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COVER STORY

21-05-1999

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Briefing

'What wrong did this man do?'

cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

N. RAM

THIS rhetorical question must be familiar to hundreds of thousands of readers of the full-page advertisement issued in favour of the Vajpayee Government by a saffron brigade front, 'Lok Abhiyan', and carried by various newspapers round the country. It must be recognised as the propaganda fusillade that launched Election Campaign '99.

The democratic answer to the rhetorical question: the first significant act of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Government after it came to power at the Centre in March 1998 was to hijack India's independent and peace-oriented nuclear policy and twist it perilously out of shape. It was a policy that had been shaped over half a century of independence and withstood the test of various external challenges as well as pressures mounted by the enforcers of the Discriminatory Global Nuclear Bargain (DGNB). The essence of the bargain is the division of the world into five nuclear weapons states, the 'haves', and the rest, the 'have-nots', and the imposition of two completely different sets of rules for the two categories.

That the decision to explode five nuclear devices at Pokhran on May 11 and 13, 1998 and to weaponise the nuclear option was made pre-emptively, in the utmost secrecy, in the name of "national security" - targeting especially China and Pakistan - and "shakti", without any objective review or democratic discussion, in clear violation of the promises made in the National Agenda for Governance, in utter disregard of both the consequences for the region and the basic interests of the Indian people, was in keeping with the reactionary and authoritarian character of the decision. It was also in keeping with the character of the decision that within weeks the whole world could see the nuclear policy of the Government of the Hindu Right swing from jingoistic adventurism to virtual capitulation to the terms laid down by the enforcers of the DGNB, principally the United States.

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The early stance and statements of the Government were nothing if not vainglorious. Within days of the Pokhran explosions, a high-placed expert formulated the Indian demand on the regime of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) thus: "Tell us what we are and we will tell you whether we can sign. Guarantee to us that technology controls, which you apply as though we were a non-nuclear weapons state, will be removed."1 In short, let us into the NPT regime as the sixth nuclear weapons state and we might play.

In the first official statement issued after the first round of Pokhran explosions, Brajesh Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, announced that "India would be prepared to consider being an adherent of some of the undertakings in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)," adding: "But this cannot obviously be done in a vacuum. It would necessarily be an evolutionary process from concept to commitment and would depend on a number of reciprocal activities."2 Soon after this, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee boasted in a magazine interview: "India is now a nuclear weapon state... (T)he tests... have given India shakti, they have given strength, they have given India self-confidence."3

But it quickly became clear that the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the real command centre of the saffron brigade, had made an enormous miscalculation whose determining elements and assumptions bore no relation to contemporary international realities. This is why the effects and implications of Pokhran-II have been the opposite of what they were supposed to be, suggesting that the top decision-makers in the Government failed in their minimum responsibility to think through the post-Pokhran scenario. Contrary to the triple boast of shakti, strength and self-confidence, the real achievement, it is now clear, has been to bring about India's near-total isolation in the international arena and tremendously increase its vulnerability to strategic imperialist arm-twisting and pressure.

On May 18, 1998, Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, spelling out government policy thinking at the end of an official meeting in New Delhi on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, said the following: The Vajpayee Government had opted for a "pro-active approach" towards tackling militancy in the State and had served notice on Pakistan to "roll back its anti-India policy with regard to Kashmir." The new line was "to deal firmly and strongly with Pakistan's hostile designs and activities in Kashmir" and even the option of "hot pursuit" was not ruled out. Making the explicit assumption that India's "decisive step to become a nuclear weapons state has brought about a qualitatively new stage in Indo-Pakistan relations, particularly in finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem," Advani called upon the Pakistan Government to "realise the change in the geo-strategic situation in the region and the world." These remarks were widely reported in the Indian press, including The Hindu, May 19, 1998. This was ten days before Pakistan conducted its Chagai nuclear explosions. It appears that during the interregnum some of the BJP leaders, or at least Advani, entertained the delusion that with Pokhran India had acquired a strategic nuclear edge over Pakistan; they may have even believed that Islamabad was bluffing about its nuclear weapon capabilities.

But the swing towards capitulation began immediately after Pokhran-II, with the Government signalling the United States and its allies that India would now be willing to join the DGNB in some conditional way. In fact, the first inkling of the swing was provided by Mishra's May 11 statement offering to "consider being an adherent to some of the undertakings in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty," even if he attached to this offer a rider that, in the light of what we now know about the policy swing, was meaningless. The stance that India would be able to impose conditions or terms on the discriminatory global nuclear order and win "reciprocal" concessions as a quid pro quo for joining the CTBT was quickly abandoned without so much as an explanation.

Far from being able to assert any new-found 'shakti' in the international political arena, the Vajpayee Government has been forced to engage itself in a protracted, non-transparent negotiation with the United States over what India's nuclear weapons status can be allowed to be. It is clearly not a dialogue between equals. The Government's claim is that it is involved in some delicate security-enhancing process of working out nuclear India's new place in the sun with its chief "interlocutor", the United States. The reality is that the interlocutor has turned out to be an intervenor. For the first time in the history of India's nuclear policy, the United States is setting terms for, and shaping, the policy - driving it relentlessly towards signing and ratifying the profoundly inequitable CTBT, accepting previously rejected terms for the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), and making an unending series of other concessions in the strategic, foreign policy and economic spheres in order to get the economic sanctions lifted and India's 'de facto' nuclear weapons status accepted. The adventure of conducting the nuclear explosions and rushing to declare India a full-fledged nuclear weapons state has turned out to be an akratic misadventure, a sort of riding the tiger.4

16100222jpg The effects of the nuclear explosions

The removal of the element of self-restraint from India's nuclear policy and the unilateral, unprovoked conversion of the nuclear option as per a pre-set agenda were extremely harmful developments for the following reasons:

1. Not surprisingly, the Pokhran nuclear explosions worsened regional tensions and already troubled relations with Pakistan. Whatever rationalisation the BJP and apologists of Indian nuclear weaponisation might have resorted to, Chagai was understood by objective observers everywhere as the answer to the destabilising Indian nuclear explosions: it is unlikely to have happened without Pokhran-II. With the eleven claimed explosions, South Asia became a much more dangerous place.

Pokhran-II and Chagai and the talk of weaponisation, deterrents, deployment and use of nuclear weapons for "self-defence" introduced a deadly new calculus in the Indo-Pakistan relationship. As part of the immediate political fall-out from Pokhran but preceding the Chagai explosions of May 28 and 30, 1998 came statements from top persons associated with the Government, notably Union Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani, that made them sound for a while like aspirant Unabombers. On both sides, scientists claimed that they had successfully contained the radioactive fall-out, but the provocative linkage sought to be established between the Kashmir issue and self-proclaimed nuclear weapons status raised questions about the unstudied effects of distant radiation on the processes of human thinking. All this suggests that part of the calculation of the Hindu Right was the delusional belief, which manifested itself during the interregnum between Pokhran-II and Chagai, in an Indian strategic nuclear edge.

After the initial euphoria over the explosions wore out and competitive claims, boasts and putdowns about the two South Asian nuclear programmes generated much public confusion and anxiety, some conciliatory signals were sent out to Pakistan in an attempt to manage 'safely' what looked very much like a nuclear stand-off. The resumption of the process of official dialogue at various levels, a process that must be welcomed and supported, led up to Prime Minister Vajpayee's bus ride to the border and the Lahore summit. However, it is clear that what has come out of the Lahore exercise is far short of the minimum required to bring the situation back under control.

What is more, the test-firing of the extended-range Agni-II intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) on April 11, 1999, obliging a tit-for-tat response from Pakistan in the form of the test-firing of the Ghauri-2 missile on April 13, and the subsequent testing of the Shaheen and Trishul missiles by Pakistan and India respectively, introduced major new tensions in the Indo-Pakistan relationship. With Pakistan's Government accusing the Indian Government of aggravating the conventional imbalance and derailing the normalisation process by introducing "a new weapons system" in the region, and promising to maintain a "reasonable deterrence in all areas, be it strategic or other weapons and indigenous missile programmes," it was clear that a risky and costly nuclear arms race was on and the process of bilateral dialogue was under serious question if not jeopardy.5

2. Pokhran-II, and the run-up to it as well as the follow-up, had an adverse and deplorable impact on Sino-Indian relations. Before the explosions, Defence Minister George Fernandes in some public pronouncements signalled the BJP-led Government's unfriendly attitude to socialist China. But it was Prime Minister Vajpayee's May 11, 1998 letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton that threatened to undermine Sino-Indian relations. The debris and dust had hardly settled at Pokhran when the following written message about "the rationale for the tests" was on its way to the White House:

I have been deeply concerned at the deteriorating security environment, especially the nuclear environment, faced by India for some years past. We have an overt nuclear weapons state on our borders, a state which committed armed aggression against India in 1962. Although our relations with that country have improved in the last decade or so, an atmosphere of distrust persists mainly due to the unresolved border problem. To add to that distrust that country has materially helped another neighbour of ours to become a covert nuclear weapons state. At the hands of this bitter neighbour we have suffered three aggressions in the last 50 years.6

This letter, which the Vajpayee Government naively appears to have expected to remain confidential, revealed part of the motivation and game plan behind Pokhran-II. It provided an unmistakable early hint to the United States that the Government of the Hindu Right would be prepared to play along with the idea of a strategic anti-China alliance. In a Frontline article written days after the Indian explosions, Aijaz Ahmad was among the first to call attention to this reactionary element in the game plan: "This focus on China is deliberate, as the beginning of a methodical red-baiting offensive within the country, as the inauguration of an arms race on the Asian continent, and as an appeal to long-term U.S. goals in Asia. What we are witnessing is the staging of a short-term Indo-U.S. tension as a prelude to a long-term, comprehensive strategic alliance... the long-term prospect is for a closer anti-China axis between the U.S. and India... Behind the BJP's bogus anti-imperialism and the American sanctions lies the prospect of a far-reaching alliance in a new Cold War."7 In the light of what has happened in the year after Pokhran-II, these observations must be recognised as prescient.

With the unfriendly statements preceding and following Pokhran-II, the heartening progress made since December 1988 in improving all-round relations with China was in danger of reversal.

Is it possible that we are making too much of the May 11, 1998 letter? Imagine a scenario in which Defence Minister Fernandes did not make his anti-China remarks and Prime Minister Vajpayee did not target China in his letter to Clinton by way of rationalising the Pokhran nuclear explosions. Would China have reacted differently and would Sino-Indian relations have been in better shape? The answer to both questions is yes. The problematical implications of the nuclear explosions for Sino-Indian relations, and the effect of the political targeting of China in order to find a rationalisation for the misadventure, are related but independent issues.

As Frontline readers may recall, I had the opportunity to visit China in August 1998 and test this hypothesis. I was able to explore, in some detail, the current state and future of Sino-Indian relations with Zhu Bangzao, official spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and several scholars specialising in the study of India, Sino-Indian relations and South Asia.8 Every one of them regretted the recent downturn in bilateral relations, identified the reasons for the setback, and set out clearly what needs to be done to bring the relationship back on track.

"I believe it is a wrong option for India to go nuclear," observed the official spokesman. But "it is a greater mistake for India to accuse China and to use it as a pretext to conduct nuclear tests. In fact, on May 11, when India conducted its first tests, China exercised restraint in expressing its position. At quite a late point of time, we expressed our regret. I believe it was against the world trend, so we had to express our position. On May 13, after India conducted its second round of nuclear tests and the Prime Minister had sent a letter to President Clinton alleging that China posed a threat, China issued a statement of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which we haven't done for many years... It was a strongly worded statement. Why? We didn't understand why India blamed China."

In the months following Pokhran-II, the BJP-led Government did not make any overt move to further the reactionary project of the anti-China axis. It attempted, half-heartedly in official-level talks and informal exchanges at the political level, to repair the damage done to Sino-Indian relations by its statements and actions. Suggestions were made that External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh should visit China to take up this repair work at a higher level. China's officially stated, perfectly justified position is that "India must offer an explanation of what it has done. Secondly, Indian leaders should stop their accusations against China. Thirdly, the Indian Government should show its sincerity through deeds."9 Under these circumstances, progress has been slow.

India-China relations were under pressure again after the test-firing of Agni-II with Defence Minister Fernandes publicly claiming that "we have reached a point where no one, anywhere, can threaten us" and talking about the capability of the IRBM system to carry nuclear warheads, and with some hawkish security analysts talking openly about "a reliable nuclear delivery system to deter China", with a capability to "reach Beijing and Shanghai for sure."10

3. Pokhran-II and its follow-up have harmed India's reputation among peace-loving, democratic and progressive constituencies round the world. Independent India's consistent policy over half a century was to advocate the abolition of nuclear weapons, seen from the start as being against "the spirit of humanity". As early as 1948, India put forward a proposal at the United Nations for limiting the use of atomic energy to peaceful purposes and eliminating nuclear weapons; two years later it called attention to the grave dangers of the nuclear arms race, highlighting in addition its character as a drain on human and economic resources that needed to be channelled into development. Jawaharlal Nehru and Krishna Menon emerged as leading world campaigners for the abolition of nuclear weapons without compromise, and India came up with a series of specific, practical proposals, including a genuine test ban, focussing on the imperative need for abolition. The Six Nation Initiative launched by Indira Gandhi in 1983, the New Delhi Declaration by Rajiv Gandhi and Mikhail Gorbachev, and Rajiv Gandhi's 1988 Action Plan for a nuclear-weapons-free world order were important nuclear disarmament initiatives at the international level. A substantial part of Michael Foot's passionate and insightful book, Dr. Strangelove, I Presume, is an endorsement of these Indian initiatives and the opportunity they offered "to achieve the biggest breakthrough ever in genuine world-wide disarmament," and an indictment of Western government attitudes towards these initiatives.11 "The two key characteristics" of the Action Plan, an informed observer has pointed out in answer to tendentious post-Pokhran-II attempts to interpret the Rajiv Gandhi initiative in the service of the weaponisation-and-CTBT-joining cause, are that "it establishes a defined time-frame within which the objective of nuclear weapons elimination is to be achieved" and "sets out the identifiable, verifiable phases through which the goal of elimination is to be achieved."12

With their nuclear misadventure, the Government of the Hindu Right and the strategic affairs apologists have attempted to lay a rich fifty-year legacy to waste, and in doing so have alienated people of goodwill everywhere.

4. While the U.S.-led economic sanctions, based on unacceptable double standards, against India must be condemned and opposed, the BJP-led Government must take full responsibility for the additional pressure that the enforcers of the Washington Consensus have brought to bear on the Indian economy after Pokhran-II. Immediately after the nuclear explosions, a contradiction seemed to be developing between the Government's `soft' pro-liberalisation economic policy and its `hardline' hawkish nuclear and security stance. It turned out to be no real contradiction at all: even as nuclear adventurism swung quickly towards compromise with, or capitulation to, the discriminatory global nuclear order, the Government felt pressured to come up with a policy of economic appeasement.

The RSS-sponsored propaganda line that the economic sanctions imposed by the United States and some of its allies would not make much of a difference to a huge continental economy such as India's began to wear thin within weeks of the imposition of sanctions. The economist Jayati Ghosh, writing in June 1998, accurately predicted the real effects of economic sanctions.13 There was little doubt that Pakistan's "very fragile" economy would be hit harder by sanctions. It was also apparent that the direct effect of sanctions for India would be chiefly in terms of reduced bilateral aid, reduced multilateral financing and, more substantially, the closure of credit lines for companies dealing with or in India. Nevertheless "it is definitely not the case that these sanctions will not affect the economy much, or that their impact will be limited to the specific areas in which they have been imposed." The real effect of sanctions, she predicted, would be "much broader and more painful, if they succeed in reducing international investor confidence in a government that is desperate to attract foreign investment." Some months later, Strobe Talbott, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, would publicly advise India that a decline in the flow of foreign capital was "perhaps the most serious economic threat".14

The proof of the sanctions-immune Indian economy and the sanctions-defying official Indian stance can be seen in the actual response in both economic and political areas. The Government of the Hindu Right certainly behaved as though the country could not bear the reality of prolonged economic sanctions, especially when the economy is in serious difficulty. Meanwhile, the United States, adopting a carrot-and-stick approach, was able to play upon official Indian fears and apprehensions vis-a-vis the severity and duration of sanctions and soften up the policy response further.

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It is becoming increasingly clear to Indian policy-makers that actual nuclear weaponisation will not come cheap. Some quick estimates by economists suggest a ballpark range of Rs.40,000 crores to Rs.50,000 crores as the minimum cost of a nuclear weaponisation programme, defined as "acquiring a second strike capability comprising a triad delivery (that is, by aircraft, land-based missiles and submarines) of 150 bombs", over the next decade, which works out to Rs.4,000 crores to Rs.5,000 crores a year.15 These economists point out that this will be the additional burden coming on top of conventional defence expenditure; and also that escalation tends to be built into nuclear weaponisation programmes since an arms race is guaranteed. Such estimates must be very worrying to the Finance Ministry and to economic policy-makers. Further, this kind of profligate spending in the name of nuclear defence means an unconscionable diversion of public resources from what needs urgently to be spent on the social sector and development.

Finally, there is another big cost, which Jayati Ghosh characterises as "the most important economic cost" of the Pokhran-II misadventure.16 This is a period when the countries and institutions of the Washington Consensus have been imposing sovereignty-eroding policies on the less-developed countries. These policies force vulnerable economies to restructure in such a way that enormous new burdens are imposed on the masses of the people and doors are opened wider and wider to foreign capital. The appeasement policies followed by the BJP-led Government after the nuclear explosions have enabled the enforcers of the Washington Consensus, led by the United States, to tighten their grip over India's economic and political policies in a manner that could not have been foreseen in, say, early 1998.

5. India is weaker and much more vulnerable to external pressure and arm-twisting than it was pre-Pokhran-II and pre-Chagai and the United States, seeking to impose its strategic hegemony on the region, has emerged as the arbiter of the Indo-Pakistan nuclear stand-off and as the intervenor shaping the future of India's nuclear policy. On Day One, when Vajpayee wrote to Clinton blaming China for Pokhran-II, the stage was set for the new U.S. role as intervenor. Interestingly, in its calibration of sanctions against India and Pakistan, the United States has decided to resume the International Military Education and Training Programme (IMET) for India while keeping in place sanctions targeted at India's economic and technological development.17 The expert-level Indo-U.S. talks designed to see that India tightened its export control regime were an example of the extent to which the BJP-led Government was prepared to go to appease the United States. Kashmir and other outstanding issues between India and Pakistan have figured in the parallel Indo-U.S. and Pakistan-U.S. dialogue, and the resumption of the Indo-Pakistan dialogue on a wide range of issues, including Kashmir, seems, at least in part, the result of U.S. pressure on an increasingly vulnerable Indian Government. The BJP-led Government's conspicuous failure to come up with a forthright condemnation of the recent military aggression by the United States and the United Kingdom against Iraq and of the outrageously savage bombing of Yugoslavia by forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) also testified to an official Indian policy that lacked backbone.

6. Last and most important of all, the Government of the Hindu Right has exposed the people of India and Pakistan to the infinite horrors that nuclear weapons can inflict.

The political response

After the early euphoria wore out and some of the harmful effects became evident, there was deepening political and intellectual opposition to the BJP-led Government's nuclear adventurism. A number of political parties, including the Congress(I), joined the Left parties which, from the beginning, took a firm stand against Pokhran-II and nuclear weaponisation. A broad-based campaign against nuclear weapons with a coherent agenda opposing both nuclear adventurism and the policy swing towards capitulation to the DGNB took shape and protest meetings, rallies and conventions were organised in various centres round the country.

In the parliamentary debate that followed the nuclear explosions, the Opposition drawn from the Left parties, the Congress(I), the Janata Dal and some other parties clearly had the better of the exchange. The Vajpayee Government found itself very much on the defensive. Aside from representatives of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India, former Prime Ministers H.D. Deve Gowda, Chandra Shekhar and Inder Kumar Gujral, former Finance Ministers Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee, and former Minister of State for External Affairs K. Natwar Singh effectively challenged the Government's decision to remove the element of conditional self-restraint from India's nuclear policy and to weaponise. They highlighted the dangerous escalation of tensions in the region, the harmful diversion of national resources to a nuclear arms race, and the break with longstanding Indian nuclear policy. Many speakers criticised the jingoism and militarism that had been inducted into India's foreign policy, particularly in relation to China and Pakistan.

In the campaign for the November 1998 Assembly elections, which dealt severe blows to the BJP's prospects of stabilising its rule at the Centre, Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi is reported to have attacked the Vajpayee Government's nuclear policy on several counts: for failing to prevent India's international isolation, for providing the opportunity for "everybody outside India to talk about our internal problems", including Kashmir, for mishandling relations in the region, and for displaying a wrong sense of priorities.18 "These people (the BJP)," she told a big crowd in Bikaner in Rajasthan, "are crowing with pride about the Pokhran nuclear blasts. But in the villages near Pokhran, people are struggling for drinking water. What type of development is this?" Referring to the international political fall-out of Pokhran-II, Sonia Gandhi observed caustically that "these developments have caused everybody outside India to talk about our internal problems", including Kashmir, "which they had no business doing." The Congress(I) president also came down heavily on the Vajpayee Government for the post-Pokhran "failures" that led to India's isolation in the comity of nations and to regional imbalances.

In instant reaction, the BJP spokesman, M. Venkaiah Naidu, charged that "to scoff at the tests and ridicule them amounts to scoffing at and ridiculing India's security concerns" and posed a rhetorical question: "Was she addressing an Indian audience or sending a message to the Pakistanis?"19

The saffron debacle in Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh proved beyond any doubt that the masses of the people, alienated by sharp rises in the prices of essential commodities and by the manifestly communal, divisive and inept performance of the Government of the Hindu Right, were not willing to buy the pseudo-nationalist and chauvinist agenda based on nuclear hawkishness, efforts to saffronise education, and minority-baiting.

However, the Rajya Sabha debate of December 1998 revealed that the democratic campaign against nuclear weaponisation had much work to do if the hope was to see India's nuclear policy return to a sound peace-oriented and independent track, once the BJP-led Government fell and a successor government took over. The most significant feature of the substantive debate was that Congress(I) speakers, notably Pranab Mukherjee, failed to differentiate themselves from the Vajpayee Government's nuclear policy approach.20

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In a detailed response to Vajpayee's statement on the agenda and trends of bilateral talks with the United States, Mukherjee seemed to accept many of the premises set out by the Prime Minister. Specifically, he seemed to accept nuclear weaponisation in South Asia as a fait accompli, noting that "the situation is that in this sub-continent we are having two nuclear weapons states" and further that "this is the ground reality... whether it is recognised or not recognised." The senior Congress(I) leader also had no objection to the agenda of the Indo-U.S. talks, acknowledging that "the Government decided and rightly so to have negotiations with the interlocutory countries" and that he would not like to "queer the pitch of negotiations by making observations which may affect this very delicate dialogue." On the CTBT, Mukherjee's observations were both non-committal and non-oppositional. He reiterated the Congress(I) position that the Government should not rush ahead with any decision to join the CTBT before forging a national political consensus on the issue.

If Mukherjee's compromising articulation of his party's stand on these issues could be taken to reflect the emerging Congress(I) position, the main Opposition party appeared to be preparing for a role when it would have to handle nuclear policy and these tricky issues in government. On the other hand, the fact that oppositional voices, such as Mani Shankar Aiyar's, Natwar Singh's and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh's, within the Congress(I) on Pokhran-II continue to be active suggests that a final decision on which way India's nuclear policy will go under a Congress(I)-led dispensation is yet to be taken and can be influenced by a clear-sighted and effective democratic campaign.

Explaining the misadventure

Was the BJP-led Government motivated to undertake its nuclear adventure by any anti-imperialist aim of challenging the unequal and discriminatory global nuclear order? Can it be given any kind of benefit of doubt in this regard? The answer is 'No'. As Prakash Karat points out in an analysis of the link between Pokhran-II and the BJP-RSS agenda, "the BJP has not been motivated by any anti-imperialist aims to challenge the existing nuclear order. It is essential to differentiate between anti-imperialism and jingoism. The build-up and rationale for the Pokhran tests was the security threat posed by China and its support to Pakistan. This was an obvious pitch to neutralise opposition from the United States."21

The cynical subversion of India's longstanding policy opposition to the DGNB held in place chiefly by the United States was evidenced by the following revelation made by the journalist and BJP Member of Parliament, Arun Shourie, in a debate in the Rajya Sabha on December 15, 1998. Shourie quoted External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh as explaining to him, in the manner of a schoolmaster to a favourite pupil, what had happened to India's nuclear policy with Pokhran-II: "Look at it as a crowded railway compartment. When you are trying to come into it, your perspective is one. When you are in it, you want the rules that will keep you in and keep the others out."22

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Various explanations have been proposed in the media (by the Government's spokespersons, by strategic affairs analysts, and by plain apologists) for why the Vajpayee Government undertook the nuclear explosions and weaponisation. The two most common explanations offered during the initial phase of euphoria sought to present Pokhran-II as a logical culmination of India's nuclear energy programme and policy and as an unstoppable achievement of India's scientific-technological capabilities. In a detailed statement made in Parliament within two weeks of the explosions, Prime Minister Vajpayee sought to make these explanations official by claiming that Pokhran-II was "a continuation of the policies" that put India on the path of self-reliance and independence of thought and action, and that nuclear weapons status was "an endowment to the nation by our scientists and engineers."23 These explanations either miss or deliberately cover up the link, well-acknowledged in RSS circles, between the Government's decision to acquire nuclear weapons and the Hindutva agenda of the BJP and, ultimately, of the RSS.

