launch underlines the complexity of this key bilateral relationship in Asia.

India is mindful that the strides it’s making in space science can also be a medium for enhancing international cooperation. For instance, its Moon mission in 2008 won the International Cooperation Award from the International Lunar Exploration Working Group for carrying a payload of as many as 20 countries.

As India’s satellite launch capacity expands, it can also offer friendly countries a platform for joint space exploration and help to mitigate predictions of galactic war. Through technology, India can assume international leadership in cutting-edge dimensions and issues.

India’s Mars Mission – Race to be first in Asia

Missions to Mars are treacherous, however. Scientists at the Indian Space Research Organization point out that 30 out of a total of 51 Mars missions, from various countries, have ended in failure.

Bets are currently being placed on whether India’s Mangalyaan (Mars Craft) will succeed in reaching Mars’ orbit and detecting possible signs of life there in the form of methane gas.

The satellite is projected to reach its destination, 400 million kilometers away, by September 2014. Asia’s two largest economic powers, Japan and China, launched their own Mars missions in 2003 and 2011, respectively, but neither of them reached Mars’ orbit due to technical problems. Regardless of the current euphoria in the Indian media surrounding the launch, the scientific verdict on Mangalyaan will only come later. A sobering reminder comes from India’s first lunar mission, Chandrayaan, which was designed to explore the moon for two years, but was declared lost after 312 days due to technical snags.

India is only the sixth power to embark to Mars. If India’s Mars mission succeeds, India would be the first in Asia to do so, and only the fourth in the world after the Soviet Union, the US and the European Union.

Military angle

There are obviously military applications to India’s space program, and India’s longstanding National Satellite System, now in its third decade, has long been closely linked to its Integrated Missile Development Program,
which built India’s intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Today, India can boast of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) named Agni V with a strike range of 5,000 kilometers. This is due in part to the cooperation between the civilian scientific community and the defense industry.

Since the weaponization of space is now in full throttle, with the Chinese competing hard against Russia and the US, one benefit for India of projects such as the Mars orbiter mission is that it demonstrates the country’s long-range military potential. It is tacitly acknowledged that the civilian space program brings strategic benefits to the country, as military thinkers say space will be the arbiter of future wars. The potential dual use of space technology is why the Chinese media has reacted to India’s Mars orbiter by reminding the Chinese people of the need to “construct our comprehensive strategic power.”

Brainpower versus naysayers

As can be expected in a developing country with a free media, in the run-up to the Mars orbiter launch Indian opinion makers also considered the opportunity costs of space missions. Even though the costs of Mangalyaan are revolutionarily low by global standards and a feather in the cap for India’s famed ‘frugal innovation’ industry, some in India complained about “wasteful expenditure” on nationalistic ego trips, when money could have been better spent on economic development schemes and alleviating poverty.

But the “guns versus butter” argument, which assumes that there has to be a tradeoff between state spending on military and the basic needs of citizens, is negated by the concrete benefits that India’s satellite system has brought to the lives of ordinary people. From meteorological predictions that have saved thousands of lives from natural disasters, to broadcasting and telecommunications, India’s National Satellite System has greatly helped human development in the country. If India remains poor and plagued by economic imbalances and inequalities, blaming greedy space scientists is way off the mark.

Returning to the national psyche, why has the Mars orbiter launch struck such a chord among all sectors and classes in Indian society? It’s because India has always viewed its intellectual and mental faculties as extraordinary, and rocket science is revered as a key frontier of the human mind. Children in India learn in school textbooks about the ancient astronomer Aryabhata (AD 476–550) and his prescient works about the solar system and models in which the earth turns on its own axis. Especially in southern India, which produces the vast majority of the astrophysicists who lead the country’s space research, the tradition of excelling in mathematics and physics is deeply ingrained in the culture.

To most Indians, their support for the Mangalyaan mission is not only about winning the space race for international prestige and influence, but also about reaffirming the core love in Indian society for pure and applied science, which is considered the summit of intellectual achievement and the testing ground for individual brilliance. The Mars orbiter speaks to the innate curiosity and rational scientific temper that Indians aspire to. In short, it’s India’s alter ego in space.

Continue Reading: Asia’s Race to Mars; India’s Power Projection and Criticism

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The World Reporter. The article was first published on RT
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Sanskar Shrivastava is the founder of international students' journal, The World Reporter. Passionate about dynamic occurrence in geopolitics, Sanskar has been studying and analyzing geopolitcal events from early life. At present, Sanskar is a student at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture and will be moving to Duke University.

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A Historical exploration of Khajuraho

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The UNESCO world heritage temples of Khajuraho are situated in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. Built by the kings of Chandela dynasty during 950 to 1050 AD, these exquisite temples were lost to the world from 13AD onwards till they were discovered by the British in 1838 under the cover of dense date palm trees.

 This collection of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples are Khajuraho temples are famous for art on stone. Variously described as living temples, Temple of Love and consisting of unique erotic sculptures the Khajuraho group of temples are considered by many to be the pinnacle of India’s temple art. The temple complex creates an eclectic mix of spirituality, eastern philosophy, architecture and cultural heritage.

