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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 15 New Delhi March 30, 2019

Scientists’ Major Feat in Space Odyssey

Sunday 31 March 2019, by SC


Yesterday’s development is a major achievement for which fulsome praise must legitimately go to our scientists, especially those in the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The DRDO scientists had developed a Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) Interceptor, similar to the ones which intercept and destroy incoming missiles, and this was fired from the Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Island launch complex, off the coast of Odisha, south of Balasore before it struck an Indian satellite in low earth orbit, about 300 km from the earth’s surface. This was a Microsat-R launched by ISRO on January 24, 2019; it was hurtling at a speed of more than 27,000 km per hour before it was knocked out by the BMD Interceptor, according to ISRO sources.

As early as on January 5, 2010 the then DRDO chief, V.K. Saraswat, had announced that such a test (as was carried out yesterday) was on the anvil. Not only that. In a report published in The Hindu, on March 8, 2011 it was disclosed that the “fresh success of the interceptor missile mission... has demonstrated the country’s capability to neutralise adversarial satellites in space”. The same paper had quoted Dr Saraswat to inform that of the “six interceptor missions conducted so far by the DRDO, five have been successful”, something the DRDO chief had characterised as “fantastic”. The report further pointed out that the then Defence Minister, A.K. Antony, had unequivocally congratulated the DRDO missile technologists.

The achievements of our scientists have, this time too, been unambiguously hailed by representatives of all parties across the political spectrum. But the manner in which the PM sought to make the announcement of this achievement has evoked criticism from several Opposition parties. As the CPI-M General Secretary in a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner underlined, “Such a mission should normally be announced to the nation by the relevant scientific authorities.... This announcement comes in the midst of the ongoing election campaign where the Prime Ministe himself is a candidate. This is clearly a violation of the Model Code of Conduct.” West Bengal CM and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee said the PM’s announcement was “limitless drama and publicity-mongering” amounting to “gross violation” of the MCC, while Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted tongue-in-cheek: “Well done DRDO, extremely proud of your work. I would also like to wish the PM a very happy World Theatre Day.”

At the other end, the ruling party representatives in government are defending the PM to the hilt on this issue. However, it needs to be reiterated that the test carried out yesterday does not alter India’s consistent opposition to “weaponsation of space”, as was underscored by the PM himself.

Nonetheless, what cannot be overlooked is the fact that while the test could have been carried out much earlier as our country had the capability to do so, the government gave the green signal only now, just before the parliamentary poll. Why it chose to do so is anyone’s guess and raising this point is quite justified in the current scenario when the ruling party and Opposition are both engaged in a bitter electoral battle.

March 28 S.C.

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