Why am I a fan of United States?

Tarun Nongthombam *

Flag of United States

We are all awed by United States, there is no second thought to that, be their democracy or legal system, economic power or military strength, science and technology or entrepreneurship skill, human rights or media freedom. The lead and control is so significant that it is now said; when United States sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold.

Why this country is able to achieve this? There could be many reasons working in favour but a very important one is, over the years they have been able to build institutions, which are robust, independent and with social concerns. This can be seen right across the spectrum. Be it federal government institutions like CIA, FBI, NASA or Public companies like Lockheed Martin, which manufactures F-16 fighter plane, Boeing or one-man startup like Microsoft or Face book.

Let me take science and technology from the above long list and see if we can dissect a bit further. In U.S it is not uncommon to find Nobel laureate in the list of alumni of small, lesser know university; we don't have to go to Massachusetts or Princeton. India has been longing to have one more in science.

Can we go to the extent of thinking of a noble laurite in next 50 years from Manipur? Let us see if we can find some answers from Venkatraman's interview, the noble laureate of Indian origin. He started by refusing to call himself an Indian Nobel laureate. U.S. attracts talent from all around the world and they all are committed to one thing which is "science".

The setup is such that, no nationality picture comes in and the team is driven by one common goal. Second takeaway point form the interview was 'Nobel laureate are not super intelligent people. He said, he has friends who are far intelligent than him, he happened to be just at the right time at right place". He could be trying to be humble.

Last and the most important which is meant for India; he told, 'we have to do away with office politics where there is Research and Development. You cannot ask a person to do office politics and do research at the same time!'

India has set up a number of CSIR laboratories which covers wide range of fields like Agriculture, Mining, Drug Research, Biological Research, Engineering etc. My experience in working with few of these laboratories tells; they need massive improvement in their research work to be respected by their compatriots.

Lives in these labs have become very monotonous and most of the staffs are more worried about who will become head of department or director of the institute than their research. Each lab has library filled with international journals and research papers.

Most of the PhDs and M.Tech papers from these institutes are cut/paste from international journals with little local modification. Lately, I met a Scientist from one of these coveted CSIR labs, who managed to solve a railway bridge-crossing problem over river Yamuna with a decade old technology. He got so excited that he was thinking of patenting it!

Minister Jairam Ramesh had to take back his comments on falling standards of IITs. List of world top 200 university ranked by The Times Higher education for 2011-2012 had no Indian university in it. Universities were judged on 13 performance indicators, taking in research, teaching, knowledge transfer and international activity and the list was dominated by American Universities

Have you ever thought of Kolkata? What has happened to Kolkata as an educational and research centre? Let me tell what students in Kolkata say. All their institutes are filled by their own local Bengali Bhadralok and no talent from outside the state comes in. The standard has gone down considerably and they themselves want to go out from the state.

It is also true for Manipur University. The day we make it as a job-generating machine of the local population, it is a downhill slide. Healthy mix of local and outside talent should be encouraged and maintained. Even big cities like Kolkata couldn't escape the rot; do we like our Manipur University talent pool to be limited inside ching'lon mapan is for all of us to ponder upon.

Signage for Road repair work
Exhibit-1: Signage for Road repair work
(Source: MUTCD, U.S. Department of Transport, Federal Highway Administration)

Exhibit-1 shows the planning and signage set up on a road junction for a pothole repair and patchwork in United States. Orange boards are the traffic signs; hatched rectangle in the middle is the work area, orange hatch with small rectangles are the solid barricades, orange dots are the plastic cones to divert traffic bedsides the flag post.

I have taken up this example to bring to notice how much planning, detailing they do even for small work like pothole repair. To us, it looks stupid and silly. We dig up the road when we want, leaving everything open, not caring that somebody might fall and get injured or killed. We also hide behind the excuse of not having enough money for our poor workmanship.

This is the way U.S. work, solve their problem and it becomes a part of their life. It might look silly, but this becomes very critical in areas where there can be zero error tolerance, like space science. It is only with this approach, they are able to send manned mission in space.

Signage for Road repair work
Exhibit-2: Space shuttle Atlantis launches on its final flight of the Space Shuttle Program.
Photo Source: NASA

Society still suffering from Chal'ta'he or tou'sil'lo'da attitude has lot to learn. We Manipuris have to do away with tou'sil'lo'da attitude and strongly stick to the popular saying "Tak'la Tak'la Tum'lak-e, Sai'ra Sai'ra Oei'nam-e". Failure of ISRO to launch GSLV successfully and Light combat Aircraft (LCA) project running into trouble even after Government of India pumping in Crores of Rupees is in front of us.

Let us know a little more about United States Department of Transportation (DoT) and compare with ours. Each state has its own Department of Transport like Idaho Department of Transportation or Tennessee Department of Transportation. These can be crudely compared to our Manipur state PWD and our Transport Department.

One would be surprised by the wealth of knowledge their state DoT has. They have their own design manual, construction manual, planning manual which is far better than what we in India produce at Central Government Level. This can only be possible if their state DoTs are doing research and development.

I am not aware of what R&D take place in our state PWD. I will give you a small example what happens by the absence of R&D. People who travel along National Highways and state roads in hills will know very well about landside area. Landside does not pop up all of a sudden. Landside happens at a particular stretch, famous one are the stretch in Mao and the one along Tamei, Kangpokpi on IT road.

State agency needs to investigate, study and monitor landmass movement and come up with reasonable, scientific, one time solution. This can only happen if our PWD is equipped with R&D wing. Else, we will have part time solution and with next monsoon, it will be the same old story. It is like treating an illness; if you don't treat properly it will resurface again.

Another one which comes to my mind is MSRTC. I remembers as a child we used to go to school by MSRTC bus. It was a matter of pride to see those buses in red and white passing through the hills of Nagaland or Assam plains. It was not only the top management who faltered but it went down to level of bus drivers and handymen who changed new tires with old ones .

You don't see any MSRTC buses now and it is as good as dead! Why this total institutional breakdown? I just can't understand why people fail to realize "one can't keep on living by eating one's own flesh"

Lately, another folly done by Transport department is the menace created by the issue of license to number of diesel autos. This has already hit buses in the state. This shows total lack of planning, lack of policy guidelines, just driven by personal interest to earn quick few bucks. If one is not careful, in near future, we might have to go to tamenglong by diesel auto!

You name any, be it electricity, social welfare, Tribal affairs, Public health, Agriculture, Law and order in the state, all seem to be running with ventilator support.

We all want Manipur to move forward, my district and my village to prosper. We could look for a way to achieve prosperity, which we desire so much, from what Napolean-1 once said.

"Men are powerless to secure the future; institutions alone fix the destinies of nations"
Napoleon – 1, Imperial Séance (June 7, 1815)

* Tarun Nongthombam contributes to regularly
The writer can be contacted at nong_tarun(at)rediffmail(dot)com
This article was posted on November 29, 2011.

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