Mission Shakti: An Announcement and The Accusations

Published : Apr 01, 2019 09:18 am | By: M D Sridharan

What is wrong in Prime Minister announcing to the nation about a significant achievement that puts the country in an exclusive club of space super powers. But the opposition accused the Prime Minister of trying to get a political mileage out of it.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on March, 27th, 2019 and shared an important achievement that has made the entire nation proud.  The Prime Minister informed that an anti-satellite (ASAT) Indian missile has shot down a spy satellite as part of its space operation named "Mission Shakti".

In a broadcast to the nation on television, radio and social media, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "In the journey of every nation there are moments that bring utmost pride and have a historic impact on generations to come. One such moment is today. Some time ago, our scientists, shot down a live satellite 300 kilometres away in space, in low-earth orbit.  It was conducted under Mission Shakti, which was completed in three minutes.  India has shot down a low earth orbit satellite with an indigenously-developed ASAT missile, a giant leap for the country’s space capability. 'Mission Shakti' is an important step towards securing India's safety. With this India has registered its name in the list of space superpowers. Until now, only three countries had achieved this feat”, 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also interacted with scientists involved with ‘Mission Shakti’ via video conference and said "Congratulations to you all your hard work paid off. You have given this message to the world "ki hum bhi kuch kam nahin hai.” (We are no less than anyone).

During the Mission Shakti test, India targeted its own decommissioned satellite, eliminating it within three minutes of the anti-satellite (A-SAT) weapon being launched. Undoubtedly, Mission Shakti has clearly demonstrated India’s counter-space capabilities and propelled its position for a seat at the negotiating ‘high table’ for any future space weapons’ equivalent of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) at the ‘Space NPT’ high table.

 “India has the capability and confidence to target satellites in various orbits that may be moving at a variety of speeds.” Of course, the ability to attack satellites in High Earth Orbit (HEO) will require a different approach, but that is a story for another day, said Dr. V.K. Saraswat, Former Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Chief and National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog member. Former DRDO Chief also credited Prime Minister Narendra Modi for giving clearance to the DRDO for developing a portal anti-satellite weapon. He also pointed out what happened  earlier in the UPA regime,  “We made presentations to National Security Adviser and National Security Council, when such discussions were held, they were heard by all concerned, unfortunately, we didn't get a positive response (from UPA), so  we could not proceed further, said Dr VK Saraswat.  “ But when proposal was put up by Dr Satheesh Reddy and National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he had the courage and based on that he gave a go ahead. If the clearances were given in 2012-13, I am quite certain that the launch would have happened in 2014-15,” he added.

The weapon, an Anti-Satellite missile or ASAT missile, allows for attacks on enemy satellites - blinding them or disrupting communications - as well as providing a technology base for intercepting ballistic missiles. The interceptor was indigenously produced.  After successfully conducting an anti-satellite (A-SAT) missile test the Chairman of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Dr G. Satheesh Reddy said, “We have developed many technologies towards the A-SAT. We launched the missile against a satellite in the lower earth orbit. We've hit the target by ‘Kinetic kill’ that means by directly hitting the satellite.” He further said, “Scientists worked dedicatedly for it. This is a very significant milestone in the country’s technological development era. Only three nations had it and now we are the fourth one.” The project to develop this rare missile capability was green-lit two years ago, “The development started couple of years back and we started the real ‘mission mode’ in last six months. About 100 scientists worked 24*7 and made it possible. Background work started two years back”, added Dr G. Satheesh Reddy.

The ASAT missile was launched from DRDO’s testing range in Odisha’s Balasore at about 11.16 am, on March 27, 2018, nearly an hour before PM Modi appeared on television. The decommissioned satellite blown up in space was a micro-satellite launched by the ISRO on January 24 this year. Besides, India’s space and missile programme  along with its economic growth of more than 7 percent and a bid for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council -- is major part of the country’s efforts to build up its defence capabilities and establish itself as a world power,

The Accusations

While India has become only the fourth in the world to add Anti-Satellite Weapon to arsenal, the splendid feat has really angered the opposition. The Congress also added that the anti-satellite missile programme was started during its tenure and accused PM Modi-led government of trying to derive political mileage from the success of scientists. With a fortnight before first phase of polling, the opposition ganged up to question the scale and timing of the announcements. While  the opposition while rushed to congratulate scientists at Defence Research and Development Organisation, accused the Prime Minister of trying to garner political mileage out of it.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav accused Modi of giving himself an hour of free TV and diverting nation's attention away from issues on the ground. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi took to d Twitter and said that Modi’s announcement coincides with World Theatre Day. "Well done DRDO, extremely proud of your work. I would also like to wish the PM a very happy World Theatre Day,"

Lauding scientists at ISRO and DRDO, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accused Modi of trying to steal credit from them. Terming it a gross violation of the model code of conduct, Banerjee said there was "no great urgency" of announcing the mission by a government "past its expiry date" and asserted that it seems to be the "desperate oxygen to save the imminent sinking of the BJP boat".

