New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise address to the nation to announce the success of Mission Shakti a fortnight before Lok Sabha polls kick off had strong political undertones, with the PM chanting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai‘ thrice, much like in his campaign speeches, and picking the mission’s name as an ode to his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Operation Shakti.
The announcement of Mission Shakti’s success also set off a game of one-upmanship between the BJP and the opposition.
The PM Wednesday morning announced India’s anti-satellite missile system had completed a successful test against a low earth orbit satellite, and said with this, the country has become a space superpower.
“Mission Shakti will make India stronger, even more secure and will further peace and harmony,” the PM said, adding that this was a proud moment for India.
However, with the Lok Sabha elections — in which Modi is seeking a second term in office — just about a fortnight away, the underlying political message of the exercise was hardly lost.
Adds to party’s narrative
The BJP has attempted to build the entire pre-election discourse on the issue of national security, particularly after the Pulwama terror attack which was followed by IAF air strikes on terror camps in Pakistan’s Balakot.
According to sources in the BJP, it has been felt that the projection of the party’s muscular nationalist approach and of PM Modi’s decisive image will help tilt the scale in BJP’s favour, and Wednesday’s address was part of that strategy.
“National security is our strength and playing that up is expected to help us. With the address, the PM has tried to underline our commitment to the issue and to keep the country safe,” said a BJP source, who did not wish to be identified.
The PM also sought to underscore how the technology was indigenously developed so as to buttress claims of his government working for India’s progress.
The lines between Modi, the PM, and Modi, the campaigner, seemed fuzzy as he sought to give his address in the same colour as that of an election campaign speech. On Wednesday, he chose to address the nation only in Hindi. With elections in mind, Modi also took the nationalism pitch a notch higher, reciting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ emphatically a good three times, much like he does passionately in his campaign rallies.
In fact, in Modi’s other big televised addresses to the nation earlier, the tone was a lot more mellowed down on this front. During his address to the nation to announce the controversial decision of demonetisation in November 2016, Modi ended both his Hindi and English speeches by chanting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ just once, and his New Year’s eve address (both in Hindi and English) the same year ended with a ‘Jai Hind’ once.
Incidentally, the mission has been named ‘Shakti’, taking cue from ‘Operation Shakti’ as part of which nuclear tests were conducted in Pokhran in 1998 under the regime of then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, making India a nuclear power. The idea has been to make the word — shakti — a brand that can be associated with the BJP and its “contributions to national security”.
“The word ‘shakti’ has a muscular ring to it. The BJP wants this to get associated with its contributions to national security much like Vajpayeeji’s nuclear test in Pokhran and now this mission under PM Modi”, said a BJP leader on condition of anonymity.
The political barbs
If the BJP is seeking to reap maximum political gains from the mission, the Opposition was quick to target the PM for his surprise address.
The Congress was fast on its feet to not cede any space to the BJP and allow it to take credit. Party president Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to mock the PM, indicating that his address was mere theatrics.
“Well done DRDO, extremely proud of your work. I would also like to wish the PM a very happy World Theatre Day,” he tweeted.
Well done DRDO, extremely proud of your work.
I would also like to wish the PM a very happy World Theatre Day.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 27, 2019
Others from the Congress, meanwhile, sought to give credit to the UPA regime for having initiated the programme.
“The UPA government had initiated the ASAT program which has reached fruition today. I congratulate our space scientists & the visionary leadership of Dr Manmohan Singh,” senior leader Ahmed Patel tweeted.
The UPA government had initiated the ASAT program which has reached fruition today
I congratulate our space scientists & the visionary leadership of Dr Manmohan Singhhttps://t.co/pJHBVGo5GA
— Ahmed Patel (@ahmedpatel) March 27, 2019
West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, in whose state the BJP is hoping to make significant inroads, claimed this was a violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).
“Today’s announcement is yet 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 Model Code of Conduct. There is no great urgency in conducting and announcing the mission now by a government past its expiry date. It seems a desperate oxygen to save the imminent sinking of the BJP boat. We are lodging a complaint with the Election Commission,” she wrote on Twitter.
Today’s announcement is yet 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 Model Code of Conduct. 3/4
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) March 27, 2019
Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury endorsed the view of his rival party that the PM’s announcement was a violation of the MCC.
The BJP, meanwhile, fielded senior leader and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to take on the opposition, hoping to blunt their attacks.
Terming the opposition’s criticism as “clerical objections”, Jaitley said the scientists in the country had said they had the desire and capability to do so earlier as well, but the “government then did not give them permission to do so”.
“We are talking about national security, regional security and geopolitical security, and on the other hand you see them doing what I may term as clerical objections”, he said.
“You are not at all bothered about national security. When the finger points to the moon, the idiot always points to the finger. People who make such statements can only be answered by the people. The lower they go, the stronger we will emerge”, Jaitley added.
Jaitley also sought to clarify that this wasn’t a political exercise linked to elections, and that India’s “nuclear programme cannot be put to a halt because it doesn’t suit the West Bengal chief minister or any other leader”.