Modi mocked for ‘space superpower’ theatrics ahead of polls

Analysts term announcement as blatant attempt to take credit for years of work by scientists, gain political points

Imran Kazmi March 27, 2019
Analysts term announcement as blatant attempt to take credit for years of work by scientists, gain political points. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: Independent analysts and opposition politicians in India slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media after he announced destroying a low-orbiting satellite in a missile test and claimed the nation was among the world's most advanced 'space superpowers'.

In a rare address to the nation just weeks out from a national election, the ruling BJP leader claimed India had joined the United States, Russia and China in accomplishing the feat.

A missile fired from a testing facility in Odisha, eastern India, downed the satellite at around 300 kilometres in "a difficult operation" that lasted around three minutes, Modi said.

"This is a proud moment for India," the prime minister added, in his first televised national address since late 2016. "India has registered its name in the list of space superpowers. Until now, only three countries had achieved this feat."

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The analysts and opposition leaders, however, contend that the 'special announcement' just two weeks ahead of the national elections was a blatant attempt to take credit for years of work by scientists and gain political points.

Voting begins April 11 and will last nearly six weeks, with close to 900 million Indians eligible to vote in the world's largest election. Under election laws in force, the Indian government is forbidden from announcing new policies or other major developments that could benefit the ruling party.

Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal state and a potential prime ministerial candidate, said she was lodging a complaint against Prime Minister Modi over his announcement, saying he had done it to "reap political benefits" before an election.

"Today's announcement is yet another limitless drama and publicity mongering by Modi desperately trying to reap political benefits at the time of election," Banerjee said on Twitter. She said it was a gross violation of an electoral code of conduct. "We are lodging a complaint with the Election Commission."

Rahul Gandhi, the head of main opposition party Congress, took a jibe at his political rival by wishing him "a very happy World Theatre Day" -- referring to celebrations also marked around the globe on March 27.

Akhilesh Yadav, Socialist Party leader and chief of minister of Uttar Pradesh state, said, "today [PM] Modi got himself an hour of free TV and diverted nation's attention away from issues on ground—unemployment, rural crisis and women security—by pointing at the sky."

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Nagendar Sharma, a prominent journalist and AAP leader, quipped, "Boastful bluff master. World must be laughing at us for being led by a megalomaniac. This fructified technology was notified by DRDO as early as in 2010."

Shekhar Gupta, senior analyst and one of the leading Indian journalists, saw the BJP leader's announcement as "poll-eve desperation" and "a frantic new national security headline as Balakot has faded in a month."

"The timing and the manner of the announcement, with elections around the corner, will certainly lead to speculation," said Dhruva Jaishankar, a Delhi-based fellow in foreign policy with Brookings India.

Despite India's claim that the country "has no intention of entering into an arms race in outer space", analysts believe the test would not go unnoticed in China and Pakistan and could be interpreted as a show of New Delhi's advancing military capabilities.

"This is less about shooting down satellites and more about proving high-altitude 'hit-to-kill' proficiency, which is the core competency required to get good at a range of things—including defence against nuclear-capable ballistic missiles," Ankit Panda of the Federation of American Scientists told AFP. "This is how the message is going to be perceived in Islamabad."

Pakistan against weaponisation of outer space, says FO

Meanwhile, Pakistan's foreign ministry said countries that had "strongly condemned" the demonstration of similar technologies in the past should work towards preventing the militarisation of space.

"Boasting of such capabilities is reminiscent of Don Quixote's tilting against windmills."

The test comes a month after Indian and Pakistani fighter jets engaged in a dogfight over the line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir—a serious military escalation between the two countries. Two Indian fighter jets were shot down and a pilot was captured by Pakistani forces.

With additional input from AFP


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