The positive aspect of the Prime Minister keeping the entire nation tantalisingly on tenterhooks on Wednesday forenoon was that it would whet ordinary people’s curiosity for such an esoteric science as space exploration, satellites, missiles, etc. In a nation seeped deep in ignorance of such things, it is not a gain to be sniffed at. For the rest, Modi, typically, made much of the anti-satellite missile test, no mean feat by our space scientists and engineers, as much to laud the effort as to rile the Opposition.
In less than a month he has pushed the Opposition into a strange dilemma. Like the Balakot strikes, the Opposition cannot question the singular achievement of the Defence Research and Development Department, but find it hard to give the credit to the Prime Minister who gave the go-ahead to fire the missile to shoot down a defunct satellite three hundred kilometers in the lower space. As a former DRDO chief has disclosed the capability was available even then but the UPA did not allow them to carry out the necessary test.
Just like the India had the capability to respond tough after the 26/11 Mumbai attack but the UPA government lacked the will to acquire a proven technology. With this, India has joined the select club of the US, Russia and China. This cannot but be a matter of national pride. China carried out the test back in 2007, the US in 1960s and the then Soviet Union around the same time.
The space interceptor, for that is what in real effect it is, would allow India to neutralise enemy satellites thus disrupting their communications and intelligence gathering and also help intercept enemy ballistic missiles. The Ministry of External Affairs in a statement noted the ‘capability achieved through the anti-satellite missile test provides credible deterrence against threats to our growing space-based assets from long range missiles, and the proliferation in the types and numbers of missiles.’
Importantly, the ministry clarified that the test was down in the lower atmosphere to ensure that there was no debris in space and ‘whatever is left will decay and fall back onto the earth within weeks.’ On the other hand, the Chinese test in 2007 left the debris orbiting in space which could pose a threat to other bona fide objects in the lower space. Indian space scientists have to be commended for acquiring best possible capabilities without depending on outside support.
After developing launchers, used also for launching satellites of other friendly nations, satellites and undertaking probes to the moon and Mars, India is in a position, as Modi told the nation in his broadcast today, to send a man to outer space. Of course, today’s successful test would be noted with special interest by China while Pakistan will feel so peeved it would pester its ‘iron friend’ to carry out a similar test in its name so that it can establish parity with India. Pakistan’s space programme is aeons behind India’s, regardless of the cheap jibes that they might take about India’s Wednesday morning feat.
Predictably, the reaction of the Opposition was of sullen acceptance. It cannot deride the feat of our scientists but can only fault Modi for making much electoral capital out of it. A very peeved Mamata Banerjee has threatened to complain against the PM broadcast to the Election Commission. But elections are not supposed to disrupt the work of space scientists and other security-related agencies.
And if the scientists have done India proud, the PM is right to share that joy and happiness with the country at large. Yes, by giving notice of a national broadcast hours ahead of it, the PM got the entire country speculating about its nature. Due to a heightened tension with Pakistan, fears of further confrontation were foremost on peoples’ minds.
Happily, the eventual message was a matter of celebration for Indians, though Pakistan had reason to feel small and slighted yet again after the post-Pulwama strikes deep inside their territory. Aside from being an ace orator, Modi is also a great performer who knows how to extract full value from his bold and courageous decisions.