Updated: March 28, 2019 12:16:10 am
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on Wednesday morning, to say that India had successfully shot down a live satellite in low earth orbit, and thereby entered an elite club of space powers, he was making two announcements in one. He was, of course, declaring India’s stronger capability to defend itself in space. But that was not all. Coming just as the election campaign heats up, Wednesday’s announcement was politically freighted. That is proved best not by the Opposition’s allegations of motives but by the government’s own strenuous efforts to frame a disquieting political opposition in its wake. In a press conference, senior ministers did not just seek to invoke a take-no-questions national pride, they didn’t just dismiss the Opposition’s questions as “clerical objections” — but also drew a line from Pulwama-Balakot to Wednesday’s announcement, and talked of preparing for the war of the future. After its “aitihasik bhool (historic blunder)” over Balakot, said Arun Jaitley, history has given the Opposition another chance — to stand with the scientists in their achievement. The implication was unsubtle: The Government plus Soldier plus Scientist plus National Security on one side — the Opposition on the other.
If this is another strain of the BJP’s theme song in the upcoming election campaign, it speaks of an impoverished politics ahead. If the BJP is signalling that its electoral strategy will be to wrap itself in war-like Pulwama-Balakot-ASAT, in order to insulate itself from all contentions and draw attention away from other issues, like agricultural distress or joblessness, it portends a shrunken debate. Hopefully, the party that rules India’s centre will not let its pursuit of poll victory blind it to the virtue — and necessity in a large and diverse democracy — of keeping politics free and open to questions. Hopefully, the Opposition will rise to the political challenge. It must be hoped, too, that other institutions, especially the Election Commission, are mindful of their responsibility.
For the BJP, Balakot and now the declaration of ASAT missile capability, may make a perfect fit with its political USP of muscular nationalism. It is for the countervailing institutions in a constitutional democracy, however, to judge when and how to apply the check and restore the balance.
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