Giving nuclear teeth to a Hindu Rashtra has been part of the ideology and programme of the RSS from the 1950s. Prakash Karat offers the following insight:

The RSS has long dreamt of making India a chauvinistic-militaristic power based on majoritarian rule. For such a Hindu Rashtra to succeed, it must be able to mobilise people around an aggressive anti-Muslim platform and to create a permanent divide between Hindus and Muslims that can justify an authoritarian state. That is why in the 1960s, when India achieved nuclear capability, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh became a fervent advocate of making the bomb. The bomb was the mascot of the RSS long before the Ram temple acquired religious-political overtones for it in the 1980s. If the BJP's climb to power was aided by the temple-mosque controversy at Ayodhya, with the party coming to power at the Centre, the RSS has set out the next step in its long-term agenda of India making the bomb. The consequent escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan is part of the agenda. Viewed in this light, the retaliatory tests undertaken by Pakistan are what the RSS-BJP hoped would happen. Hence, to see the Pokhran tests as a natural culmination of India's nuclear policy from the 1950s is not only naive but harmful to the very basis of a secular democratic Indian state.24

The anti-China motivation was equally evident. Hindu Rashtra ideology has traditionally seen China, along with Pakistan, in hostile and fanciful terms. The project of giving nuclear teeth to a Hindu Rashtra is related to such threat perceptions. In 1965, RSS supremo "Guruji" M.S. Golwalkar characterised socialist China as "the one common menace to entire humanity" and looked forward to a superpower and global alliance to destroy it.25 "The possession of (the) atom bomb by Communist China," he advocated, "has made it imperative for us to manufacture the same. That alone will ensure confidence in the minds of the people and the armed forces about our ability to achieve ultimate victory. No doctrinaire or academic inhibitions should be allowed to come in the way."26

What is clear from this is that the Vajpayee Government, for all the limitations placed on the BJP's agenda by its coalition partners, launched its nuclear adventure in a pre-conditioned, pre-programmed way. Given the agenda and mindset, it followed as a matter of strategic political necessity that no one within the Government could be asked to carry out any kind of objective or professional appraisal of the policy requirements, that no one could be given a chance to question or criticise the pre-empted course and the assumptions and motivations behind it. Indeed, it turns out from the public testimony of the scientists at the New Delhi press conference of May 17, 1998 that the go-ahead for the Pokhran explosions was given on or around April 12, 1998 - that is, within a month of the communal Government's taking office.27

We now know from the joint general secretary of the RSS, K.S. Sudarshan, as well as from other sources that there was a plan to go in for nuclear explosions and weaponisation when Vajpayee formed the Government in 1996. But since that Government collapsed within 13 days, the plan could not be put into effect.28

This Cover Story comes a year after the nuclear explosions. One year is a sufficient time for the effects and implications of a benighted nuclear adventure to become clear to those who are willing to look at them without blinkers. Interestingly, the "What wrong did this man do?" propaganda ad begins with the sub-question,"Established India's self-respect by conducting the Pokhran blasts?" With India getting ready for its 13th general election, Pokhran-II must be exposed as the first big wrong committed by Vajpayee and his Government.

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Other grave wrongs followed in quick succession. As Frontline pointed out editorially after the fall of the Vajpayee regime, it was communal and divisive with a vengeance. It enabled, and colluded, with the RSS' longstanding project of minority-baiting, allowing the most virulent and thuggish constituents of the saffron brigade to unleash a new level of hate politics and terrorise especially India's small Christian minority. The regime managed to put tremendous pressure on the system's commitment to secularism and the rule of law. It attempted, without a great deal of success but in a manner indicative of its future plans, to further the RSS project of saffronising education.

The BJP-led regime wantonly undermined bilateral relations with China and Pakistan, before attempting, unsuccessfully and unconvincingly, to repair some of the damage. Its economic policy was, in the words of Frontline columnist Jayati Ghosh, a policy of "placat(ing) foreign governments and international capital by offering economic concessions, through greater liberalisation, greater incentives for foreign investors and offering the opportunity to enter captive Indian markets and buy up domestic assets cheaply." By attempting to use the knife of Article 356 against the elected Government and Legislative Assembly of Bihar and threatening to use it elsewhere, it put destabilising pressure on federalism and cooperative Centre-State relations.

By its extra-constitutional manoeuvres and intervention in courts with a view to scuttling Jayalalitha's Special Court, or fast-track, trial on a battery of corruption charges, the Vajpayee regime sent out a most unsavoury public signal on this issue. Through its determination to hang on to power after forfeiting parliamentary legitimacy, it forced the polity to register a new low in sordid opportunism and horse-trading. In sum, the BJP-led regime set an unmatched - and difficult-to-match - record of chauvinistic, divisive, reactionary, anti-people misgovernance.

Comment made to N. Ram by a top source within the nuclear energy establishment, quoted in the editorial, "The perils of nuclear adventurism", in Frontline, June 5, 1998. Written statement read out by Brajesh Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, at a New Delhi press conference on May 11, 1998; reported in The Hindu, May 12, 1998. Interview to Prabhu Chawla published in India Today (May 25, 1998), released by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on May 15, 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. Report, "Pak promises tit-for-tat, U.S. saddened", The Hindustan Times, April 12, 1999; report titled "Agni-II has derailed peace process: Sartaj Aziz", and editorial titled "Agni: a painful choice", Dawn, April 12, 1999. Letter of May 11, 1998 from Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to U.S. President Bill Clinton, leaked immediately to The New York Times and published by it on May 13, 1998. The text of the letter was reproduced subsequently by several newspapers in India. Aijaz Ahmad, "The Hindutva weapon", in Frontline, June 5, 1998. See Cover Story titled "India & China: What Lies Ahead?", Frontline, September 25, 1998. Ibid. For Fernandes' remarks see The Times of India, April 12, 1999. For the remarks by hawkish security analyst Brahma Chellaney, see Barry Bearak's report, "India tests missiles able to hit deep into neighbour lands", The New York Times, April 12, 1999. Michael Foot, Dr. Strangelove, I Presume, Victor Gollancz, London, l999, p. 109. Mani Shankar Aiyar, "Rajiv Gandhi and the CTBT: a reply", The Hindu, February 9, 1999. See Jayati Ghosh, "On sanctions and being sanctimonious", Frontline, June 19, 1998. "U.S. looks to India's emergence as a global power: American Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott reveals the contours of Washington's South Asia policy", The Times of India, November 13, 1998. See C. Rammanohar Reddy, "The wages of Armageddon-III", three editorial-page articles in The Hindu, August 31, September 1 and 2, 1998; and Jayati Ghosh, "The Bomb, the Budget and the Economy", in Out of Nuclear Darkness: The Indian Case For Disarmament, MIND (Movement in India for Nuclear Disarmament), New Delhi, 1999, pp. 17-23. Jayati Ghosh, "The Bomb, the Budget and the Economy", cited earlier. This point is made by Prakash Karat in "BJP's Nuclear Gambit Leads to Surrender to U.S.", People's Democracy, November 22, 1998. Reports in The Hindustan Times and The Hindu, October 27, 1998. Report in The Hindustan Times, October 28, 1998. Proceedings of the Rajya Sabha, December 15, 1998. Prakash Karat, "A lethal link", in Frontline, June 19, 1998. Proceedings of the Rajya Sabha on December 15, 1998. The debate was on Prime Minister Vajpayee's "Statement Re: Bilateral Talks With United States". Suo motu statement by Prime Minister Vajpayee in the Lok Sabha on May 27, 1998. Prakash Karat, "A lethal link", in Frontline, June 19, 1998. M.S. Golwalkar, "Welcome Bigger War", in chapter 25, part 1, Bunch of Thoughts, revised and enlarged edition, Sahitya Sindhu Prakashana, Bangalore, 1996, p. 326. M.S. Golwalkar, "Nation at War", chapter 25, part 2, Bunch of Thoughts, cited above. Press Conference of May 17, 1998 in New Delhi, addressed by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Dr. R. Chidambaram. Report titled "Sanctions, a blessing in disguise, says RSS", in The Hindu, May 15, 1998, p. 15.

The wages of adventurism

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The BJP-led Government's rationalisation for the Pokhran tests was characterised by incoherence and cynicism. A year later, with no gains accruing from its nuclear recklessness, confusion and indecision mark the official thinking in strategic matters.

IF a paralysis of public debate seemed to be the immediate outcome of the Pokhran tests in May 1998, strategic confusion and indecision seem the reality a year on.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee finds himself in the reduced circumstances of heading a caretaker administration. The decisive new turn that he sought to impart to India's strategic engagement with the neighbourhood and the world has meandered into a dead-end. Any deprecation of the Pokhran-II tests was once portrayed by spokesmen of the Bharatiya Janata Party as a sign of disloyalty to the country. Today, the multiple ramifications of Pokhran represent a legacy that the BJP seems ill-equipped by both indoctrination and inclination to cope with.

Within the domestic arena, there was only a momentary sense of disorientation, after which a vigorous public debate ensued over the implications of Pokhran. The BJP sought desperately to cut off all dissent by weaving nuclear belligerence into the fabric of national patriotism. But that was an effort in vain. As all the hard questions came up for answer, the political leadership that embarked upon the Pokhran tests with little pause for reflection has had little to say beyond the rote repetition of practised nostrums.

The political responses to Pokhran, even when favourable, embraced a diversity of perspectives - from the pacifist to the jingoist. India has for long chafed under the terms of the global nuclear bargain, which is designed by a system of formal treaties and technology denial regimes, to keep the world safe for nuclear coercion by a privileged few. Among those who approved of Pokhran, the pacifist fringe saw an opportunity in its aftermath, to resume a spirited challenge to the inequities of the global nuclear order. But this was a minimal strain in the spectrum of reactions and it was rapidly drowned out by the jingoist tendency.

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Leading this charge was Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, with his monitory warnings to Pakistan, issued ominously enough during a visit to Kashmir, that it should take into account the new strategic realities in the subcontinent. He was followed in quick order by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Madan Lal Khurana's bumptious call to arms against Pakistan. When the expected riposte from Pakistan - which took the form of a series of nuclear tests at Chagai - came on May 28, Advani changed tack. It was now no longer a question of new strategic military realities, but of two countries that seemed on the verge of a lethal arms race, in an environment of global hostility.

OFFICIAL articulations aside, Advani's remarks to a leading national newspaper immediately after the Pakistani nuclear tests provide a brutally clear exposition of the reasoning that underlay Pokhran. "There will be sanctions for both countries now," he said, but some satisfaction could be derived from the fact that these would hurt Pakistan more than India. "My own view," Advani continued, "has all along been that if Pakistan goes in for a test, it would be good for us from all points of view."

After Vajpayee's effort to disarm opposition to the Pokhran tests by placing them in a continuum with India's long-standing foreign policy commitments, Advani's comments brought to the surface a more cynical calculation. Tacitly, the Pokhran tests were an invitation to Pakistan to show its hand and provoke the kind of international opprobrium that India had suffered. As a country with greater strategic depth and a better developed resource base, India would come out of the symmetric application of sanctions relatively less damaged than its neighbour.

Perhaps inadvertently, Advani provided further insights into the basic assumptions of the new nuclear posture. The Government's persistent fudging on this question in the aftermath of Pokhran had caused widespread disquiet. Vajpayee wrote to U.S. President Bill Clinton on May 11, pointedly identifying China's nuclear arsenal and its acquiescence and cooperation in the Pakistani weapons programme as the decisive factors behind the Pokhran blasts. The Ministry of External Affairs was not consulted in the authorship of this important communication, and was aghast when its contents were published, evidently on the strength of a high-level leak, in The New York Times.

Curiously, a statement by Minister of State for External Affairs Vasundhara Raje, placed before the Lok Sabha on May 27, spoke of all-round improvement in relations with China and the mutual resolve of the two countries to "work towards a constructive and cooperative relationship oriented towards the 21st century." Still another described the visit to India in April of General Fu Quanyou, Chief of Staff of the Chinese Army, as a landmark in relations with that country. The Prime Minister, in particular, was on record warmly commending the 1993 agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control and the 1996 Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas as crucial steps towards a full reconciliation with China.

If incoherence was a distinctive feature of the official rationalisation, a fresh twist was added by Advani's remarks immediately after the Pakistan tests. In response to a specific question, he said that an arms race was a possibility unless "they (Pakistan) give up their obsession with Kashmir or we are willing to give it up." There was clearly, even after the Pakistani nuclear tests, no retreat from his position that the Kashmir issue was India's most basic motivation. But Advani went further, to provide a rather innovative reading of the threat faced by the country: "If we (the BJP) were not there, these people would have given it up. More than the pseudo-secularists, the real threat now comes from pseudo-liberals." Asked for an explanation, Advani characterised the "pseudo-liberals" as "those who would like to hand over Kashmir and buy peace".

Clearly, Pokhran was an event with multiple dimensions in the conception of the BJP. Just as Ayodhya had been a crucial episode in the campaign of subjugation against secularism, Pokhran and the Pakistani response were designated as defining moments in the BJP's crusade against liberal political opinion. Advani's remarks were followed in quick time by BJP vice-president K.L. Sharma's avowal that the Government was determined to "put an end to the Pakistani menace". For maximum effect, he also directed a good part of his ire at the political parties that had counselled moderation, attacking them for allegedly being indifferent to national security and showing greater concern for the well-being of hostile neighbours.

BY all accounts, the political mood following Pokhran was marked by discord and truculence. That, within a mere eight months, it should have yielded to a new spirit of bonhomie in the neighbourhood would perhaps count as a miracle of modern-day politics. Vajpayee's historic border crossing at Wagha in February this year and the Lahore Declaration that followed constitute in certain perceptions the defining moment when ancient animosities dissolved in a new spirit of concord. This has been rendered in some interpretations into an eloquent illustration of the revelatory powers of the Pokhran tests.

The argument would be convincing for anybody who chooses to overlook the tortuous twists on the road to Lahore. India's effort at a fresh engagement began, in fact, immediately after Pakistan had in the words of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, "squared its accounts" with India by setting off a reported six nuclear tests in the Chagai hills of Baluchistan. It commenced as an unseemly game of evasion and manoeuvre. India offered to conduct discussions at the Foreign Secretary level on the basis of the Dhaka proposals of January 1998. This was rebuffed rather brusquely by Pakistan, which insisted that Kashmir - one of eight agreed items for discussions under the Dhaka proposals - merited a distinct place by virtue of its centrality to relations between the two countries.

A later meeting on the fringes of the South Asian summit in Colombo broke up in acrimony, with the Indian Foreign Secretary decrying Pakistan's obsession with Kashmir as "neurotic and irrational".

The tide had begun to shift by early September, when the Foreign Secretaries agreed, on the sidelines of the summit of leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement in Durban, South Africa, on the broad modalities for a resumption of the dialogue. These were formally announced when the two Prime Ministers met in New York later that month, while participating in the United Nations General Assembly session.

Vajpayee characterised the event as a new beginning in relations, although it was no more than the reiteration of an agreed agenda of June 1997 and its further explication the following January. What was indeed different was that a mediator had subtly entered the South Asian arena, with a newly decisive influence. Since the nuclear tests of May, the U.S. had, through parallel bilateral dialogues with both India and Pakistan, been pursuing a keenly-sought outcome - the capping of the two countries' nuclear weapons programme and their accession to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). India had reservations arising from its longstanding insistence that a ban on nuclear testing should be anchored in a time-bound framework for global disarmament. Pakistan, in comparison, had a simpler view - it would accede to the CTBT if India did.

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GIVEN this asymmetry, the dice seemed loaded against India. Just prior to his visit to China in June 1998, U.S. President Bill Clinton offered the plea to a sceptical U.S. Congress that China had a serious role to play in calming the eruption of animosities in South Asia. Even if it was partly inspired by domestic compulsions, the argument caused deep disquiet within India. Later, with both the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers in New York, the U.S. administration seemed, in subtle word and deed and gross disregard of diplomatic niceties, to portray Pakistan as the more amenable negotiating partner.

In October, the U.S. President exercised the provisional authority granted him by the U.S. Congress and waived some of the sanctions that were imposed on India and Pakistan following the nuclear tests. But there was an asymmetry in these waivers that again upset India. The U.S. committed itself to supporting Pakistan's case for emergency financial sustenance from the International Monetary Fund, although India would not enjoy any such privilege. In fact, it was explicitly stated that the U.S. would oppose the sanction of World Bank credits for India. The waiver, in other words, would be limited in scope to restoring India's eligibility for certain bilateral credits from American financial institutions.

Clearly, by around this time, the expectations of the Advani thesis - that sanctions would cause disproportionate damage to Pakistan - were being thorougly undermined. A parallel diplomatic track was also under exploration, for the relaxation of the technology denial regimes imposed against India after its first nuclear test in 1974, as a reward for accession to the CTBT. By September, when India's special envoy Jaswant Singh concluded his sixth direct encounter with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, this hope too was in shambles.

The writing on the wall was very clear. The U.S. would not alter the pattern of its geopolitical engagement to reward India with a much-sought-after role of regional pre-eminence. Nor would it allow a tested regional ally like Pakistan to sink into insolvency as a consequence of economic sanctions. It would, however, stand by as a benign patron should India and Pakistan choose directly to engage in a dialogue over their long-running disputes.

The bus to Lahore was not, by any account, a regional peace initiative that the U.S. had no role in. Nawaz Sharif's dramatic invitation to Vajpayee to take the land route to Pakistan itself came after Talbott had concluded a round of shuttle diplomacy in the subcontinent. And its final outcome, for all the symbolism that it embodied, was not substantively different from the agreed agenda for negotiations dating back to June 1997. The difference is that the neighbourhood dialogue now has elicited the overt interest and patronage of the global policeman. This cannot in any sense be construed as a gain. n

A classic technical folly

T. JAYARAMAN cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Pokhran-II and attempted nuclear weaponisation are a worthy and significant end-of-the-century Indian contribution to the list of the world's major technical follies.

PROFESSIONAL soldiers rarely, if ever, invent new weapons. New weapons are invented or designed by scientists and engineers, by the application of either established or newly discovered scientific principles and technologies. In the modern world, such inventions or advances in weaponry are not the product of individual minds, but the result of the work of a large scientific and technological establishment dedicated wholly or in part to this purpose. Such establishments will certainly push the products of their work with energy and enthusiasm, convinced of the importance of their efforts in the promotion of national security.

But what happens when such scientists promote their work without corrective mechanisms, either self-imposed or imposed from outside, that ensure that their inventions, designs and ideas measure up to the needs of the real world, outside the confines of their laboratories and think-tanks? Unfortunately, this situation is all too common. The history of weapons is replete with examples of ingenious inventions and seemingly fool-proof strategies, based on the latest technology, that have failed the test of practice. We are not referring to weapons that are faulty in design. Even the best-designed weapons can be rendered useless if there is no suitable way in which they can ever be used for the purpose for which they were made. It is such inventions or advances, and the strategies based on them, that the well-known American theoretical physicist and arms control expert, Freeman Dyson, refers to as technical follies.

Dyson, in his 1984 book Weapons and Hope, a reflective and insightful study from a scientist's viewpoint of various aspects of the nuclear dilemma, uses the concept of technical folly to characterise the scientific dimension of nuclear weapons. The book lists a variety of examples, drawn from the history of both conventional and nuclear weapons, ranging from individual weapons to large-scale miscalculations about the strategic utility of particular weapons systems.

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For instance, during the Second World War, large numbers of aircraft built by the Allies were equipped with guns that could fire beyond visual range, but the system could not reliably distinguish friend from foe and could rarely be used. Among the major follies, Dyson lists the strategic bombing of German cities by the Allied forces in the Second World War, a strategy that he suggests was of little or no use to the actual winning of the war and probably delayed its conclusion owing to the huge amount of resources that it consumed.

Sometimes technical follies are brought under check before they are foisted on the professional soldier. Aircraft prototypes were designed in the United States to be powered by nuclear energy. It was soon realised that they could never safely fly and had, it was eventually observed, no particular advantage over conventionally powered aircraft. Missiles were designed, but fortunately never built, to fly close to the ground at supersonic speeds, flattenning all structures that lay under its flight path through shock waves. The idea was given up when it became clear that, among other things, such weapons could not even be tested.

Dyson lists three characteristic features of a technical folly. First, it is incapable of doing the job for which it has been designed. Second, it is inflexible and cannot be adapted to changed circumstances or to any other purpose. Third, it is inordinately expensive. Dyson's examples are drawn from the experience of Britain and the United States. Almost a year after the triumphant announcement of the nuclear weapons tests in the Rajasthan desert, and on the eve of the first National Technology Day, as May 11 was designated by a boastful Government that has since collapsed, Pokhran-II and India's nuclear weaponisation appear to be a worthy and significant Indian contribution to a list of the world's major technical follies.

WHAT precisely is the task that India's nuclear weapons are supposed to perform? The major argument has been, of course, that nuclear weapons are needed to guarantee India's security. But this argument was irreparably damaged within days after Pokhran-II by Pakistan's Chagai tests of May 28 and 30. In the heady days after the Indian tests and before the Pakistani response, sections of India's political leadership, the scientific leadership in the atomic energy and defence research sectors and other assorted hawks clearly thought that India had gained a strategic edge over Pakistan. While the political leadership of the country warned Pakistan of the changed geopolitical realities in the subcontinent, the scientific establishment crowed about how the tests had guaranteed security to the people of India. After May 28, it was obvious that Pokhran-II had not conferred any strategic advantage on India but had, on the contrary, helped Pakistan attain strategic parity with India.

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The security rationale for India's nuclear weaponisation, unconvincing and weak to begin with, has become even more suspect in the months since Pokhran-II. For one thing, the primary 'threat perceptions' cited by the Government to justify weaponisation have been constantly shifting over time. Apologists for weaponisation have not hesitated to push significantly different versions of the security argument while addressing different constituencies. More important, as a wide spectrum of informed public opinion in India increasingly recognises, Pokhran-II has opened a nuclear Pandora's box of problems in terms of peace and stability and has heightened the dangers of a nuclear stand-off in the subcontinent. Rather than provide any quick-fix technological solutions to national security, nuclear weaponisation has only eroded India's options in dealing with its actual security concerns. Despite the hype following the bus diplomacy of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the Lahore Declaration, the situation has only worsened following the intensification of the arms race with India's Agni-II missile tests and Pakistan's immediate response with the Ghauri-2 and Shaheen tests.

Apart from the security argument, several other reasons have been bandied about in defence of India's nuclear weaponisation. All of them have fallen by the wayside since the subcontinental nuclear summer of 1998. Far from being the harbinger of an era of greater self-reliance in Indian science and technology, Pokhran-II has marked the beginning of a 180-degree turn on the question of standing up to the discriminatory global nuclear order. India's authority to speak on issues of global disarmament has been considerably diminished, while the hope that possession of the bomb would confer some kind of superpower status on India has proven to be utterly misplaced. The agenda of the Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott talks and the support that these talks have received from the pro-weaponisation lobby make it clear that India's nuclear weapons are not even remotely related to any anti-imperialist foreign policy stance.

However, from the standpoint of science and technology, what gives India's nuclear weapons the true status of a technical folly is their active advocacy by India's atomic energy and defence research establishment. Significantly, the scientists have pushed their case even when the political leadership of the country has not been favourably disposed to the idea.

THE trend, as is now known, began with Homi Bhabha himself, the founder of the Indian nuclear energy programme. John Maddox, Editor Emeritus of the respected scientific journal Nature, has described, in an interview to Frontline (to appear shortly), a meeting that Bhabha had with four British journalists in 1957 in London. Maddox, who was one of those present on the occasion, recalls that Bhabha argued that "India had a strategic need for nuclear weapons", which was "every bit as important as the strategic needs of the United States." In Bhabha's view India needed nuclear weapons to "deter China", even though China had no nuclear weapons at that time. Bhabha reiterated these views at a similar meeting with a small group of journalists a few years later. Bhabha's views, it bears emphasis, were diametrically opposed to those of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Several years later, in 1964, soon after the first Chinese nuclear test, Bhabha, in response to a debate at the top levels of the Congress party on whether India should develop a nuclear explosives programme, made his position clear at a press conference in London. Following some philosophical observations about the nature of nuclear deterrence and the comment that the acquisition of "the capability and threat of retaliation" was "the only defence" against nuclear attack, Bhabha made the following remark: "We are still 18 months away from exploding either a bomb or a device for peaceful purposes, and we are doing nothing to reduce that period." According to strategic affairs analyst K. Subrahmanyam, Bhabha was immediately rebuked by Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon.

