Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a rally during the general election of 2019. Photo: AFP / Sachin Kumar

An attempt by India’s prime minister Narendra Modi to apportion credit for carrying out air strikes on a suspected terror camp in Pakistan has ended up drawing ridicule and launching thousands of memes on social media.

Modi, who is in the middle of a general election seeking another five years, made some outlandish claims in a recent television interview.

Accused of doing only scripted interviews, in a recent interview on the television channel, News Nation, Modi claimed he overruled Indian Air Force (IAF) officials on the time of the air strike, because according to his “raw vision,” heavy clouds could help Indian fighter jets avoid Pakistani radar. This was only one of many gaffes made by Modi during his interview.

Radar and clouds

Political opponents were quick to point out that clouds and inclement weather had no effect on modern-day military radar. As experts pointed out on social media, most military radar is operated on low wavelengths to get maximum range and accuracy. Clouds or inclement weather have absolutely no effect on them.

What was also pointed out by several former IAF veterans that the prime minister insisting on an air raid, against the advice of senior air force commanders, was equally worrying.

It has also been confirmed by multiple IAF sources that the Mirage-2000 combat jets were carrying two kinds of munitions for the mission. One was the Spice-2000 kit that can turn ‘dumb’ bombs into ‘smart’ ones, giving them higher accuracy and impact.

The other was the Crystal Maze 142 AGM missile, popularly known as Popeye. The IAF jets could not use the Popeye missile since it uses what is called “line-of-sight” targeting.

Fighter pilots use a heads-up display unit to lock the missile onto the target by pointing at it. However, bad weather did not allow the pilots to use the “line-of-sight” targeting mechanism and the jets returned with the missiles unused.

IAF officials say that had they been able to use the Popeye missile, they would not have to face subsequent Pakistani claims that they missed the target. Journalists who were escorted by the Pakistan Army to the site 45 days after the air strikes reported that there was no damage to the buildings where the alleged terror camp was located.

As the outrage on social media grew, the official twitter handles of the prime minister’s political party, the BJP, deleted the tweets. However, the damage was done by then.

Sending emails in 1988

The prime minister’s gaffes did not end with his claims on radar and clouds. He also claimed that in 1988, during a political rally in the state of Maharashtra, he managed to take a picture using a digital camera and “transmitted” the color image by email. “It was printed in a newspaper the next day,” he claimed.

However, his detractors and several fact-checking websites were quick to point out that while Kodak engineers had built a digital camera in 1975, it was commercially available after 1991, several years after Modi’s purported claims. They also pointed out that the cameras were in the range of US$13,000 to $20,000, far beyond Modi’s means.

The first commercially available digital camera in the world came out in 1988 by Nikon, The Nikon QV1000C. In the US it was priced around $20,300. Through 1985 and 1987, most UK media houses purchased these devices, but only two were sold in North America, according to Alan Bartlett, who founded Nikon’s European digital imaging division in 1988. There is no public data on whether the camera was available in India, as reported by The Wire.

In separate earlier interviews as well as this one, Modi has claimed he did not have an income in the same period and had to “beg” for a living and to support his political activities.

Strangely enough, the claim that he sent the color image by email has created a bigger controversy. The internet came to India about 1995 and popular email services such as Hotmail arrived only in 1996. Also, the GIF format used to send photos as email attachments was not around in 1988.

A scripted interview

What has also caused controversy is a charge that the interview was “scripted” and the prime minister knew the questions beforehand.

Pratik Sinha, a former software engineer who started the fact-checking website, was the first to catch this. Images of the prime minister referring to a file during the interview revealed that the question posed by the journalist was printed on a sheet of paper.

Careful analysis of the images also revealed that the response offered by the prime minister was printed below the question. Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi was quick to capitalize on this and pointed this out in his subsequent interviews.

Modi was asked to recite a recent poem of his by the anchor, asking questions in Hindi. The exact question was: “I want to know from poet Narendra Modi if he’s written anything in the past five years?” Modi can be seen fiddling with a bunch of papers and as the camera zooms in on the paper the poem was printed on, the exact question can also be seen on top of it.

The gaffes have not deterred Modi, who continues to campaign for his party. The seventh and last phase of the election will take place on May 19.

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