Stop “rocket man” from vanishing into space like some other Ph.Ds

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Now that was a poor shot, I must say. I don’t mean our attempts at conquering empty space. The other day Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa took a shot at the Rajapaksa “Rocket Man” for spending much more than India did to land Chandrayaan-3 on the moon’s south pole.

Deriding Sri Lanka’s attempt to venture into space, Opposition Leader Premadasa claimed that India’s moon missions cost US$ 263 million while our shot at satellite launching cost a huge US$320m. He called for a parliamentary report on that space programme.

Now that civil space is being increasingly crushed by state institutions like hungry boa constrictors or our own pythons, when some hoping to walk some streets of Colombo need a police permit, it may well be that more of our citizenry will explore the possibility of space travel and settling in another planet just to be away from intolerably overbearing politicians with plenty of empty space between their ears and their boorish and bellicose cohorts.

I don’t know why Sajith Premadasa is so concerned about a paltry $320 m when in 2012 we seemed to have enough money to play around with, thanks to Chinese benevolence.

But if he is so worried that this government will run out of cash to hold an election, he had only to ask his former leader and current president Ranil Wickremesinghe who has much more experience in getting some dollars from here and some dollars from there. He would have asked Mr Modi, our charitable neighbour, to make up the difference.

That could be done even in Indian rupees, now that we have started throwing BRICS at the dollar and the Indian rupee is good enough, or so it seems, in our dealings with Mr Modi who, some speculate will soon be our Viceroy, though how wise that is only time and Indian elections will tell.

Quite rightly the Rajapaksas appear to be in quite a huff at the charge that “Rocket Man” Rohitha had pinched State funds to experiment with satellites which Mr Premadasa says did not go up but down, if that is what the opposition leader meant by “down turn.”

Most would have read elder brother Namal’s umbrage at the mere mention that they would have dipped into the privy purse to fund a game that called for the pressing of a button and whoof it goes.

Namal, who now seems to be replacing Mahinda the war winner, on stage and screen, was adamantly insisting that brother Rohitha’s satellite launch was privately funded and they did not—and would not—touch State funds. He brushed the thought aside with such contempt that one was tempted to believe Namal Baba as some call him.

I am sure Mr Modi would oblige if he was offered a few hectares stretching from Arugam Bay and all the way down to Inginiyagala where touring Indians can all take a dip in the Senanayake Samudra. Of course, it is possible that Mr Modi used to large spaces—that is why he sent Chandrayaan 3 to the moon–might insist that he prefers more hectares further north of Arugam Bay such as Pasikuda and Kalkudah to link up with the big “Hub” that President Wickremesinghe is planning.

But that’s another story and it does not absolve Mr Premadasa from urging the government to present a report to parliament. Even if by some remote and unprecedented chance, they do, pray, what is he going to do with it?

File a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court when parliament turns the whole thing into a motion and votes on it? And have the Speaker tell the House that the apex court has no right even to touch what belongs to him.

Even the notion of a motion is a bad idea anyway. But then the strangest things happen in our Resplendent Isle and nobody seems to know a thing about them.

Take for instance Leader of House Minister Susil Premajayantha’s response to the Opposition Leader. He claims he was Minister of Science, Technology and Research from 2015-2018 and he was unaware of such a satellite being launched in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan ministers being unaware of many things will come as no surprise to the citizenry. There are only a few things they are aware of, which require no iteration.

But you cannot blame the minister. He would have been too busy doing research into the research which was supposedly been done in the country. He would have no time following the trajectory of satellites, especially if it was launched from distant China, which incidentally or otherwise, had coughed up the dollars that Sajith Premadasa was grumbling about.

Which leads one to presume that Sri Lanka’s contribution to the project was Rohitha “Chichi” Rajapaksa’s aerospace expertise for which China must be doubly grateful, otherwise it would have had to gather that knowledge one way or another- most probably another.

Mr Premajayantha told an obviously entranced/ sleepy House (depending on how you see it) that had the satellite been launched at the time it is said to have been launched, it should have returned by now.

Not necessarily so. Maybe some Martian intrigued by the Sri Lankan insignia on it, grabbed it from space and took it home for his children to play with seeing how antiquated it was.

But then one must bow to the superior knowledge of the former minister of Science, Technology and Research on this. Maybe he could now ask a colleague holding a similar portfolio to have a search ( or even research) done around Mattala Airport which was also launched a year later in case it fell into empty space  or on some passing elephants, accounting for the increased deaths of mammals these days.

Mr Premajayantha might dismiss with seeming hauteur this scientific effort by Sri Lanka’s only recognised (by the Chinese and the Colombo University especially) known space expert with a doctorate and now preparing for another.

He should be thankful that the satellite instead of making a soft landing did not crash on to the roof of that building by the Diyawanna Oya which houses Sri Lanka’s coterie of such collective intelligence.

Surely such a happening would go down as this country’s greatest calamity in its 2600-year history.

Today people are worried about the increasing brain drain from the country. Except for some who look at the exit figures from the Ministry of Foreign Employment or some such thing, without realising those figures relate to skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour and not the professionals such as doctors and doctorates who vanish faster than Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

With our futuristic president looking to turn Sri Lanka into an electronic and scientific hub with his eyes cast even beyond our own space, President Wickremesinghe should hold back our spaceman from disappearing into space.

He is an asset that should be encouraged, with state help, to build a space ship that will take our collective of geniuses from the Diyawanna abode to the safety of the moon so they may learn new ways and come back one day, create and procreate giving birth to a flourishing new nation.

There is just one problem, however. Would they ever learn anything? Over there it is full moon every day. Sri Lankans don’t work on public holidays—full moon or half of it.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later, he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London.)



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