Advocacy of nuclear weaponisation by the leadership of the atomic energy programme clearly continued after Bhabha. While Vikram Sarabhai, Bhabha's immediate successor as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, was not in favour of nuclear weapons, others who followed, incuding H.N. Sethna, Raja Ramanna and P.K. Iyengar, were considerably more enthusiastic. Even if much of their advocacy was not publicly known at that time, it is clear from the tenor of their comments after Pokhran-II that they have tended to push, if not directly for weaponisation, at least for the development of the nuclear option in the direction of weaponisation. As is well-known today, over the last few years the atomic energy leadership, joined by the defence research establishment, had actively petitioned successive governments to sanction the conduct of further tests and to advance nuclear weaponisation. The ascent to power in Delhi of a political formation for which nuclear weaponisation was a long-standing ideological commitment provided the pro-weaponisation scientists with a congenial political climate that they had long desired.

Indeed, on the question of nuclear weapons, the political neutrality of leading scientists in India's atomic energy establishment, an image that they have assiduously cultivated, has proven to be a myth. In the larger sense of the pursuit of the vision of a 'strong' India, where strength is interpreted in a predominantly military sense and is perceived as arising from the possession of nuclear arms, with China and subsequently Pakistan being the primary targets of such weapons, the atomic energy establishment has clearly been highly political. Nuclear weaponisation is an agenda that they have made very much their own.

But political aspects apart, the atomic energy establishment's push towards nuclear weapons is distinguished by the clear underlying conviction that the possession of nuclear weapons confers a technological route to solving India's security problems. Subsequent to Pokhran-II, this has been very much in evidence. The leaders of both the defence research and atomic energy establishments have spoken with pride of their scientific and technological contribution to national security and have remarked on the utility of a military-industrial complex as a stimulus for technological development. The political leadership seized the 'scientific achievement' idea with alacrity. It made this claim an integral part of its strategy of legitimation of its hawkish nuclear policy line, with Vajpayee's announcement of the slogan "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Vigyan", and his pronouncement in the Lok Sabha on May 26 that India's nuclear weapons state status was an 'endowment' given to the nation by its scientists and engineers.

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As is the case with technical follies that go unchecked, India's armed forces have remained substantially outside the decision-making loop in government on nuclear weapons issues. It is clear that they have not played any essential role in the decision-making process before either Pokhran-I in 1974 or Pokhran-II in 1998. Undoubtedly, a small but vocal group of retired military leaders, led by the late Gen. K. Sundarji, have been advocates of nuclear weaponisation, together with a group of strategic affairs 'apologists'. But the only section of the pro-weaponisation lobby that has been closely involved at all stages of the decision-making process in government on nuclear weaponisation has been the scientific leadership of the atomic energy and defence research establishments.

It is by no means the case that nuclear weapons constitute a technical folly only in India. All nuclear weapons, to a greater or lesser degree, fall in this category, though in the Indian case there is the extra twist of a considerable exaggeration of the actual scientific and technological capabilities of India's nuclear weapons programme. If nuclear weaponisation proceeds apace, one may expect (as has happened elsewhere) several smaller technical follies within the larger one. With every advance in missile technology, major or minor, with the announcement of the details of the nuclear doctrine that is expected some time soon, with even rudimentary advances in command and control, the claim will be made that a significant advance in further enhancing India's security has been achieved even as each of these steps pushes the country towards nuclear brinkmanship.

HOW much will nuclear weaponisation cost India? Basic, preliminary estimates such as those made by economist and journalist C. Rammanohar Reddy suggest that at the very least it will be anywhere within the range of Rs.40,000 crores to 50,000 crores, to be spent over the next decade. But given the characteristics of technical follies in general and nuclear weapons in particular, weaponisation is a potentially bottomless pit of expenditure. If India is to have a "minimum credible nuclear deterrent", with the minimum undefined and subject to change, then one can expect all current estimates to be substantial underestimates. Jingoistic statements that no price is too high to pay when it comes to national defence, as have been made by prominent pro-weaponisation members of the Vajpayee Cabinet, suggest that the Goverment had neither a clear idea of what weaponisation would cost nor was it politically inclined in any way to limit its expenditure. The inevitable accompaniment of secrecy will add to the problem of runaway and profligate expenditure on nuclear weapons.

Technical follies bring little credit to the scientific establishments that promote or push them. But in a nation like India, which is home to a substantial fraction of the world's poor, which has urgent developmental needs that have yet to be addressed seriously, which has to concentrate all its political energies on the task of the empowerment and the economic uplift of its people, the self-indulgent pursuit of technical follies by the scientific establishment and the political leadership raises serious socio-political, ethical and moral questions. It is time the scientific and technological community in this country began to examine these questions with greater attention and intensity than it has displayed so far.

The bomb and the economy

JAYATI GHOSH cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The nuclear weapons programme, which envisages the spending of staggering amounts of resources on it even as developmental and social spending is being cut back, is a devastating reminder of the misplaced priorities of the BJP-led Government.

IT is an anniversary that would be best forgotten, if only the consequences were not so unnervingly unforgettable. Last year, when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government desecrated the day that marked the birth of Gautama Buddha by choosing to explode a series of nuclear devices at Pokhran, it did more than display an alarming and juvenile machismo. It effectively destabilised security in the whole Asian zone and instigated a fresh nuclear arms race which the people of the region simply cannot afford.

Because peace and security issues have dominated the subsequent discussion, the second aspect, that of the affordability of a nuclear programme, has not been adequately questioned. Indeed, the Indian political establishment has always managed to keep such issues of costs and necessity of defence expenditure outside the realm of democratic debate, by citing the need for secrecy and the ordinary citizen's lack of knowledge of the exact needs of defence. In the case of nuclear-based defence systems, these arguments become more compelling because the issues appear so esoteric and complicated. There is also a common perception that nuclear weapons are in fact less expensive than conventional arms, and therefore may even involve a net saving of resources for the economy.

This may be why even economists of the stature of Amartya Sen have suggested that the argument against nuclear weapons cannot be economic in content. Certainly it is the case that the essential critique of nuclear arms must be in terms of strategic and ethical considerations, and also of the lack of democracy inherent in the secrecy surrounding such programmes. But it would be wrong to conclude from this that there are no economic arguments against nuclearisation, or that the people of the country do not have the right to know the full economic opportunity costs of such a programme.

First of all, it is important to remember that nuclear weapons have always been treated as an addition to, rather than a replacement of, conventional weaponry. So it is pointless to argue that they are less expensive, when in fact they add significantly to total military expenditure. Second, it must be borne in mind that while the opacity surrounding such expenditure makes it difficult to calculate, that is no reason for not demanding greater public knowledge of the amounts involved and what they mean in terms of diversion of public resources away from other socially necessary expenditures, and asking for a public debate on whether such spending is desirable.

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IN the Indian case, the task of working out what the nuclear programme has already cost the country, and what it may cost us in the future, is extremely difficult simply because such expenditures are not neatly placed under any one budgetary head, but come under a variety of categories and may even include certain "off-budget" expenditures by public sector units. Therefore, whatever estimates can be put together by independent analysts are necessarily prone to dispute, especially since the veil of secrecy allows officialdom to claim any other set of figures.

Nevertheless, there are some indicators that can be used in terms of the actual and potential future costs of a nuclear weapons programme. The most important of these come from the experience of other countries, most notably the United States for which an extensive independent study on costs, conducted in the Washington-based Brookings Institution, was recently published. This gives an idea of the various kinds of costs associated with any nuclear weapons programme.

It turns out that some cost categories are obvious: the expense of producing the fissile materials used in weapons; designing, testing and producing warheads; designing, building and deploying delivery systems such as missiles, planes and submarines. In fact, usually these are the only costs that are mentioned, especially by the military establishment.

But there are other categories that are less obvious: the expense of building and operating targeting programmes and command and control technologies; building and deploying reconnaissance satellites to locate and monitor "enemy" targets; ensuring security at nuclear facilities. Still other economic cost categories are only recently emerging: the expense of decontaminating and cleaning up radioactive sites; compensating victims of radiation experiments; health care expenses of afflicted workers within the nuclear complex and others involved in production of radioactive material.

THE study conducted for the U.S. ("Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940", Brookings Institution Press, Washington, 1998, by Stephen Schwartz and others) was extremely revealing because it tried to take account of at least some of these direct and indirect costs, even though it could not estimate all such costs. The numbers that emerge are startling even to those who are used to large U.S. defence outlays.

From 1940 through 1996, the U.S. spent nearly $5.5 trillion on nuclear weapons and weapons-related programmes (in constant 1996 dollars). When the average estimated future-year costs for the dismantling of nuclear weapons and the management and disposal of nuclear waste are included, the total rises to more than $5.8 trillion. As Schwartz puts it, "that amount of money, represented as a stack of $1 bills, would stretch more than 459,000 miles, to the moon and nearly back again."

To put these numbers in perspective, they can be compared to other U.S. government expenditures. Nuclear weapons spending over this 56-year period exceeded the combined total federal government spending for all of the following categories: education; training, employment, and social services; agriculture; natural resources and the environment; general science, space, and technology; community and regional development (including disaster relief); law enforcement; and energy production and regulation.

On average, therefore, the study estimates that the U.S. has spent $98 billion a year on nuclear weapons over this entire period. Furthermore, the study emphasises that "this is the conservative estimate, a floor rather than a ceiling."

One important finding of the study relates to the structure of these costs. The major part of the funds was spent not on building the nuclear explosives themselves; in fact, that proved to be relatively inexpensive given the scale of the programme. The vast proportion of money went on the myriad delivery vehicles used to carry them to their targets. These included not only the well-known strategic bombers and ballistic missiles, but also artillery shells, depth charges, and nuclear landmines.

In fact, the cost of deploying offensive delivery systems to those of defensive weapons, along with the costs associated with targeting and controlling the arsenal (that is, building a variety of launch systems and ensuring that not only could they be fired when ordered to do so but, even more important, that they would not go off unless valid launch orders were issued), accounted for 86 per cent of the total expenditure.

Therefore, the U.S. experience shows that the most important element of the nuclear weapons establishment is command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I). This encompasses not only the equipment, personnel, and procedures needed to enable the use of nuclear weapons, but also the equipment and personnel needed to prevent their unauthorised use. In all probability, these costs would form an even greater proportion of costs in countries like India, given the high import-intensity of much of the material requirement for C3I.

ANOTHER major, and as yet inadequately estimated, element of costs comes from the environmental and other considerations resulting from setting up nuclear facilities. In all the nuclear countries, the nuclear weapons establishment created enormous long-term environmental liabilities without significant plans or funds to return the sites of weapons facilities to unrestricted use, if and when they were no longer needed.

In the U.S., the estimated cost of cleaning up these highly contaminated sites ranges from a low of about $200 billion, which would leave a trail of risks for future generations, to well over $500 billion. Even this is only a partial estimate, because not all facilities have been evaluated. The current projection is that in the end, the cost of environmental remediation and waste management will probably exceed the cost of building the nuclear warheads and bombs. And these do not include any provisions for meeting the long-term costs that local communities will face as a result of residual contamination or restrictions on site use, or corrective measures if waste disposal systems fail - as they occasionally have in the past.

THESE are important lessons for countries like India and Pakistan, which are now clearly embarked on programmes that will increase the size of their nuclear stockpiles. The issues are not just of costs but of the basic safety of the population, especially of those unfortunate enough to be directly or indirectly involved in working in such sites, or located near them physically.

The most costly tasks include converting liquid high-level waste to solid form and disposing of it, and managing a large inventory of deteriorating and highly radioactive spent fuel. The cost of the ultimate disposal of high-level waste is unknown. Decontaminating and decommissioning weapons production buildings is an expensive, long-term project. Long after their missions have ended, the structures remain hazardous.

In fact, no amount of money will return the land and water at such weapons sites to their original condition. Once radioactive wastes, which have a long life, are created, there is nothing practical that can be done to make them go away. Isolating them from the human environment for very long periods of time is generally the only feasible solution, but that is rarely possible or even attempted in poor and densely populated countries. In addition, a great deal of the existing soil and groundwater contamination is highly dispersed. Remediation may simply transfer contamination from one location to another.

The resources devoted to nuclear weapons are "sunk" costs. The inability to reuse these resources differs markedly from the ability to convert other military facilities to civilian purposes. And because these decisions are taken without public discussion or accountability, the citizens are never given the choice of whether they would prefer an equivalent amount of spending on, say, schools and health clinics, rather than on a new missile equipped with a nuclear warhead. Further, resources devoted to nuclear weapons impose unavoidable future costs on the economy in terms of clean-up expenditure. As a result, countries that currently spend the most for nuclear weapons will also incur the largest future costs.

Perhaps the largest of all management costs, and one of the hardest to pin down, is the cost of the elaborate secrecy and security measures used to prevent the dissemination of information about nuclear weapons and to protect the weapons themselves. These measures have direct and indirect costs, many of which may be immune to measurement.

In fact, the biggest and most far-reaching social costs are related to this. They are those associated with the excessive secrecy that has reduced public accountability and helped erode trust in government. That is why a nuclear weapons programme is fundamentally anti-democratic both in its nature and in its implications.

Such secrecy also has economic implications. In the case of the U.S. it has been pointed out that it meant much larger expenditures than were warranted. "For classification and political reasons, spending for nuclear weapons has not had enough public scrutiny and it cannot be fairly compared with other national spending. As a result, the levels of accountability demanded of most government programs have been largely absent from nuclear weapons programs... The results have been predictable. The allocation of resources to nuclear weapons has often had no discernible relationship to the levels of threat these weapons were supposed to counter and the costs of deterrence have been considerably and unnecessarily increased" (William J. Weida, "The economic implications of nuclear weapons", June 30, 1998, available at the Website of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project).

It is now well-known that in the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, the strict secrecy surrounding these programmes increased the potential for officials to place production first, to cut corners, to look only at the perceived short-term gains of building nuclear weapons and ignore the very real and very dangerous long-term costs to the environment and to public health. Even the most optimistic of observers would accept that the Indian Government will not be immune to such tendencies either.

Research and development currently accounts for 7.8 per cent of India's military expenditure, a percentage exceeded only by Britain, France, and the U.S. The Government of India's funding of military research and development is extravagant by other measures as well. It constitutes 18 per cent of all government funds spent on science in India, a percentage surpassed only by the U.S., where military research and development comprises 20 per cent of national science efforts. If nuclear and space efforts are added to military research and development, the figure rises to 68 per cent of government science funds.

A study by the Ministry of Defence in 1985 estimated the cost of creating nuclear weapons which could be deployed at Rs.7,000 crores at that time. In terms of the domestic rate of inflation, such an amount would come to around Rs.18,000 crores at current prices. But a substantial part of the expenditure would involve imports, so if the change in rupee value (relative to the U.S. dollar) is taken into account, then this amounts to Rs.24,000 crores. If it is estimated that only around one-third of such expenditure involves imports, then the likely current cost works out to at least Rs.20,000 crores.

But of course, this involves only cost of the weapons per se, which typically accounts for less than 10 per cent of the total cost. The cost of the C3I systems which are absolutely essential to any weaponisation programme would be at least eight times that amount, based on past international experience. And since the import content of such systems is high, that could amount to even more in rupee terms as the rupee depreciates.

Compare these amounts - of Rs.20,000 crores plus for the weapons alone, and another Rs.160,000 crores for the related systems necessary for weaponisation, with the Government of India's total Plan outlay budgeted for the current year, which is only Rs.77,000 crores. Of course, these are stock costs, spread out over several years, but still the point remains. And then consider that these costs do not take into consideration the huge clean-up costs in future, or the likely escalation resulting from a nuclear arms race in the region.

These are staggering amounts of resources potentially being poured into a dubious programme of producing weapons of mass destruction, in conditions of such secrecy that the expenditures planned or already made are simply not known to the public. What is bizarre is that such spending can even be considered while "fiscal austerity" is the strict admonition when it comes to all forms of developmental and social spending.

The nuclear weapons programme is a devastating reminder of the misplaced priorities of the Government. It is now up to social pressure and action to ensure that these priorities are reset.

The Congress(I) flip-flop

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Once again forced to cause and face a round of general elections that it did not want, the Congress(I) betrays a strange nervousness.

THE Congress(I) celebrated the first anniversary of Sonia Gandhi's leadership of the party exactly a month and a half before the dissolution of the 12th Lok Sabha. Party leaders asserted on that occasion that positive changes had taken place in the Congress(I) under the reign of Sonia Gandhi. Comparing her tenure with that of her predecessor in the post, Sitaram Kesri, P. Shiv Shankar, the party's Deputy Leader in the Lok Sabha, told Frontline that "the Congress(I) has transformed itself from a moribund, non-creative, leaderless and directionless establishment into a vibrant organisation capable of leading the country on the right path by taking up important national and global concerns." Several party leaders concurred with this view.

Yet, strangely, the party betrays an apparent nervousness as it gears up to face its first general election under Sonia Gandhi's formal leadership. A similar discomfiture was evident in the wake of the dissolution of the 11th Lok Sabha after Kesri created a crisis for the I.K. Gujral-led United Front (U.F.) Government by raising the issue of non-implementation of the Jain Commission Report on the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Kesri's intention was not to force general elections but to acquire greater political clout in the Central Government using the Jain Commission Report as an instrument to apply pressure.

The effort backfired and elections were announced. The Congress(I) leadership began lamenting about the innumerable problems it had to contend with: the absence of a "vote-catching leader" and the dearth of "real campaign issues", among others. Intra-party bickering became intense, and this was one of the reasons that compelled Sonia Gandhi to enter the campaign scene. A refrain among Congress(I) Working Committee (CWC) members at that time was that the country and the Congress(I) could have done without elections at the juncture.

Almost all the maladies that afflicted the Congress(I) at that time appear to have returned to haunt the party. The only difference this time is that the party does have a vote-catching leader in Sonia Gandhi; this became evident during the November Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan. But that is small consolation as the party has realised that Sonia Gandhi's appeal alone is not enough to ensure supremacy in national politics.

Already Sharad Pawar, CWC member and Leader of the Opposition in the dissolved Lok Sabha, is on record as saying that the mid-term polls will not produce a result much different from that of the previous elections, which delivered a hung verdict. Speaking at the annual function of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), he maintained that all parties had failed to do justice to regional aspirations and the just demands of the downtrodden people, especially the Backward Classes, Dalits and minorities. He added that unless this was set right, the instability in the polity would continue. The statement was treated in Congress(I) circles not only as an admission of the shortcomings in the party's functioning but as an instance of shadow-boxing against the coterie surrounding Sonia Gandhi (which includes former Minister and CWC member Arjun Singh), which has been dictating party policies.

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AS in December 1997, the Congress(I) has again been forced to face a round of elections that it did not want. When Sonia Gandhi decided to take a proactive stance against the A.B. Vajpayee-led coalition Government by joining hands with other Opposition parties, including All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader Jayalalitha, her intention was to explore the possibility of forming a government under her own leadership. Elections, as per Sonia Gandhi's game plan, were to come after she had had a stint in power, preferably by the year-end or early next year.

It was clear to the Congress(I) leadership during the last elections that they had no issue to present before the people. Kesri refused to make the Jain Commission Report an election issue, stating that "the party's enemy number one will be the communal forces represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party." The furore unleashed over the indictment of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a constituent of the then U.F., by the Jain Commission Report was given a quiet burial.

A similar flip-flop is visible now. It was the Congress(I)'s refusal to settle for a coalition government that became a stumbling block in the formation of an alternative government.

Throughout its deliberations with other parties after the confidence vote, the Congress(I) steadfastly refused to act according to the public statements that Sonia Gandhi and Arjun Singh had made - that the party was not averse to a coalition arrangement. However, after the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, party leaders, including Pawar, have openly talked about pre-poll alliances on the basis of a common manifesto. The parties identified as potential partners include the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the AIADMK, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Republican Party of India (RPI).

Somersaults like these have presented another problem for the party as sections of the leadership describe these as being inconsistent with the "momentous" declarations made at the Pachmarhi conclave in September last. The Pachmarhi declarations took a general line against coalitions and said that such arrangements could be considered in special cases only if the party had supremacy in them.

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However, in the present context, with the realisation that the party will not be able to make it on its own, those declarations have been given the go by. The Congress(I)'s predicament is that it cannot even stick to the concept of being the dominant partner in a coalition that is made as a "special case". For, the Congress(I) cannot expect to have the upper hand in any alliances it make strike with the RJD in Bihar, the BSP in Uttar Pradesh and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.

The climbdown also militates against the stand taken by Arjun Singh and A.K. Antony that forming alliances does not help the long-term agenda of the party, which is restoring the organisation to its "past glory" at the national level. According to these leaders, the revival of the Congress(I)'s fortunes in the North Indian States, especially Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, is central to the party's plans, and any alliance with the RJD and the BSP will prove counter-productive.

The confusion over campaign strategy has divided the CWC. Arjun Singh, who was labelled the chief of the 'gang of four' (which comprises, apart from him, former Minister M.L. Fotedar, Sonia Gandhi's private Secretary Vincent George and R.D. Pradhan) at 10 Janpath that controlled Sonia Gandhi's activities is castigated privately by senior leaders.

A senior CWC member told Frontline that Arjun Singh misguided Sonia Gandhi at every stage, even making her erroneously claim to have the support of 272 MPs. "It was this faux pas," the CWC member said, "that upset the party's chances of being invited to form the government as the second largest party."

The groundswell of opinion against Arjun Singh has forced Sonia Gandhi to scale down his prominence in the party. He was not only taken off from the position of crisis-time spokesperson but, more significantly, not included in part of the delegation that met the President to complain against the Government overstepping its caretaker status.

Sonia Gandhi has a long way to go before resolving the problems and chalking out a viable election plan. What shape the Congress(I)'s strategy will take is not clear. But the biggest consolation for the party and its president is that the Election Commission may accede to its wish to have elections around September. Four months is a reasonably long enough time for any political leader to put his or her house in order.

'Only the Congress(I) can provide stability'

politics

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

For the past three months, P. Shiv Shankar, Deputy Leader of the Congress(I) in the dissolved Lok Sabha, aggressively pushed the line that the party should adopt a proactive position against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition Government. He told Frontline in March that the Congress(I) was getting set to "oppose, chastise and ultimately depose the government". Less than a month later the Congress(I) closed in for the kill, but its plans went awry. Shiv Shankar spoke to Venkitesh Ramakrishnan about the political developments and the party's plans. Excerpts:

The Congress(I) fulfilled its political objective in part when the Vajpayee Government was dislodged. However, the failure to instal an alternative government seems to have created an unfavourable situation for the party, especially in terms of popular appeal. The BJP is trying to create the impression that the Congress(I) lacks the ability to shape concrete alternatives.

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It is not correct to say that the party is facing an unfavourable situation in terms of popular appeal. The BJP is of course trying to spread the canard that the Congress(I) destabilised its coalition government. But the fact is that the government collapsed under the weight of its own differences. The problems between (Prime Minister Atal Behari) Vajpayee and the AIADMK were not created by us. And what is the BJP's complaint? That we did not support the government when one of its allies withdrew support? As an Opposition party, it was not our business to save the government.

As for the failure to form an alternative government, the question should be posed to other Opposition parties, such as the Samajwadi Party, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc. For one year, these parties clamoured that the Congress(I) was not aggressive enough. Some of them even said that we were helping the BJP government survive. And when the Congress(I) played the natural role of a party of the Opposition, brought the government down and sought their support to form the alternative, they backed out. The people understand all this. And that is why I say that your premise that the party has lost popular appeal is not correct.

These parties were essentially opposed to forming a minority Congress(I) government. They proposed another secular alternative in the form of a coalition government...

We never opposed the idea of forming a coalition alternative. But the fact was that it was impractical. The non- Congress(I) Opposition parties would have failed to agree on who should be part of such a coalition. That is why we put forward the idea of a minority government. Most of the secular Opposition parties agreed to the proposal.

But the Congress(I) shot down the proposal to make Jyoti Basu Prime Minister.

The proposal came in the form of a demand to allow the formation of yet another Third Front government under the leadership of Basu. We had supported two Third Front governments in the past and they had failed miserably. The Congress(I) is of the view that it cannot allow these experiments to go on in the name of secularism.

On the question of facing elections too, there seems to be some confusion in the Congress(I). Indications are that the party is not sure whether to put forward the traditional slogan of "single party rule" for stability or push the idea of a coalition.

There is no confusion on this. The Congress(I) is very clear that only it has the experience of running governments properly. The tragic experience of the United Front governments and the BJP coalition has proved that only the Congress(I) can provide stability to the country. And you will see the party making huge gains in the coming elections.

But Sharad Pawar has said that the election results would not be very different from what it was last time...

I think that is Pawar's personal opinion. I am sure that we will gain in a major way. Soniaji's tenure as party president has imparted a new vigour to the organisation. The party is integrated and its functioning is much more cohesive now. We are going to sweep the South Indian States and score significant gains in other areas. I can see this result in a hundred small things. Wherever I go people talk about how the Congress(I) is rejuvenated and how it has once again gifted a leader on whom the nation can rely.

