A-SAT Test: A Moment to Rethink Our Developmental Priorities


In Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the country on the successful test of Anti-Satellite Missile (A-SAT), he said, “There can be no greater moment of pride for every Hindustani.” The critique from the Congress, the main opposition party, was muted as it was confined to the propriety of the announcement while the Electoral Code of Conduct is in place, the necessity to keep mum on military secrets, etc. We could, however, say that this is a moment to rethink our sense of developmental priorities. The test makes us wonder what the aam admi in late Laxman’s cartoons would have said about India becoming a space-military superpower.

In one of the last notes left behind by the father of the nation in 1948, he says, “I will give you a talisman. ‘Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.’

The contemporary egalitarian liberal thinker from the United States, late John Rawls sets forth his famous difference principle as follows, “[S]ocial and economic inequalities are just only if they result in compensating benefits, particularly for the least advantaged in society.” There is a parallel here with Gandhi’s talisman. Can we have an honest assessment of the A-SAT missile test using Gandhi’s talisman or Rawls’ difference principle?

Are we really clear about what we are going to do with this sophisticated military technology which takes us to the realm of the star wars? This reminds us of a key argument of Jurgen Habermas, the contemporary German Critical Theorist who has argued that modern civilization is about marshalling the means, to what ends, it knows not.

James Petras (2008) in an article, ‘Global ruling class: Billionaires and how they “make it”’ published in Journal of Contemporary Asia argued, “The world’s greatest inequalities are found in India, where the wealth of 35 billionaire families exceeds that of 800 million poor….” Being the single country that houses the largest number of poor people in the world, should A-SAT missile have been the developmental priority for India? Why do we want to become a superpower when our people are ill-clad, ill-fed and illiterate? Do we face any immediate security threat that we have to be ready for star wars? It may be recalled that it was the star wars competition with the United States during the time of Ronald Reagan that quickened the downfall of the Soviet Union. As Michael Lebowitz of the 21st Century Socialism school says, every development project has to go through a Human Development Impact Assessment (HDIA) just as we have the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Our Prime Minister, in his address, says that the satellites contribute to us in many walks of life and it is important to safeguard our space and satellite capabilities and it sounds convincing.

However, let us look at the flipside of it: Out of 189 countries, India ranks 130 in Human Development according to the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Report in 2018. Norway, Switzerland,  Australia,  Ireland and Germany which top the list never thought of going for a Star Wars programme. Don’t they have any national security issues? Can we logically think that France which sells us Mirage fighter planes cannot acquire the technological capability to develop A-SAT missiles? That does not sound seemly.

It is agreed that geopolitics is the determining factor in the military policy of any country. But the Anti-Satellite missile should not be going up from below the poverty line. What is the major security threat that India faces?  She is the regional hegemon in South Asia.  She is in a cosy relationship with the sole superpower on the worldscale,  and China seems to be happy getting access to the huge market of India rather than waging border wars. By comparison, China’s position in Human Development is 86 out of 189 countries in 2018. China is far superior to India in military might.  Are we going to fight a border war with China as a Star War? Problems, there are, in our relations with other countries but should we not find political and diplomatic solutions to them rather than primarily military solutions?

In a country where around 60 per cent of the population still subsists on agriculture, what percentage share of total research do we spend for agricultural research? “Agriculture Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) data reveal that India currently spends 0.30 per cent of agriculture GDP on agricultural research, which is just half the share invested by China (0.62 per cent)” (Bhuwan Bhaskar, Hindu Businessline, 11 Oct. 2018). Fish being the best source of animal protein, why is it that a good technology to dry and preserve fish has not reached our fisher people, for instance? Why do they have to still continue to salt and dry fish in the open?

A proposal to ‘beat swords into ploughshares’ may not always be practicable in the real world dominated by nation-states which are obsessed with state security and state survival. However, it would not be an implausible proposition to say that we need to urgently rethink on our developmental priorities.

Dr. Gilbert Sebastian is an Assistant Professor at the Central University of Kerala, Kasaragod. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at: gilbertseb@gmail.com


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