India has taken a giant leap forward in space technology by shooting down a low earth orbit satellite with an indigenously developed anti-satellite missile (A-SAT). With this successful demonstration, it has joined the high table of global space powers, becoming the fourth country to have tested an anti-satellite weapon after the United States, Russia and China. While the DRDO and Isro scientists deserve accolades for this unique achievement, the manner in which the scientific mission is being used to garner political mileage is deplorable. In the middle of electioneering when the code of conduct is in force, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the unusual step of addressing the nation to make the announcement. With the general elections just two weeks away, the timing of the announcement raises several questions about the ruling party’s intent. Going by the coordinated responses from BJP leaders soon after the Prime Minister’s address to the nation, it is clear that the saffron party wants to use the ‘satellite strike’ as a campaign theme as it fits into the larger narrative of muscular nationalism. It has been harping on the theme of national security and projecting Modi as someone who can take tough decisions in the interests of national security. Expectedly, the hashtag warriors of the ruling party were on the prowl all over social media, driving the narrative propelled by ‘Mission Shakti’. What is essentially a success of scientists is being reduced to a political tool to garner votes.
The argument being put forward by the ruling party is that though the DRDO scientists had developed the anti-satellite weapon capability nearly a decade ago, the then UPA government did not give the go-ahead for its demonstration fearing international outcry. The counter-argument is that the decision against testing the capability through destruction of a satellite was taken to avoid lethal debris in the space and possible damage to other satellites. On its part, the Congress pointed out that the work on the mission had started during its regime. There is no doubt that successful testing of anti-satellite missile technology could be a game changer from the perspective of national security and would help India build up defence capabilities and establish itself as a world power. The A-SAT system is a spin-off of the Ballistic Missile Development programme and with its successful demonstration, India can now shoot down enemy satellites snooping down on it in the outer space. More importantly, the development would boost the country’s position in shaping the international space proliferation treaty. China had already tested the system in 2007 by destroying an unused weather satellite. While the new space milestone is a matter of pride for all Indians, what is unfortunate is the politicisation of a scientific mission.