Still, the Congress(I) is thinking in terms of alliances in Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh...

The Congress(I) has always had seat adjustments with regional parties. In Kerala, we have a full-fledged coalition that has functioned cohesively for several decades. All this does not detract the strength of our slogan that only the Congress(I) can provide good governance. The simple fact is that we are better even in running coalitions. Unlike the BJP, we do not forge an opportunistic coalition just to grab power and see it fall apart in a year.

Is this not a dilution of the declarations made at the Pachmarhi conclave?

As I said earlier, the Pachmarhi declaration is an ideal guideline. But in practical politics one has to mix idealism with pragmatism, keeping the good of the country in mind.

Politics of compulsions

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The Samajwadi Party appears to have resisted the idea of a Congress(I) minority government out of a desire for self-preservation.

ON April 20, even as party leaders were involved in hectic parleys to work out an alternative government in place of the deposed Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition Ministry, Samajwadi Party (S.P.) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav rushed to Lucknow on an urgent political mission. He was closeted with prominent S.P. activists of Uttar Pradesh for one day. The die was cast at this meeting: it was decided that the Congress(I) would not be allowed total control of the proposed new government.

The party directive was that the Congress(I) should not be permitted to form a minority government that was supported from outside by other Opposition parties. S.P. activists were clearly inclined towards a coalition that would be led either by the Congress(I) or by a non-Congress party, preferably the latter. Another acceptable scenario was a breakdown of the endeavours to form an alternative government, which would lead to a general election under the Vajpayee regime.

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Central to the discussions at the S.P. meeting was the perception that the basic objective of a Congress(I) government would be to hold Lok Sabha elections by the year-end or early next year. S.P activists were asked: what should the party do in such a situation? Contrary to media speculation that the S.P. was concerned mainly about losing Muslim votes to the Congress(I), the focus of the meeting was more on assessing the ability of the Congress(I) to attract Brahmin and other upper-caste votes in Uttar Pradesh.

State and district-level S.P. leaders unanimously concluded that the Congress(I) would be more successful in attracting upper-caste votes if it had greater control of the government at the Centre. If it were in a coalition government or out of power, its chances would be relatively slim. From a position of strength, the Congress(I) could defeat the BJP in at least a few seats at the cost of the S.P. Given that Muslim voters would resort to tactical voting as a way of neutralising the BJP, S.P. interests would be harmed further, the meeting concluded.

The meeting noted that Brahmins and other upper caste members, including prominent BJP leaders and legislators, were upset with the backward class orientation of the Kalyan Singh regime, particularly its tilt towards the Lodh and Kurmi communities. This factor is what partly motivated the open dissidence in the BJP against Kalyan Singh before and after the collapse of the Vajpayee Government. The meeting concluded that as this process was bound to accelerate, it would ultimately benefit the Congress(I) if it had monopoly at the Centre.

S.P. activists conjectured that if the Congress(I) ran a coalition government or if it supported a Third Front government from outside, the upper castes would not return to the Congress(I) in significant numbers. And they further believed that if the Vajpayee Government remained in power, only negligible numbers of upper caste voters would move towards the Congress(I). In a coalition arrangement, they concluded, there could be checks on the Congress(I) and a Ministry led by the Third Front would in fact help bolster the S.P. rank and file.

A senior S.P. leader from Uttar Pradesh told Frontline that these calculations were not fundamentally different from the party's position when the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha (RLM) was formed in June 1998. The RLM, which comprises the S.P. and Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal(RJD), was essentially formed to create a political entity that would help the Congress(I) and the United Front (U.F.) come together in order to dislodge the BJP Government.

At that time the BJP was playing up the differences between these entities, and it looked unlikely that they would openly support each other, especially because the Congress(I) had pulled down the U.F. Government on the issue of the Jain Commission report. The impasse necessitated the formation of a third entity which was acceptable to the U.F. and the Congress(I). The RLM constituents had a perceived advantage because the S.P. was part of the U.F. and the RJD was an ally of the Congress(I) in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections.

The S.P. leader confessed: "We wanted to share power when we exhorted the Congress(I) to take the lead to overthrow the Vajpayee Government." In fact, Mulayam Singh reportedly told the Congress(I) that if it did not want to be held responsible for "bad governance" and for "running a bad coalition", the S.P. was willing to lead the proposed alternative and shoulder the blame for all its shortcomings. However, the Congress(I) refused to take the bait. This time around the S.P. hit back by refusing to help Sonia Gandhi achieve her objective, the leader said.

There have been suggestions that Mulayam Singh was motivated by factors other than the political prospects in Uttar Pradesh. His alleged meetings with Samata Party leader George Fernandes and representatives of business groups have been mentioned in this context. However, S.P. leaders, including Mulayam Singh, deny this.

The S.P. is apparently satisfied with the situation in Uttar Pradesh. Mulayam Singh believes that the S.P. will emerge as the major secular force in the State. The S.P. leadership scoffed at suggestions that the Muslim masses resented its reluctance to instal a Congress(I) minority government. Reports from various sources, including the State intelligence agencies, corroborate these assertions. While urban Muslim voters appear to have shifted loyalty to the Congress(I), the rural Muslim vote is still steady with the S.P. Rural voters account for more than 70 per cent of the Muslim vote in the State. A senior leader of the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) said that some urban Muslim voters may be disenchanted with the S.P. but they would vote for the Congress(I) only if they were convinced that the party could defeat the BJP.

There are indications that the S.P. is making moves to win over recalcitrant upper caste BJP legislators. Several MLAs have responded positively to the overtures. A senior S.P. leader told Frontline that the party's game plan was to cause the holding of Assembly elections along with Lok Sabha elections. The S.P. would like to focus on local and regional issues rather than on issues such as stability, which would be the Congress(I)'s plank.

Another advantage that the S.P. has is that its organisational machinery is superior to that of the Congress(I). Notwithstanding stupendous efforts by Uttar Pradesh Congress(I) president Salman Khurshid, the Congress(I) is yet to restructure its organisational machinery. The S.P. has committees in almost every panchayat ward. By denying the Congress(I) an opportunity to rule on its own and regain its strength, Mulayam Singh and his supporters played a shrewd game. However, in the final analysis, both the Congress(I) and the S.P. could be the losers because any division of the secular vote would translate into gains for the BJP and its associates.

'Nobody can isolate us from the people'

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Several Opposition parties blame Samajwadi Party (S.P.) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav for the failure to form an alternative government after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition was voted out. The Congress(I), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the S.P.'s partner in the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha (RLM), allege that Mulayam Singh's stubborn stance prevented the Congress(I) from forming a minority government. As a consequence of the events in Delhi, a perception has gained ground that the S.P. is politically isolated. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan met Mulayam Singh Yadav for an interview. Excerpts:

In the final analysis, your adamant stand against the Congress(I) scuttled the formation of an alternative government. How do you justify your stand?

I should make it clear that the S.P. did not prevent the formation of an alternative. It was the Congress(I)'s adamant stand of negating the candidature of a wise, senior and renowned leader such as Jyoti Basu for the Prime Minister's post that stood against the formation of the alternative. If only the Congress(I) was ready to atone for its past sins against secularism as well as against secular governments, mid-term elections would not have been inflicted on the country.

Coming to the S.P.'s opposition to a Congress(I) minority government, please remember that the Left parties, such as the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc, and former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar's Samajwadi Janata Party, were also against it. Even if the S.P. had extended support, the Congress(I) would not have been able to form the government.

However, the CPI(M) and the RJD blame you.

They have their opinions on the sequence of events. I have mine. But the CPI(M) finally agreed to make Basuji the Prime Minister. The party held the Congress(I) responsible for pushing the country to the polls. The differences within the Left and the RLM will pass. The future will see us working together again.

When the RLM was formed last year, you said that the days of anti-Congressism were over. The RLM asked the Congress(I) to take the lead in toppling the Vajpayee Government and taking over the reins of power at the Centre. Now you say that the Congress(I) and the BJP are two sides of the same coin, but the RJD continues with its earlier position. What caused the change of heart?

If you look at our statements and policies since the formation of the RLM, you will see that there is no change. We wanted the Vajpayee Government to go because we thought that its promotion of the communal and fascist agenda of the Sangh Parivar was not good for the country. And as the Congress(I) was the largest Opposition party, we were ready to give it an opportunity to lead the fight against it. However, throughout the past year the Congress(I) failed miserably in taking up this responsibility. Instead, the Congress(I) helped the Government survive and was hand in glove with it to push through anti-people legislation on patents and insurance. On top of it all, the Congress(I) mouthed the BJP language and asserted its commitment to Hindutva. Congress(I) leaders such as Arjun Singh are trying to teach us the values of secularism. Nothing could be more ludicrous than this. As a matter of fact, the national executive meeting of the S.P. in Bhopal in February highlighted the fact that the rights and interests of the poor majority of the country are not safe with either the BJP or the Congress(I). The welfare of the people can be ensured only by strengthening the Left and democratic forces. The convention had given a clear direction on this question and emphasised the need to build a third front of secular and democratic parties. And, Lalooji was a party to these decisions as he also had attended the conference as a fraternal delegate. Earlier, CPI(M) leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet was the chief guest at a workers' meeting in Etawah, which gave the direction for the decision taken in Bhopal.

There is also the perception that you were hand in glove with the BJP's allies, such as Samata Party leader George Fernandes, to help the BJP-led Government to continue in the caretaker capacity because a BJP government suits you better than a Congress(I) government at the time of elections. It is also said that this association with the Samata Party may lead to an electoral understanding.

These stories are cooked up and are propagated by the Congress(I) and the BJP with one aim - to vilify the S.P. before its supporters. But this will not succeed. The S.P's followers know that I have never been hand in glove with forces inimical to the national interest and communal harmony and will never associate with such forces in the future. George Fernandes is a leader who has lost his great socialist soul to the forces of Hindutva. To think that I will join hands with him is political naivete.

But there is the impression that the S.P. has been isolated from its political friends.

It has been fashionable for long for the representatives of the upper classes, including sections of the media, to "isolate" forces of social justice, such as the S.P. Despite their best efforts we continue to grow from strength to strength. That is because nobody can isolate us from the people. For, we represent the values of secularism, egalitarian development and the dedication to fight communalism and economic policies that militate against the national interest. We will continue our struggle in these directions and you will see the coming elections spring a surprise on all those who have written the S.P's obituary.

Reports from Uttar Pradesh suggest that the minority vote base of the S.P. is shifting towards the Congress(I) in the background of the recent events.

I do not want to comment at length on this. But do you think that the Muslim minority will believe the party that helped the Sangh Parivar demolish the Babri Masjid more than the party that sacrificed its government to protect the masjid? If you have come to such a conclusion, you credit the people with no intelligence. Just wait and see. The people of Uttar Pradesh and the rest of the country will teach the communalists as well as pretenders to secularism a fitting lesson.

Strange bedfellows

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Breaking ranks with old friends, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam drifts towards the Bharatiya Janata Party in a desperate bid to isolate the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu.

THE ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu has virtually decided to align itself with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Lok Sabha elections. Their other allies may include the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress (TRC). This realignment of political parties in Tamil Nadu is broadly in consonance with the pattern of voting on the confidence motion in the Lok Sabha on April 17.

The DMK breaking ranks with its allies - the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Janata Dal and the Indian National League (INL) - and voting for the confidence motion was a surprise. The MDMK, the PMK and the TRC, which were allies of the BJP, also voted in favour of the motion.

After the fall of the Government, the DMK was the first off the mark in looking for new allies. At the DMK administrative council meeting on May 1 in Chennai, party president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said that the general council and the executive committee of the party would take a final decision on a "new front" after the Election Commission announced the election dates. However, it appeared to be a foregone conclusion that the DMK would go with the BJP, the MDMK, the PMK and the TRC. This much was evident from the tenor of the administrative council's prolix resolution, which denounced the CPI(M) in particular, and attacked the CPI, the TMC and the Congress(I) to a lesser degree. Karunanidhi bristled at the CPI(M)'s allegation that the DMK's stand in supporting the Vajpayee Government was "opportunistic". He claimed that the CPI(M) had also changed its position on various issues and on various occasions.

Events moved rapidly after Karunanidhi strongly hinted on May 1 that the DMK was keen on an electoral alliance with the BJP, the PMK, the MDMK and the TRC.

After the TRC executive committee met on May 2, its founder and Union Petroleum Minister Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthi told reporters that his party would continue to be a part of the BJP-led alliance and that if the DMK became a part in it, the TRC would wholeheartedly welcome it. He predicted that Jayalalitha would be isolated in Tamil Nadu, and added sarcastically that "nationally, she may have a few friends like Mayawati and Sonia Gandhi". Ramamuthi saw a Vajpayee wave in the making.

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On May 3, PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss met Karunanidhi and finalised their alliance. Ramamurthi was present at the meeting. Informed sources said that the Union Minister played an important role in bringing them together.

Karunanidhi called it a "good beginning" and a "good sign". A few hours after this meeting, BJP leader and Union Power Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam met Karunanidhi.

IT will be interesting to watch the proceedings involving the DMK and the BJP, given the fact that the DMK's rationalist Dravidian politics is antagonistic in spirit to the BJP's Hindutva philosophy. Similarly, any joint campaigning by DMK and MDMK cadres will be an interesting spectacle. For Vaiko broke away from the DMK to found the MDMK. There was also no love lost between the DMK on the one side and the PMK and the TRC on the other.

It looks as if there will be a three-way contest in the State for the 39 Lok Sabha seats. The other two possible fronts will consist of respectively: the Congress(I) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), and the TMC, the CPI(M), the CPI, the Janata Dal and the INL. The Congress(I), which did not win any seat in the 1996 and 1998 Lok Sabha elections, will now be sought by the AIADMK and the TMC. Given its own weak presence in the State, the Congress(I) will prefer to rely on the AIADMK's support base and cadre strength to try and stay afloat.

However, the road to this partnership may not be smooth because the AIADMK is bound to drive a hard bargain in the matter of the sharing of seats. The Congress(I), however, is keeping its options open. It may well give a wide berth to the AIADMK if the Supreme Court upholds the appointment of three Special Judges to try the 46 corruption cases against AIADMK general secretary and former Chief Minister Jayalalitha, her former ministerial colleagues, and some bureaucrats, and also quashes the Centre's notification of February 5 transferring the cases from special judges to sessions judges.

In such a situation, the Congress(I) will do business with the TMC led by G.K. Moopanar, who broke away from the Congress(I) in 1996 to float the TMC. Informed TMC sources said that Moopanar had told Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi that the AIADMK, which has been seen to have resorted to "blackmailing techniques", would be a millstone around her neck. TMC sources said that Sonia Gandhi had not taken a decision yet. Moopanar hopes that the Congress(I) would align itself with the TMC in order to form a broad-based front comprising the DMK, the CPI(M), the CPI and the Janata Dal. But the DMK jumped the gun and indicated its preference for the BJP. Political observers are nonplussed by this as even in late April, a top DMK leader had expressed the DMK's keenness to align itself with the Congress(I).

The clearest enunciation of its position has come from the TMC, which has said that it will oppose in equal measure the communalism of the BJP and the corruption of the AIADMK. Moopanar said on April 28: "We are clear in our policy of not going with the BJP or the AIADMK... if the DMK has an understanding with the BJP, then I cannot be there." He added: "Any party's chances will be affected if they join hands with the AIADMK." In effect, Moopanar ruled out any tie-up with the Congress(I) if the AIADMK was a part of the deal.

The Left parties reacted with indignation to the DMK's decision. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury said: "It is unfortunate. They (DMK) all along professed to fight communalism. This is a sudden volte-face." CPI national secretary D. Raja accused the DMK of "taking a stand against secular, democratic forces..." However, in Moopanar's assessment, Karunanidhi was leaving his options open, as he had said the final decision would be taken at a joint meeting of the DMK general council and the executive committee. "Karunanidhi has not pronounced the final word on his party's stand regarding an electoral alliance," Moopanar said.

Janata Dal president Sharad Yadav was more bitter. He said: "We sacrificed the United Front Government for the DMK, which has now ditched us."

The DMK administrative council resolution, which made out a case for the formation of a new front, explained why the party decided to back the confidence motion. According to the resolution, the DMK's view had been that its allies (namely the TMC, the CPI(M) and the CPI) and the DMK should jointly take a stand on the confidence motion. According to the resolution, the DMK made it clear that no party should fall into the trap set by Jayalalitha because her motive in toppling the Government was to extricate herself from the corruption cases and to get the DMK Government dismissed. So the DMK decided not to back Jayalalitha's move to dislodge the BJP-led Government.

The resolution said: "(Our) allies thought over it and gave us an assurance as if they will accept our standpoint. However, since they took a decision on their own without even informing us, the DMK decided to support the confidence motion."

The DMK resolution targeted the CPI(M) and claimed that party general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet accepted DMK leader Murasoli Maran's explanation that the DMK could not be seen in the company of the AIADMK. The resolution said the DMK received reliable information that Sonia Gandhi had agreed to Jayalalitha's demands for the repeal of cases against her and the dismissal of the DMK Government. According to the resolution, after the fall of the Government, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat ruled out any electoral understanding with the DMK even before the DMK had taken any decision on its allies. "This is akin to the horse throwing off its rider and digging his grave too," the DMK resolution said.

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Besides, a public meeting organised by the TMC, the CPI(M), the CPI, the Janata Dal and the INL in Chennai on April 28, "supposedly"aimed to persuade the DMK back into their fold, instead heaped abuse on the DMK, the resolution said. It assured the minorities that "whatever be the changes in the political situation, the DMK will perform its historic task of safeguarding their welfare."

Karunanidhi rejected the allegation that the DMK was being opportunistic. He said that at the 16th CPI(M) congress in Calcutta in October 1998, the BJP and the Congress(I) were described as being of the same hue, and that one was in no way better than the other. However, this time the CPI(M) sought to make Sonia Gandhi the Prime Minister," he said.

According to CPI(M) Polit Bureau member R. Umanath, Karunanidhi was "factually wrong" when he alleged that the CPI(M) congress had viewed both the Congress(I) and the BJP as being of the same hue. He said: "The party congress made it clear that our main task is to fight the BJP."

DMK sources said that the party preferred to go with the BJP because the BJP was prepared to form a coalition government with the DMK as a partner at the Centre if it returned to power. Besides, the BJP would not insist on a lion's share of seats to contest from Tamil Nadu. This would enable the DMK, the BJP, the PMK and the MDMK to contest more seats than they did in February 1998. Conversely, the Congress(I) was averse to forming a coalition government and wanted a big share of seats to contest.

As in the case of the Congress(I), the AIADMK is keeping its options open. If an alliance with the Congress(I) does not fructify, it is prepared for a tie-up with a third front. Jayalalitha said that there were "definite chances" of her party forging an alliance with the third front. But there is a rub: the TMC will then back out of the third front.

In election mode

V.VENKATESAN politics

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The collapse of the coalition government has placed the Election Commission in the unenviable position of having to hold a round of mid-term elections at short notice in the most difficult part of the year.

CHIEF Election Commissioner M.S. Gill was on a lecture tour of the United States and the United Kingdom when the 12th Lok Sabha was dissolved, on April 26. He had spoken at various universities on Indian democracy, expressing optimism about the success of the Indian political system. Naturally, he could not have been amused by the turn of events in New Delhi. Gill rushed back to India and held consultations with President K.R. Narayanan on the issues involved in setting the electoral process in motion, and met leaders of various political parties informally to obtain their views on the time-frame.

The Election Commission was hardly prepared for a round of mid-term elections, and Gill and the two Election Commissioners, G.V.G. Krishnamurthy and J.M. Lyngodh, were caught unawares. Gill maintained after his meeting with the President that the 13th Lok Sabha would be constituted in good time after "intensive examination" of all aspects. The next Lok Sabha has to be constituted on or before October 22: Article 85(1) of the Constitution states that "six months shall not intervene between its last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first setting in the next session."

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The CEC pointed out that elections to nine State Assemblies (Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Goa, Maharashtra, Sikkim, Orissa and Bihar) were due between October 1999 and March 2000, and that the possibility of clubbing them with elections to the Lok Sabha would be considered. The Commission, according to sources, would consider the logic of holding simultaneous elections in order to avoid duplication of efforts in matters such as the movement of security forces, the deployment of civil servants, schoolteachers and local functionaries, the opening of polling booths, the transportation of ballot papers and the blocking of schools to serve as polling and counting centres.

The Commission was of the view that the financial crunch faced by some States was also a factor that could delay the conduct of elections. The Centre is yet to reimburse to some States expenditure incurred in conducting the last Lok Sabha elections. Conservative estimates put the expenditure on the next elections at Rs.800 crores, and most State budgets have made no provision for mid-term polls.

Besides, the Commission does not want to call off the ongoing process of summary revision of electoral rolls undertaken with a view to including the names of all those who have attained 18 years of age as on January 1, 1999, as it would enable about 40 lakh voters who could be left out of the voters' lists to challenge in court the E.C's decision. The revision of rolls is expected to be over by mid-July.

Disappointed that the 12th Lok Sabha could not complete its term, Gill had even suggested the introduction of a constitutional amendment to ensure that the Lok Sabha lasted its full term.

EVEN as it was getting down to business, the Election Commission was caught between conflicting demands from national and regional political formations on the timing of the elections. While the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies, which hoped to cash in on a supposed "sympathy wave" in thier favour, called for early elections, preferably in the second week of June, parties in the opposite camp, including the Samajwadi Party, the Tamil Maanila Congress, and the Left parties such as the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), were in favour of a September-October schedule, after the summer and the monsoon.

In a joint memorandum submitted to the Election Commission on April 29, the CPI and the CPI(M) underlined the need to complete the revision of the electoral rolls so that all citizens who have attained the age of 18 years can vote in the coming elections. "It will be an injustice to deny them, as citizens, the right to vote in such a major election," the letter said. The Left parties also pointed out that by the time the rolls were revised the monsoon would be in full swing, which would hamper both campaigning and voting. Polls were not feasible before July as the entire northern region would be reeling under heat and the monsoon would have set in in the southern and western coastal regions, the memorandum explained.

The Congress(I) declared its intention to abide by the E.C's decision, although it broadly hinted that it would like the elections to be delayed. Party representatives Pranab Mukherjee and Sharad Pawar, who called on the Election Commissioners on April 30, suggested that the process of updating the electoral rolls be completed before the elections. The Congress(I) did not take a stand on the issue of holding simultaneous elections in nine States.

It is difficult to believe that the political parties have stated the actual reasons for their positions on the poll dates. The BJP and its allies have maintained that it is not right to have a caretaker government at the Centre for a period of well over five months. A question asked was whether the 'caretaker' Government would be allowed to take major policy decisions such as a decision on signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and meeting India's commitments to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

However, the Government also asserted on April 28 that it did not agree with the concept of 'caretaker government' as the Constitution does not provide for it; as such, it would be well within its right to function as a democratically elected government and take decisions on issues of national importance as and when necessary, it said. Despite this claim, the BJP and its allies are acutely aware of the Government's limitations and so wanted early elections in order to end the political uncertainty. Giving reasons for their objections to delaying the elections until September, the coalition leaders said that the services of schoolteachers could be used in June when the schools remained closed for vacation; between July and September, they said, there was the possibility of floods and rain disrupting transport and communication facilities in several States.

Election Commission sources were quick to point out the apparent contradiction in the Government's position: on the one hand it claimed that it was a full-fledged government and on the other its leaders lamented that if the polls were delayed the people would be deprived of an elected government that could be responsive to the nation's problems.

The BJP and its allies probably fear that a delay in holding the elections held the prospect of alienation of voters from the Government as a result of price rise and food shortages caused by a bad monsoon. Also, it hopes that if the elections are held in June, the failure of the Opposition parties to cobble together an alternative government after pulling down the Vajpayee Government would be fresh in the minds of the voters and generate sympathy for the BJP.

The BJP and its allies, and also the Telugu Desam Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, warned that any delay in the holding of elections would result in an economic slowdown for six months. Venkaiah Naidu said that elections could be held on the basis of last year's electoral rolls. Revision of electoral rolls was being used as an excuse to delay elections, he alleged. No Lok Sabha elections had taken place during the period between July and October, he said.

The Commission was not impressed with the argument that the caretaker government should not continue for long only because it would be handicapped without sufficient powers to take decisions. In its view, meeting the commitments made to the WTO would pose no problem if the Prime Minister sought a consensus on the matter among political parties.

The E.C. asked the Government to exercise restraint and function within the framework of established democratic norms until a model code of conduct was in place. The Congress(I) complained to the Commission about misuse of the government-controlled media by the incumbent caretaker government. In his address to the nation on April 28, Vajpayee had appealed to all political parties to ensure that the "election of the millennium" was conducted in a peaceful and transparent manner.

The debate about the time-frame apart, Gill said that the E.C. would be blamed whichever month it ultimately chose for the polls. Krishnamurthy, who shared this view, warned that any miscalculation would affect the turnout; in areas facing extreme climatic conditions it could also lead to cancellation of elections, he said. Even as Gill admitted that the various aspects of conducting the elections "worried and frightened" him, the "mother of all elections", involving nearly 600 million voters, promises to be as exciting as ever.

