The rising costs of the BJP's akrasia

Print edition : June 20, 1998

AKRASIA in ancient Greek philosophy means not doing what you know to be right and, in fact, doing what you know to be wrong. Then why do it? Experts from Socrates and Aristotle to contemporary philosophers and legal scholars have offered varying explanations for akratic behaviour. One explanation calls attention to the difference between dispositional and actualised knowledge: knowledge of what is right and wrong, using a higher universal ethical standard, is at the person's disposal but, for specific reasons that need investigation, is not acted on. Thus Aristotle compared an akratic individual to a sleeping or drunken man. Another kind of explanation sees akrasia in terms of short-term versus long-term gratification, a trade-off between current and future welfare. And so on.

The party that leads India's central coalition government has demonstrated, within three months of taking office, that akratic socio-political behaviour is the rule - whether one considers its anti-Muslim politics and unprincipled alliances or its actions on Ayodhya or foreign policy or nuclear weaponisation or Kashmir. It needs to be clarified, of course, that for hard core saffron brigade leaders, akratic conduct takes place not in terms of doing wrong by their own - communalised and Hindu Rashtra - standard, but in knowingly doing wrong by the sights of a higher universal ethical norm of political behaviour.

Nothing else can explain the BJP-led Government's decision to conduct the five underground nuclear explosions at Pokhran; immediately proclaim India to be a 'nuclear weapon state'; offer various confused ideas about India's new willingness to join, in some conditional way, the Unequal Global Nuclear Bargain (UGNB); issue unfriendly statements against China and Pakistan; act as though the high probability of Pakistan answering in kind never entered the policy-maker's ken; and try and make a provocative linkage between the Kashmir issue and self-proclaimed nuclear weapon status.

The BJP-sponsored propaganda line that the economic sanctions will not make much of a difference to a huge continental economy such as India's has begun to wear thin. Natural ineptness in budget-making has been made worse by having to respond to the politics, if not the economics, of the snowballing sanctions. The rupee is significantly weaker than it was pre-Pokhran; the markets are quite panicky, with the stock market taking a plunge; investor confidence is low; the bilateral and multilateral aid outlook is bleak; and the prospects of an economy, already in difficulty, seem to resemble a mess.

BUT more than the economic impact, it is the political costs of the akratic behaviour that are disturbing. In fact, the BJP-led Government and the India it governs seem caught in a pincer movement of economic sanctions, escalated regional tensions, and the pressure of growingly concerted international political demands led by the United States. The diplomatic exercises of the past few weeks represent (for all the media propaganda in favour Vajpayee's personal emissaries, Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra) essays in despair and defending the indefensible.

As we noted in these columns earlier, as part of the immediate political fallout from Pokhran came statements from some top persons in the Vajpayee administration that made them sound like aspirant Unabombers. Particularly damaging was a new linkage they sought to make. The natural impact of the nuclear explosions would, in all likelihood, have suggested such a linkage to the Nawaz Sharif regime, but Advani, Khurana et al appeared unwilling to leave anything to chance. Their provocative linking of India's pre-Chagai 'nuclear weapon' status with the Kashmir dispute played into the hands of a combination of forces working against a bilateral approach to the settlement of the Kashmir problem.

The Vajpayee Government's objective plight, as viewed from Washington, was described in the crudest possible language by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on the eve of her departure for Geneva to attend the P-5 Foreign Ministers' meeting: "Right now, the most important thing both sides can do is to cool it and take a deep breath and to begin to climb out of the hole they have dug themselves into." But the Indian Government's response has not been to stand up to such arrogance based on double standards on the nuclear issue. It is one suggesting that akratic nuclear adventurism is in a process of swinging to dishonourable petitioning, compromise and appeasement. What is clear is that the BJP-led Government lacks the courage of its wrong convictions - which Bill Clinton, adding insult to injury, has termed "self-defeating, wasteful, and dangerous."

