Dear Mr Prime Minister, thanks for all the laughs

Modi claims on using a digital camera and email in the 80s, and cloud cover to hide IAF planes provide some comic relief in this volatile election

After proudly reigning as the face of the “fourth industrial revolution” and Digital India initiative, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has found himself the butt of several jokes for his knowledge of technology.

After being trolled for claiming that cloud cover on the day of the Balakot air strikes made the Indian Air Force undetectable to Pakistan, Modi is again being mocked for comments related to digital cameras and emails.

In an interview with News Nation, Modi said he used a digital camera for the first time in 1987 or 1988 to take pictures of BJP member L K Advani. He also said he used email then.

“I first used a digital camera, probably in 1987 or 1988 and very few had emails at that time in Viramgam tehsil; there was a rally of Advani ji, so I had taken a photograph of him using that digital camera,” he said, gesturing to show how large digital cameras were then.

Modi went on to say that he had the camera sent to Delhi where the photograph was printed in colour the next day.

“Advani ji was so surprised, how come the coloured photo got published the very next day in Delhi!” he added.

In the same interview, Modi said despite cloudy and rainy weather, he approved the Balakot air strikes across the Line of Control because the clouds would hide the IAF planes from Pakistani radars.

He called this decision one of “raw wisdom”.

“The weather was not good on the day of air strikes. There was a thought that crept in the minds of the experts that the day of strikes should be changed. However, I suggested that the clouds could actually help our planes escape the radars,” said Modi.

Let’s face-check digital camera and email claims

CNET explains that the very first digital camera was developed by Steven Sasson, an Eastman Kodak engineer, in 1975. Then, later in 1981, Sony launched the Mavica or Magnetic Video Camera that was closer to an analogue TV camera than the handheld digital cameras we use today. Moreover, Sony’s model was used to cover high-profile events, like the 1984 Olympics, and not by regular consumers.

The 1988 Fuji DS-1P was the “first true digital hand-held camera”, but it did not sell commercially. It was only in 1990 that engineers manufactured the Dycam Model 1 as a consumer digital camera.

In 1991, the Kodak Digital Camera System (DCS) 100 also became a commercial megapixel digital camera.

Modi also claimed that the digital image he took was printed in colour.

The Dycam Model 1 camera produced photos in black and white, not colour. Kodak’s DCS 100 had a colour option, but the model was mostly sold to professionals for $10,000 to $20,000.

In 1891, Professor of Physics Gabriel Lippmann experimented with photography and invented the “Lippmann process”, a method based on light interference that uses the spectrum of colour in light waves instead of previously used dyes.

Lippmann won a Nobel Prize for physics in 1908, but his process was not practical for consumers because it was very time-consuming and slow. Only by 1910 were photographers able to capture colour photographs in the field. Regardless, taking colour photographs was still expensive.

Much later, in the 1960s and ’70s, Kodak’s Kodachrome colour film became a strong, commercially viable, and affordable product that brought colour photography to the American masses.

In India, colour photography was too expensive as Kodak’s equipment was priced at Rs 150, which is over Rs 4,000 when adjusted for inflation today. India only began to see regular colour photography during festivals and occasions like weddings in the 1990s.

Modi also claimed that he used email during 1987 and 1988.

India first availed of internet services in 1986, when Educational Research Network (ERNET) was launched in the country. However, the ERNET connection was only used by educational institutions.

Email services became open to the Indian public when Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL), a state-owned company, was established in 1995. VSNL was first launched in Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata. By the end of that year, it reached Pune and Bengaluru.

A Twitter user also said that he used email services in 1992, but it only allowed text-based exchanges. Modi has not specified how he “transmitted” Advani’s photograph to Delhi, but it is unlikely to have been sent via email.

Can radars detect planes through cloud cover?

A radar is made up of a magnetron transmitter, receiver, and screen. The transmitter generates radio waves that hit objects and bounce back to the device, letting the radar know that there is an object in range.

A radar’s radio waves can travel through clouds. Since its inception in 1935 during World War II, radar technology has also vastly improved. Hence, even commercial airlines use radars to navigate through turbulence and bad weather conditions.

War aircraft has various methods of evading or tricking radars like using radar absorbing paint, says the Hindu.

Britannica adds that while a radar can detect objects despite overcast skies, its accuracy can reduce when there is noise, like precipitation, birds, and other objects in the sky. Interfering radio signals can also jam a military radar and change the shape and size of the object reflected on a radar.

The robustness of a radar, therefore, depends on how well it can filter out atmospheric noise and clutter. Military operators can also be trained to recognise when hostile radio signals are intentionally scrambling their radars.

Had Modi spoken more clearly about the limitations of Pakistan’s radar systems and not chalked up the stealth of the IAF to cloud cover, he might not have received such criticism.

Social media erupts with laughter

Many Twitter users made serious accusations of Modi being a liar to project the image of a strongman. A Twitter user said, “Is there no end to Modi’s lies?”

Others have pointed out that even if Modi managed to get his hands on a digital camera from the US, he would not have been able to afford it as he has repeatedly harped on humble origins.

In an interview with Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, Modi said his family was so poor that they could not afford to buy mangoes during the summer.

More light-hearted jokes about Modi’s gaffes also made the rounds.

Twitterati sarcastically asked if Modi was sending emails to aliens if he was one of the only few with access before VSNL’s launch.

Others recalled the nostalgic sound of the VSNL dial-up tone and the first time they used emails to apply to universities.

Devashish Mitra said, “1991-1996, when I was doing my PhD at Columbia University, I was using Pine. I would go once a day to my dept computer lab to check my email.”

Even on the cloud cover matter, political cartoons of Modi hiding behind his rhetoric depicted as clouds made the rounds.

Twitter also made relentless jokes about how a young Modi might have played hide and seek in a glass house or took down the Pakistani Air Force with pebbles.

Gargi Chauhan said, “Thankfully he didn’t ask Pilots to fly in reverse gears so Pakistan wouldn’t understand k Planes aa rahe hai ya ja rahe hai”.

People also quickly made memes juxtaposing Modi and Einstein.

The 2019 Lok Sabha election has been rife with divisiveness. This season presents high stakes for both, the Congress and BJP; the former has to regain the Indian public’s trust, and the latter has to field accusations of communalism while proving it has delivered on campaign promises.

Hence, Modi’s comments have been like a hot knife to butter, slicing the tension and allowing comic relief where there was hardly any. People on social media and Twitter were happy to find some lightheartedness in India’s political climate, even if momentarily.

Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius

2019 Indian general electionsBalakotModi