Uncertain in Uttar Pradesh

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The political situation in Uttar Pradesh is becoming increasingly complex with BJP dissidents and the alliance partners of the party stepping up their campaign against Chief Minister Kalyan Singh.

ALL through April, the fortunes of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh swung like a pendulum, between serious threat to the survival of his Government and a fresh reprieve. In this dicey situation, the divisions within the State unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party as also the ruling coalition assumed unprecedented dimensions, so much so that the BJP and its allies admitted that they were ill-prepared to face elections to the 85 Lok Sabha seats in the State.

Central to the problem is the resentment, within the BJP and the coalition partners, the Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress (UPLC) and the Jantantrik Bahujan Samaj Party, over Kalyan Singh's "autocratic style of functioning". The strategies of Opposition parties such as the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress(I), have had an add-on effect. In a sense, it is the inability of the Opposition parties to link themselves successfully with the dissidents in the BJP or with the dissatisfied allies that has helped the Kalyan Singh Ministry survive. However, with the Lok Sabha elections approaching, there are indications that the S.P. is keen on a decisive tie-up with both the groups.

It is learnt that the dissidents plan another mission to New Delhi. According to a senior dissident leader, 50 BJP MLAs will visit Delhi to demand Kalyan Singh's removal. He said that the dissidents, ranks had swollen in the past month, making them strong enough to strike.

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Dissidence gained momentum in the first week of April after Family Welfare Minister Devendra Singh Bhole resigned, accusing the Chief Minister of "corruption, prejudice and being under the influence of bureaucrats". Immediately after submitting his resignation, Bhole, along with Sarjit Singh Dang, MLA, and Rajesh Pandey, Member of the Legislative Council, led a delegation of 30 party rebels to New Delhi and submitted a memorandum to A.B. Vajpayee. The dissidents argued that Kalyan Singh's leadership affected the party's organisational development and that this was bound to impair its electoral prospects. "This trend can be reversed if Kalyan Singh is replaced," they claim. They have adopted a more aggressive posture as their earlier complaint to the Central leadership did not result in any concrete action. A rebel leader told Frontline that they were now in a "do or die" mood. If the intensity of the dissidence is anything to go by, this statement is no exaggeration. It is learnt that already 30 MLAs have prepared their resignation letters, which are expected to be submitted to the party's national president, Kushabhau Thakre, if the demand to replace Kalyan Singh is not accepted.

Immediately after the collapse of the Vajpayee Government at the Centre, many rebel leaders started receiving threatening telephone calls. The caller warned them that they and their family would come to great harm if the activities against the Chief Minister were not stopped. Kalyan Singh went on the offensive and told a public meeting: "If a king's pleasure does not bring benefits to those who receive his benevolence and if a king's anger does not bring damage to those who are the targets of his anger, he is not fit to be a king." He went on to imply that dissidence would be put down: "I am not an inefficient king." Obviously, the rebels drew the right conclusion.

The Chief Minister's supporters, however, scoff at their efforts. A senior leader, referring to the campaign in April, pointed out that although the dissidents thought that they were on the verge of victory, everything came to naught.

This bravado notwithstanding, it is clear that the pro-Kalyan Singh camp is unnerved. The idea of a change of leadership had the sanction of Vajpayee and Murli Manohar Joshi, long-time adversaries of Kalyan Singh, and was almost approved by Kushabhau Thakre. The threat to Kalyan Singh became all the more real when the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) withdrew support to the Vajpayee Government and the Central leadership made a desperate attempt to woo the BSP. Vajpayee's confidants in the State BJP, such as Lalji Tandon, had suggested the removal of Kalyan Singh and soft-pedalling on the corruption cases against former Chief Minister and BSP leader Mayawati. Even as the proposal received wide support among the Central leadership, Kalyan Singh rushed to New Delhi and used his mentor L.K. Advani's clout with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to stall it.

YET the Chief Minister's troubles are far from over. Apparently, 25 of the 50 MLAs opposed to him are even ready to quit the BJP in order to carry forward the struggle to a decisive end. If that happens, the Kalyan Singh Government, which enjoys a slender majority of seven, will collapse. This could also lead to simultaneous elections to the Assembly and the Lok Sabha.

It is in this context that the S.P.'s political strategy comes into play. Already fighting a vigorous battle to retain its position as the foremost secular party in the State, it would prefer simultaneous elections as such a scenario would help it focus more on regional issues. If the Lok Sabha elections alone are held, the Congress(I) has an advantage because issues such as stability and proven record of governance at the Centre will dominate the campaign.

The coming days are crucial for all political forces in the State.

An agenda for de-weaponisation

other

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

"WHAT wrong did this man do? Established India's self-respect by conducting the Pokhran blasts?" Thus begins the saffron brigade's high-decibel propaganda campaign in favour of the Vajpayee regime as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies prepare for the 13th general election. What is absolutely clear a year after Pokhran-II is that attempted nuclear weaponisation - actually, pseudo-nuclear weaponisation - has turned out to be a costly misadventure. India's once-sound nuclear policy that was hijacked and twisted out of shape by the regime of the Hindu Right presents a live and present danger to peace, security and stability in India and South Asia. It is simultaneously a threat to the basic interests, well-being and future of the Indian people. (A similar observation can be made about Pakistan's nuclear policy.) The dangerous policy cannot bail itself out, or be allowed to do so, by sacrificing well-established principles and swinging to the other extreme of foreclosing India's independence in the sphere of nuclear policy.

An objective assessment of what has happened since May 11, 1998 points to what needs to be done. The principal issue before the people of India is not the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), it is the political, moral, social and economic unacceptability of nuclear weaponisation - and its abhorrent accompaniment, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence, and in the Indian case, the tragi-comic doctrine of the "minimum credible nuclear deterrent". From the early days following Pokhran-II, when scenes of celebration on the streets of India were flashed on television screens across the world, political India has come a long way in figuring out and opposing the Hindu Right's adventure of riding the nuclear tiger. The BJP was not able to gain any electoral or political mileage from the adventure; on the contrary, the effects and implications of Pokhran-II made life much more difficult for the Vajpayee Government. This offers a good lesson for any future government in India that might be tempted to gain political mileage from such adventures.

The nuclear weaponisation attempted by the Hindu Right must be rolled back - through concerted peace-oriented and democratic political opposition, which also means determined public pressure and action. The authors and apologists of Pokhran-II claim that nuclear weaponisation is a fait accompli and that nobody, in India or abroad, will be able to reverse this. This is patently untrue. The Pokhran and Chagai nuclear explosions cannot be undone, but nuclear weaponisation in India and Pakistan can be.

Hearteningly, India has been able to develop an independent, broad-based and intellectually serious democratic campaign against nuclear weaponisation. The campaign must not allow itself to become complacent. It must not make the mistake of assuming that since the Hindu Right has done badly out of Pokhran-II, the issue has been decisively won. Even after a change of regime in New Delhi, the challenge of rolling back nuclear weaponisation that has, at least partially, been put in place will remain. So will the necessity to resist external pressures and U.S.-led attempts to put an end to the independence of India's nuclear policy.

Fortunately, giving up the path of nuclear weaponisation and deployment will be a democratically verifiable process, especially in a country like India. Whether an Indian government goes along, or turns away from, such a path is unlikely to remain a secret for a prolonged period, given the multiple actors involved, including an active political opposition and press. Nevertheless, the democratic campaign must demand in the interest of the Indian people an end to the nuclear opacity and secrecy that the atomic energy and defence research establishments, backed by the political government, might insist on maintaining.

The campaign must also meet head on the authoritarian concept of national security embraced by the Hindu Right and by all shades of nuclear hawks. As against such a concept, which projects an understanding of India's security purely in the military sense of the term, a democratic and just concept of security for the people in an all-round sense must be promoted. The defence forces have their due place in such a scheme, but security for the people must essentially be understood as securing their livelihood, their food and other basic needs, their entitlement to the fruits of their labour and development, their political and human rights in the fullest sense, and a sustainable future.

The democratic campaign must look ahead clear-sightedly and work out the principal demands, in specifics and in order of priority, that are to be pressed on Indian nuclear policy now and for the intermediate future. It must also sequence the de-weaponising steps demanded in a way that makes good sense.

We propose that five principal demands be pressed on the Government of India for now and the intermediate future. In achievable sequence and order of priority, they are:

Non-deployment and non-induction of nuclear weapons. (Deployment is fitting nuclear warheads onto delivery systems, that is, certain types of aircraft, ballistic missiles or submarines. Induction is giving nuclear weapons to the armed forces and training them in nuclear warfare.) Non-conversion of fissile material stocks, that is, plutonium or enriched uranium, into nuclear weapons. No further nuclear explosive testing. Abjuring the doctrine of nuclear deterrence, and the Indian variant of the "minimum credible nuclear deterrent", and returning to the path of active advocacy of global nuclear disarmament, in close cooperation with other developing countries. Dismantling and destroying the nuclear weapons in the small arsenal.

Dismantling or destroying the nuclear weapons in hand will be a tough demand to make on Indian nuclear policy. But it is the logical final step without which the democratic agenda of de-weaponisation will be incomplete. It must not be confused with giving up the nuclear option, which Indian policy has consistently insisted on retaining from the time it came to reject the core of the Discriminatory Global Nuclear Bargain, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). But accepting the demand to dismantle and destroy the nuclear weapons in what is, at most, a small arsenal will be an act of far-sightedness and courage for any government in India. It will be opposed and criticised by chauvinists and hawks, but will win tremendous goodwill and appreciation in democratic quarters everywhere. If South Africa could dismantle and destroy its six "bombs in the basement" by mid-1993 in anticipation of the era of Nelson Mandela and with his firm support, so can India and Pakistan by the sane, sovereign and concerted choice of their peoples.

Once the dangers and unacceptable costs of deployment and weaponisation, and of a South Asian nuclear arms race, are decisively ended, other issues connected with India's international tasks and responsibilities in the field of nuclear disarmament can be examined afresh, and with an open mind. However, capitulating to the discriminatory global nuclear order through joining the CTBT and committing India to accession to a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) as envisaged by the United States and the Permanent-5 (P-5) while inducting and deploying nuclear weapons would be the worst possible option. So long as there is an insistence on building security on nuclear weapons and a "minimum credible nuclear deterrent", there can be no way out of a volatile and dangerous situation.

It was clear from the start that the Government of the Hindu Right would not be able to find a way to get off the nuclear tiger. A change of political regime in New Delhi appeared to be the condition precedent for this. The democratic campaign must press its five-point agenda of de-weaponisation vigorously, with an eye to the new opportunities offered by general elections. Whatever a non-BJP successor government can or cannot do in other areas, whether it proves to be transitional or longer-lived, it will serve the people's interest decisively if it shows the political will and courage to undo nuclear weaponisation in South Asia.

'What wrong did this man do?'

cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

N. RAM

THIS rhetorical question must be familiar to hundreds of thousands of readers of the full-page advertisement issued in favour of the Vajpayee Government by a saffron brigade front, 'Lok Abhiyan', and carried by various newspapers round the country. It must be recognised as the propaganda fusillade that launched Election Campaign '99.

The democratic answer to the rhetorical question: the first significant act of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Government after it came to power at the Centre in March 1998 was to hijack India's independent and peace-oriented nuclear policy and twist it perilously out of shape. It was a policy that had been shaped over half a century of independence and withstood the test of various external challenges as well as pressures mounted by the enforcers of the Discriminatory Global Nuclear Bargain (DGNB). The essence of the bargain is the division of the world into five nuclear weapons states, the 'haves', and the rest, the 'have-nots', and the imposition of two completely different sets of rules for the two categories.

That the decision to explode five nuclear devices at Pokhran on May 11 and 13, 1998 and to weaponise the nuclear option was made pre-emptively, in the utmost secrecy, in the name of "national security" - targeting especially China and Pakistan - and "shakti", without any objective review or democratic discussion, in clear violation of the promises made in the National Agenda for Governance, in utter disregard of both the consequences for the region and the basic interests of the Indian people, was in keeping with the reactionary and authoritarian character of the decision. It was also in keeping with the character of the decision that within weeks the whole world could see the nuclear policy of the Government of the Hindu Right swing from jingoistic adventurism to virtual capitulation to the terms laid down by the enforcers of the DGNB, principally the United States.

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The early stance and statements of the Government were nothing if not vainglorious. Within days of the Pokhran explosions, a high-placed expert formulated the Indian demand on the regime of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) thus: "Tell us what we are and we will tell you whether we can sign. Guarantee to us that technology controls, which you apply as though we were a non-nuclear weapons state, will be removed."1 In short, let us into the NPT regime as the sixth nuclear weapons state and we might play.

In the first official statement issued after the first round of Pokhran explosions, Brajesh Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, announced that "India would be prepared to consider being an adherent of some of the undertakings in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)," adding: "But this cannot obviously be done in a vacuum. It would necessarily be an evolutionary process from concept to commitment and would depend on a number of reciprocal activities."2 Soon after this, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee boasted in a magazine interview: "India is now a nuclear weapon state... (T)he tests... have given India shakti, they have given strength, they have given India self-confidence."3

But it quickly became clear that the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the real command centre of the saffron brigade, had made an enormous miscalculation whose determining elements and assumptions bore no relation to contemporary international realities. This is why the effects and implications of Pokhran-II have been the opposite of what they were supposed to be, suggesting that the top decision-makers in the Government failed in their minimum responsibility to think through the post-Pokhran scenario. Contrary to the triple boast of shakti, strength and self-confidence, the real achievement, it is now clear, has been to bring about India's near-total isolation in the international arena and tremendously increase its vulnerability to strategic imperialist arm-twisting and pressure.

On May 18, 1998, Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, spelling out government policy thinking at the end of an official meeting in New Delhi on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, said the following: The Vajpayee Government had opted for a "pro-active approach" towards tackling militancy in the State and had served notice on Pakistan to "roll back its anti-India policy with regard to Kashmir." The new line was "to deal firmly and strongly with Pakistan's hostile designs and activities in Kashmir" and even the option of "hot pursuit" was not ruled out. Making the explicit assumption that India's "decisive step to become a nuclear weapons state has brought about a qualitatively new stage in Indo-Pakistan relations, particularly in finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem," Advani called upon the Pakistan Government to "realise the change in the geo-strategic situation in the region and the world." These remarks were widely reported in the Indian press, including The Hindu, May 19, 1998. This was ten days before Pakistan conducted its Chagai nuclear explosions. It appears that during the interregnum some of the BJP leaders, or at least Advani, entertained the delusion that with Pokhran India had acquired a strategic nuclear edge over Pakistan; they may have even believed that Islamabad was bluffing about its nuclear weapon capabilities.

But the swing towards capitulation began immediately after Pokhran-II, with the Government signalling the United States and its allies that India would now be willing to join the DGNB in some conditional way. In fact, the first inkling of the swing was provided by Mishra's May 11 statement offering to "consider being an adherent to some of the undertakings in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty," even if he attached to this offer a rider that, in the light of what we now know about the policy swing, was meaningless. The stance that India would be able to impose conditions or terms on the discriminatory global nuclear order and win "reciprocal" concessions as a quid pro quo for joining the CTBT was quickly abandoned without so much as an explanation.

Far from being able to assert any new-found 'shakti' in the international political arena, the Vajpayee Government has been forced to engage itself in a protracted, non-transparent negotiation with the United States over what India's nuclear weapons status can be allowed to be. It is clearly not a dialogue between equals. The Government's claim is that it is involved in some delicate security-enhancing process of working out nuclear India's new place in the sun with its chief "interlocutor", the United States. The reality is that the interlocutor has turned out to be an intervenor. For the first time in the history of India's nuclear policy, the United States is setting terms for, and shaping, the policy - driving it relentlessly towards signing and ratifying the profoundly inequitable CTBT, accepting previously rejected terms for the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), and making an unending series of other concessions in the strategic, foreign policy and economic spheres in order to get the economic sanctions lifted and India's 'de facto' nuclear weapons status accepted. The adventure of conducting the nuclear explosions and rushing to declare India a full-fledged nuclear weapons state has turned out to be an akratic misadventure, a sort of riding the tiger.4

16100222jpg The effects of the nuclear explosions

The removal of the element of self-restraint from India's nuclear policy and the unilateral, unprovoked conversion of the nuclear option as per a pre-set agenda were extremely harmful developments for the following reasons:

1. Not surprisingly, the Pokhran nuclear explosions worsened regional tensions and already troubled relations with Pakistan. Whatever rationalisation the BJP and apologists of Indian nuclear weaponisation might have resorted to, Chagai was understood by objective observers everywhere as the answer to the destabilising Indian nuclear explosions: it is unlikely to have happened without Pokhran-II. With the eleven claimed explosions, South Asia became a much more dangerous place.

Pokhran-II and Chagai and the talk of weaponisation, deterrents, deployment and use of nuclear weapons for "self-defence" introduced a deadly new calculus in the Indo-Pakistan relationship. As part of the immediate political fall-out from Pokhran but preceding the Chagai explosions of May 28 and 30, 1998 came statements from top persons associated with the Government, notably Union Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani, that made them sound for a while like aspirant Unabombers. On both sides, scientists claimed that they had successfully contained the radioactive fall-out, but the provocative linkage sought to be established between the Kashmir issue and self-proclaimed nuclear weapons status raised questions about the unstudied effects of distant radiation on the processes of human thinking. All this suggests that part of the calculation of the Hindu Right was the delusional belief, which manifested itself during the interregnum between Pokhran-II and Chagai, in an Indian strategic nuclear edge.

After the initial euphoria over the explosions wore out and competitive claims, boasts and putdowns about the two South Asian nuclear programmes generated much public confusion and anxiety, some conciliatory signals were sent out to Pakistan in an attempt to manage 'safely' what looked very much like a nuclear stand-off. The resumption of the process of official dialogue at various levels, a process that must be welcomed and supported, led up to Prime Minister Vajpayee's bus ride to the border and the Lahore summit. However, it is clear that what has come out of the Lahore exercise is far short of the minimum required to bring the situation back under control.

What is more, the test-firing of the extended-range Agni-II intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) on April 11, 1999, obliging a tit-for-tat response from Pakistan in the form of the test-firing of the Ghauri-2 missile on April 13, and the subsequent testing of the Shaheen and Trishul missiles by Pakistan and India respectively, introduced major new tensions in the Indo-Pakistan relationship. With Pakistan's Government accusing the Indian Government of aggravating the conventional imbalance and derailing the normalisation process by introducing "a new weapons system" in the region, and promising to maintain a "reasonable deterrence in all areas, be it strategic or other weapons and indigenous missile programmes," it was clear that a risky and costly nuclear arms race was on and the process of bilateral dialogue was under serious question if not jeopardy.5

2. Pokhran-II, and the run-up to it as well as the follow-up, had an adverse and deplorable impact on Sino-Indian relations. Before the explosions, Defence Minister George Fernandes in some public pronouncements signalled the BJP-led Government's unfriendly attitude to socialist China. But it was Prime Minister Vajpayee's May 11, 1998 letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton that threatened to undermine Sino-Indian relations. The debris and dust had hardly settled at Pokhran when the following written message about "the rationale for the tests" was on its way to the White House:

I have been deeply concerned at the deteriorating security environment, especially the nuclear environment, faced by India for some years past. We have an overt nuclear weapons state on our borders, a state which committed armed aggression against India in 1962. Although our relations with that country have improved in the last decade or so, an atmosphere of distrust persists mainly due to the unresolved border problem. To add to that distrust that country has materially helped another neighbour of ours to become a covert nuclear weapons state. At the hands of this bitter neighbour we have suffered three aggressions in the last 50 years.6

This letter, which the Vajpayee Government naively appears to have expected to remain confidential, revealed part of the motivation and game plan behind Pokhran-II. It provided an unmistakable early hint to the United States that the Government of the Hindu Right would be prepared to play along with the idea of a strategic anti-China alliance. In a Frontline article written days after the Indian explosions, Aijaz Ahmad was among the first to call attention to this reactionary element in the game plan: "This focus on China is deliberate, as the beginning of a methodical red-baiting offensive within the country, as the inauguration of an arms race on the Asian continent, and as an appeal to long-term U.S. goals in Asia. What we are witnessing is the staging of a short-term Indo-U.S. tension as a prelude to a long-term, comprehensive strategic alliance... the long-term prospect is for a closer anti-China axis between the U.S. and India... Behind the BJP's bogus anti-imperialism and the American sanctions lies the prospect of a far-reaching alliance in a new Cold War."7 In the light of what has happened in the year after Pokhran-II, these observations must be recognised as prescient.

With the unfriendly statements preceding and following Pokhran-II, the heartening progress made since December 1988 in improving all-round relations with China was in danger of reversal.

Is it possible that we are making too much of the May 11, 1998 letter? Imagine a scenario in which Defence Minister Fernandes did not make his anti-China remarks and Prime Minister Vajpayee did not target China in his letter to Clinton by way of rationalising the Pokhran nuclear explosions. Would China have reacted differently and would Sino-Indian relations have been in better shape? The answer to both questions is yes. The problematical implications of the nuclear explosions for Sino-Indian relations, and the effect of the political targeting of China in order to find a rationalisation for the misadventure, are related but independent issues.

As Frontline readers may recall, I had the opportunity to visit China in August 1998 and test this hypothesis. I was able to explore, in some detail, the current state and future of Sino-Indian relations with Zhu Bangzao, official spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and several scholars specialising in the study of India, Sino-Indian relations and South Asia.8 Every one of them regretted the recent downturn in bilateral relations, identified the reasons for the setback, and set out clearly what needs to be done to bring the relationship back on track.

"I believe it is a wrong option for India to go nuclear," observed the official spokesman. But "it is a greater mistake for India to accuse China and to use it as a pretext to conduct nuclear tests. In fact, on May 11, when India conducted its first tests, China exercised restraint in expressing its position. At quite a late point of time, we expressed our regret. I believe it was against the world trend, so we had to express our position. On May 13, after India conducted its second round of nuclear tests and the Prime Minister had sent a letter to President Clinton alleging that China posed a threat, China issued a statement of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which we haven't done for many years... It was a strongly worded statement. Why? We didn't understand why India blamed China."

In the months following Pokhran-II, the BJP-led Government did not make any overt move to further the reactionary project of the anti-China axis. It attempted, half-heartedly in official-level talks and informal exchanges at the political level, to repair the damage done to Sino-Indian relations by its statements and actions. Suggestions were made that External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh should visit China to take up this repair work at a higher level. China's officially stated, perfectly justified position is that "India must offer an explanation of what it has done. Secondly, Indian leaders should stop their accusations against China. Thirdly, the Indian Government should show its sincerity through deeds."9 Under these circumstances, progress has been slow.

India-China relations were under pressure again after the test-firing of Agni-II with Defence Minister Fernandes publicly claiming that "we have reached a point where no one, anywhere, can threaten us" and talking about the capability of the IRBM system to carry nuclear warheads, and with some hawkish security analysts talking openly about "a reliable nuclear delivery system to deter China", with a capability to "reach Beijing and Shanghai for sure."10

3. Pokhran-II and its follow-up have harmed India's reputation among peace-loving, democratic and progressive constituencies round the world. Independent India's consistent policy over half a century was to advocate the abolition of nuclear weapons, seen from the start as being against "the spirit of humanity". As early as 1948, India put forward a proposal at the United Nations for limiting the use of atomic energy to peaceful purposes and eliminating nuclear weapons; two years later it called attention to the grave dangers of the nuclear arms race, highlighting in addition its character as a drain on human and economic resources that needed to be channelled into development. Jawaharlal Nehru and Krishna Menon emerged as leading world campaigners for the abolition of nuclear weapons without compromise, and India came up with a series of specific, practical proposals, including a genuine test ban, focussing on the imperative need for abolition. The Six Nation Initiative launched by Indira Gandhi in 1983, the New Delhi Declaration by Rajiv Gandhi and Mikhail Gorbachev, and Rajiv Gandhi's 1988 Action Plan for a nuclear-weapons-free world order were important nuclear disarmament initiatives at the international level. A substantial part of Michael Foot's passionate and insightful book, Dr. Strangelove, I Presume, is an endorsement of these Indian initiatives and the opportunity they offered "to achieve the biggest breakthrough ever in genuine world-wide disarmament," and an indictment of Western government attitudes towards these initiatives.11 "The two key characteristics" of the Action Plan, an informed observer has pointed out in answer to tendentious post-Pokhran-II attempts to interpret the Rajiv Gandhi initiative in the service of the weaponisation-and-CTBT-joining cause, are that "it establishes a defined time-frame within which the objective of nuclear weapons elimination is to be achieved" and "sets out the identifiable, verifiable phases through which the goal of elimination is to be achieved."12

With their nuclear misadventure, the Government of the Hindu Right and the strategic affairs apologists have attempted to lay a rich fifty-year legacy to waste, and in doing so have alienated people of goodwill everywhere.