Khajuraho is best visited during winter on account of its extreme climate. Summer months can be very hot. The famous Khajuraho Dance Festival is held in March and attracts visitors from across the world.

 Khajuraho is well connected to major cities by train and by air. The airport is 5km from the city centre and links to Delhi, Agra and Mumbai. It is best recommended to use a trusted cab service provider like Savaari, where you can make an online booking by downloading the Savaari App.

Western Group of temples.

 The Western group of temples have the largest of the temples and are richly decorated and form the main area of attraction

  • Lakshmana Temple – The temple dedicated to the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is the oldest of the Khajuraho temples and has some the finest sculptures that can be seen in India.
  • Kandariya Mahadeo Temple – This Shiva temple is covered with beautiful carvings, sculptures and frescos that are known for their beauty, grandeur and finesse.
  • Devi Jagdamba Temple – This relatively dainty temple dedicated to Goddess Jagadamba has three bands of sculptures and the uppermost layer has some of the most erotic sculptures that Khajuraho is also famous for.
  • Chitragupta Temple – One of the rare temples of the Sun God in the country.
  • Vishwanath Temple – The temple is unique for its colossal bull statue dedicated to Nandi, the favourite companion of Lord Shiva.

Eastern Group of Temples

  • Parsvanath Temple – The Jain temple shows an eclectic mixture of Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim influences in its three roof architecture.
  • Ghantai Temple – This Digambar Jain temple has a beautiful frieze inscribed on stone depicting the 16 dreams as seen by the Mother of Lord Mahavira. The temple though gets its name from the remarkable pillars, carved with chains and bells.
  • Brahma Temple – Among the oldest temples in Khajuraho, the temple is built entirely using granite and sandstone and dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

 Southern Group of Temples

  • Chattarbhuj Temple – Situated 3 km from the main city, the temple is the only one in Khajuraho without any erotic sculpture and faces west. Best visited during the sunset, the temple is known for the intricate and beautifully detailed four-armed idol of Lord Vishnu.

Do remember to attend the Light and Sound Show conducted in the Western group of temples that describes the horary past of these beautiful monuments.

Khajuraho is surrounded by other places of interest, such as the Panna National Park and the Ranneh Falls. Do plan your visit and hire outstation or local cabs from the airport to visit these temple complexes.

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Explore the royal city of Mysore

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Call it the Heritage City or the City of Palaces, the city of Mysore still emanates a feeling of au royale even in a 21st century India. A place of heritage for royal families, sultans, and legendary names in history, every corner of Mysore is steeped in stories of victory, power, and grandeur. A tour of this majestic city is only justified when you explore the royal heritage of the City of Palaces.

Getting there

Conveniently located on the southern edge of the Karnataka State, Mysore is easily accessible from major cities. It takes about three hours to travel the 152 KM distance from Bangalore to Mysore.

History and Heritage

The city of Mysore served as the capital for the Kingdom of Mysore between the 1300s until 1956. These six centuries saw the kingdom change hands of rulers and kings, from the Wadiyar Dynasty, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. But the common element of all the rulers was their penchant for art and culture. Under their patronage, they contributed to the city’s visual and cultural glory which earned Mysore the fame of Karnataka’s cultural capital.

A royal tour

If you want to experience the regal side of Mysore, you cannot but miss these structures of historical and architectural significance. You can join a heritage walking tour to explore the city on foot, or head from Bangalore to Mysore by car and stop by at monuments, palaces, and museums and learn about the legends that made Mysore. You can start your walk from the Town Hall, built in 1884, as a tribute to the first Dewan of the city.

mysore-palace-598472_1280

Mysore Palace- The official residence of the royal family of Wadiyars, the palace itself is a work of marvel. An overwhelming blend of   Indo-Saracenic, neoclassical, Indo-Islamic and Gothic architectural works, the Mysore Palace is a breathtaking sight. Built in 1912, the palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts delicate works of mirrors, stained glass, mosaic and more. On any given day, you will find more tourists here than even at the Taj Mahal. Every Sunday, the palace comes alive with 97000 light bulbs bedazzling its façade and the premises.

Lalitha Palace– Yet another heritage building, the two-storied Lalitha Mahal sits on a ridge at the foothills of the Chamundi Hills, which makes for a great vantage point. The palace was transformed into a hotel and offers a royal stay. If you truly want a feeling of royalty, then a stay here would be an experience.

Jaganmohan Palace– One of the seven prominent palaces of Mysore city, is a stunning work of ancient Indian architecture with intricate interiors and exteriors. The palace, transformed into a royal art gallery since 1915, houses paintings of the royal family, art by Raja Ravi Varma and an array of rare and antique musical instruments.

Museums- Stop by the Rail Museum to explore the archaic steam engines, the Maharani’s saloon, and other railway souvenirs. There’s also the Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion showcasing more than 6500 folk artifacts from all parts of Karnataka. The Folk Art Museum, one of the most visited in the city, is also known for its collection of toys, models, and figurines.

Crawford Hall- Built in 1947, this is a must visit historic structure in Mysore. The royal palace is now known as the Mysore University but still renders a rich heritage to its ambiance.

