Punjab: Political coup by robots

  • Khushwant Singh, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Apr 18, 2016 21:29 IST

It was about a fortnight ago that I had posted on Facebook seeking volunteers who could talk about robotics at a school in my native Hoshiarpur. This request was not an outcome of any curiosity to see humanoid robots cooking midday meals, but the result of intense conversations with leading thinkers who felt that if Punjab was to turn around its fate, the first step would be to consider introducing robotics and coding in schools.

Other than bringing the youth closer to new-age technology, the latter could also democratise computer science across the state. These thinkers, while talking about why Punjab was missing out on every technological revolution that had taken place, stressed that until the political set-up backed a narrative which focused on investing in research and creating a scientific and tech savvy temper, Punjab would keep plummeting further in the unproductive rhetoric it finds itself in.

Vivek Wadhwa, a researcher, thinker, writer and Fellow at Stanford Law School, said ‘these two subjects prepare the youth for a future in which they will be working with robots and writing apps. It gives them an advantage in being able to gain jobs in new fields and to build new technologies. It lets them be on par with the best students in the West - with whom they will be competing’.

In other words, the Punjab politician has to make a significant leap from its present uncreative and barren narrative of setting up memorials, memorial gates, religious festivals, political rallies, self aggrandisement towards STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and other skill-imparting courses. Having said this, one is acutely aware that all this is easier said than done because one keeps facing ridicule each time this topic is broached with political people or at social gatherings. ‘Ojhi thuanu nahi pata log kiddan dey ney (This is drawing room talk).’ To which my usual response is, ‘Well, aren’t they like that because you the politician has ensured that they remain like that?’

At this point, I know I’m hitting a a dead wall. Give them education and then see if they stay the same. Provide them with a progressive narrative and see them ‘chak de phattey’. Punjabis surprise in both ways. They outperform when given ideal circumstances (West is an example) and become non-performers without stimuli. No, I was also not taking myself seriously and neither was I under this delusion that one Facebook status could spark a coup where robots took over from the politician. I am not a dream merchant, but a robot programmed to lead the state without a selfish agenda isn’t a bad idea either.

Let us move on to the subsequent part which is the response to my Facebook request. After many young folks volunteered to conduct the session, I narrowed down to one Akshay Ahuja, who runs a start-up under the name Robo Champs. Akshay volunteered to hold the workshop free of cost, after which we fixed up a date in consultation with the school teachers. That the government schools are in a pitiable condition is a topic for some other day, but what struck me was the glee and inquisitiveness on the faces of these kids when the Robo Champs team arrived at their school. “Sir, you will be surprised to see their response to the workshop. They have no precondition to learning and have this immense quest to acquire more knowledge,” said Akshay.

Even though the pathetic level of education in government-run schools was clearly visible making me feel silly that what on earth I was trying to prove, what kept my hope alive were the jubilant kids. Their shout of joy at every successful attempt made my belief stronger that they were ripe for this revolution, if only someone held their hand. The future of these children lies not in poisoning their minds by making them join political youth organisations like SOI, YAD, Youth Congress, NSUI or the ABVP but in enriching their lives with quality education. To all those influential people in villages, I have only one plea. Rise above your sarpanchi election mindset and promote intellectual activity in your ‘pind dey’ schools. And to the politician, I have a word of caution. Turn your narrative into something worthwhile, otherwise, a coup by robots cannot be ruled out.

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