4. While the U.S.-led economic sanctions, based on unacceptable double standards, against India must be condemned and opposed, the BJP-led Government must take full responsibility for the additional pressure that the enforcers of the Washington Consensus have brought to bear on the Indian economy after Pokhran-II. Immediately after the nuclear explosions, a contradiction seemed to be developing between the Government's `soft' pro-liberalisation economic policy and its `hardline' hawkish nuclear and security stance. It turned out to be no real contradiction at all: even as nuclear adventurism swung quickly towards compromise with, or capitulation to, the discriminatory global nuclear order, the Government felt pressured to come up with a policy of economic appeasement.

The RSS-sponsored propaganda line that the economic sanctions imposed by the United States and some of its allies would not make much of a difference to a huge continental economy such as India's began to wear thin within weeks of the imposition of sanctions. The economist Jayati Ghosh, writing in June 1998, accurately predicted the real effects of economic sanctions.13 There was little doubt that Pakistan's "very fragile" economy would be hit harder by sanctions. It was also apparent that the direct effect of sanctions for India would be chiefly in terms of reduced bilateral aid, reduced multilateral financing and, more substantially, the closure of credit lines for companies dealing with or in India. Nevertheless "it is definitely not the case that these sanctions will not affect the economy much, or that their impact will be limited to the specific areas in which they have been imposed." The real effect of sanctions, she predicted, would be "much broader and more painful, if they succeed in reducing international investor confidence in a government that is desperate to attract foreign investment." Some months later, Strobe Talbott, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, would publicly advise India that a decline in the flow of foreign capital was "perhaps the most serious economic threat".14

The proof of the sanctions-immune Indian economy and the sanctions-defying official Indian stance can be seen in the actual response in both economic and political areas. The Government of the Hindu Right certainly behaved as though the country could not bear the reality of prolonged economic sanctions, especially when the economy is in serious difficulty. Meanwhile, the United States, adopting a carrot-and-stick approach, was able to play upon official Indian fears and apprehensions vis-a-vis the severity and duration of sanctions and soften up the policy response further.

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It is becoming increasingly clear to Indian policy-makers that actual nuclear weaponisation will not come cheap. Some quick estimates by economists suggest a ballpark range of Rs.40,000 crores to Rs.50,000 crores as the minimum cost of a nuclear weaponisation programme, defined as "acquiring a second strike capability comprising a triad delivery (that is, by aircraft, land-based missiles and submarines) of 150 bombs", over the next decade, which works out to Rs.4,000 crores to Rs.5,000 crores a year.15 These economists point out that this will be the additional burden coming on top of conventional defence expenditure; and also that escalation tends to be built into nuclear weaponisation programmes since an arms race is guaranteed. Such estimates must be very worrying to the Finance Ministry and to economic policy-makers. Further, this kind of profligate spending in the name of nuclear defence means an unconscionable diversion of public resources from what needs urgently to be spent on the social sector and development.

Finally, there is another big cost, which Jayati Ghosh characterises as "the most important economic cost" of the Pokhran-II misadventure.16 This is a period when the countries and institutions of the Washington Consensus have been imposing sovereignty-eroding policies on the less-developed countries. These policies force vulnerable economies to restructure in such a way that enormous new burdens are imposed on the masses of the people and doors are opened wider and wider to foreign capital. The appeasement policies followed by the BJP-led Government after the nuclear explosions have enabled the enforcers of the Washington Consensus, led by the United States, to tighten their grip over India's economic and political policies in a manner that could not have been foreseen in, say, early 1998.

5. India is weaker and much more vulnerable to external pressure and arm-twisting than it was pre-Pokhran-II and pre-Chagai and the United States, seeking to impose its strategic hegemony on the region, has emerged as the arbiter of the Indo-Pakistan nuclear stand-off and as the intervenor shaping the future of India's nuclear policy. On Day One, when Vajpayee wrote to Clinton blaming China for Pokhran-II, the stage was set for the new U.S. role as intervenor. Interestingly, in its calibration of sanctions against India and Pakistan, the United States has decided to resume the International Military Education and Training Programme (IMET) for India while keeping in place sanctions targeted at India's economic and technological development.17 The expert-level Indo-U.S. talks designed to see that India tightened its export control regime were an example of the extent to which the BJP-led Government was prepared to go to appease the United States. Kashmir and other outstanding issues between India and Pakistan have figured in the parallel Indo-U.S. and Pakistan-U.S. dialogue, and the resumption of the Indo-Pakistan dialogue on a wide range of issues, including Kashmir, seems, at least in part, the result of U.S. pressure on an increasingly vulnerable Indian Government. The BJP-led Government's conspicuous failure to come up with a forthright condemnation of the recent military aggression by the United States and the United Kingdom against Iraq and of the outrageously savage bombing of Yugoslavia by forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) also testified to an official Indian policy that lacked backbone.

6. Last and most important of all, the Government of the Hindu Right has exposed the people of India and Pakistan to the infinite horrors that nuclear weapons can inflict.

The political response

After the early euphoria wore out and some of the harmful effects became evident, there was deepening political and intellectual opposition to the BJP-led Government's nuclear adventurism. A number of political parties, including the Congress(I), joined the Left parties which, from the beginning, took a firm stand against Pokhran-II and nuclear weaponisation. A broad-based campaign against nuclear weapons with a coherent agenda opposing both nuclear adventurism and the policy swing towards capitulation to the DGNB took shape and protest meetings, rallies and conventions were organised in various centres round the country.

In the parliamentary debate that followed the nuclear explosions, the Opposition drawn from the Left parties, the Congress(I), the Janata Dal and some other parties clearly had the better of the exchange. The Vajpayee Government found itself very much on the defensive. Aside from representatives of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India, former Prime Ministers H.D. Deve Gowda, Chandra Shekhar and Inder Kumar Gujral, former Finance Ministers Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee, and former Minister of State for External Affairs K. Natwar Singh effectively challenged the Government's decision to remove the element of conditional self-restraint from India's nuclear policy and to weaponise. They highlighted the dangerous escalation of tensions in the region, the harmful diversion of national resources to a nuclear arms race, and the break with longstanding Indian nuclear policy. Many speakers criticised the jingoism and militarism that had been inducted into India's foreign policy, particularly in relation to China and Pakistan.

In the campaign for the November 1998 Assembly elections, which dealt severe blows to the BJP's prospects of stabilising its rule at the Centre, Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi is reported to have attacked the Vajpayee Government's nuclear policy on several counts: for failing to prevent India's international isolation, for providing the opportunity for "everybody outside India to talk about our internal problems", including Kashmir, for mishandling relations in the region, and for displaying a wrong sense of priorities.18 "These people (the BJP)," she told a big crowd in Bikaner in Rajasthan, "are crowing with pride about the Pokhran nuclear blasts. But in the villages near Pokhran, people are struggling for drinking water. What type of development is this?" Referring to the international political fall-out of Pokhran-II, Sonia Gandhi observed caustically that "these developments have caused everybody outside India to talk about our internal problems", including Kashmir, "which they had no business doing." The Congress(I) president also came down heavily on the Vajpayee Government for the post-Pokhran "failures" that led to India's isolation in the comity of nations and to regional imbalances.

In instant reaction, the BJP spokesman, M. Venkaiah Naidu, charged that "to scoff at the tests and ridicule them amounts to scoffing at and ridiculing India's security concerns" and posed a rhetorical question: "Was she addressing an Indian audience or sending a message to the Pakistanis?"19

The saffron debacle in Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh proved beyond any doubt that the masses of the people, alienated by sharp rises in the prices of essential commodities and by the manifestly communal, divisive and inept performance of the Government of the Hindu Right, were not willing to buy the pseudo-nationalist and chauvinist agenda based on nuclear hawkishness, efforts to saffronise education, and minority-baiting.

However, the Rajya Sabha debate of December 1998 revealed that the democratic campaign against nuclear weaponisation had much work to do if the hope was to see India's nuclear policy return to a sound peace-oriented and independent track, once the BJP-led Government fell and a successor government took over. The most significant feature of the substantive debate was that Congress(I) speakers, notably Pranab Mukherjee, failed to differentiate themselves from the Vajpayee Government's nuclear policy approach.20

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In a detailed response to Vajpayee's statement on the agenda and trends of bilateral talks with the United States, Mukherjee seemed to accept many of the premises set out by the Prime Minister. Specifically, he seemed to accept nuclear weaponisation in South Asia as a fait accompli, noting that "the situation is that in this sub-continent we are having two nuclear weapons states" and further that "this is the ground reality... whether it is recognised or not recognised." The senior Congress(I) leader also had no objection to the agenda of the Indo-U.S. talks, acknowledging that "the Government decided and rightly so to have negotiations with the interlocutory countries" and that he would not like to "queer the pitch of negotiations by making observations which may affect this very delicate dialogue." On the CTBT, Mukherjee's observations were both non-committal and non-oppositional. He reiterated the Congress(I) position that the Government should not rush ahead with any decision to join the CTBT before forging a national political consensus on the issue.

If Mukherjee's compromising articulation of his party's stand on these issues could be taken to reflect the emerging Congress(I) position, the main Opposition party appeared to be preparing for a role when it would have to handle nuclear policy and these tricky issues in government. On the other hand, the fact that oppositional voices, such as Mani Shankar Aiyar's, Natwar Singh's and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh's, within the Congress(I) on Pokhran-II continue to be active suggests that a final decision on which way India's nuclear policy will go under a Congress(I)-led dispensation is yet to be taken and can be influenced by a clear-sighted and effective democratic campaign.

Explaining the misadventure

Was the BJP-led Government motivated to undertake its nuclear adventure by any anti-imperialist aim of challenging the unequal and discriminatory global nuclear order? Can it be given any kind of benefit of doubt in this regard? The answer is 'No'. As Prakash Karat points out in an analysis of the link between Pokhran-II and the BJP-RSS agenda, "the BJP has not been motivated by any anti-imperialist aims to challenge the existing nuclear order. It is essential to differentiate between anti-imperialism and jingoism. The build-up and rationale for the Pokhran tests was the security threat posed by China and its support to Pakistan. This was an obvious pitch to neutralise opposition from the United States."21

The cynical subversion of India's longstanding policy opposition to the DGNB held in place chiefly by the United States was evidenced by the following revelation made by the journalist and BJP Member of Parliament, Arun Shourie, in a debate in the Rajya Sabha on December 15, 1998. Shourie quoted External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh as explaining to him, in the manner of a schoolmaster to a favourite pupil, what had happened to India's nuclear policy with Pokhran-II: "Look at it as a crowded railway compartment. When you are trying to come into it, your perspective is one. When you are in it, you want the rules that will keep you in and keep the others out."22

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Various explanations have been proposed in the media (by the Government's spokespersons, by strategic affairs analysts, and by plain apologists) for why the Vajpayee Government undertook the nuclear explosions and weaponisation. The two most common explanations offered during the initial phase of euphoria sought to present Pokhran-II as a logical culmination of India's nuclear energy programme and policy and as an unstoppable achievement of India's scientific-technological capabilities. In a detailed statement made in Parliament within two weeks of the explosions, Prime Minister Vajpayee sought to make these explanations official by claiming that Pokhran-II was "a continuation of the policies" that put India on the path of self-reliance and independence of thought and action, and that nuclear weapons status was "an endowment to the nation by our scientists and engineers."23 These explanations either miss or deliberately cover up the link, well-acknowledged in RSS circles, between the Government's decision to acquire nuclear weapons and the Hindutva agenda of the BJP and, ultimately, of the RSS.

Giving nuclear teeth to a Hindu Rashtra has been part of the ideology and programme of the RSS from the 1950s. Prakash Karat offers the following insight:

The RSS has long dreamt of making India a chauvinistic-militaristic power based on majoritarian rule. For such a Hindu Rashtra to succeed, it must be able to mobilise people around an aggressive anti-Muslim platform and to create a permanent divide between Hindus and Muslims that can justify an authoritarian state. That is why in the 1960s, when India achieved nuclear capability, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh became a fervent advocate of making the bomb. The bomb was the mascot of the RSS long before the Ram temple acquired religious-political overtones for it in the 1980s. If the BJP's climb to power was aided by the temple-mosque controversy at Ayodhya, with the party coming to power at the Centre, the RSS has set out the next step in its long-term agenda of India making the bomb. The consequent escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan is part of the agenda. Viewed in this light, the retaliatory tests undertaken by Pakistan are what the RSS-BJP hoped would happen. Hence, to see the Pokhran tests as a natural culmination of India's nuclear policy from the 1950s is not only naive but harmful to the very basis of a secular democratic Indian state.24

The anti-China motivation was equally evident. Hindu Rashtra ideology has traditionally seen China, along with Pakistan, in hostile and fanciful terms. The project of giving nuclear teeth to a Hindu Rashtra is related to such threat perceptions. In 1965, RSS supremo "Guruji" M.S. Golwalkar characterised socialist China as "the one common menace to entire humanity" and looked forward to a superpower and global alliance to destroy it.25 "The possession of (the) atom bomb by Communist China," he advocated, "has made it imperative for us to manufacture the same. That alone will ensure confidence in the minds of the people and the armed forces about our ability to achieve ultimate victory. No doctrinaire or academic inhibitions should be allowed to come in the way."26

What is clear from this is that the Vajpayee Government, for all the limitations placed on the BJP's agenda by its coalition partners, launched its nuclear adventure in a pre-conditioned, pre-programmed way. Given the agenda and mindset, it followed as a matter of strategic political necessity that no one within the Government could be asked to carry out any kind of objective or professional appraisal of the policy requirements, that no one could be given a chance to question or criticise the pre-empted course and the assumptions and motivations behind it. Indeed, it turns out from the public testimony of the scientists at the New Delhi press conference of May 17, 1998 that the go-ahead for the Pokhran explosions was given on or around April 12, 1998 - that is, within a month of the communal Government's taking office.27

We now know from the joint general secretary of the RSS, K.S. Sudarshan, as well as from other sources that there was a plan to go in for nuclear explosions and weaponisation when Vajpayee formed the Government in 1996. But since that Government collapsed within 13 days, the plan could not be put into effect.28

This Cover Story comes a year after the nuclear explosions. One year is a sufficient time for the effects and implications of a benighted nuclear adventure to become clear to those who are willing to look at them without blinkers. Interestingly, the "What wrong did this man do?" propaganda ad begins with the sub-question,"Established India's self-respect by conducting the Pokhran blasts?" With India getting ready for its 13th general election, Pokhran-II must be exposed as the first big wrong committed by Vajpayee and his Government.

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Other grave wrongs followed in quick succession. As Frontline pointed out editorially after the fall of the Vajpayee regime, it was communal and divisive with a vengeance. It enabled, and colluded, with the RSS' longstanding project of minority-baiting, allowing the most virulent and thuggish constituents of the saffron brigade to unleash a new level of hate politics and terrorise especially India's small Christian minority. The regime managed to put tremendous pressure on the system's commitment to secularism and the rule of law. It attempted, without a great deal of success but in a manner indicative of its future plans, to further the RSS project of saffronising education.

The BJP-led regime wantonly undermined bilateral relations with China and Pakistan, before attempting, unsuccessfully and unconvincingly, to repair some of the damage. Its economic policy was, in the words of Frontline columnist Jayati Ghosh, a policy of "placat(ing) foreign governments and international capital by offering economic concessions, through greater liberalisation, greater incentives for foreign investors and offering the opportunity to enter captive Indian markets and buy up domestic assets cheaply." By attempting to use the knife of Article 356 against the elected Government and Legislative Assembly of Bihar and threatening to use it elsewhere, it put destabilising pressure on federalism and cooperative Centre-State relations.

By its extra-constitutional manoeuvres and intervention in courts with a view to scuttling Jayalalitha's Special Court, or fast-track, trial on a battery of corruption charges, the Vajpayee regime sent out a most unsavoury public signal on this issue. Through its determination to hang on to power after forfeiting parliamentary legitimacy, it forced the polity to register a new low in sordid opportunism and horse-trading. In sum, the BJP-led regime set an unmatched - and difficult-to-match - record of chauvinistic, divisive, reactionary, anti-people misgovernance.

Comment made to N. Ram by a top source within the nuclear energy establishment, quoted in the editorial, "The perils of nuclear adventurism", in Frontline, June 5, 1998. Written statement read out by Brajesh Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, at a New Delhi press conference on May 11, 1998; reported in The Hindu, May 12, 1998. Interview to Prabhu Chawla published in India Today (May 25, 1998), released by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on May 15, 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. Report, "Pak promises tit-for-tat, U.S. saddened", The Hindustan Times, April 12, 1999; report titled "Agni-II has derailed peace process: Sartaj Aziz", and editorial titled "Agni: a painful choice", Dawn, April 12, 1999. Letter of May 11, 1998 from Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to U.S. President Bill Clinton, leaked immediately to The New York Times and published by it on May 13, 1998. The text of the letter was reproduced subsequently by several newspapers in India. Aijaz Ahmad, "The Hindutva weapon", in Frontline, June 5, 1998. See Cover Story titled "India & China: What Lies Ahead?", Frontline, September 25, 1998. Ibid. For Fernandes' remarks see The Times of India, April 12, 1999. For the remarks by hawkish security analyst Brahma Chellaney, see Barry Bearak's report, "India tests missiles able to hit deep into neighbour lands", The New York Times, April 12, 1999. Michael Foot, Dr. Strangelove, I Presume, Victor Gollancz, London, l999, p. 109. Mani Shankar Aiyar, "Rajiv Gandhi and the CTBT: a reply", The Hindu, February 9, 1999. See Jayati Ghosh, "On sanctions and being sanctimonious", Frontline, June 19, 1998. "U.S. looks to India's emergence as a global power: American Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott reveals the contours of Washington's South Asia policy", The Times of India, November 13, 1998. See C. Rammanohar Reddy, "The wages of Armageddon-III", three editorial-page articles in The Hindu, August 31, September 1 and 2, 1998; and Jayati Ghosh, "The Bomb, the Budget and the Economy", in Out of Nuclear Darkness: The Indian Case For Disarmament, MIND (Movement in India for Nuclear Disarmament), New Delhi, 1999, pp. 17-23. Jayati Ghosh, "The Bomb, the Budget and the Economy", cited earlier. This point is made by Prakash Karat in "BJP's Nuclear Gambit Leads to Surrender to U.S.", People's Democracy, November 22, 1998. Reports in The Hindustan Times and The Hindu, October 27, 1998. Report in The Hindustan Times, October 28, 1998. Proceedings of the Rajya Sabha, December 15, 1998. Prakash Karat, "A lethal link", in Frontline, June 19, 1998. Proceedings of the Rajya Sabha on December 15, 1998. The debate was on Prime Minister Vajpayee's "Statement Re: Bilateral Talks With United States". Suo motu statement by Prime Minister Vajpayee in the Lok Sabha on May 27, 1998. Prakash Karat, "A lethal link", in Frontline, June 19, 1998. M.S. Golwalkar, "Welcome Bigger War", in chapter 25, part 1, Bunch of Thoughts, revised and enlarged edition, Sahitya Sindhu Prakashana, Bangalore, 1996, p. 326. M.S. Golwalkar, "Nation at War", chapter 25, part 2, Bunch of Thoughts, cited above. Press Conference of May 17, 1998 in New Delhi, addressed by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Dr. R. Chidambaram. Report titled "Sanctions, a blessing in disguise, says RSS", in The Hindu, May 15, 1998, p. 15.

The wages of adventurism

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The BJP-led Government's rationalisation for the Pokhran tests was characterised by incoherence and cynicism. A year later, with no gains accruing from its nuclear recklessness, confusion and indecision mark the official thinking in strategic matters.

IF a paralysis of public debate seemed to be the immediate outcome of the Pokhran tests in May 1998, strategic confusion and indecision seem the reality a year on.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee finds himself in the reduced circumstances of heading a caretaker administration. The decisive new turn that he sought to impart to India's strategic engagement with the neighbourhood and the world has meandered into a dead-end. Any deprecation of the Pokhran-II tests was once portrayed by spokesmen of the Bharatiya Janata Party as a sign of disloyalty to the country. Today, the multiple ramifications of Pokhran represent a legacy that the BJP seems ill-equipped by both indoctrination and inclination to cope with.

Within the domestic arena, there was only a momentary sense of disorientation, after which a vigorous public debate ensued over the implications of Pokhran. The BJP sought desperately to cut off all dissent by weaving nuclear belligerence into the fabric of national patriotism. But that was an effort in vain. As all the hard questions came up for answer, the political leadership that embarked upon the Pokhran tests with little pause for reflection has had little to say beyond the rote repetition of practised nostrums.

The political responses to Pokhran, even when favourable, embraced a diversity of perspectives - from the pacifist to the jingoist. India has for long chafed under the terms of the global nuclear bargain, which is designed by a system of formal treaties and technology denial regimes, to keep the world safe for nuclear coercion by a privileged few. Among those who approved of Pokhran, the pacifist fringe saw an opportunity in its aftermath, to resume a spirited challenge to the inequities of the global nuclear order. But this was a minimal strain in the spectrum of reactions and it was rapidly drowned out by the jingoist tendency.

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Leading this charge was Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, with his monitory warnings to Pakistan, issued ominously enough during a visit to Kashmir, that it should take into account the new strategic realities in the subcontinent. He was followed in quick order by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Madan Lal Khurana's bumptious call to arms against Pakistan. When the expected riposte from Pakistan - which took the form of a series of nuclear tests at Chagai - came on May 28, Advani changed tack. It was now no longer a question of new strategic military realities, but of two countries that seemed on the verge of a lethal arms race, in an environment of global hostility.

OFFICIAL articulations aside, Advani's remarks to a leading national newspaper immediately after the Pakistani nuclear tests provide a brutally clear exposition of the reasoning that underlay Pokhran. "There will be sanctions for both countries now," he said, but some satisfaction could be derived from the fact that these would hurt Pakistan more than India. "My own view," Advani continued, "has all along been that if Pakistan goes in for a test, it would be good for us from all points of view."

After Vajpayee's effort to disarm opposition to the Pokhran tests by placing them in a continuum with India's long-standing foreign policy commitments, Advani's comments brought to the surface a more cynical calculation. Tacitly, the Pokhran tests were an invitation to Pakistan to show its hand and provoke the kind of international opprobrium that India had suffered. As a country with greater strategic depth and a better developed resource base, India would come out of the symmetric application of sanctions relatively less damaged than its neighbour.

Perhaps inadvertently, Advani provided further insights into the basic assumptions of the new nuclear posture. The Government's persistent fudging on this question in the aftermath of Pokhran had caused widespread disquiet. Vajpayee wrote to U.S. President Bill Clinton on May 11, pointedly identifying China's nuclear arsenal and its acquiescence and cooperation in the Pakistani weapons programme as the decisive factors behind the Pokhran blasts. The Ministry of External Affairs was not consulted in the authorship of this important communication, and was aghast when its contents were published, evidently on the strength of a high-level leak, in The New York Times.

Curiously, a statement by Minister of State for External Affairs Vasundhara Raje, placed before the Lok Sabha on May 27, spoke of all-round improvement in relations with China and the mutual resolve of the two countries to "work towards a constructive and cooperative relationship oriented towards the 21st century." Still another described the visit to India in April of General Fu Quanyou, Chief of Staff of the Chinese Army, as a landmark in relations with that country. The Prime Minister, in particular, was on record warmly commending the 1993 agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control and the 1996 Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas as crucial steps towards a full reconciliation with China.

If incoherence was a distinctive feature of the official rationalisation, a fresh twist was added by Advani's remarks immediately after the Pakistan tests. In response to a specific question, he said that an arms race was a possibility unless "they (Pakistan) give up their obsession with Kashmir or we are willing to give it up." There was clearly, even after the Pakistani nuclear tests, no retreat from his position that the Kashmir issue was India's most basic motivation. But Advani went further, to provide a rather innovative reading of the threat faced by the country: "If we (the BJP) were not there, these people would have given it up. More than the pseudo-secularists, the real threat now comes from pseudo-liberals." Asked for an explanation, Advani characterised the "pseudo-liberals" as "those who would like to hand over Kashmir and buy peace".

Clearly, Pokhran was an event with multiple dimensions in the conception of the BJP. Just as Ayodhya had been a crucial episode in the campaign of subjugation against secularism, Pokhran and the Pakistani response were designated as defining moments in the BJP's crusade against liberal political opinion. Advani's remarks were followed in quick time by BJP vice-president K.L. Sharma's avowal that the Government was determined to "put an end to the Pakistani menace". For maximum effect, he also directed a good part of his ire at the political parties that had counselled moderation, attacking them for allegedly being indifferent to national security and showing greater concern for the well-being of hostile neighbours.

BY all accounts, the political mood following Pokhran was marked by discord and truculence. That, within a mere eight months, it should have yielded to a new spirit of bonhomie in the neighbourhood would perhaps count as a miracle of modern-day politics. Vajpayee's historic border crossing at Wagha in February this year and the Lahore Declaration that followed constitute in certain perceptions the defining moment when ancient animosities dissolved in a new spirit of concord. This has been rendered in some interpretations into an eloquent illustration of the revelatory powers of the Pokhran tests.

