ASAT Missile
File phot of the A-SAT missile launch in Odisha | PIB India
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Mainline newspapers — barring The Telegraph — gush over the success of Mission Shakti in which India conducted its first anti-satellite (A-SAT) missile test by successfully destroying a low earth orbit satellite in space — Prime Minister Modi made the “surprise announcement” (The Indian Express), in “a rare address to the nation” (Hindustan Times) on TV.

The import of the test, for the newspapers, is reflected in large photographs, colourful graphics and extensive coverage— Times of India devotes two full pages inside — plus editorial comment in The Indian Express and the pink papers.

Page 1 headlines cannot contain their excitement: ‘India shoots into Star Wars club’ (Times of India) and ‘Satellite-killer test puts India in elite space club’ (Hindustan Times).

The Indian Express and The Hindu are loftier. ‘Shooting down live satellite, India enters strategic Space’ (The Indian Express), ‘Successful anti-satellite missile test puts India in elite club’ (The Hindu).

The Telegraph ignores the accomplishment for the politics behind it in ‘Mission Desperation’. “Rarely has a rocket packing so much lethal power pushed the nation to the brink of high noon and then prompted it to heave a collective sigh of relief followed by rip-roarious mirth”, reads its opening paragraph.

Hindustan Times is all drama in its opening: “At a little over 11.10 am Wednesday, a 13-metre-long, 19-tonne missile took off…Three minutes and 10 seconds later, it struck the 6,900mm-wide heart of a Microstat-R satellite… blowing it to bits”.

TOI is more muscular: “India successfully tested A-SAT, jettisoning its longstanding reluctance to flex military muscle in space”.

It also delights in technical jargon – the “three stage interceptor missile” weighing 18 tons “with two solid rocket boosters tore into space to hit the 740 kg satellite…”

The Hindu is scientific and baffling: “…the ASAT missile was a modified exo-atmospheric interceptor missile of the BMD. A LEO of 300 km” was its target.

TOI says the launch was “read by political circles as likely to reinforce the tough on national security image of BJP and Modi” after the “Balakot air strikes”.

The Telegraph thinks the exact opposite: “Political circles were quick to pronounce Modi’s announcement as ‘electorally inconsequential”.

The Indian Express reports that the PM’s announcement is “likely to escape the heat” and strictures from the Election Commission despite Opposition complaints. EC sources said the announcement was “avoidable” but “may not have violated the Model Code of Conduct in the strictest sense” since not Doordarshan and All India Radio but a private agency broadcast it.

Hindi Dailies

The Hindi press also warmly welcomes Mission Shakti, this morning.

Amar Ujala says India has become a superpower in space – ” Bharat antriksh ki bhi mahashakti. “Dainik Jagran calls it a surgical strike . It says “antriksh me bhi ‘surgical strike’, mahashakti bane hum.”

Dainik Bhaskar talks of success in space and politics on the ground. Alongside the A-SAT reports it highlights the EC inquiry into a possible breach of conduct by the PM in making the announcement on TV.

Dainik Jagran likens this in strategic importance to the 1998 Pokharan nuclear tests.

Tamil Dailies

Modi’s speech on ASAT takes the front page lead today. Most reports also carry an explainer how A-SAT hit the low orbit satellite.

Daily thanthi says “India successfully shot down a satellite revolving at 300km high in the space. PM Modi takes pride”

The Hindu Tamil writes, “India reaches a new milestone in space technology. Anti-satellite missile test successful. Modi takes pride in his television address”

Dinamalar shouts “Mightiness! Our military succeeds in space as well. Anti-satellite missile test success. 300km high satellite shot in 3 mins”.

Dinaani goes with a simple headline “Anti-satellite missile test success. Modi announces”.

It also has front page report on the Tamil Nadu chief minister’s election rally which says “DMK did not take any steps towards Cauvery issue – CM Eddpadi Palaniswamy”

Opinion

Express, Economic Times and Business Standard applaud A-SAT’s scientific accomplishment.

BS congratulates the government for “its courage in giving the go-ahead”, but otherwise makes different points.

Express in ‘Passing ASAT’ explains India is a ‘distant fourth’ behind the US, Russia and China in ASAT weapons — Washington and Moscow first tested ASAT in the 1960s, Beijing in 2007. And the ASAT test is “no substitute to the long overdue policy debate on India security challenges” in outer space. The ‘welcome’ demonstration of space weapon capabilities must be part of a ‘military space doctrine that identifies political objectives and technological goals’, it concludes.

ET sees a ‘Win for Indigenous Research Capacity’. India’s scientific community and entrepreneurs now “must devote energy and resources to develop artificial intelligence, robotics, efficient resource use and energy storage healthcare”.

It notes that political parties will try to appropriate “the achievements” especially the role of “Nehru and successive governments’’ but more importantly, scientists must build on this to scale greater heights”.

BS in ‘India in elite club’ agrees with ET that there are ‘spin-offs’ to be exploited commercially but warns of international criticism — although the test didn’t transgress the Outer Space Treaty which India signed, it may be seen as ‘going against the spirit of the agreement to keep space demilitarised’. However, it adds, ‘In a future war the ability to destroy enemy satellites…maybe important’’.

Prime Time

A-SAT bringing down LEO dominated TV news. First there was an hour’s wild speculation in the morning before the PM’s address on whether his “important message” would be about ‘demonetisation’ (ABP), firing along the LoC (Republic TV), capturing a ‘terrorist mastermind’ (Times Now), the economy (CNN-News 18) or on “national security”.

After his announcement, “space warfare” (Republic) broke out across channels as they tried to explain India’s “space surgical strike” (India Today) through a series of representative videos.

By evening, missiles were flying around news studios as the BJP and the Opposition claimed credit for the achievement (Times Now, Republic TV, India Today, NDTV 24×7).
The most damaging testimonials to Congress’s claims on Mission Shakti came from the scientists.

On ET Now, G Madhavan Nair, former ISRO chief, who has joined the BJP, said there was “no political will in 2012” — it was Modi who took the decision “three years ago”.

Former DRDO chief V K Saraswat went from studio to studio – India Today, CNN- News 18, Times Now, India TV – to say the same thing: “We had the capability in 2012 to test the A-SAT but we did not get clearance from the UPA government”.

On CNN-News 18, Saraswat added, “At that time (2012), India did not demonstrate will — Modi had the political will today.”

Asked, “Why is using an anti-satellite missile such a significant milestone in India’s space journey”, he explained, “It has been achieved through advanced technology and will boost India’s strategic capability. Space is the fourth dimension where war can take place…”

On Times Now, former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan could not explain why the UPA did not conduct the test but wondered why the A-SAT missile test was conducted days before Lok Sabha elections.

Aaj Tak anchor Rohit Sardana on ‘Dangal in Antriksh’ (fight in space), asked why politics entered into scientific developments.

Congress spokesperson Surendra Rajput said, “…today is a day to congratulate the scientists, not a particular political party…Narendra Modi is trying to hide his failures on the ground behind the achievements of the scientists.”

Sardana asked BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi if the PM was taking away the credit from scientists by “hogging the media limelight”.

Trivedi, reflecting the BJP line, replied loftily, “The Prime Minister was not speaking from a political platform but from the post of the Prime Minister.”

Samajwadi Party spokesperson Rajiv Rai commented, “Narendra Modi is doing simple marketing.”

BJP ally JDU’s spokesperson Ajay Alok wondered what all the fuss was about: “Why will the Prime Minister not congratulate this major scientific achievement?”

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With inputs from Shailaja Bajpai and Renu Agal

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