Post-Pokhran, the United States was quick to shape the agenda of substantive demands that were to be pressed on India's nuclear policy. The three key demands were: (1) sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) quickly and without conditions; (2) participate positively and on the basis of the agreed mandate in the negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament for the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT); and (3) undo the nuclear weaponisation and the missile programme announced. Post-Chagai, the same demands were pressed on Pakistan, but India has clearly been identified as the principal target.

THE full Western agenda was unveiled when the Foreign Ministers of the P-5 - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Russian Federation, and China - met on June 4. The Geneva meeting formulated a bill of particulars that would, within days, be adopted by the United Nations Security Council in an unprecedented resolution. Six days after the Security Council resolution came a further escalation of the demands made on India and Pakistan. The June 12 communique of the G-8 Foreign Ministers, meeting in London, has used language blunter and more peremptory than anything used against India in an international forum over the past 25 years.

After condemning the nuclear tests carried out by India and Pakistan, the G-8 Foreign Ministers demanded that the two countries "should immediately take" the following steps endorsed by the U.N. Security Council:

* "stop all further nuclear tests" and adhere to the CTBT "immediately and unconditionally," thereby facilitating its early entry into force.

* "refrain from weaponisation or deployment of nuclear weapons and from the testing or deployment of missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and enter into firm commitments not to weaponise or deploy nuclear weapons or missiles"

* "refrain from any further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices and participate, in a positive spirit and on the basis of the agreed mandate," in negotiations with other states at the Conference on Disarmament on the FMCT "with a view to reaching early agreement"

* "confirm their policies not to export equipment, materials and technology that could contribute to weapons of mass destruction or missiles capable of delivering them, and undertake appropriate commitments in that regard."

In the process, the G-8 Foreign Ministers, building on the stand taken in the Geneva meeting of the P-5 and in the Security Council resolution, underlined their commitment to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as "the cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime." They also rubbed in the point that "notwithstanding those tests, India and Pakistan do not have the status of nuclear weapon states in accordance with the NPT."

BUT the stand of the P-5, the U.N. Security Council and the G-8 go well beyond the nuclear and missile issues. The P-5 Foreign Ministers had sought to prepare the ground for a third party role in mediating the troubled relationship between India and Pakistan. The P-5 would "actively encourage India and Pakistan to find mutually acceptable solutions, through direct dialogue, that address the root causes of the tension, including Kashmir, and to try to build confidence rather than seek confrontation" (emphasis added). The Security Council resolution adopted virtually the same language on Kashmir and the India-Pakistan relationship. However, the G-8 Foreign Ministers' communique goes a step beyond by asking the two countries to "resume without delay a direct dialogue that addresses the root causes of the tension, including Kashmir" (emphasis added). It even takes the trouble to detail the steps to be taken.

What is more, while the P-5 and Security Council exercises call upon India and Pakistan to exercise maximum restraint in avoiding threatening military movements, cross-border violations or other provocative acts, the G-8 communique demands, presumably with an eye on Advani's remarks, that "India and Pakistan should undertake to avoid threatening military movements, cross-border violations, including infiltrations or hot pursuit, or other provocative acts and statements" (emphasis added).

In itself, the own goal scored by the BJP-led Government represents a serious setback to Indian policy over Kashmir. As Frontline's Cover Story analysis makes clear, the setback is in terms of playing into the hands of those who want to re-internationalise the Kashmir dispute against the letter and spirit of the Shimla Agreement; raising the morale of secessionist and extremist forces within Kashmir; putting pressure on the Indian security forces' ability to conduct counter-terrorist operations in the State; encouraging hardline attitudes in Pakistan and simultaneously vitiating the atmosphere for bilateral talks.

Consequently, a month after the Pokhran adventure, India finds itself weaker and more vulnerable to Washington-led international arm-twisting and pressures than at any time in recent memory. As a direct payoff for adventurism and hawkishness, India's 'nuclear option' is close to being eroded. A back-to-the-wall effort will be needed to resist the new pressures to accept the internationalisation of the Kashmir issue. The BJP-led Government bears a heavy responsibility for this mess.

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