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HVK Archives: Hedging against hegemony

Hedging against hegemony - The Times of India

K Subrahmanyam ()
June 16, 1998

Title: Hedging against hegemony
Author: K Subrahmanyam
Publication: The Times of India
Date: June 16, 1998

Following the Indian nuclear tests, many people in this country
and abroad have questioned whether declaring itself a nuclear
weapon state befits a country which claims to have gained its
freedom through a non-violent struggle under the leadership of
Mahatma Gandhi. Professor Dietmar Rothermund of the Heidelberg
University published in 1991 a short book Mahatma Gandhi: An
essay in political biography which has a whole chapter on "The
challenge of the atom bomb". Dr Rothermund draws attention to the
fact that contrary to general expectations in India and abroad,
Gandhi did not immediately condemn the dropping of the atom bombs
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki but kept silent. On September 21, 1945
(six weeks after the bomb was dropped) he sent a telegram to the
London Times contradicting some pronouncements attributed to him
and said, "Never made any public statement about the atomic
bomb." He replied to Mr Preston Grove "The more I think the more
I feel I must not speak on the atomic bomb".

The Big Three

He made the first reference to the bomb at the end of November
1945 when he said, "Those nations who have atom bombs are feared
even by their friends". On February 17, 1946 he wrote in Harijan
,"Today you have to reckon not with Britain alone but with the
Big three... After all, you cannot go beyond the atom bomb ...
But non-violence knows no defeat". He was remarkably perceptive
in foreseeing that the Big three (the US, Russia and the UK)
would act together in dominating the rest of the world. At the
same time, he did not accept the theory of deterrence and he
wrote in Harijan on May 9,1946, "The atom bomb has not stopped
violence. People's hearts are full of it and preparations for a
third world war may even be said to be going on". He again
reiterated his doubts about deterrence in another article "Atom
Bomb and Ahimsa" in Harijan on July 7, 1946. Only towards the end
of September 1946, after the Indian interim government under
Jawaharlal Nehru was established, he told a journalist, "You can
proclaim to the whole world without hesitation that I am beyond
repair. I regard the employment of the atomic bomb for the
wholesale destruction of men, women and children as the most
diabolical use of science.

Following large-scale killings in Bihar, Gandhiji stated, "If
the Bihar performance is repeated ... before long India will pass
under the yoke of the Big three with one of them probably as the
mandatory power". In his interview to author Vincent Sheean two
days before his assassination he spoke about the bomb and said
the atom bomb could not crush the spirit of nations.

During the same period, Gandhiji approved of the Indian Army
being sent to Kashmir to defend it against the raiders from
Pakistan. As Pyare Lal writes "Some people were shocked by
Gandhiji expressing his appreciation of the Indian government's
action in sending troops for the defence of Kashmir. His
exhortation to the defenders to be wiped out to the last man in
clearing Kashmir's soil of the raiders rather than submit was
even dubbed Churchillian". When General Cariappa asked Gandhiji
how he could put across the spirit of non-violence to the troops
without endangering their sense of duty to train themselves as
professional soldiers Gandhi said, "I am still groping in the
dark for an answer. I will find it and give it to you some day."
On September 26, 1947 Gandhiji spoke of the possibility of a war
with Pakistan if Pakistan persistently refused to see its proved
error and continued to minimise it. But war was no joke, that way
lay destruction. But he could never advise anyone to put up with
injustice. If all the Hindus were annihilated for a just cause he
would not mind it. True, his own way was different, he worshipped
God which was truth and non-violence. But then he was not the
government.

World Dominance

Gandhi lived only 30 months into the nuclear era. He did not
subscribe to the doctrine of deterrence nor did he live to see
that 53 years of nuclear deterrence had ensured there was no
third world war which he feared. Gandhi appeared to have
refrained from severe criticism of the US using nuclear weapons
since he feared that the power of the bomb could be used to
dominate the world and impose a mandate on developing countries,
He correctly anticipated that big powers could join together to
dominate the world - which is today seen in the legitimisation of
nuclear weapons and imposition of the non-proliferation treaty.
Dr Dieter Rothermund infers that Gandhiji came out strongly
against nuclear weapons only when it became clear that India
would become independent.

Gandhiji successfully used non-violence in its offensive mode to
compel the British to quit India and thereby changed the status
quo. He did not solve the problem of defence through non-
violence. Therefore, he approved of the use of the Indian Army in
defence of Kashmir and never suggested that India should do
without an Army. Gandhiji believed that non-violence will triumph
over violence and the atom bomb could not crush the human spirit.
He also urged that injustice should be resisted at all costs.
Given these parameters, those who admire Gandhiji and his
approach must reason and reach a conclusion on the ethics of the
Indian nuclear arsenal. There can be no two opinions that the use
of nuclear weapons or even intimidation with nuclear weapons will
be totally unethical and impermissible. The world has an
obligation to move towards disarmament and achieve it. That was
what the Rajiv Gandhi-Mikhail Gorbachov declaration of September
1986 asserted. The world is not moving in that direction. Nuclear
weapons are used as a currency of power, nuclear proliferation
has become an instrumentality of hegemony and the present nuclear
security paradigm and nuclear apartheid are patently unjust.

Rigorous Analysis

This unjust hegemonic and racist status quo is sought to be
perpetuated. Almost all nations, barring four. have reconciled
themselves to this tyrannical order as seen by their accession to
the NPT. They are prepared to condone the transgression of the
Vienna Convention on treaties by making it incumbent on India to
sign the CTBT when India has rejected it. Peace movements in the
industrialised world are now confident that there would be no
nuclear war in their part of the world and, therefore, have
become apathetic to the nuclear issue. In these circumstances, it
will be useful to have a rigorous analysis on what is more
ethical having a nuclear deterrent, de-alerted and de-targeted
with a pledge of no-first-use which will provide an insurance
against big power hegemony and dominance and against intimidation
and challenge the unjust nuclear status quo or a policy of non-
action, reconciling to the present world order, risking the long-
term security of the nation to the hegemony of a neighbouring
major power? The debate should be based on rigorous logic rid not
on sentimental shibboleths.


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