Small, medium or large-scale, every historical building and monument of Mysore has a majestic touch to it. And such architecture speaks of its glorious past, which has left traces for the modern civilization to explore.

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India’s Victory at the International Court of Justice is the World’s Challenge to the Status Quo

Manak Suri

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For the past week, both the Indian and British media have rigorously covered the story of the re-election of India’s justice Dalveer Bhandari to the bench of judges in the International Court of Justice on Tuesday, November 21. That the Indian judge retained his position on the bench was not the sole reason for the story’s extensive coverage; his reappointment combined with the fact that it happened at the expense of the United Kingdom’s spot on the bench is why the story is making so many rounds… and no, that many Indians may see it as some sort of a comeback against Britain’s 200 years of colonial rule over the country is not the reason why it matters. It matters because this is the first time since 1946 that the UK has no judge on the ICJ bench, and that signals possible changes in the way international bodies govern and are governed. So what does this mean for India, for the UK and for the world at large?

The International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice or the ICJ was established in 1945 by the United Nations as its principal judicial branch and is located in The Hague, Netherlands. Its job is to settle legal disputes between states that are submitted to it and give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it. The court comprises of a total of 15 judges that are elected to 9 year terms by way of voting from both the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) separately. One third of the court is re-elected every three years, and no two judges of the same nationality may assume positions on the bench simultaneously. However, the rule that led to the deadlock between the candidates from India and UK is that a candidate must obtain an absolute majority in both the UNGA and the UNSC in order to be elected to the bench.

UN General Assembly vs UN Security Council: The Race in Numbers

On November 9 and November 13, in seven rounds of voting justice Bhandari secured between 110 and 121 votes from a total of 193 in the UNGA against figures between 68 and 79 secured by his British counterpart Sir Christopher Greenwood. However, among the UNSC, justice Bhandari lost out by 5 votes to 9 in favour of Sir Greenwood. In the face of uncertainty, the UK then pushed for a ‘joint conference’ under the rules of the court between the UNSC and the UNGA. Under the ‘joint conference’ three countries from each side then determine the name for the court. However, the rules do not mention the procedure to select these countries and understandably so, since the option was last invoked in 1921. Fearing not enough support from the council, criticism for invoking the charter, and harming its friendly as well as economic relations with India, the UK eventually chose to not follow through with the process and withdrew its candidature for the post. In the end, India secured the seat with a total of 183 votes out of 193 at the UNGA and all 15 at the UNSC.

There is More to the Victory than Meets the Eye

The result means different things for the parties involved and also for the balance of power and influence between countries. For the UK, there are hardly any positives to take away from this result amid already turbulent times. Many in the British media have viewed this loss as ‘a blow to British international prestige’ and the country’s acceptance of a diminishing role in global affairs. This was the UK’s second major defeat at the ICJ after it lost a vote by a margin of 94 to 15 countries in June when the UNGA voted in favour of referring the question of decolonisation and self-determination of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean to the ICJ, which is currently under its control. Many within and outside the country have also been quick to blame Brexit for the situation in which they find themselves today, arguing that the other states, especially the ones within the European Union would have been less willing to snub the UK had the UK chosen not to leave the alliance. In the face of defeat, British diplomats have continued to maintain that they are happy that their close friend India has won, but have also not been shy of hiding their natural disappointment at their own loss.

For India, their victory in having a judge win the contest in getting elected to the ICJ bench against a permanent member of the UNSC is more symbolic than anything else. It reinforces India’s image at the highest stage as a major emerging global player and its ability to bring in greater reforms that push for more involvement from developing countries and emerging economies. Also, having a judge on the ICJ bench gives India an edge over Pakistan in the case involving former Indian Navy Officer Kulbhushan Jadhav who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistan military court on the charges of espionage. True, a judge on the ICJ does not represent his/her country or their interests. However, as suggested by repeated criticism the court receives for being biased in favour of the states who appoint the judges, having a judge on the panel is certainly an asset for any country, no matter what the rules dictate on paper.

The most important takeaway from the whole episode far exceeds the ambitions of just the two countries and a race for a seat at the ICJ. India’s victory at the court reinforces the belief that power does not necessarily reside or has to reside with the ‘few global elite’, a sentiment which was expressed clearly when most member states of the UNGA backed India’s justice Bhandari to be re-elected against the choice of the permanent members or P5 of the UNSC. There seems to be an acknowledgment among the member states of the UN of the beginning of a change which sees an increasing shift in the balance of power away from the traditional powers of the world or the P5 – Britain, China, United States, Russia, and France. Of these countries, China was the only member to not have a judge on the ICJ between 1967 and 1985 till the final decision last week, when they were joined by the UK in the list. Last year, Russia was voted off the United Nations Human Rights Council. In the 2016 elections, France lost out on securing a position in the International Law Commission. While diplomats at the UN continue to maintain that there are no winners and losers here, that it is all part of a bigger picture, these developments undoubtedly mark diplomatic victories for the Group of 77 or the G77, a coalition of developing nations at the UN that have constantly pushed for an enhanced negotiating capacity. What remains to be seen is just to what extent they bring about a change in the status quo.

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