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Lok Sabha elections 2019: Missile launch sparks political slugfest

Several Opposition parties congratulated the scientists involved in the launch but questioned the timing of the announcement, which comes a fortnight before the Lok Sabha elections that start on April 11.

lok sabha elections Updated: Mar 27, 2019 23:33 IST
HT Correpondent
HT Correpondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Satellite,A SAT,BJP
Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) Interceptor missile being launched by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in an Anti-Satellite (A-SAT) missile test ‘Mission Shakti’ engaging an Indian orbiting target satellite in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in a ‘Hit to Kill’ mode from Abdul Kalam Island, Odisha, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. (PTI file photo)

The Opposition’s objections to the successful testing of the anti-satellite (A-SAT) missile are nothing more than “clerical”, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley said after leaders from different parties complained to the Election Commission (EC) for an alleged violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), and blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for trying to take credit for a programme initiated by previous governments.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India had successfully tested an A-SAT missile to shoot down a Low Earth Orbit Indian satellite, located 300km in outer space, making India the fourth country after the United States, Russia and China, to have successfully carried out this technological mission.

Several Opposition parties congratulated the scientists involved in the launch but questioned the timing of the announcement, which comes a fortnight before the Lok Sabha elections that start on April 11.

Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee also took to Twitter, saying, “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.”

“We are lodging a complaint with the Election Commission,” she added.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury wrote a letter to the Election Commission of India, which said: “This announcement comes in the midst of the ongoing election campaign where the Prime Minister himself is a candidate. This is clearly a violation of the Model Code of Conduct.”

Immediately after PM’s address, EC sources told HT that the government did not need to take permission from them for announcements about national security. However, later, the EC decided to set up a committee to probe the matter.

“The matter related to the address of the Prime Minister to the Nation on electronic media today afternoon has been brought to the notice of ECI.The Commission has directed a Committee of Officers to examine the matter immediately in the light of Model Code of Conduct,” a spokesperson said.

Sandeep Saxsena, the deputy election commissioner, who is in charge of issues related to MCC, will head the committee. Dhirendra Ojha, KF Wilfred, and NN Butolia will be part of it.

An EC official said that as soon as all relevant information is received, the report shall be submitted.

Speaking to HT on condition of anonymity, a former EC official said that the government is exempt from making announcements related to national security, but in this case, the government was making an announcement that can be certified as notifying an achievement, which is against the MCC.

Taking exception to the opposition’s criticism, Jaitley said, “India’s programme is a continuing one which cannot be put to a halt because it does not suit the West Bengal chief minister or any other political leader.”

Jaitley was addressing a press conference held jointly with defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and information and broadcasting minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.

He described the Opposition’s questioning of the timing of the missile test as “clerical objections”.

In 2012, after the successful launch of the Agni V missile which could go up to 600 km in space, former director general of DRDO, VK Saraswat had said that India could now build ASAT weapons but there were no plans to do so as India was against weaponization of space.

Meanwhile, the Congress also criticized the BJP-led government for taking credit for the space programme.

First Published: Mar 27, 2019 23:33 IST