NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared his country a “space power” after it shot down a satellite in space on Wednesday with an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile.
Modi made the announcement in a specially televised address to the nation, calling it a “phenomenal accomplishment” in India’s space program. “India today registered its name as a space power,” he said.
“This is a big moment for India, something all of us should be proud of. We are not just capable of defending ourselves on land, water and air, but also in space.”
Named “Mission Shakti,” the test of the indigenously built ASAT missile was carried out by the Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO).
In a statement released after Modi’s address, the External Affairs Ministry said: “India has tested and successfully demonstrated its capability to interdict and intercept a satellite in outer space based on complete indigenous technology.”
It added: “The test reflects the intention of the government to enhance India’s national security.”
Denying any intention to enter into an arms race, the ministry said: “Space must be used only for peaceful purposes, and we are against the weaponization of outer space.” It added: “The test is not directed against any country.”
The ministry said: “At the same time, the government is committed to ensuring the country’s national security interests, and is alert to threats from emerging technologies. 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 proliferation in the types and numbers of missiles.”
China’s Foreign Ministry said it “hopes that each country will uphold peace and tranquility in outer space.”
India’s opposition termed Modi’s address to the nation as theatrics and an attempt to divert attention away from real issues in the middle of an election campaign.
Rahul Gandhi, president of the Congress Party, tweeted: “Well done DRDO, extremely proud of your work. I would also like to wish the PM a very happy World Theatre Day.”
Prabhat Kumar of the Communist Party of India (Marxists-Leninist) said the announcement “raises disturbing questions about the Modi government’s handling of strategic issues.”
He added that the DRDO had announced its ASAT capability seven years ago, questioning “why the Modi government chose this moment for this demonstration and this sensational manner to announce it.”
Kumar said the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) “is worried about the growing prospect of its impending defeat, and wanted to use the DRDO’s defense capability to cloud the poll environment with the threat of a war.”
New Delhi-based political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay told Arab News: “The test shows Modi’s lack of confidence ahead of the election.”
The prime minister “is projecting himself as if he has the monopoly rights over protecting the nation,” Mukhopadhyay said.
“Modi is departing from the consistent policy of the Indian government not to militarize outer space,” he added.
“The BJP wants to play only a nationalistic narrative because it knows that if it allows economic issues to dominate the narrative, it will come a cropper (fail),” said the analyst, who has written a biography of Modi.
“I feel this is the way to counter the Congress Party’s poll promises of providing a basic minimum income to 50 million people.”
However, Bharat Karnad of the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank, told Arab News: “This is a big achievement. It will deny the enemy, basically China, tactical information on the battlefield. The Chinese wouldn’t be able to use satellites in a war against India.”
He added: “Like a good politician, Modi is using anything he can in the election season to win the election.”