Proposing satellite diplomacy with a view to playing a key role in the development of the region, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday asked Indian space agency ISRO to develop a SAARC satellite which can be dedicated as a ‘gift’ to the neighbours.

“Today I ask you, the space community, to take up the challenge of developing a SAARC satellite that we can dedicate to our neighbourhood as a gift from India,” he said in his address after witnessing the successful launch of five foreign satellites from here on board ISRO’s PSLV C-23 rocket.

He asked the scientists to work on a satellite that would provide full range of applications and services to all of India’s neighbours.

“Such a satellite will be helpful in SAARC nations’ fight against poverty and illiteracy, the challenge to progress in scientific field, and will open up avenues to provide opportunities to the youth of SAARC countries,” he said from ISRO’s Mission Control Room.

The ‘dream’ for such a satellite will be useful for the development of all SAARC nations with India playing a key role in that, Mr. Modi reasoned in a speech laced with anecdotes and delivered in a mix of English and Hindi.

Mr. Modi said the need for such a satellite arose because of India’s age-old ethos of ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ (the world is a family) even as “India’s space programme is driven by service and not by desire of power“.

“For us, it (space programme) is an important instrument of human progress. We must, therefore, share the fruits of technological advancement with those who do not enjoy it. We already share disaster management data with over 30 countries.

“We provide benefits of telemedicine to Afghanistan and African countries. But we must do more. ‘Yeh dil maange more’ (the heart desires for more),” Mr. Modi said repeating a famous tagline.

He also exhorted the scientific community to enlarge India’s footprints of satellite navigation system to cover all of South Asia.

Space programme was one area where India had “pushed beyond mediocrity” to achieve excellence despite “international hurdles” even as the country had come a long way from its humble beginnings of its first satellite Aryabhatta to engaging in commercial launches of satellites of even developed countries, he said.

Crediting former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s vision for India’s lunar mission Chandrayaan, Mr. Modi also referred to the Mars mission, adding, he followed the space-related developments closely.

In a lighter vein, he remarked that he had come to know that India’s Mars mission cost was less than the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Gravity’, which is a space-related sci-flick.

He expressed joy that the country had an indigenous space programme despite “resource constrains and hurdles“.

Mr. Modi said that space technology was not confined to the elite and described this as ‘wrong perception’ even as he outlined the government’s commitment to change it.

He said that the laboratory achievements of the scientists will be implemented for public good and noted that GIS-enabled watershed programmes, besides others, had borne fruits for the common man.

The Prime Minister asked the space scientists to work towards replicating such models in the area of land records and related issues, besides governance, and said if implemented, it could help the public at large.

Mr. Modi lauded the space community, saluting among others its founding fathers Vikram Sarabhai and Satish Dhawan, besides ISRO for the ‘perfect’ placement of the five foreign satellites in intended orbit today.

He said India’s advanced space programme “puts her in an elite global group of 5-6 countries” and exhorted ISRO to go in for heavier satellites.

“Our space scientists have made us global leaders in one of the most complex areas on modern technology. This shows that we can be the best and we must feel proud of it. If we apply ourselves, we can meet the aspirations of our people,” the Prime Minister said.

Mr. Modi, who stayed overnight at ISRO, said he was happy to come across four generations of scientists, including those from the days of Aryabhatta satellite and said it gave a ’family-like’ environment at the spaceport.

India’s scientific tradition was deep-rooted as the country had provided ‘shunya (zero)’ without which there could be no scientific progress, he added.

A tech-savvy leader himself, Mr. Modi batted for technology in daily life, saying it was “fundamentally connected” with common man, with various applications like distance education and telemedicine empowering and helping the respective beneficiaries.

More In: Science | Sci-Tech | News | National