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A very political bomb (and a comment) - Dawn, Karachi,

Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik ()
June 27, 1998

Title: A very political bomb (and a comment)
Author: Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik
Publication: Dawn, Karachi,
Date: June 27, 1998

BY conducting nuclear tests and launching a weapons-
development programme, India has taken the same
ignominious path as the Big Five, and has thereby
disgraced itself. India's decision was devoid of a strategic
rationale, and it violated the sensible principles New Delhi
had itself advocated for 50 years - that is, opposition to
nuclear deterrence and rejection of the proposition that
weapons of mass destruction generate security.

None of the reasons New Delhi proffered for the tests was
tenable. There had been no deterioration in India's security
environment in recent years. On the contrary, India had
improved relations with its neighbours, especially China.
Nor had India been under serious pressure to sign unequal
arms control agreements, nor was it "protesting" against
"nuclear apartheid" and hegemonism - as distinct from
joining the nuclear club, with its own hegemonic

Those who are serious about increasing the momentum
toward global nuclear disarmament condemn the Indian
government. But the character of the condemnation varies.
Those who live in nuclear weapon states or in allied
countries tend to temper their anger with the reminder that
the enduring hypocrisy and deceit of the five nuclear
powers does not entitle them to adopt sanctimonious
postures. This reminder is needed. But some western-based
nuclear abolitionists have so softened their condemnation
as to rationalize away India's culpability.

Deciding where we go from here is inextricably tied to how
we understand what happened. Three sets of arguments
can be used to explain the Indian decision. How the weight
of overall explanation is distributed among them is the
crucial issue. The first set of arguments involves security
and threat considerations. The second centres on the long,
continuing record of hypocrisy and insufficient concern for
disarmament shown by the nuclear weapon states, above
all, by the United States. The claim here is that India was
in a sense 'driven" to go nuclear. The third centres on
domestic political forces that are changing Indian elite's

India's strategic community, which overwhelmingly
supported the tests and is now baying for open nuclear
deployment, cites the first two kinds of explanations. The
very nature of "realist" thinking - which is the only kind of
thinking Indian strategic "experts" indulge in these days -
precludes any serious reflection on domestic considerations
as the major source, through changed self-perceptions, of
dramatic shifts in security policies.

Ironically, many abolitionists converge with Indian hawks
by explaining the tests in essentially the same way. They
are motivated by justifiable anger with the Big Five:
because these nations are responsible for the world's
nuclear mess, surely they can be blamed for "provoking"
India. The argument goes: "Condemnable though these
tests be, they are a kind of comeuppance for the nuclear
hegemons." However, India's decision was not the result of
its rising impatience with an iniquitous nuclear order but
of a cynical determination to benefit from that order as a
nuclear weapon state.

A companion argument embraces the hope that the Indian
action might have a positive effect on the struggle for
global disarmament rather than the more probable
outcome, that it represents a serious setback. Another
common abolitionist argument: just as perceived external
threats were the primary factors behind Russia's and
China's decision to go nuclear, India is following in the
same tradition. India's chanting of the "China factor," goes
the argument, must be taken at face value. Such lines of
argument are also attractive because they obviate the need
to seriously understand India's internal politics, making a
virtue, or at least an inconsequential disadvantage, of this
widely persisting but debilitating lacunae.

In fact, domestic considerations, not external threats or
dissatisfaction with the way the nuclear weapon states have
acted, are paramount. One cannot comprehend why India
crossed the nuclear Rubicon without giving decisive
weight to the changing self-perceptions of the Indian elite
and the profound transformations the country has
undergone in the last 10 years with the rise of a viciously
sectarian, fundamentally undemocratic, and deeply
belligerent political force, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
and its affiliates.

The BJP, established in 1980, propounds an ideology of
aggressive anti-Muslim, anti-secular Hindu nationalism. It
has made dramatic gains in the past decade: in 1984 the
BJP had only two seats in the 543-member lower house of
parliament; today it is the single largest party with 180
seats, and it heads a coalition government. Behind the BJP,
and inseparable from it, is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh (National Volunteer Corps), which is the real head
of an overall combine called the Bajrang Dal, a huge anti-
Muslim cultural force that operates the Vishwa Hindu
Parishad (World Hindu Council). The Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has fascist characteristics. It
does not contest parliamentary elections nor does it hold
elections to various organizational posts. It is a secret, all-
male organization whose objective is to establish a "Hindu

The rise of Hindu nationalism has completely altered the
discourse of Indian politics and it is beginning to
transform the character of Indian society. Nothing else so
fully explains why India took the decision to shed its
nuclear ambiguity-India's nuclearization reflects the belief
of the BJP-RSS as well as growing sections of the Indian
elite that nuclear weapons constitute a short-cut to
establishing the country's stature as a major actor: in Prime
Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's words, the nuclear tests
"show our strength and silence our enemies."

The near-hysterical adulation this act initially drew cannot
be properly understood without recognizing that the
groundwork was laid through the growing acceptance of
the way in which the BJP has transformed the discourse of
Indian nationalism. Despite resistance from the left and
the centre, it is the right's version of the "cultural" essence
of India, of national security, of national "greatness" that
are setting the direction of Indian politics, both external
and internal.

