We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers,” said Martin Luther King Jr. These words reflect a fundamental behavioural aspect and an inherent dilemma of the modern day man. As a matter of fact, the attitude has also been found shaping the crucial policies of some states in the contemporary world. By making a ‘peaceful’ nuclear explosion in 1974, India was the first non-permanent member of UNSC which joined the world’s premier nuclear club. Last year, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched its ‘low cost’ Mars Orbiter Mission. Now, successfully reaching the Mars orbit, India has also joined the elite interplanetary space club.

Perhaps, overwhelmed by this space victory, India has now chosen to establish its superiority on the ground too. India’s recent unprovoked shelling across the Line of Control and working boundary has significantly escalated tensions between Pakistan and India. Before this, diminishing the already dim prospects of peace and stability in this region, India unilaterally cancelled scheduled foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan without any plausible excuse. All these facts indicate India’s priorities as a state. Ironically, at present, the world’s largest democracy looks more interested in planning interplanetary travel missions than improving any inter-state relations with its immediate neighbours, by adhering to the principle of peaceful co-existence.

Having accomplished Mission 272-plus in the general election 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in a better position to implement his promised socio-economic reforms agenda in India. During his election campaign, he vowed to take initiatives to put India on the path of high growth and development through his so-called five T’s of Brand India: talent, trade, tradition, tourism and technology. Indeed, it would be a herculean task to implement such an agenda in the current socio-economic milieu of India. At present, we can observe a substantial contradiction and discrepancy between India’s policies as a state and BJP’s promised reform agenda. Besides already maintaining the 7th largest defence budget in the world, it has increased its military spending by 12% this year. Since 2007, it has also been the largest arms importer in the world.

On the other hand, one third of the population of India lives below the poverty line. More than 90 million people in India make less than 1 USD per day. The UN’s 2012 Human Development Index positioned India at 136th Place. According to the 2011 Global Hunger Index (GHI) report, India is among only three countries in the world where GHI has gone up by 23% over the past few years. A report of the New York Times says that about 55% children in India suffer from malnutrition. According to some WHO estimates, about 49 percent of the world’s underweight children, 34 percent of the world’s stunted children and 46 percent of the world’s wasted children, live in India. It further says that 2.1 million Indian children die before reaching the age of 5. At present, India has the largest illiterate population in the world. Still 20% children aged between 6 and 14 don’t go to school. Likewise, about 78 million people are homeless in India.

Development is now generally believed to be more a psychological than just an economic phenomenon. Attitudes and behaviours of individuals play a decisive role in the rise and fall of nations. Before striving for the benefits of regional free trade regimes like NAFTA, The European Economic Community and Gulf Cooperation Council, India and Pakistan must realize that the economic models they want to follow comprise countries which don’t have such old rivalries, territorial disputes, mutual mistrust and hatred. Nor do they have heavily guarded borders with frequent border skirmishes. Does any civilized country in the West spend as much resources and jeopardize the live of its soldiers for nothing, as both India and Pakistan have done since Siachin?

No socio-economic reform agenda in South Asia can be implemented by adhering to a traditional mindset. Being the largest country, India has been a sort of trend-setter in this region. It has been instrumental in initiating an arms race and nuclearizing South Asia. Now, it can also be the ‘game changer’ in the region. As development and confrontation can’t go together, there should be some serious efforts made for the resolution of longstanding territorial and political disputes in this region. Likewise, by abandoning its regional hegemonic aspirations, India should play a decisive role in uplifting the socio-economic status of one and a half billion people living in both India and Pakistan. Therefore, India has to reset its economic priorities by focusing on social sector development. Otherwise, Modi’s vision for a strong and better India would dilute in despair and darkness, as did BJP’s past slogan of ‘India Shining.’

As, at present, the planetary habitability of Mars cannot be ascertained with any scientific precision, there are only little prospects of any possible human colonization on this planet in the near future. On the other hand, the quality of life of people living on Earth is gradually deteriorating. Indeed, planet Earth demands and deserves more attention than Mars. Therefore, besides exploring space and other planets, aiming at lessening the sufferings and miseries of people living on both sides of the Radcliffe Line, there should also be some serious and sincere ‘ground explorations.’

The writer is a lawyer.