Why is the opposition rattled about India’s space achievement?  Congress first discredited the achievement but then staked claim that the 'ASAT' programme was initiated during UPA rule and lauded then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's leadership. The Congress also claimed that the 'ASAT' programme was initiated during UPA rule and lauded then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's leadership. The grand old party also went further and extended credit to former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The Indian Space Programme established in 1961 by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and the Indian Space Research Organisation set up under Indira Gandhi has always made India proud with its groundbreaking achievements," the party tweeted from its official handle announcement.

The Opposition also questioned why the centre did not allow the DRDO scientists take the centre stage, besides the timing of the announcement.

Nothing wrong with the Announcement

Earlier in the day, on March 27th, the Prime Minister took to Twitter and said, “I would be addressing the nation at around 11:45 AM - 12.00 noon with an important message. Do watch the address on television, radio or social media," PM Modi tweeted this from his official account

What is wrong in a Prime Minister announcing the nation and also to the world about the India’s Anti-Satellite weapon achievement? It is indeed a significant achievement that puts the country in an exclusive club of space powers. The last time Modi had addressed the nation was November 8, 2016 when he announced the demonetisation of high value currency notes. Probably, when the message about his address started flashing across the mobile and TV screens, it might have triggered panic and speculation about what the announcement could be. Many would have expected another jolt from the Prime Minister. But, instead he shared a glorious achievement by the Indian scientists.

As a Prime Minister, Modi has an absolute authority to announce what the country has achieved and also entitled to share the moment of glory with his people. Also, experts point out that Former Prime Ministers AB Vajpayee and Rajiv Gandhi have also addressed the nation on important announcements in the past.

The Opposition also questioned about the timing of the announcement. “Mission Shakti” was a huge defence project need to undergo different stages of execution. The capability and the execution of such projects which are scientific in nature are determined by various parameters by the  DRDO scientists. It is purely the decision of DRDO and nothing to do with the general elections. DRDO Chief had clearly stated that everything was done in a methodical manner and it just synchronised with the election timing.

Like the way the IAF expressed its intent through Balakot air strikes, today, in a scenario where the war capabilities have shifted to space from earth, the announcement by the Prime Minister was a great way to tell the world about India’s intent that now the country is ready for combat even in outer space.

The BJP rejected all criticisms, with finance minister Arun Jaitley dubbing the Opposition’s objection to the timing of announcement by Modi as “clerical”. Jaitley said, “India’s nuclear programme is a continuing programme…It can’t be put to a halt because it does not suit the West Bengal chief minister or any other political leader. It will run 365 days, election or not.”

Amid reports that ISRO had the capability of launching an anti-satellite weapon since 2012, BJP chief Amit Shah said, “The truth is, our proficient scientists always had the talent and capability, all that was needed was the go ahead from the government. UPA did not have the courage to back its institutions and people, NDA under PM Modi has shown the conviction to do so.”

Speaking about ‘Mission Shakti’, Union Minister for Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “It is a moment of dignity for the country that in the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, scientists of India did a wonderful job. Now, whoever will set their eyes against India will have to face our A-Sat satellite.” Reacting to the achievement, Union minister Nitin Gadkari said, "Congratulations to all the scientists for carrying out "Mission Shakti" successfully. India is moving fast towards becoming a world leader, & under PM Modi's leadership, it is on its way to not only become a 'super economic power', but also a 'super science power'."

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh  justified Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s televised address to the nation to announce India’s entry into the elite club of nations that have the ability to shoot satellites in low orbits. “This is a great achievement and only prime minister should have conveyed the good news to countrymen”, Rajnath said.

Violation of MCC?

Besides accusing  Prime Minister Narendra Modi of taking credit for the achievement of the scientists, the opposition parties also approached the Election Commission accusing violation of Model Code of conduct on the Prime Minister’s address. Opposition parties alleged that the PM's address was a violation of the model code of conduct and demanded that EC take action.

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury sent a letter to the EC. “Such a mission should normally be announced to the nation and to the world by the relevant scientific authorities like the DRDO. Instead, the Indian Prime Minister has taken the route of an address to the nation in making this announcement. This announcement comes in the midst of the ongoing election campaign where the Prime Minister himself is a candidate. This is clearly a violation of the Model Code of Conduct,” Yechury said.

Under pressure from opposition, the Election Commission set up a committee under a deputy election commissioner to examine the matter related to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to the nation "in the light of the Model Code of Conduct" which is in force for Lok Sabha polls. Though the Prime Minister Narendra Modis announcement on the country’s successful anti-missile test was “avoidable”, the fact remains that Modi neither made any new policy announcement nor give his government or party credit for the development. Also, in his address Modi neither sidelined the great achievement of the DRDO Scientists nor hailed his party – BJP. It was not a election campaign.

Finally, after 3 days, the EC based on the report of a committee of officers, declared that the prime minister did not violate the provision of 'party in power' in the poll code. "The committee has, therefore, reached the conclusion that the MCC provision regarding misuse of official mass media is not attracted in the instant case," the commission said, citing the report of the committee constituted to look into the case.

Surely, the Opposition which is perturbed after the Balakot Air strikes, again fears that the BJP’s political ranking will go higher after the ASAT achievement. Moreover, with BJP making its pitch on “Nationalism and National Security” as its   strong election campaign, these two achievement are bound to reap rich dividends for the BJP in the coming elections.



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