The argument would be convincing for anybody who chooses to overlook the tortuous twists on the road to Lahore. India's effort at a fresh engagement began, in fact, immediately after Pakistan had in the words of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, "squared its accounts" with India by setting off a reported six nuclear tests in the Chagai hills of Baluchistan. It commenced as an unseemly game of evasion and manoeuvre. India offered to conduct discussions at the Foreign Secretary level on the basis of the Dhaka proposals of January 1998. This was rebuffed rather brusquely by Pakistan, which insisted that Kashmir - one of eight agreed items for discussions under the Dhaka proposals - merited a distinct place by virtue of its centrality to relations between the two countries.

A later meeting on the fringes of the South Asian summit in Colombo broke up in acrimony, with the Indian Foreign Secretary decrying Pakistan's obsession with Kashmir as "neurotic and irrational".

The tide had begun to shift by early September, when the Foreign Secretaries agreed, on the sidelines of the summit of leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement in Durban, South Africa, on the broad modalities for a resumption of the dialogue. These were formally announced when the two Prime Ministers met in New York later that month, while participating in the United Nations General Assembly session.

Vajpayee characterised the event as a new beginning in relations, although it was no more than the reiteration of an agreed agenda of June 1997 and its further explication the following January. What was indeed different was that a mediator had subtly entered the South Asian arena, with a newly decisive influence. Since the nuclear tests of May, the U.S. had, through parallel bilateral dialogues with both India and Pakistan, been pursuing a keenly-sought outcome - the capping of the two countries' nuclear weapons programme and their accession to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). India had reservations arising from its longstanding insistence that a ban on nuclear testing should be anchored in a time-bound framework for global disarmament. Pakistan, in comparison, had a simpler view - it would accede to the CTBT if India did.

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GIVEN this asymmetry, the dice seemed loaded against India. Just prior to his visit to China in June 1998, U.S. President Bill Clinton offered the plea to a sceptical U.S. Congress that China had a serious role to play in calming the eruption of animosities in South Asia. Even if it was partly inspired by domestic compulsions, the argument caused deep disquiet within India. Later, with both the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers in New York, the U.S. administration seemed, in subtle word and deed and gross disregard of diplomatic niceties, to portray Pakistan as the more amenable negotiating partner.

In October, the U.S. President exercised the provisional authority granted him by the U.S. Congress and waived some of the sanctions that were imposed on India and Pakistan following the nuclear tests. But there was an asymmetry in these waivers that again upset India. The U.S. committed itself to supporting Pakistan's case for emergency financial sustenance from the International Monetary Fund, although India would not enjoy any such privilege. In fact, it was explicitly stated that the U.S. would oppose the sanction of World Bank credits for India. The waiver, in other words, would be limited in scope to restoring India's eligibility for certain bilateral credits from American financial institutions.

Clearly, by around this time, the expectations of the Advani thesis - that sanctions would cause disproportionate damage to Pakistan - were being thorougly undermined. A parallel diplomatic track was also under exploration, for the relaxation of the technology denial regimes imposed against India after its first nuclear test in 1974, as a reward for accession to the CTBT. By September, when India's special envoy Jaswant Singh concluded his sixth direct encounter with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, this hope too was in shambles.

The writing on the wall was very clear. The U.S. would not alter the pattern of its geopolitical engagement to reward India with a much-sought-after role of regional pre-eminence. Nor would it allow a tested regional ally like Pakistan to sink into insolvency as a consequence of economic sanctions. It would, however, stand by as a benign patron should India and Pakistan choose directly to engage in a dialogue over their long-running disputes.

The bus to Lahore was not, by any account, a regional peace initiative that the U.S. had no role in. Nawaz Sharif's dramatic invitation to Vajpayee to take the land route to Pakistan itself came after Talbott had concluded a round of shuttle diplomacy in the subcontinent. And its final outcome, for all the symbolism that it embodied, was not substantively different from the agreed agenda for negotiations dating back to June 1997. The difference is that the neighbourhood dialogue now has elicited the overt interest and patronage of the global policeman. This cannot in any sense be construed as a gain. n

A classic technical folly

T. JAYARAMAN cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Pokhran-II and attempted nuclear weaponisation are a worthy and significant end-of-the-century Indian contribution to the list of the world's major technical follies.

PROFESSIONAL soldiers rarely, if ever, invent new weapons. New weapons are invented or designed by scientists and engineers, by the application of either established or newly discovered scientific principles and technologies. In the modern world, such inventions or advances in weaponry are not the product of individual minds, but the result of the work of a large scientific and technological establishment dedicated wholly or in part to this purpose. Such establishments will certainly push the products of their work with energy and enthusiasm, convinced of the importance of their efforts in the promotion of national security.

But what happens when such scientists promote their work without corrective mechanisms, either self-imposed or imposed from outside, that ensure that their inventions, designs and ideas measure up to the needs of the real world, outside the confines of their laboratories and think-tanks? Unfortunately, this situation is all too common. The history of weapons is replete with examples of ingenious inventions and seemingly fool-proof strategies, based on the latest technology, that have failed the test of practice. We are not referring to weapons that are faulty in design. Even the best-designed weapons can be rendered useless if there is no suitable way in which they can ever be used for the purpose for which they were made. It is such inventions or advances, and the strategies based on them, that the well-known American theoretical physicist and arms control expert, Freeman Dyson, refers to as technical follies.

Dyson, in his 1984 book Weapons and Hope, a reflective and insightful study from a scientist's viewpoint of various aspects of the nuclear dilemma, uses the concept of technical folly to characterise the scientific dimension of nuclear weapons. The book lists a variety of examples, drawn from the history of both conventional and nuclear weapons, ranging from individual weapons to large-scale miscalculations about the strategic utility of particular weapons systems.

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For instance, during the Second World War, large numbers of aircraft built by the Allies were equipped with guns that could fire beyond visual range, but the system could not reliably distinguish friend from foe and could rarely be used. Among the major follies, Dyson lists the strategic bombing of German cities by the Allied forces in the Second World War, a strategy that he suggests was of little or no use to the actual winning of the war and probably delayed its conclusion owing to the huge amount of resources that it consumed.

Sometimes technical follies are brought under check before they are foisted on the professional soldier. Aircraft prototypes were designed in the United States to be powered by nuclear energy. It was soon realised that they could never safely fly and had, it was eventually observed, no particular advantage over conventionally powered aircraft. Missiles were designed, but fortunately never built, to fly close to the ground at supersonic speeds, flattenning all structures that lay under its flight path through shock waves. The idea was given up when it became clear that, among other things, such weapons could not even be tested.

Dyson lists three characteristic features of a technical folly. First, it is incapable of doing the job for which it has been designed. Second, it is inflexible and cannot be adapted to changed circumstances or to any other purpose. Third, it is inordinately expensive. Dyson's examples are drawn from the experience of Britain and the United States. Almost a year after the triumphant announcement of the nuclear weapons tests in the Rajasthan desert, and on the eve of the first National Technology Day, as May 11 was designated by a boastful Government that has since collapsed, Pokhran-II and India's nuclear weaponisation appear to be a worthy and significant Indian contribution to a list of the world's major technical follies.

WHAT precisely is the task that India's nuclear weapons are supposed to perform? The major argument has been, of course, that nuclear weapons are needed to guarantee India's security. But this argument was irreparably damaged within days after Pokhran-II by Pakistan's Chagai tests of May 28 and 30. In the heady days after the Indian tests and before the Pakistani response, sections of India's political leadership, the scientific leadership in the atomic energy and defence research sectors and other assorted hawks clearly thought that India had gained a strategic edge over Pakistan. While the political leadership of the country warned Pakistan of the changed geopolitical realities in the subcontinent, the scientific establishment crowed about how the tests had guaranteed security to the people of India. After May 28, it was obvious that Pokhran-II had not conferred any strategic advantage on India but had, on the contrary, helped Pakistan attain strategic parity with India.

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The security rationale for India's nuclear weaponisation, unconvincing and weak to begin with, has become even more suspect in the months since Pokhran-II. For one thing, the primary 'threat perceptions' cited by the Government to justify weaponisation have been constantly shifting over time. Apologists for weaponisation have not hesitated to push significantly different versions of the security argument while addressing different constituencies. More important, as a wide spectrum of informed public opinion in India increasingly recognises, Pokhran-II has opened a nuclear Pandora's box of problems in terms of peace and stability and has heightened the dangers of a nuclear stand-off in the subcontinent. Rather than provide any quick-fix technological solutions to national security, nuclear weaponisation has only eroded India's options in dealing with its actual security concerns. Despite the hype following the bus diplomacy of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the Lahore Declaration, the situation has only worsened following the intensification of the arms race with India's Agni-II missile tests and Pakistan's immediate response with the Ghauri-2 and Shaheen tests.

Apart from the security argument, several other reasons have been bandied about in defence of India's nuclear weaponisation. All of them have fallen by the wayside since the subcontinental nuclear summer of 1998. Far from being the harbinger of an era of greater self-reliance in Indian science and technology, Pokhran-II has marked the beginning of a 180-degree turn on the question of standing up to the discriminatory global nuclear order. India's authority to speak on issues of global disarmament has been considerably diminished, while the hope that possession of the bomb would confer some kind of superpower status on India has proven to be utterly misplaced. The agenda of the Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott talks and the support that these talks have received from the pro-weaponisation lobby make it clear that India's nuclear weapons are not even remotely related to any anti-imperialist foreign policy stance.

However, from the standpoint of science and technology, what gives India's nuclear weapons the true status of a technical folly is their active advocacy by India's atomic energy and defence research establishment. Significantly, the scientists have pushed their case even when the political leadership of the country has not been favourably disposed to the idea.

THE trend, as is now known, began with Homi Bhabha himself, the founder of the Indian nuclear energy programme. John Maddox, Editor Emeritus of the respected scientific journal Nature, has described, in an interview to Frontline (to appear shortly), a meeting that Bhabha had with four British journalists in 1957 in London. Maddox, who was one of those present on the occasion, recalls that Bhabha argued that "India had a strategic need for nuclear weapons", which was "every bit as important as the strategic needs of the United States." In Bhabha's view India needed nuclear weapons to "deter China", even though China had no nuclear weapons at that time. Bhabha reiterated these views at a similar meeting with a small group of journalists a few years later. Bhabha's views, it bears emphasis, were diametrically opposed to those of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Several years later, in 1964, soon after the first Chinese nuclear test, Bhabha, in response to a debate at the top levels of the Congress party on whether India should develop a nuclear explosives programme, made his position clear at a press conference in London. Following some philosophical observations about the nature of nuclear deterrence and the comment that the acquisition of "the capability and threat of retaliation" was "the only defence" against nuclear attack, Bhabha made the following remark: "We are still 18 months away from exploding either a bomb or a device for peaceful purposes, and we are doing nothing to reduce that period." According to strategic affairs analyst K. Subrahmanyam, Bhabha was immediately rebuked by Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon.

Advocacy of nuclear weaponisation by the leadership of the atomic energy programme clearly continued after Bhabha. While Vikram Sarabhai, Bhabha's immediate successor as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, was not in favour of nuclear weapons, others who followed, incuding H.N. Sethna, Raja Ramanna and P.K. Iyengar, were considerably more enthusiastic. Even if much of their advocacy was not publicly known at that time, it is clear from the tenor of their comments after Pokhran-II that they have tended to push, if not directly for weaponisation, at least for the development of the nuclear option in the direction of weaponisation. As is well-known today, over the last few years the atomic energy leadership, joined by the defence research establishment, had actively petitioned successive governments to sanction the conduct of further tests and to advance nuclear weaponisation. The ascent to power in Delhi of a political formation for which nuclear weaponisation was a long-standing ideological commitment provided the pro-weaponisation scientists with a congenial political climate that they had long desired.

Indeed, on the question of nuclear weapons, the political neutrality of leading scientists in India's atomic energy establishment, an image that they have assiduously cultivated, has proven to be a myth. In the larger sense of the pursuit of the vision of a 'strong' India, where strength is interpreted in a predominantly military sense and is perceived as arising from the possession of nuclear arms, with China and subsequently Pakistan being the primary targets of such weapons, the atomic energy establishment has clearly been highly political. Nuclear weaponisation is an agenda that they have made very much their own.

But political aspects apart, the atomic energy establishment's push towards nuclear weapons is distinguished by the clear underlying conviction that the possession of nuclear weapons confers a technological route to solving India's security problems. Subsequent to Pokhran-II, this has been very much in evidence. The leaders of both the defence research and atomic energy establishments have spoken with pride of their scientific and technological contribution to national security and have remarked on the utility of a military-industrial complex as a stimulus for technological development. The political leadership seized the 'scientific achievement' idea with alacrity. It made this claim an integral part of its strategy of legitimation of its hawkish nuclear policy line, with Vajpayee's announcement of the slogan "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Vigyan", and his pronouncement in the Lok Sabha on May 26 that India's nuclear weapons state status was an 'endowment' given to the nation by its scientists and engineers.

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As is the case with technical follies that go unchecked, India's armed forces have remained substantially outside the decision-making loop in government on nuclear weapons issues. It is clear that they have not played any essential role in the decision-making process before either Pokhran-I in 1974 or Pokhran-II in 1998. Undoubtedly, a small but vocal group of retired military leaders, led by the late Gen. K. Sundarji, have been advocates of nuclear weaponisation, together with a group of strategic affairs 'apologists'. But the only section of the pro-weaponisation lobby that has been closely involved at all stages of the decision-making process in government on nuclear weaponisation has been the scientific leadership of the atomic energy and defence research establishments.

It is by no means the case that nuclear weapons constitute a technical folly only in India. All nuclear weapons, to a greater or lesser degree, fall in this category, though in the Indian case there is the extra twist of a considerable exaggeration of the actual scientific and technological capabilities of India's nuclear weapons programme. If nuclear weaponisation proceeds apace, one may expect (as has happened elsewhere) several smaller technical follies within the larger one. With every advance in missile technology, major or minor, with the announcement of the details of the nuclear doctrine that is expected some time soon, with even rudimentary advances in command and control, the claim will be made that a significant advance in further enhancing India's security has been achieved even as each of these steps pushes the country towards nuclear brinkmanship.

HOW much will nuclear weaponisation cost India? Basic, preliminary estimates such as those made by economist and journalist C. Rammanohar Reddy suggest that at the very least it will be anywhere within the range of Rs.40,000 crores to 50,000 crores, to be spent over the next decade. But given the characteristics of technical follies in general and nuclear weapons in particular, weaponisation is a potentially bottomless pit of expenditure. If India is to have a "minimum credible nuclear deterrent", with the minimum undefined and subject to change, then one can expect all current estimates to be substantial underestimates. Jingoistic statements that no price is too high to pay when it comes to national defence, as have been made by prominent pro-weaponisation members of the Vajpayee Cabinet, suggest that the Goverment had neither a clear idea of what weaponisation would cost nor was it politically inclined in any way to limit its expenditure. The inevitable accompaniment of secrecy will add to the problem of runaway and profligate expenditure on nuclear weapons.

Technical follies bring little credit to the scientific establishments that promote or push them. But in a nation like India, which is home to a substantial fraction of the world's poor, which has urgent developmental needs that have yet to be addressed seriously, which has to concentrate all its political energies on the task of the empowerment and the economic uplift of its people, the self-indulgent pursuit of technical follies by the scientific establishment and the political leadership raises serious socio-political, ethical and moral questions. It is time the scientific and technological community in this country began to examine these questions with greater attention and intensity than it has displayed so far.

The bomb and the economy

JAYATI GHOSH cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The nuclear weapons programme, which envisages the spending of staggering amounts of resources on it even as developmental and social spending is being cut back, is a devastating reminder of the misplaced priorities of the BJP-led Government.

IT is an anniversary that would be best forgotten, if only the consequences were not so unnervingly unforgettable. Last year, when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government desecrated the day that marked the birth of Gautama Buddha by choosing to explode a series of nuclear devices at Pokhran, it did more than display an alarming and juvenile machismo. It effectively destabilised security in the whole Asian zone and instigated a fresh nuclear arms race which the people of the region simply cannot afford.

Because peace and security issues have dominated the subsequent discussion, the second aspect, that of the affordability of a nuclear programme, has not been adequately questioned. Indeed, the Indian political establishment has always managed to keep such issues of costs and necessity of defence expenditure outside the realm of democratic debate, by citing the need for secrecy and the ordinary citizen's lack of knowledge of the exact needs of defence. In the case of nuclear-based defence systems, these arguments become more compelling because the issues appear so esoteric and complicated. There is also a common perception that nuclear weapons are in fact less expensive than conventional arms, and therefore may even involve a net saving of resources for the economy.

This may be why even economists of the stature of Amartya Sen have suggested that the argument against nuclear weapons cannot be economic in content. Certainly it is the case that the essential critique of nuclear arms must be in terms of strategic and ethical considerations, and also of the lack of democracy inherent in the secrecy surrounding such programmes. But it would be wrong to conclude from this that there are no economic arguments against nuclearisation, or that the people of the country do not have the right to know the full economic opportunity costs of such a programme.

First of all, it is important to remember that nuclear weapons have always been treated as an addition to, rather than a replacement of, conventional weaponry. So it is pointless to argue that they are less expensive, when in fact they add significantly to total military expenditure. Second, it must be borne in mind that while the opacity surrounding such expenditure makes it difficult to calculate, that is no reason for not demanding greater public knowledge of the amounts involved and what they mean in terms of diversion of public resources away from other socially necessary expenditures, and asking for a public debate on whether such spending is desirable.

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IN the Indian case, the task of working out what the nuclear programme has already cost the country, and what it may cost us in the future, is extremely difficult simply because such expenditures are not neatly placed under any one budgetary head, but come under a variety of categories and may even include certain "off-budget" expenditures by public sector units. Therefore, whatever estimates can be put together by independent analysts are necessarily prone to dispute, especially since the veil of secrecy allows officialdom to claim any other set of figures.

Nevertheless, there are some indicators that can be used in terms of the actual and potential future costs of a nuclear weapons programme. The most important of these come from the experience of other countries, most notably the United States for which an extensive independent study on costs, conducted in the Washington-based Brookings Institution, was recently published. This gives an idea of the various kinds of costs associated with any nuclear weapons programme.

It turns out that some cost categories are obvious: the expense of producing the fissile materials used in weapons; designing, testing and producing warheads; designing, building and deploying delivery systems such as missiles, planes and submarines. In fact, usually these are the only costs that are mentioned, especially by the military establishment.

But there are other categories that are less obvious: the expense of building and operating targeting programmes and command and control technologies; building and deploying reconnaissance satellites to locate and monitor "enemy" targets; ensuring security at nuclear facilities. Still other economic cost categories are only recently emerging: the expense of decontaminating and cleaning up radioactive sites; compensating victims of radiation experiments; health care expenses of afflicted workers within the nuclear complex and others involved in production of radioactive material.

THE study conducted for the U.S. ("Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940", Brookings Institution Press, Washington, 1998, by Stephen Schwartz and others) was extremely revealing because it tried to take account of at least some of these direct and indirect costs, even though it could not estimate all such costs. The numbers that emerge are startling even to those who are used to large U.S. defence outlays.

From 1940 through 1996, the U.S. spent nearly $5.5 trillion on nuclear weapons and weapons-related programmes (in constant 1996 dollars). When the average estimated future-year costs for the dismantling of nuclear weapons and the management and disposal of nuclear waste are included, the total rises to more than $5.8 trillion. As Schwartz puts it, "that amount of money, represented as a stack of $1 bills, would stretch more than 459,000 miles, to the moon and nearly back again."

To put these numbers in perspective, they can be compared to other U.S. government expenditures. Nuclear weapons spending over this 56-year period exceeded the combined total federal government spending for all of the following categories: education; training, employment, and social services; agriculture; natural resources and the environment; general science, space, and technology; community and regional development (including disaster relief); law enforcement; and energy production and regulation.

On average, therefore, the study estimates that the U.S. has spent $98 billion a year on nuclear weapons over this entire period. Furthermore, the study emphasises that "this is the conservative estimate, a floor rather than a ceiling."

One important finding of the study relates to the structure of these costs. The major part of the funds was spent not on building the nuclear explosives themselves; in fact, that proved to be relatively inexpensive given the scale of the programme. The vast proportion of money went on the myriad delivery vehicles used to carry them to their targets. These included not only the well-known strategic bombers and ballistic missiles, but also artillery shells, depth charges, and nuclear landmines.

In fact, the cost of deploying offensive delivery systems to those of defensive weapons, along with the costs associated with targeting and controlling the arsenal (that is, building a variety of launch systems and ensuring that not only could they be fired when ordered to do so but, even more important, that they would not go off unless valid launch orders were issued), accounted for 86 per cent of the total expenditure.

Therefore, the U.S. experience shows that the most important element of the nuclear weapons establishment is command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I). This encompasses not only the equipment, personnel, and procedures needed to enable the use of nuclear weapons, but also the equipment and personnel needed to prevent their unauthorised use. In all probability, these costs would form an even greater proportion of costs in countries like India, given the high import-intensity of much of the material requirement for C3I.

ANOTHER major, and as yet inadequately estimated, element of costs comes from the environmental and other considerations resulting from setting up nuclear facilities. In all the nuclear countries, the nuclear weapons establishment created enormous long-term environmental liabilities without significant plans or funds to return the sites of weapons facilities to unrestricted use, if and when they were no longer needed.

In the U.S., the estimated cost of cleaning up these highly contaminated sites ranges from a low of about $200 billion, which would leave a trail of risks for future generations, to well over $500 billion. Even this is only a partial estimate, because not all facilities have been evaluated. The current projection is that in the end, the cost of environmental remediation and waste management will probably exceed the cost of building the nuclear warheads and bombs. And these do not include any provisions for meeting the long-term costs that local communities will face as a result of residual contamination or restrictions on site use, or corrective measures if waste disposal systems fail - as they occasionally have in the past.

THESE are important lessons for countries like India and Pakistan, which are now clearly embarked on programmes that will increase the size of their nuclear stockpiles. The issues are not just of costs but of the basic safety of the population, especially of those unfortunate enough to be directly or indirectly involved in working in such sites, or located near them physically.

The most costly tasks include converting liquid high-level waste to solid form and disposing of it, and managing a large inventory of deteriorating and highly radioactive spent fuel. The cost of the ultimate disposal of high-level waste is unknown. Decontaminating and decommissioning weapons production buildings is an expensive, long-term project. Long after their missions have ended, the structures remain hazardous.

In fact, no amount of money will return the land and water at such weapons sites to their original condition. Once radioactive wastes, which have a long life, are created, there is nothing practical that can be done to make them go away. Isolating them from the human environment for very long periods of time is generally the only feasible solution, but that is rarely possible or even attempted in poor and densely populated countries. In addition, a great deal of the existing soil and groundwater contamination is highly dispersed. Remediation may simply transfer contamination from one location to another.

The resources devoted to nuclear weapons are "sunk" costs. The inability to reuse these resources differs markedly from the ability to convert other military facilities to civilian purposes. And because these decisions are taken without public discussion or accountability, the citizens are never given the choice of whether they would prefer an equivalent amount of spending on, say, schools and health clinics, rather than on a new missile equipped with a nuclear warhead. Further, resources devoted to nuclear weapons impose unavoidable future costs on the economy in terms of clean-up expenditure. As a result, countries that currently spend the most for nuclear weapons will also incur the largest future costs.

Perhaps the largest of all management costs, and one of the hardest to pin down, is the cost of the elaborate secrecy and security measures used to prevent the dissemination of information about nuclear weapons and to protect the weapons themselves. These measures have direct and indirect costs, many of which may be immune to measurement.

In fact, the biggest and most far-reaching social costs are related to this. They are those associated with the excessive secrecy that has reduced public accountability and helped erode trust in government. That is why a nuclear weapons programme is fundamentally anti-democratic both in its nature and in its implications.

Such secrecy also has economic implications. In the case of the U.S. it has been pointed out that it meant much larger expenditures than were warranted. "For classification and political reasons, spending for nuclear weapons has not had enough public scrutiny and it cannot be fairly compared with other national spending. As a result, the levels of accountability demanded of most government programs have been largely absent from nuclear weapons programs... The results have been predictable. The allocation of resources to nuclear weapons has often had no discernible relationship to the levels of threat these weapons were supposed to counter and the costs of deterrence have been considerably and unnecessarily increased" (William J. Weida, "The economic implications of nuclear weapons", June 30, 1998, available at the Website of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project).

It is now well-known that in the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, the strict secrecy surrounding these programmes increased the potential for officials to place production first, to cut corners, to look only at the perceived short-term gains of building nuclear weapons and ignore the very real and very dangerous long-term costs to the environment and to public health. Even the most optimistic of observers would accept that the Indian Government will not be immune to such tendencies either.

Research and development currently accounts for 7.8 per cent of India's military expenditure, a percentage exceeded only by Britain, France, and the U.S. The Government of India's funding of military research and development is extravagant by other measures as well. It constitutes 18 per cent of all government funds spent on science in India, a percentage surpassed only by the U.S., where military research and development comprises 20 per cent of national science efforts. If nuclear and space efforts are added to military research and development, the figure rises to 68 per cent of government science funds.

