Where booming missiles enthuse teeming beggars

By Sampathkumar Iyangar

India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) `successfully’ conducted its first test of a ballistic missile from an undersea platform on Feb 26. A beaming Dr Prahlada, DRDO chief controller, proudly announced the launch of the “nuclear capable” missile from a submerged pontoon off India’s south-east coast near the port city of Visakhapatnam.

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India’s submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), code-named K-15 under the `Sagarika’ project, is being readied over 10 years and has had four test launches from `submersible pontoon launchers’ during the last year. It is supposed to be integrated with the 25-year-old Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project, estimated to have cost Rs 20,000 crore. DRDO is building three nuclear-powered submarines `indigenously’ at Visakhapatnam under the project.

Ecstatic media reports, catering to the `feel good’ urge of a section of `educated’ self-styled patriotic Indians, have hailed that India has finally achieved its long-standing aim—to have an `operational nuclear weapon triad’. For, the country has gate crashed into the exclusive club of the Big Five – US, Russia, China, France and UK – which field SLBMs. According to Dr Prahlada, New Delhi has also given the green light for a $625 million JV with Israel to build surface-to-air missiles for the Indian navy. He earlier boasted, “If the government wants it, we can extend the range of the Agni-III missile. We have the capability and technology.”

The happiest people at the fantastic feat, ironically, are not Indian military officers. They know the exercise is aimed just at creating euphoria among an upbeat population. The 700-750 km range SLBM is only a very expensive toy compared to 5000-plus km range SLBMs deployed by the Big Five. The most jubilant ones are to be found among India’s strategic pundits as well as `intellectually accomplished’ Indians residing abroad, who derive pride and pleasure at their motherland’s `achievement’.

After all, they do not have the inconvenience of finding pathetically malnourished kids everyday, begging in various public places – railway stations, bus stands, market places, outside malls and theatres, public gardens, traffic signals and temples. Any long-distance railway passenger encounters a couple of small children with a running nose, tattered clothes, covered with dirt and filth who come into the coach, clean the dirty floor and ask for either some food or some money. Most of the time, that fills one with a feeling of helplessness; for, he/she cannot do anything to change their lives.

That brings us to a pertinent question. Why waste scarce resources in military might, when we have the above as the ugly everyday reality? The monstrous defence projects are eventually funded by fleecing people subsisting on minimal needs. The same people with a per capita GDP of less than $ 1000 – who find no other alternative than to turn their heads away at beggars – are forced to “invest” in the projects.

Who in the world will want to invade an unfortunate land where people queue up to bribe lawmakers and ministers, engaged in human trafficking for a fat fee, to smuggle them out? Face it, Indians with lesser income than Tonga, Tunisia and Namibia have neither the need nor the monstrous money needed for the insanity.

DRDO and BARC eat up over half of India’s S&T budget, leaving scientists in non-fashionable fields like crop research, healthcare etc in organisations like CSIR high and dry. Both of these have been grand flop shows, with no meaningful achievement to their credit. Most of the budget allocated gets siphoned off to powerful wheeler dealers doing business with them, as in any case, no meaningful development can be achieved with the tiny fraction of investments, what countries with ppp GDP of over $ 40,000 per capita can allocate.

Their only achievement is to enable jingoists indulge in nonsensical “hearty news” of “firing nuclear missiles from nuclear powered submarines!” BTW, can giving formidable sounding names like Brahmos, Prithvi, Agni, Chakra, Trishul, Nag, and now Sagarika make poorly imitated look-alikes work well? If so, these hawks can make a superpower of India! But, unfortunately, the sycophants are unable to master the `mantras’ required to launch these `astras’!!