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Outer Space in the BJP’s Election Manifesto: Promises and Prospects

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Outer Space in the BJP’s Election Manifesto: Promises and Prospects

In one section of their manifesto, the BJP outlined its plan to make India a “leading space power.”

Outer Space in the BJP’s Election Manifesto: Promises and Prospects
Credit: Depositphotos

The 2024 Indian general elections are underway, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made India’s outer space ambitions a part of its manifesto. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have derived political capital from the Indian Space Research Organization’s missions in ways not seen before. Therefore, it is not surprising that space exploration is featured prominently in their 2024 electoral agenda. 

In their manifesto’s section dubbed “Modi ki Guarantee for Technology and Innovations,” the BJP outlined its plan to make India a “leading space power,” a position the nation already holds. Additionally, the document reiterated the BJP’s commitment to the ongoing Gaganyaan project, India’s first manned flight into outer space. It went a step further by promising to send India’s first astronaut – or vyomanaut – to the Moon. The manifesto also proposed significant expansions to space-ready infrastructure. These include creating the Bharatiya Antariksha Station, similar to the International Space Station (ISS), and a second launch complex to double the nation’s capacity for space missions.

The BJP’s space agenda also emphasized the importance of international collaboration, especially with the Global South. It mentioned plans to establish a Global Space Academy, operating under the auspices of ISRO and the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST). Likewise, the proposed creation of a new space forum seeks to affirm India’s position as a leading space power and assist the Global South in leveraging space and space-tech services. Notably, these moves are framed not just as technological progressions but also as strategic moves to strengthen India’s geopolitical influence and soft power.

The manifesto’s claim, “We will launch Gaganyaan, Bharat’s first human spaceflight mission,” warrants scrutiny given the project’s long history. Initiated during the first United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2007, Gaganyaan is not a new project. It has been meticulously planned, appropriately budgeted, and its execution is actively underway. Significant milestones have already been achieved, including the recent selection of astronauts and test flights. The phrasing in the manifesto, therefore, was less about discussing new initiatives and more about scoring points on the imminent completion of an already advanced project.

Aspirations to land an Indian astronaut on the Moon and establish a space station, meanwhile, are undeniably ambitious. These position India on a trajectory parallel to China’s expansive space missions. While India is known for its cost-effective approach to space exploration, realizing such ground-breaking projects will require a significant paradigm shift in terms of financial investment. For these initiatives to materialize within a set timeframe, a substantial increase in budgetary allocations to ISRO is imperative – far beyond what has historically been provided. 

The manifesto’s pledge to operationalize a second launch complex (in Kulasekarapattinam, Tamil Nadu) addresses a critical need for enhanced infrastructure to support India’s growing space ambitions. Positioned near the equator, this location offers optimal launch conditions, particularly for southward trajectories, which are more fuel-efficient and avoid the geographical hurdles faced at Sriharikota. This new facility will primarily cater to small satellite launches, which are crucial for private space launches. Its strategic positioning, alongside the recently introduced space sector reforms, will significantly boost India’s capabilities and global competitiveness.

The proposal to establish a Global Space Academy is a definitive step toward broadening India’s space education landscape. While IIST has excelled in providing focused technological education in space engineering, the new academy could broaden this scope to include advanced space education in areas like business, law, diplomacy, and societal impacts – domains crucial for the comprehensive development of the space sector. Emulating the model of the France-based International Space University could provide valuable insights into integrating these diverse educational streams.

While its specific format and nature remain undefined, the commitment to establishing a space forum could significantly enhance India’s role in space diplomacy. This move is particularly tactical given that regional efforts, such as those in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), have yielded mixed results in space collaboration. India could enhance its geopolitical stance and effectively support regional allies in harnessing space and space-tech services by leading an intergovernmental initiative focused on space, similar to China’s role with the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO). This could not only bolster India’s interests but also facilitate broader regional cooperation in space technology and services.

In their 2024 manifesto, the BJP sketched a few bold steps for India’s space ambitions, though it stopped short of articulating a comprehensive long-term vision for India’s space activities. However, this emphasis contrasts sharply with the Indian National Congress (INC), whose manifesto entirely omitted space initiatives, reflecting a stark divergence in priority.

If the BJP retains power, its track record suggests that while space is a declared national pride and tool for power projection, not all promises may materialize fully. Conversely, should the INC-led INDIA alliance come to power, there lies a critical opportunity for them to clearly define and support their own vision for India’s space sector, a move that could be vital not only for India in the global space race but also for nation building and economic growth.