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Run of the mill, bar one - The Indian Express

J. N. Dixit ()
February 13, 1998

Title: Run of the mill, bar one
Author: J. N. Dixit
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: February 13, 1998

At the time of writing this, the election campaign is in its last
and intense stage. The manifestos are all out. The first point of
significance is that campaign speeches have no cohesive or linear
correlation with what has been said in each party's manifesto.
Second, while the manifestos have comparatively more substance on
political and socio-economic problems, campaign speeches have
focused on superficial, narrowly topical and polemical issues
such as Bofors, accusations about communalism, the propriety of
the two United Front governments being toppled, and so on.

Third, election speeches, in dealing with problems of governance,
contain only cliches about stable government, clean
administration, trying the corrupt, etc. There is no
manifestation that the parties have learned anything about the
situations to be remedied on the basis of experience. Nor has
there been a coherent articulation of a vision for India's future
in the fiftieth year of independence. The focus has been on the
mechanics of achieving power without indication of how this will
take India out of its sad and contradictory predicament into a
more stable and secure future.

After going through all the manifestos, one is constrained to
conclude that except for the BJP's the others are an exercise in
repetition. The Congress manifesto is a general repetition of the
resolutions passed at the Tirupati AICC and the election
manifesto of 1996. The manifestos of the other parties offer
nothing new or visionary and are a mixture of the elements of the
common minimum programme of the United Front Governments, with
ideological flourishes relevant to the different constituent
elements of the UF.

Having no connection with any political party, 1 have no
inhibition in giving credit where credit is due. The BJP's is the
most focused on future action plans and is issue-specific. Its 20
sections are comprehensive and deal with all major aspects of
national life, from issues affecting our national identity to
those related to a common civil code, information, culture and
the media. The chapters on economic policy, foreign policy and
national security are of particular interest as they are action-
oriented. The BJP has emphasised that while economic
modernisation, reforms and liberalisation will continue, there
would be an insistence on external economic inputs strengthening
infrastructure and enhancing self-reliance.

On foreign policy, the 18-point programme outlines the action
plan region-wise and issue-wise. The BJP's determination to
reject nuclear apartheid and economic hegemonism serves India's
national interests and should strike a chord in most developing
countries. My first reservation is the BJP's intention of
vigorously endeavouring to make India a permanent member of the
United Nations Security Council. This endeavour should
concentrate first on building up India's economic, political and
military strengths to back this claim. The BJP should not follow
the recent policy of running around requesting permanent Security
Council membership.

The second point of reservation is the BJP's assertion of Indian
sovereignty over the entire territory of the old Princely State
of Jammu and Kashmir and declaring its intention of taking active
steps to persuade Pakistan to give up the territory in its
occupation. The Parliament's resolution notwithstanding, this
approach is not realistic. A similar reservation applies to the
BJP's plans of retrieving territory ceded to China by Pakistan in
1962, the territory which formed part of the old Princely State
of Jammu and Kashmir. A rational approach would be to make
political and territorial compromises, taking into account ground
realities which have evolved over the last 50 years.

The BJP manifesto gives detailed attention to evolving an
integrated institutional mechanism to fashion national-security
policies. One wonders why it is silent about creating the
institution of a 'National Security Adviser' with a secretariat
and stops at the establishment of a national security council.
The proposal for a national security council is not new. What is
needed is institutional substance to back up this arrangement. It
is the BJP's decision to re-evaluate nuclear policy and to
exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons and IRBMs into
India's arsenal which has attracted most attention. Senior US
officials such as Assistant Secretary of State Rick Inderfurth
and Ambassador Richard Celeste have warned of sanctions and the
negative consequences of India going down this path. Celeste went
to the extent of saying that the proposed military action against
Iraq is also a signal to countries which may think of producing
weapons of mass destruction. India will have to deal with this
intrusive and unilateral judgmental approach on its security

It is pertinent to assess the regional security environment which
animates the position taken by the BJP and which in general terms
is shared by Indian public opinion and all political parties.
India's two close neighbours, China and Pakistan, have nuclear
weapons. Nawaz Sharif is on the record that Pakistan will not be
inhibited in using its nuclear-weapons capacity against India in
case of a military confrontation. He said this in public meetings
in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in 1995. Further afield, there is
Iraq with undetermined mass-destruction weapons capacities, and
Israel with between 170 and 200 nuclear warheads and requisite
delivery capacities. Though India's relations with China and
Israel are good, their nuclear capacity affects its security
environment. The US and Chinese military presence in the Indian
Ocean region has nuclear constituent elements. Both logic and
material circumstances argue in favour of India acquiring
appropriate deterrent capacities.

The BJP does not declare any specific intention of conducting a
nuclear test. It talks of inducting nuclear weapons. L. K.
Advani said a couple of days after the manifesto's publication
that he had been told by experts that conducting further tests
may not be necessary if India decides to induct nuclear weapons.
Then again, while affirming the party's commitment to carry
forward the testing of the IRBM Agni, there is no immediate
declaration of intent to deploy the Agni missile. It seems
rational to speculate that if the BJP comes to power, it may not
necessarily authorise further nuclear tests. It may just ask
concerned departments to go ahead with technological research
enabling India to deploy nuclear weapons when necessary.

Regardless of which party comes to power, and particularly if the
BJP does, will the new Government really go ahead with overt and
declared nuclear weaponisation? And will the consequent negative
pressures and sanctions really affect India's existence and
economic survival? In my assessment any government will act
responsibly and with restraint on nuclear weaponisation. The
answer to the second question is that, in objective terms, the
basic economic well being and survival of the Indian people is
not likely to be affected by sanctions and pressures. It would be
worthwhile for the nuclear powers to be sensitive to India's
security concerns and be patient rather than stentorian on
nuclear and missile proliferation issues.

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