Opposition leaders Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday for allegedly dramatising and taking credit for Indian space scientists’ work. Earlier, in a special address to the nation, Modi announced that India has shot down a live satellite in space and earned a place among global space powers.
Banerjee said her party, the Trinamool Congress, will file a complaint with the Election Commission for Modi’s “gross violation” of the Model Code of Conduct. “Today’s announcement is yet another limitless drama and publicity mongering by Modi desperately trying to reap political benefits at the time of election,” Banerjee said in a series of tweets.
“There is no great urgency in conducting and announcing the mission now by a government past its expiry date,” she added. “It seems a desperate oxygen (sic) to save the imminent sinking of the BJP boat. We are lodging a complaint with the Election Commission.”
She added that research, space management and development were “a continuous process” that took place over the years. “Modi, as usual, likes to take the credit for everything. Credit to those who really deserve it, our scientists & researchers,” she said. “India’s Mission Programme is world-class for many many years. We are always proud of our scientists, @DRDO_India, other research & space organisations.”
Later in the day, Banerjee held a press conference where she said that the scientists who worked on the project should have announced the success of the operation, ANI reported. “It’s a political announcement, scientists should have announced it, it’s their credit,” she said at a press conference. “Only one satellite was destroyed, that wasn’t necessary, it was lying there since long, it’s the prerogative of scientists, when to do it.”
She took a jibe at Modi and asked if he worked at the Defence Research and Development Organisation. “What was the need for Modi at the time of election to violate the Model Code of Conduct to take the credit? Is he going to space?” ANI quoted her as saying.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi said he was extremely proud of the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s work and added: “I would also like to wish the PM a very happy World Theatre Day.”
Modi’s announcement came two weeks before the first phase of elections was set to begin, raising questions on whether this may violate the Model Code of Conduct. Several people on social media also wondered if Modi should have broadcast a special message instead of letting scientists themselves speak or issue a government press release.
Modi said the anti-satellite weapon ASAT had successfully targeted a live satellite on a Low Earth Orbit and has become only the fourth country to do so, after the United States, China and Russia.
Other Congress leaders such as Ahmed Patel and Randeep Singh Surjewala also congratulated the government agencies and scientists but echoed Banerjee’s statement that the Modi government could not take complete credit for the achievement.
Patel said the UPA government had initiated the ASAT programme years ago, which has reached fruition today. He shared a news report from 2012 to point out that the Defence Research and Development Organisation had begun to focus on anti-satellite weapons at that time. Patel also congratulated former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his tweet.
Similarly, the Congress congratulated the Indian Space Research Organisation and the government for the achievement but also pointed out achievements of former prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. “The Indian Space Programme established in 1961 by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru & the Indian Space Research Organisation set up under Smt. Indira Gandhi has always made India proud with its ground breaking achievements,” the party said on Twitter.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also said the “building blocks” of this mission were laid in 2012 during the UPA rule.
Samajwadi Party chief and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav was more critical of Modi and accused the prime minister of diverting India’s attention from other matters. “Today @narendramodi got himself an hour of free TV & divert (sic) nation’s attention away from issues on ground – #Unemployment #RuralCrisis & #WomensSecurity – by pointing at the sky,” Yadav said in a tweet. “Congratulations @drdo_india & @isro – this success belongs to you. Thank you for making India safer.”
Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu also congratulated the ISRO and the DRDO for the “remarkable accomplishment”. “A proud moment for India as we enter our name as an elite space power today,” he said on Twitter. “Our scientists have achieved a great feat by carrying out #MissionShakti in under three minutes.”
Modi said that the Mission Shakti operation was completed in just three minutes using an ASAT made in India. The mission is an important step towards securing India’s safety, economic growth and technological advancement, the prime minister said, congratulating the Defence Research and Development Organisation and other scientists for the feat.
What India has done does not breach any international law or treaties, Modi said. “It speaks of the country’s technological and defence prowess. India has always been against the use of weapons in space and the country has not changed its stance,” he added.