Subscribe to South Asia Citizens Wire | feeds from | @sacw
Home > Citizens Action and Concerns for Peace in South Asia > 11 May 1998 When India shot itself in the head (Praful Bidwai)

Pokharan Nuclear Tests 15 Years on.

11 May 1998 When India shot itself in the head (Praful Bidwai)

10 May 2013

print version of this article print version

[From: The Times of India, Sunday 17 May 1998]

India has shot itself in the head

The BJP’s jingoism has diminished us. It has degraded security, left us defenceless against Big Power coercion and exposed our people to the heat of sanctions

by Praful Bidwai

HOW the mighty have fallen! When India rejected the NPT in 1968, it cited principled, universal, non-discriminatory grounds, sincerely urging rapid global nuclear disarmament. When it blocked the CTBT for questionable reasons, it at least emphasised linking it to disarmament within a fixed `"time-frame’’, and said the treaty was not genuinely comprehensive because it only bans "nuclear test explosions", not non-explosive testing.

But now, India has conducted five such explosions and blown a hole into the global disarmament agenda. Its reason for doing so was explained by Vajpayee himself — not so much to the Indian people as to US President Clinton in his May 11 letter. This only alludes to the threat posed by — guess who? — our two "neighbours’’, China and Pakistan, and their mutual collaboration.

Gone is the universal, principled rationale for policy, even a reference to the asymmetrical global nuclear order, "nuclear apartheid’’ etc. Rather, there is an emphasis on "friendship and cooperation’’ with the world’s biggest nuclear power (which shows no intention to disarm!) and promise to "promote the cause of nuclear disarmament’’ jointly with Washington.

So now we know that the elaborate fanciful explanations the Bomb lobby trots out for the tests are just so much hogwash. India’s nuclearisation has nothing to do with lofty values of peace or with the NPT’s indefinite extension, the CTBT’s "discriminatory’’ nature, and the nuclear states’ refusal to commit themselves genuinely to disarmament. This is just contrived sophistry that Mandarins and Brahmins have always practised to rationalise whatever the powerful do, however deplorable that might be.

However pedestrian and unlofty it is, the real reason (Vajpayee’s) is not a strategically convincing one. Sino-Pakistani nuclear collaboration is sporadic, largely non-strategic, indeed far less close than the past US and Canadian collaboration with India which gave us the Cirus reactor — the source of the Pokharan-I plutonium. It is as absurd to cite a "Sino-Pakistan axis’’ (as reason for the Indian Bomb) as it is to describe India as being Russia’s client because we are importing its latest-model Sukhois or nuclear reactors.

China is no greater threat than the US. Indeed, China has never nuclearly blackmailed India. But we all believe America did, subtly, during the Bangladesh war. Recently, external threats to us have reduced, not grown. In any case, for half a century New Delhi has rightly argued that nuclear weapons don’t answer such threats, nuclear deterrence doesn’t work, it’s immoral, illegal, unacceptable.

The BJP has made a violent break with this policy in one fell swoop and deeply offended reason. But we are being herded into believing all this is in India’s — and the world’s — security interests, perfectly normal, a belated resolution of our 35-year-old nuclear dilemma. This just won’t do.

We are not sheep to be herded, nor animals without memories. There is a razor-sharp break with the earlier policy consensus, and with rationality.

The BJP made this break regardless of security considerations and out of prejudgment and dogma. Indeed, RSS general secretary Sudarshan now reveals that the BJP planned a test in its 13-day 1996 tenure — although it was obviously going to lose the confidence vote.

Jingoism’s rule has diminished us, left us defenceless against Big-Power coercion, degraded security and exposed our people to the heat of sanctions. Washington, with a dubious right to preach virtue in the absence of a serious disarmament commitment, can now talk down to us.

We can at best reach awkward, undignified, accommodation with it which legitimises horror weapons and promotes no worthy principle or objective. By testing, India has mocked at disarmament, and shot itself in the leg — or is it the head?

Published earlier at our sister site South Asians against Nukes in 1998