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31 March, 2019 10:28:51 AM

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Narendra Modi springs another surprise

It is unprecedented for an Indian prime minister to address the nation in the middle of an election campaign but then Modi is known for pulling off surprises
Kumkum Chadha
Narendra Modi springs another surprise

It was at 11.20 am on a bright Tuesday morning that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he would be addressing the nation at a very short notice.  The address, though important and rather significant, sent the people of India into a tizzy. Till the PM actually spoke and ended the suspense on what he would actually say, speculation and of course nervousness was at its peak.  The fact that the Prime Minister himself had tweeted the information and then delayed the address by several minutes, made everyone nervous.

Those sure were nail-biting moments and willy-nilly brought back memories of the shocker address onNovember 8, 2016, when Modi had announced demonetisation and watched heavens fall on the people of this country.
Suspense was at its peak till Modi ended it.  Interesting tweets doing the rounds with former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah joking: "He's declaring the results of the Lok Sabha elections. #JustSaying"
There was another: “Mujhe laga Pakistan nahi raha”. Some requested the Prime Minister to kill the suspense as the clock ticked well past the appointed time of PM’s address:  “Modiji, kuch to hint do! Bunker ki taraf bhage, ya ATM ki taraf (should we scurry towards the bunker or the ATM)?” asked a Tweeter.

A website went as far as putting out a full length report on what it called the “five stages of living through the Prime Minister’s address”  namely wild guesses some humorous and others anticipatory; hitting the ATM adding that this country’s experience from post demonetization has taught it to be prepared for anything; the third stage of not being able to wait any longer; the fourth of the media interpreting and misinterpreting of what the PM would possibly say; and ofcourse the final stage of relief when the Prime Minister actually spoke and ended the suspense.

It is, indeed, unprecedented for a prime minister to address the nation in the middle of an election campaign but then Modi is known for pulling off surprises.

This too was one such.

Modi told the nation that that India has destroyed a live low-orbiting satellite during a missile test that puts the country in the space "super league". With this,  India has now became the fourth country after the United States, Russia and China to have carried out the feat. "A while ago our scientists shot down a live satellite at a low-earth orbit," Modi said in a rare televised address to the nation. "This is a proud moment for India," he said, while assuring everyone that the test does not breach any international law or treaties.

PM Modi said an indigenously-built anti-satellite missile destroyed a live satellite in 3 minutes .

The high points of Modi address were India entering the club of  elite space power it being the fourth country; an anti-satellite weapon A-SAT, successfully targeted a live satellite on a low earth orbit; this is a big moment for India given that we are not just capable to defend on land, water and air, but now also in space; and the new prowess not being against anyone but is purely India's defence initiative for its security.

Called Mission Shakti, Modi said that  the entire effort is indigenous and shows the remarkable dexterity of India’s outstanding scientists and the success of our space programme.

That  Mission Shakti has made India proud cannot be denied. It is a feat that must  be flagged. Modi did just that.

But coming in the middle of when electioneering in India is at its peak raised several questions on the  propriety of this announcement. It is also said that by making the announcement the PM robbed the scientists to take the lead. In this move they also saw the PM trying to equate this to the  May 1998 announcement when India tested its nuclear arsenal.

It would be naïve to divorce politics from Modi’s address. Equally it was not surprising that political parties jumped in with claims, counter claims and accusation and counter accusations.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Well done DRDO, extremely proud of your work. I would also like to wish the PM a very happy World Theatre Day”.

Congress leader Ahmed Patel  said that it was the Congress who had initiated the ASAT programme  which has reached fruition today.

Union Minister Arun Jaitley attacked the Congress on grounds that when India test-fired the Agni-V missile in April 2012, then DRDO chief V.K. Saraswat had said India could develop an anti-satellite missile, but the government hadn’t given its nod.Saraswat now serves the BJP-led government as an advisor to the Niti Ayog, which replaced the Planning Commission after Modi took over in 2014.

Jaitley said: “Our scientists wanted this (test) to be conducted earlier too. They had even said we have this capability, but Government of India is not allowing us and that is why we are not able to develop it.” He cited media reports published on April 21, 2012 to stress that the previous government did not give permission for this test to be conducted.

“Those who are wrongly patting themselves for their failures should remember that footprints of their lies do get exposed. Our scientists were ready for this since the last decade but previous governments didn’t have the clarity to approve it,” said Mr Jaitley.

Attacking the Opposition for their objections, Mr Jaitley said: “When the finger points at the moon, the idiot always points to the finger.”

There were others like BSP supremo Mayawati who accused the PM of “playing politics over India’s anti-satellite missile capability”.  West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee called the announcement  “another limitless drama and publicity mongering by Modi, desperately trying to reap political benefits at the time of election. This is a gross violation of the Model Code of Conduct.”

Even while the Election Commission has given a clean chit to Modi over his address to the nation,  the political debate is on. That the PM stole the electoral advantage is clear but what is not is whether he will be able to reap electoral benefits from his address.

Views on this are diverse one being that Modi, by virtue of being Prime Minister got an unfair advantage over others and grabbed air time. The other is that the achievement was  unique and  befitting that the PM address the nation. The debate vacillates between Modi misusing his office to reap electoral advantage rather than leave it to the scientists to have made this announcement, like it was done when India’s mission to the moon Chandrayaan-1 was announced?

It indeed is a grey area but one which hasgiven Modi a distinct advantage. Post  Pulwama and the  air raids that followed, Modi was on a high but it seems that the advantages are dissipating. It is therefore necessary to keep up the pressure lest people forget and turn their attention  to domestic issues of unemployment, an agrarian crisis and a poor economy: something the BJP can ill afford. Pulwama terror attack, though tragic,  was Godsent to revive BJP’s  dipping popularity: a shot in the arm, so to say. It is therefore prudent for the BJP to up the ante. Even in the face of

Opposition parties slamming the BJP and accusing it of desperation, the BJP can ill afford to leave anything to chance.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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