Home Editor's picks Mission Shakti: Congress politicians and Durbaris are wrong, Narendra Modi deserves full credit for the political risks

Mission Shakti: Congress politicians and Durbaris are wrong, Narendra Modi deserves full credit for the political risks

Efforts are underway by some people to downplay the monumental magnitude of the announcement along expected lines.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a significant announcement, told the nation that India has developed anti-satellite missiles (ASAT) which can take down enemy satellites in space. It upgrades India’s defence capabilities significantly and puts us in an elite group that earlier comprised of only the United States, Russia and China.

Efforts are underway by some people to downplay the monumental magnitude of the announcement along expected lines.

Congress politicians are choosing to credit Jawaharlal Nehru instead of the scientists and the current political establishment for the spectacular achievement.

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Even the Congress President Rahul Gandhi chose to deride Prime Minister Modi while congratulating DRDO.

First things first, it is indeed a huge achievement by DRDO and ISRO and a big statement. It is reflective of India’s growing stature in global politics under the current government that it could even dare to attempt such a thing. Our scientists have been saying since 2010 that we have the requisite capabilities for developing ASAT missiles but clearly, it was the political will that was lacking.

There were significant concerns that India would be subjected to sanctions should we go ahead with such a program. It represents the erstwhile regime’s failure to navigate through international politics and a lack of resolve that India had not developed such capabilities earlier.

In 2010, according to Livefist, Dr Avinash Chander, director of India’s Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), had said, “We have developed technology blocks that can be integrated to create an anti-satellite weapon. What we need is the technology to boost the munition into space, which we have proven very robustly with the Agni programme. And we need a kill vehicle of considerable energy and terminal phase accuracy, which our scientists have proven with the advanced air defence (AAD) interceptor tests. We can put these blocks together and finetune the weapon as an anti-satellite platform. If we are required to, we can deliver this.”

DRDO chief Dr VK Saraswat had stated, “We already have a design study of such a weapon, but at this stage, the country does not require such a platform in its strategic arsenal. Testing such a weapon also has a lot of repercussions which have to be taken into consideration. But testing is not an issue — we can always rely on simulations and ground test. We can see in the future if the government wants such a weapon. If so, our scientists are fully ready to deliver it.”

In 2012, in an interview to India Today, Dr Saraswat had repeated the assertions he had made a couple of years earlier as Scientific Adviser to the Defense Minister. He had stated, “Today, India has all the building blocks for an anti-satellite system in place. We don’t want to weaponise space but the building blocks should be in place. Because you may come to a time when you may need it. Today, I can say that all the building blocks (for an ASAT weapon) are in place. A little fine-tuning may be required but we will do that electronically. We will not do a physical test (actual destruction of a satellite) because of the risk of space debris affecting other satellites.”

China had acquired the capability in 2007 and since then, there has been an urgent need felt by the Indian security establishment to acquire ASAT missiles. While Saraswat had asserted that India had the capabilities necessary, critics were skeptical about his comments. Furthermore, it was touted that the international community would treat India much differently than how China was treated following its own tests.

Michael Listener, founder of Space Law & Policy Solutions wrote in an article in 2011, “An attempt to perform such a test unilaterally without consulting the international community could result in serious international repercussions and could even affect its burgeoning relations with the United States in terms of space cooperation. Although China avoided serious international repercussions from its ASAT test in 2007, it is unlikely that India would enjoy similar immunity and could find itself at the centre of a serious political and diplomatic tempest, a fact that India’s officials are likely aware of.”

The scholar added, “There is also a possibility that an ASAT test could inadvertently spark an international crisis with China. The resulting debris from an ASAT test could contaminate a large orbital area and potentially create a hazard to Chinese satellites. Regardless of the debris produced by an ASAT test, China might consider such a test as a provocative action.”

In 2016, Harsh Vasani, Postgraduate Research Scholar at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal University, echoed Listner’s sentiments. He wrote, “If New Delhi decides to go ahead with ASAT tests, it will possibly be looking at sanctions, not tech transfers.” He added, “Security analysts and scholars advocating the demonstration of ASAT weapons should not be under any impression that New Delhi will be treated to the same measured response from the international community as Beijing was after 2007.”

Therefore, a familiar image develops in front of us. The Indian security establishment feels the necessity to develop ASAT missiles to counter China’s capabilities in space. The DRDO Chief makes it clear that India has the capabilities necessary to develop such missiles and pursue tests. Despite the admission of capabilities to pursue ASAT missiles, no development is made on that front and India would go on to acquire it only in 2019 under a different political establishment. There was also the fear of repercussions in the international scene as its success would upset global powers.

In fact, in April 2012, it was reported that Saraswat had stated that the then UPA government had not given them the go-ahead to developed such programs. While asserting that the successful launch of Agni V was the last piece of technology that had to be demonstrated to prove India has the capability to develop anti-satellite missiles, he made it clear that the UPA government had not sanctioned such a move.

Hence, we could say with a great degree of certainty that the UPA regime failed to display the strength of character and the political will necessary to achieve such a feat. That Congress politicians and their Durbaris are attempting to downplay the glorious feat are only indicative of the erstwhile regime’s failure to pursue the program and their efforts to hide their own shame.

India developed nuclear capabilities during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure as Prime Minister. India developed ASAT missiles under Narendra Modi. That Congress politicians continue to hark back to the Nehru era to claim credit for a program they had absolutely no role in is indeed cringe-worthy. There were immense political risks associated in both instances. Vajpayee then and Narendra Modi now, both took the political risks and would have taken and would take the fall if anything went awry. Now that it appears to have been a success, suddenly, everyone wants a share of the credit. The UPA regime was too afraid to take the associated risks and yet now, it wants its share of the pie it doesn’t deserve.

Mission Shakti is also a testament to the rising statue of India in global politics. The diplomatic relationships that Narendra Modi has nurtured during the course of the past five years were instrumental in giving the government the confidence to carry out the tests. Although the reaction of the international community remains to be seen, there’s a strong possibility that Narendra Modi will have to navigate through a few tricky situations. However, the situation now looks much for India than it did 5 years ago and the credit for it should largely go to Narendra Modi’s foreign policy.

The timing of India’s announcement is also significant. A Space Arms Treaty is currently being discussed by 25 countries at Geneva. There was the very real possibility that if such a treaty were successfully negotiated, it would make it illegal by international law for any other nation than the 3 which already had them from developing ASAT missiles. But now, any attempts at formulating one would have to take into account India as well.

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