We showed what we knew—that we can put over two tonnes in space, do it accurately, and manoeuvre it. In fact, we can do more. We can deliver payloads of this kind over 2,000-plus kilometres. So our enemies should watch out. We describe in this piece, how we acquired these capabilities. But before that, let’s assure ourselves—and then our friends also across the world—that our destiny is greater than sabre-rattling.
Rajiv Gandhi had gone to Moscow for a discussion with Mikhail Gorbachev. Getting bored, he asked his aide Gopi Arora, “Anything new?” Arora replied both he and we are “reforming.” Let’s cooperate around that with new-generation projects and not just steel plants and heavy machinery. Let’s also cooperate on reform strategies and share experiences on the progress.
Later, I was sent to negotiate these details. Incidentally, during that mission, I asked Sam Pitroda, who in those days was working on a modern communication strategy for India (the Centre for Development of Telematics; C-DOT), if he would be a part of my delegation? He wanted to come and that is the origin of his Soviet bloc business connection. The Soviets laid it out. My counterpart was a Soviet electronic engineer trained in the US, one of Gorbachev’s technocrat young leaders. During that visit, we also met Vladimir Putin, who was the Party chief in Leningrad (now St Petersburg). I took from home a list of ‘needs’ we were not getting from elsewhere, in which they had the capabilities. One of them was cooperation in developing the technology of delivering payloads in space.
Rajiv was assassinated and Gorbachev removed. His successor would not bite on this cooperation and it was only with Putin that those deals were revived. But after the initial rebuff, I asked the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief, whom I knew from his Ahmedabad days, what will we do? These chelas of Satish Dhawan were all Nehruites to the core. He replied, “Sir, we will do it ourselves.” But how? “The origin, Dr Alagh, is the technology of boiling milk: we will start with that.” We allocated special resources for them, and the rest is history. In four months they had tested successfully the technology under stationary conditions, and in less than two years the descendants of the Aryabhata had readied to put the rocket in space for an Indian communication satellite to be used for ‘educational ‘ purposes. But chancelleries the world over knew that India had the power to swing it militarily very quickly, say in a periods of weeks.
Civilised countries use the threat of power to achieve democratic social objectives at home and the pursuit of their larger objectives abroad. The threat of the use of power was developed as a fine art by political economy thought leaders like Chanakya, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Disraeli and Giuseppe Mazzini. Dictators, who actually used this power causing havoc, ended up in the dustbins of history.
Our security interests in Afghanistan, the access route to our trade with Central and West Asia through the strategically located port town of Chabahar, and in fighting those who will wreck the democratic Indian State, need the back-up of the mailed fist. But this power needs to be perceived as a threat. That too we must make an effort for it to be seen only as a hidden threat. The day-to-day work has to be done with the velvet glove. Large democracies are very confident and powerful nations. They cannot fritter away their reservoirs of power, in fits of insecurity.
The author is a former Union minister