India has become the fourth nation in the world after United States, China and Russia to demonstrate anti-satellite missile capability by shooting down a satellite. In a special address to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described it as a rare achievement that puts the country in an exclusive club of space superpowers.

“In the journey of every nation there are moments that bring utmost pride and have a historic impact on generations to come. One such moment is today,” he said in a broadcast to the nation on television, radio and social media. “India has successfully tested the Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Missile. Congratulations to everyone on the success of #MissionShakti,” the Prime Minister tweeted later

According to reports, the target was a decommissioned Indian satellite which was eliminated within three minutes. The anti-satellite (A-SAT) weapon was launched at 11:16 am.

Mission Shakti, which was led by the Defence Research and Development Organisation, was aimed at strengthening India’s overall security, Modi said in his address that came a fortnight before the start of the Lok Sabha election. 

The last time Modi had addressed the nation was November 8, 2016 when he announced the demonetisation of high-value currency notes. While PM was supposed to start his address at 11:45, it was delayed by over half an hour, triggering panic and speculation about what the announcement could be. 

Congratulating members of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), scientists and officials, Modi said the mission was an important step towards securing India’s safety, economic growth and technological advancement. The capability was not against any country and India was against arms race in space, he added.

The scale and timing of the announcements, a fortnight before the first phase of polling, triggered a political slugfest with the opposition parties threatening to approach the Election Commission. 

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav accused Modi of giving himself an hour of free TV and diverting nation’s attention away from issues on the ground “by pointing to the sky”.

Mocking the PM, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi reminded Twitterati that Modi’s announcement coincides with World Theatre Day. “Well done DRDO, extremely proud of your work. I would also like to wish the PM a very happy World Theatre Day,” he said on Twitter.

Lauding scientists at ISRO and DRDO, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accused Modi of trying to steal credit from them. Terming it a gross violation of the model code of conduct, Banerjee said there was “no great urgency” of announcing the mission by a government “past its expiry date” and asserted that it seems to be the “desperate oxygen to save the imminent sinking of the BJP boat”.

The BJP rejected all the criticism, with finance minister Arun Jaitley dubbed the Opposition’s objection to the timing of announcement by Modi as “clerical”. 

Jaitley said, “India’s nuclear programme is a continuing programme…It can’t be put to a halt because it does not suit the West Bengal chief minister or any other political leader. It will run 365 days, election or not.”

Amid reports that ISRO had the capability of launching an anti-satellite weapon since 2012, BJP chief Amit Shah said, “The truth is, our proficient scientists always had the talent and capability, all that was needed was the go-ahead from the government. UPA did not have the courage to back its institutions and people, NDA under PM Modi has shown the conviction to do so.”