India’s prime minister takes his re-election campaign into outer space

Mar 28, 2019

AT NOON ON March 27th Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, appeared on television to deliver a triumphal message to the nation. An Indian missile had hurtled 300km into space and blown up a satellite, putting India in the small club of countries that had developed and tested anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. “India stands tall as a space power!” he exulted.

Mr Modi’s address was unusual. Voting in a seven-stage national election begins on April 11th. Prime ministerial broadcasts during election season—when a “model code of conduct” applies, barring the ruling party from abusing its position—have occurred only twice before: after the assassination of the prime minister in 1984 and of the leader of the opposition in 1991. Mamata Banerjee, the leader of a regional opposition party, demanded that the Election Commission investigate Mr Modi’s speech for breaching its code.

An ASAT test would hardly qualify as a national-security emergency. Indeed, India might have carried it out at any time in the past eight years. In 2012 V.K. Saraswat, then the head of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, the government agency that develops new military gear, noted that the “building blocks” of an ASAT capability were in place and required only electronic fine-tuning. It is hard to avoid the conclusion...

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