Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is truly pulling out all of the stops to ensure victory in the "biggest election in human history", which begins in two weeks when Indians take to the polls to elect their government.
In an announcement that took the world by surprise, Modi announced on Wednesday that India had successfully shot down a satellite during a missile test. If accurate (his claims have yet to be verified), this would mean that India has joined an elite group of nations, including Russia, China and the US, that have the ability to shoot down enemies' communication satellites. It also raises questions about the weaponization of space just as India's regional rivalry with China, which it is struggling against for regional supremacy, is heating up.
Millions of Indians stopped what they were doing to watch Modi's speech, according to the New York Times.
During a speech announcing the test, Modi hailed India's arrival as a "space power," and heralded the country's "unprecedented achievement." According to the PM, the satellite, which was in low-Earth orbit, was shot down from 300 kilometers away in space.
“Our scientists shot down a live satellite 300 kilometers away in space, in low-Earth orbit,” Modi said in a television broadcast.
“India has made an unprecedented achievement today,” he added, speaking in Hindi. “India registered its name as a space power.”
And in a series of tweets extolling the successful test, Modi claimed that the "indigenous" effort (it was accomplished solely by Indians), would send a message to India's adversaries and anyone threatening the country's "peace and harmony."
#MissionShakti is special for 2 reasons:— Chowkidar Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 27, 2019
(1) India is only the 4th country to acquire such a specialised & modern capability.
(2) Entire effort is indigenous.
India stands tall as a space power!
It will make India stronger, even more secure and will further peace and harmony.
Indeed, a proud moment for the whole nation.— Chowkidar Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 27, 2019
Just like you smash the bad deliveries out of the park, our scientists have given India the capability to smash those forces who threaten our peace and harmony. #MissionShakti https://t.co/U4mpQiH9Fn
India has been building its space program since its first satellite launch in 1975. It joined a manned space mission with Russia in 1984 and launched a Mars orbiter in 2013. India launched its heaviest communication satellite so far into space in December. The satellite weighed nearly 5,000 pounds, into space.
Analysts warned that the test would ratchet up tensions between India and China, while others said they were surprised by Modi's willingness to do whatever it takes to prevail in the elections next month. Though his poll numbers had been sagging before the skirmish with Pakistan last month, he has been riding a crest of popular support in recent weeks.