For the BJP and its previous avatar, the Jan Sangh, nuclear
weapons are an article of faith, part of the essential identity
of a powerful, awe-inspiring, militarist "Hindu India" that
can boast of its "manliness" and "virility" and thus prove to
the world the superiority of Hindu "civilization." This
Hindu-nationalist current has advocated nuclearization
since 1951 - when India had the best of relations with
China, and 13 years before China went nuclear. This
dogma is not even remotely related to security
considerations and India's external relations. The timing of
the tests was determined solely by the fact that the BJP-led
coalition took power six weeks before the event.

The frighteningly irresponsible subsequent behaviour of
BJP leaders cannot be comprehended without
understanding this. In the first rush of a nuclear fix,
Vajpayee declared that India's nuclear might would be
used only for "defensive purposes", a formulation terrifying
not only in its vagueness (because any act of aggression
can be so rationalized) but for making no distinction
between nuclear and non-nuclear conflicts.

Domestically, the BJP and its affiliates are out to literally
spiritualize the issue, in keeping with their decades-long
effort to politicize Hinduism itself, and propel themselves
to unrestrained power. Their supporters are determined to
build a temple dedicated to a new goddess of nuclear
power at Pokhran, and they are triumphantly celebrating
India's "arrival" on the world stage.

Nuclear abolitionists make a profound mistake if they
attempt to explain India's tests in geopolitical terms
separated from the forces that underlie the general political
trajectory of India today. That weapons tests were
considered in 1995 (but not carried out) under a Congress
Party government reflects how dominant the BJP's brand of
belligerence, operating in a general elite milieu of insecure
and frustrated nationalism, has become in the 1990s
independent of the external environment. The BJP, which
did not confide in its own coalition partners when deciding
to nuclearize India, but whose decision the RSS was privy
to, staged a political coup that overnight destroyed what
was for decades the "sober middle ground" - the majority
position favouring continued nuclear ambiguity. This
position has nearly vanished. The BJP was the only
political party whose official position favoured exercising
the nuclear option. It has done exactly that, although it
lacked a democratic mandate to do so.

The effects of this act are clear. Less than three weeks after
the Indian tests, Pakistan conducted "retaliatory" tests. In
turn, this generated enormous pressure in India to deploy
nuclear weapons. If that occurs, Pakistan will do likewise.
South Asia is on the verge of a nuclear arms race that
Indian hawks will rationalize, in true deterrence fashion,
as "stabilizing" and "peace-enhancing," when its real and
obvious consequences are the opposite.

India-China relations, which had greatly improved in the
1990s with the signing of two major peace and tranquillity
agreements in 1991 and 1996, have received a decisive
setback. China will now see India as a nuclear rival and
act accordingly. India has already declared that its missile
development programme is meant to create a deterrent
against China. Such declarations are likely, in turn, to
push China to develop even closer political and nuclear
relationships with Pakistan. The external security
repercussions are so destabilizing that unless one factors in
the domestic political considerations at work in India, it is
impossible to understand the reasons behind the Indian
decision to nuclearize.

Finally, the blow to the global disarmament momentum is
severe. The idea that the other nuclear weapon states will
somehow be "frightened" into accelerating disarmament
measures, as a few people have suggested, goes against
historical evidence. It is more likely that the nuclear
weapon states will continue their attempt to isolate India.
But if that fails, partly because of divisions in their own
ranks, they will gradually move toward acknowledging
India's new nuclear status, perhaps partially and
informally. India's policy-makers banked on a relatively
soft global response to India's nuclearization.

But they were and are cynical enough to impose hardships
upon the Indian people not only by exposing them to the
heat of sanctions, but by embarking on a nuclear arms race
with Pakistan and, more important, China, which could
prove strategically disastrous and economically ruinous.

New Delhi already spends twice as much on the military as
it does on health, education, and social welfare.
Nuclearization will further bloat the military budget by 30
per cent or more, leading to severe cuts in social-sector
spending, and setting back the economy by years. India and
Pakistan have now become part of the nuclear disarmament
problem, not part of the solution.

The peace movement must try to persuade India to
maintain the still existing firebreak between a proven
weapons capability and actual manufacture and

If India does not make and deploy weapons, there is still a
chance of avoiding an arms race, as well as salvaging some
credibility for India as a supporter of disarmament.

But whether India does or does not deploy nuclear
weapons, we must be prepared for the worst in the now
more difficult struggle for complete global nuclear

(Praful Bidwai is an independent journalist, a fellow at the
Centre for Contemporary Studies at Nehru Memorial
Museum and Library, and former senior editor of the
Times of India. Achin Vanaik, a writer, is a founding
member of India's Initiative for National Renewal and
Empowerment of People, and a visiting professor in
political science at Delhi University.)

Comment: This article is typical of the bankruptcy of
scholarship in India. The sad part of the whole thing
is that this country is paying for such people out of
public funds.

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