Wednesday, 27 March, 2019, will be an important date in the Indian political history. It of course, will mark a milestone in India’s space capabilities, developing military capability in outer space, but till 12.25 pm when Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his address to the nation, nobody, including the political class and the most avid students of politics, imagined that an issue as complex as space science and developing capabilities can become part of the electoral discourse, that too in the hotly-contested 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Modi’s tweet that he was to address the nation “around 11.45 am to 12 noon with an important message” heightened anticipation at a time when nominations for first and second phase of elections ended and the Model Code of Conduct was in effect. Modi began speaking at 12.25, but prior to his address to the nation he had to finish with meetings with the Union Cabinet, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs and Cabinet Committee on Security. Meanwhile, TV commentators and reporters indulged in wild speculation.
When Modi finally began speaking, he, characteristically, surprised everyone by declaring that Indian scientists had achieved a new capability in space military technology, previously the domain of the big three: US, China and Russia.
The punch of what he said in Hindi came in these lines: Kuch hi samay pahle hamare vaigyanik ne antariksh me spece me teen sau kilometer door low earth orbit me ek satellite mar giraya hai, yah ek live satellite, poorva nirdharit lakshya pet ha use anti-satellite missile dwara mar giraya gaya hai. Sirf teen minute me safalta poorvak ye operation poora kiya gaya.
Modi seemed very excited while breaking this news of this newly-acquired capability which would firmly establish India in league of the space technology super powers. Despite his obvious exuberance, it seemed at least initially that Modi didn’t match the hype and general anticipation his tweet on the address to the nation generated.
Then, the Opposition reacted. Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav, Majid Menon et all made it clear that did not take Modi’s address to nation kindly. Their reaction was of sarcasm, ridicule and criticism. Congress spokespersons such as Randeep Singh Surjewala and Priyanka Chaturvedi saluted Jawaharlal Nehru for today’s achievement. For Mamata, Modi’s address to nation was a “violation of model code of conduct”, “limitless drama and publicity mongering”, intended to be “a desperate oxygen to save the imminent sinking of the BJP boat”. For Rahul, it was kind of theatrics for he congratulated Modi on World Theatre Day, in same tweet as he congratulated DRDO scientists.
Consider their tweets:
Well done DRDO, extremely proud of your work.
I would also like to wish the PM a very happy World Theatre Day.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 27, 2019
Today @narendramodi got himself an hour of free TV & divert nation's attention away from issues on ground — #Unemployment #RuralCrisis & #WomensSecurity — by pointing at the sky. Congratulations @drdo_india & @isro — this success belongs to you. Thank you for making India safer. — Akhilesh Yadav (@yadavakhilesh) March 27, 2019
Today’s announcement is yet another limitless drama and publicity mongering by Modi desperately trying to reap political benefits at the time of election. This is a gross violation of Model Code of Conduct. 3/4
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) March 27, 2019
They clearly made Mission Shakti an electoral issue. Nowhere in his 15-minute address did Modi make any political comment: Rather he congratulated the scientists, talked about this complex capability, India’s responsibility as a responsible democratic nation and how the world at large should view this achievement. BJP chief Amit Shah responded to the Opposition leaders on Twitter:
Thus speaks the inheritor of the dynasty that thinks - All the nation's a stage! For them: Sacrifices of soldiers - drama Success of scientists - drama Masquerading as leaders, all that ‘The Dynasty’ has done is to plunder, weaken and ruin the nation. https://t.co/vXYFLWO7MN — Chowkidar Amit Shah (@AmitShah) March 27, 2019
Responding to Opposition leaders' ridicule and sarcasm, Modi later tweeted:
Full credit to our scientists who succeeded in making India a part of an elite group of countries who have ASAT missile capability.
— Chowkidar Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 27, 2019
The political message, or the twist in political discourse, which could be used by BJP footsoldiers and leaders during election campaign came from a statement by former DRDO chief Dr VK Saraswat. He said they made presentations to the Manmohan Singh government, to be specific to then National Security Advisor and National Security Council for acquisition of this capability, but political clearance was never given.
It is not sure how far this message would reach, whether it would impress ordinary voters in the hinterland, but for now Modi has made a talking point of India's military and technological might. Modi’s concluding words, “I visualise an India which could think two steps ahead of time and have the capability to do so”, were not limited to scientific achievement, but also his politics.
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Updated Date: Mar 27, 2019 20:28:39 IST