A study by the Ministry of Defence in 1985 estimated the cost of creating nuclear weapons which could be deployed at Rs.7,000 crores at that time. In terms of the domestic rate of inflation, such an amount would come to around Rs.18,000 crores at current prices. But a substantial part of the expenditure would involve imports, so if the change in rupee value (relative to the U.S. dollar) is taken into account, then this amounts to Rs.24,000 crores. If it is estimated that only around one-third of such expenditure involves imports, then the likely current cost works out to at least Rs.20,000 crores.

But of course, this involves only cost of the weapons per se, which typically accounts for less than 10 per cent of the total cost. The cost of the C3I systems which are absolutely essential to any weaponisation programme would be at least eight times that amount, based on past international experience. And since the import content of such systems is high, that could amount to even more in rupee terms as the rupee depreciates.

Compare these amounts - of Rs.20,000 crores plus for the weapons alone, and another Rs.160,000 crores for the related systems necessary for weaponisation, with the Government of India's total Plan outlay budgeted for the current year, which is only Rs.77,000 crores. Of course, these are stock costs, spread out over several years, but still the point remains. And then consider that these costs do not take into consideration the huge clean-up costs in future, or the likely escalation resulting from a nuclear arms race in the region.

These are staggering amounts of resources potentially being poured into a dubious programme of producing weapons of mass destruction, in conditions of such secrecy that the expenditures planned or already made are simply not known to the public. What is bizarre is that such spending can even be considered while "fiscal austerity" is the strict admonition when it comes to all forms of developmental and social spending.

The nuclear weapons programme is a devastating reminder of the misplaced priorities of the Government. It is now up to social pressure and action to ensure that these priorities are reset.

Murky financial deals

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Mounting evidence of involvement in irregular financial deals forces the resignation of a Maharashtra Minister. He is the third person to leave the Ministry under similar circumstances.

ON April 26, the latest in a long string of financial scandals involving senior leaders of the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party Government in Maharash-tra, resulted in the resignation of Social Welfare Minister Babanrao Gholap. Gholap, a senior Shiv Sena figure has been charged with having been involved in siphoning off through a dubious cooperative bank funds meant for the welfare of the poor.

It is perhaps misleading to describe Gholap's dealings with the Awami Mercantile Co-operative Bank as a scam, since they more closely resemble worse things. Three corporations controlled by Gholap's Ministry simply handed over Rs.4.5 crores to the Awami Bank, violating a Government Resolution of October 1996 prohibiting such investments in institutions other than nationalised banks or private banks with a net worth of over Rs.100 crores. Even more amazing, the Awami Bank was facing liquidation proceedings since July 1995.

On February 18, 1998, the Annabhau Sathe Scheduled Caste Development Corporation deposited more than Rs.2 crores with the bank for a 30-day period. However, the bank's receipt stated that the deposit was for 270 days. The Annabhau Sathe Corporation wrote to the Awami Bank five days later making it clear that the deposit was only for 30 days, and that the amount should be returned with interest at the end of term. In the event, the Corporation was able to recover only Rs.50 lakhs by June, that too after a first cheque issued by the bank drawn on the Development Credit Bank bounced.

Similarly, Rs.2 crores deposited by the Vasantrao Naik VGNT Corporation with the bank for a 46-day period on March 21, 1998, disappeared. The Corporation sent two letters to the bank, in June and August, first asking for a refund of Rs.1 crore, and then for the entire amount deposited. The Awami Bank did not return the money. In fact, its Administrator maintained that the bank had not received the money in the first place. The Mahatma Phule Development Corporation's deposits too went the same way. It deposited Rs.1 crore on May 21, 1998, even as its sister corporations were discovering that the Awami Bank had no means to meet its obligations. Again, the bank Administrator denied having received any deposits.

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A report filed in September 1998 by Mumbai Collector and District Magistrate Sanjay Chahande along with the Mumbai Police Criminal Investigation Department's (CID) First Information Report (FIR), brought to light the irregularities. The Awami Bank's chief executive officer K.A.F. Amin and Co-Administrator Subodh Kadam had opened accounts on behalf of their organisation with the Sangli Bank's Juhu branch, the Global Trust Bank's Bandra branch and the Bank of Punjab. Using letterheads and bank documents freely, Amin, Kadam and their accomplices allegedly helped themselves to the money. Of the Rs.4 crores held in the Sangli Bank account, Rs.3.40 crores went to a Mumbai businessman allegedly close to the Shiv Sena.

Investigation in the matter became inevitable when bureaucrat Uttam Khobragade, appalled by what he heard at a board meeting of the Vasantrao Naik Corporation, wrote to Chief Secretary P. Subrahmanyam about the affair. Reports appeared in the local press. An FIR naming eight persons was filed and arrests followed. Gholap's personal assistant, Anil Pagare, was arrested although the Minister himself remained untouched. Investigators drew the obvious conclusions about Gholap's role in the affair. The CID had in its possession documents and statements that showed Gholap's involvement in the matter.

Perhaps the most important of these was a letter allegedly written by Pagare to the managing director of the Mahatma Phule Corporation on August 6, 1998. The letter asked for a further Rs.3 crores to be deposited with the Awami Bank, although the bank had not returned Rs.1 crore the Corporation had already put up. The letter also mentioned that the Rs.1 crore deposit made for a 46-day period be retained for 180 days. "As these are the instructions of (the) Minister Social Welfare," Pagare wrote, "please do the needful immediately." On the same day, the Mahatma Phule Corporation's chairman put up a note which spoke of Gholap's involvement. "As per telephone call received from (the) Hon'ble Minister, Social Welfare, term for Rs.1 crore is to be increased for (a) further period of 180 days, and the additional amount of Rs.3 crores will be deposited."

More direct evidence was also available. In early April, the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the Mumbai Police filed a report charging Gholap and his wife Sashikala with having received Rs.21 lakhs in the Awami Bank deal. The EOW report was filed before the Girgaum Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, who had ordered the investigation on the basis of a complaint by Janata Dal activist Sanjeev Chimbulkar. Gholap's aide, Shivaji Morade, received a further Rs.19 lakhs, the report states. The funds were allegedly paid through finance broker V.B. Mehta, one of the accused in the bank fraud. Mehta, the report charges, had worked out the details of the bank deposits with Pagare and received a commission of Rs.57 lakhs. Of this, he allegedly passed on Rs.40 lakhs to the Gholaps and their associates.

None of these developments led Chief Minister Narayan Rane or his party boss, Bal Thackeray, to take action against the Minister. A succession of vague proclamations emanated from the Shiv Sena hierarchy, variously claiming that Gholap could not be asked to resign in the absence of court strictures against him, or that the evidence of wrong-doing was inadequate. Dark hints were on occasion thrown of action against the Minister, only to be subsequently forgotten. Nor did the Mumbai Police move to arrest the Minister, despite the mass of evidence it had collected. Gholap, for his part, insisted that the allegations were part of "baseless propaganda" put out by his political enemies.

Matters might have dragged on were it not for a public interest petition filed by social worker Milind Yawatkar, complaining about the police's failure to arrest or even interrogate Gholap, and pleading that the investigation be carried out under the direct supervision of the Bombay High Court. Yawatkar's petition came up for hearing before the bench of Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and Justice S. Radhakrishnan on April 26. Fear that the High Court could order Gholap's arrest, a move that would have caused enormous political damage, seems to have forced Rane's hand. Late that evening, the Chief Minister summoned Gholap and asked him to hand over his resignation. Rane later claimed that the Government had authorised the police to issue arrest warrants, but Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde said that Gholap had only been asked to give an explanantion. The High Court has called for a status report on the case.

GHOLAP'S woes in the bank case are unlikely to be his last ones. Yawatkar has filed a separate petition in the High Court, which has led to an Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) investigation into Gholap's financial affairs. The ACB report, which could also lead to Income Tax Department proceedings against the former Minister, is scheduled to be presented to the court in October. The ACB, sources told Frontline, has found not a little evidence of financial wrong doing by Gholap, a colourful figure who was twice convicted, in 1983 and 1972, under the Gambling Act. He was fined Rs.35 and Rs.25 on charges of engaging in low-level matka gambling.

Among the more interesting documents the ACB has discovered are the records of an account that Sashikala Gholap, who has no independent means of income, opened at the Janalaxmi Co-operative Bank in Nashik. Started in March 1996 with an initial deposit of Rs.500, the account saw massive cash deposits: Rs.10 lakhs on April 8, 1996 on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections; and five deposits of Rs.21.50 lakhs between July and August 1996 alone. By August 1998, Sashikala Gholap's account recorded credits of Rs.57,88,467 and debits of Rs.35,01,250. Gholap became a Minister in March 1995.

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Other financial dealings by Sashikala Gholap and her husband are no less perplexing. Documents made available to Frontline show that between May and June 1996, she bought four plots of land in Nashik adding up to an area of 34.875 acres for a mere Rs.5,85,900. Even if this price is accepted as correct, it is unclear how the Gholap family could afford this amount. Yawatkar's petition charges that Gholap had in the past been unable to repay a loan of Rs.500 taken from the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Yojana Scheme, a project to aid the indigent. Gholap had obtained a loan to purchase a jeep from the Nashik Road Deolali Vyapari Sahakari Bank in 1991, presumably for use in his political work. According to the petition, after struggling with the instalments for five years, he paid back the entire outstanding balance of Rs.2,70,443 in cash four months after becoming a Minister.

How these funds materialised could be explained through investigation of Gholap's numerous creative enterprises while in office. In October last year, The Asian Age reported how loans were made by the Mahatma Phule Corporation to set up nine powerloom enterprises in Nashik, the 108 joint owners of which later turned out to be fraudulent. The loans had been made on Gholap's written instructions by the Corporation's former Managing Director, H.V. Sonawane. The recipients of the funds had given false addresses, had not registered their nine joint ventures, and did not possess land on which they might have set up powerlooms.

This year, three senior Shiv Sena-BJP alliance leaders have been indicted for corruption. Former Chief Minister Manohar Joshi was held responsible by the Bombay High Court for engineering violations of land laws to benefit his son-in-law. Joshi promised to resign from the Maharashtra Assembly following the court's orders, but backtracked. Minister of State Ravindra Mane, found by the court to have approved illegal instructions from Joshi, resigned. Gholap was the third. If allegations that Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde had a role in controversial contracts awarded by the Maharashtra State Electricity Board are proved, a fourth resignation could soon follow.

In a sense, the ironies of the Gholap affair transcend their immediate import. Last year, the former Minister won a defamation action against social activist Anna Hazare, who had charged him with corruption. Hazare's counsel in that case, Mumbai lawyer P. Janardhanan, now represents Yawatkar in the High Court, and seems set to vindicate his former client. The course of events in the High Court will now decide Gholap's future.

Uncertain prospects in Nepal

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The third general elections in Nepal is likely to throw up another hung Parliament.

EVEN as the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal prepared for general elections in two phases - on May 3 and 17 - political observers were in no position to make any definitive prediction about the poll outcome. According to sources close to the contesting parties and analysts attached to some foreign embassies in Kathmandu, there is a strong possibility of another hung Parliament that will provide scope for the ruling Nepali Congress (N.C.) or the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) or CPN(UML), to form a coalition government with the support of their respective political allies and independents. Although the CPN(UML) has been a partner in the N.C.-led coalition Government, there is no electoral alliance between the two parties and they are contesting separately.

Meanwhile, the death of the CPN(UML)'s prime ministerial candidate and main campaigner Manmohan Adhikari, a week ahead of the first phase of elections, came as a setback for the party.

THE run-up to the third general elections in Nepal after the introduction of multi-party democracy, which replaced the palace-dominated party-less panchayat system in 1990, was marked by a deepening sense of uncertainty, insecurity and cynicism among the people. While political stability has continued to elude the country - there have been as many as five coalition governments since the snap elections of 1994 - what is of particular concern is the unabated killings resulting from encounters between the outlawed Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the police.

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During the course of electioneering, senior leaders of the two major political parties, the N.C. and the CPN(UML), warned the people that the situation might worsen if the people did not vote to power a strong majority government. Top N.C. leaders, including Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, who has been projected by the party as its new prime ministerial candidate, told Frontline that fragile and short-lived coalition governments had proved totally incapable of saving the country from the quagmire.

Adhikari had shared the same concern about political instability and the fractured polity. The CPN(UML), which captured 89 of the 205 seats in the Pratinidhi Sabha in the 1994 elections, split vertically in March 1998 when 40 MPs, under the leadership of Sahana Pradhan and Bamdev Gautam, left the party to form Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist Leninist).

Meanwhile, open rivalry among three factions within the N.C. has weakened the party, which came to power winning 114 of the 205 seats in the first multi-party elections in 1991. The Government headed by Koirala had lost its majority in early 1994 when a government-sponsored confidence motion was defeated by the Opposition, following the absention of 36 MPs of the N.C. Koirala recommended the dissolution of Parliament and holding of snap elections, ignoring the dissidents' demand for a change of leadership.

The pro-palace Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) was also divided into two factions, one led by Surya Bahadur Thapa and another by Lokendra Bahadur Chand. The two RPP factions headed two short-lived governments - Thapa with 11 MPs was supported from outside by the N.C., and Chand with eight MPs by the CPN(UML). The Terai-based Nepal Sadbhavana Party (NSP), with three MPs, was a partner in all the coalition governments.

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THIS time the RPP and the NSP have fielded a large number of candidates, despite the fact that they have a limited political following, in the hope that they would be able to play a crucial role in government-formation in the event of a hung Parliament.

While the N.C. is contesting all the 205 seats, the CPN(UML) is contesting 195 seats, the CPN(ML) 197 seats, RPP(Thapa) 197 seats, RPP(Chand) 184 seats, NSP 68 seats, and the Nepal Mazdoor Kisan Party 41 seats. There are 44 independents as well.

In the first phase, elections were held in 92 constituencies. The total number of voters is 1,35,18,839. Chief Election Commissioner Bishnu Pratap Saha said that staggered elections were necessitated by the fact that certain areas were sensitive from the law-and-order point of view.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala is contesting from the eastern constituencies of Morang I and Sunsari V. He faces a rebel N.C. candidate in Morang I. Elections in Kathmandu I and Kathmandu II were countermanded following the death of Manmohan Adhikari. N.C. leader Krishna Prasad Bhattarai is contesting from Kathmandu I and Parsa constituencies, and CPN(ML) leader Bamdev Gautam from Bardia I and Kathmandu I. RPP president Surya Bahadur Thapa faces opposition from within his party in his home constituency of Dhankuta II.

While the N.C. and the CPN(UML) condemned violence by the Maoist movement on the eve of elections, the CPN(ML) tried to gain its sympathy. Launching his election campaign in the the insurgency-affected areas of midwestern Nepal, Koirala launched a frontal attack on the Maoists who have been operating from the remote parts of Nepal for over three years. "The election is an opportunity to take the country out of violence and terror. People should eliminate the forces that believe in violence through the ballot," said the Prime Minister.

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Underground Maoists, however, found an ardent supporter of their cause in CPN(ML) general secretary Bamdev Gautam. He praised the Maoists who, he said, were fighting the state on an empty stomach. "If I meet underground Maoist leaders Baburam Bhattarai and Prachanda, I will propose to them to work together for the interests of the Nepali people," he said. Although the CPN(ML) is seeking to form a government of "patriotic and Leftist" forces, its immediate objective is to check its bete noire, the CPN(UML), from winning a majority and place itself in a position where it could bargain for power, analysts said.

As reports suggested that the CPN(UML) was not likely to suffer as much damage as was expected due to the vertical split in the party and that CPN(ML) was likely to emerge a loser, disgruntled CPN(ML) leaders had no other option but to project themselves as patriotic revolutionaries. The Maoist leaders apparently think that a hung Parliament would suit them; in fact, they fear that a powerful and stable government with a popular mandate might suppress them effectively.

After the murder of CPN(UML) candidate Yedu Gautam by Maoists in Rukum district in March, CPN(UML) leaders have publicly condemned Maoist activities.

N.C. leader Krishna Prasad Bhattarai told Frontline that his party would get a majority. "I am confident that our party will get no less than 130 seats," he said. The CPN(UML) under Adhikari too was sure of gaining majority. While CPN(UML) and CPN(ML) cadres clashed with each other, N.C. leaders organised countrywide election meetings. Both Koirala and Bhattarai undertook tours across the country.

"It is natural for the larger parties to aspire for a majority. But both the N.C. and the CPN(UML) have failed to rationalise their demand for a majority government," said Krishna Hachhethu, a political scientist with the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies of Tribhuban University.

While both the CPN(UML) and the RPP were trying hard to cover the wounds inflicted by splits, the N.C., though apparently unified, is not in a position of advantage. The party has been fortunate to avoid a major intra-party rebellion of the kind it had seen in the 1994 mid-term polls but divisions and acts of deception within the N.C. have become a rule rather than an exception.

The CPN(UML), on its part, was trying hard to project itself as a viable alternative to the N.C. The CPN(ML)'s efforts to isolate its parent organisation by bringing all smaller Leftist parties under its fold, however, failed. The CPN(ML) and six other small Leftist parties contested the elections separately. The CPN(UML) opted for a distinct approach as it could not find a common platform with the Leftist groups. But a loose alliance was forged with the orthodox Communist Party of Nepal (Mashal) and the United People's Front in order to defeat the N.C. and the CPN(ML).

The party kicked off its election campaign accommodating as many people-friendly programmes as possible, aimed at voters from various social strata. "Unlike other Leftist parties, the CPN(UML) is one of the architects of the present Constitution. That is why our party has been working to strengthen the Constitution and multiparty democracy," said CPN(UML) Central Committee member Raghuji Panta.

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CPN(UML) leaders tried to convince a sceptical group of voters that they also believed in liberal democracy, freedom of expression and human rights vis-a-vis their Marxist and Leninist ideology. Its leaders argue that their party is purely nationalist. The party's election campaign this time is distinctly different from its campaigns for the two previous elections. For the first time, the CPN(UML) approached elections in a hostile atmosphere as underground Maoists and the CPN(ML) launched attacks against its candidates. However, the CPN(UML) seemed in relatively better shape than its rival, the N.C.

According to political analysts, the people of Nepal are facing the election process with a sense of disenchantment and cynicism. The major political parties seem to have suffered an erosion of their credibility over the last few years as a consequence of the instability of the political process. If people this time choose not to give a majority to any single party, it may throw the country into a state of acute political instability.

The passing of a Communist veteran

KALYAN CHAUDHURI world-affairs

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Manmohan Adhikari, 1920-1999.

MANMOHAN ADHIKARI, one of the founders of the Communist Party in Nepal, died in Kathmandu on April 26. He was 79. The death of the former Prime Minister and Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) came even as the country was preparing for general elections. His demise is likely to affect the party's prospects in the polls.

The CPN(UML)'s prime ministerial candidate, Adhikari, suffered a heart attack on April 19, while campaigning at Gothatar village in the Kathmandu I constituency. The end came seven days later in a Kathmandu hospital.

King Birendra led the nation in three days of mourning with a message of condolence, while veteran Nepali Congress (N.C.) leader and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said: "A bright star in Nepalese politics has set for ever and I feel very lonely." Adhikari was given a state funeral and cremated in line with tradition, on the banks of the Bagmati river, flowing through the heart of Kathmandu. He was the second political leader after Ganesh Man Singh, veteran freedom fighter and one of the founders of the Nepali Congress who died in 1977, to be given a state funeral.

Adhikari was contesting in two constituencies, Kathmandu I and Kathmandu II.

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Adhikari's death marked the end of an era. He was the last surviving co-founder of the 50-year-old Communist movement in Nepal. The Communists under the leadership of Adhikari played a vital role in a popular democratic movement in 1990, which ended Nepal's partyless panchayat system and forced the King to restore multi-party parliamentary democracy.

During the course of the democratic movement, Adhikari's Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist) merged with the country's other leading Leftist party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist Leninist), to form the CPN(UML). Adhikari was elected the new party's president. Fondly called the Bheeshma Pitamaha of Nepal politics, he was a sobering influence on some party hardliners. In the 1994 snap elections, the CPN(UML) emerged the single largest party in a hung Parliament and came to power with Adhikari as Prime Minister.

In September 1995, Adhikari resigned after a nine-month stint when the Pratinidhi Sabha or the House of Representatives passed a no-confidence motion against him. On his recommendation, King Birendra dissolved Parliament, but a Supreme Court verdict reinstated the House and paved the way for the N.C. forming a coalition government with the active support of parties other than the CPN(UML).

BORN in 1920 in a wealthy landowning family of Biratnagar in southeastern Nepal, Adhikari never compromised with pro-monarchists. He entered politics when he joined the struggle for democratic rights against the authoritarian Rana regime in the late 1940s. India was close to Adhikari's heart when he began his political career. As a 22-year-old science graduate from Benaras Hindu University, Adhikari took part in the Quit India Movement in 1942 and was imprisoned for nearly two years.

Later in 1947, Adhikari participated in trade union movements in Biratnagar and was jailed for three years. From 1942 to 1946 he was in the forefront of workers' and students' movements. He was elected general secretary at the first convention of the Nepal Communist Party in 1953 and was imprisoned for nine years after the first-ever popularly elected government in Nepal was dismissed in 1961 and a partyless panchayat system was introduced. After the 1961 event, the Communist Party split into more than half a dozen factions and Adhikari stood with the veteran Marxist leader, Pushpa Lal. During the 1960s and 1970s, when globally the Communist movement tended to acquire a Russian or Chinese orientation, Adhikari's party followed the middle path.

Adhikari headed the underground Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist) during the panchayat regime. His party took part in the People's Movement of 1990 as a constituent of the United Left Front before the party merged with the CPN(ML). In the first multi-party democratic elections in 1991, the CPN(UML) emerged as the main Opposition party to the ruling N.C.

An asthma patient for the last four decades, Adhikari went to China after he contracted tuberculosis. He stayed there for four years for treatment.

Political observers in Nepal believe that the death of Adhikari is a major loss for the party. After the split in March 1998, when the CPN(ML) was formed under the leadership of Bamdev Gautam and Sahana Pradhan, Adhikari's sister-in-law, Adhikari had acted as a stabilising force in the struggle for power among different factions within the CPN(UML). The problem in the CPN(UML) is not the scarcity of capable leaders but that of a leader acceptable to all factions. A senior CPN(UML) leader said: "Manmohan Adhikari had everything that the young CPN(UML) leaders lack. After the sudden demise of the charismatic Marxist leader Madan Bhandari, it was Adhikari who was entrusted with the task of leading the fractured Communist movement in the country."

Killed in school

VIJAY PRASHAD world-affairs

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The fear of being gunned down preys on the minds of most Americans; the massacre by two teenagers in a Colorado school has added to the panic.

ON Adolf Hitler's birthday (April 20) this year, two teenagers walked through their school in Littleton, Colorado, United States, shot 13 people, planted bombs across the campus and then, when it looked like the game was up, took their own lives. President Bill Clinton came on national television, and expressed grief at this, the largest such massacre in recent years. Just as U.S. planes bombed Yugoslavia, Clinton noted that "we must do more to reach out to our children and teach them to express their anger and resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons."

Talk shows on radio and television and columnists in the print media turned their gaze from the Balkans toward the little town in western U.S. Littleton (population 35,000) sits in the outskirts of Denver and houses mainly white residents with college degrees who hold steady jobs (many at a Lockheed Martin factory that builds rockets and satellites for telecommunications and space exploration). Politicians, psychologists and journalists cannot seem to make sense of the massacre, since it does not fit the stereotypes to which the establishment normally turns. Yes, the young men did feel alienated from their schoolmates; yes, they did form a fraternity known as the "Trenchcoat Mafia"; yes, they did evince sympathy for neo-Nazi ideas. But, the question remains, how do young boys in a middle-class suburb feel suicidal and homicidal, and from where did they get their arsenal?

Since October 1997, five major incidents of school violence have distressed the U.S. public: Pearl, Mississippi (three dead, seven wounded), Paducah, Kentucky (three dead, five wounded), Jonesboro, Arkansas (nine dead, 10 wounded), Springfield, Oregon (two killed, 22 wounded), and now Littleton, Colorado. This spate of fury is not new. In 1994, Congress passed the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act in order to deal with sporadic acts of serious violence. Three years later, the National Centre for Educational Statistics (NCES) reported that in 1996-97 schools sent them notices of almost 200,000 incidents of violence (including 4,000 cases of rape or sexual assault). There are no geographical areas more prone to frenzy, since 75 per cent of U.S. schools reported routine incidents.

In the midst of this violence, the U.S. has seen renewed media attention on police brutality. A Haitian immigrant (Abner Louima) was assaulted brutally by the New York police, while 19 bullets from a special squad of the New York police killed a west African migrant, Amadou Diallo (the police fired 44 bullets at him). In Hartford, Connecticut, a police officer killed a 14-year-old African-American, shooting him in the back with a .45 bore weapon just as the boy put his hands into the air to surrender. These incidents of what is called 'excessive force' drew hundreds of thousands of people to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 24 to rally against police brutality, itself an epidemic for non-white residents of the U.S.

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Certainly, one of the problems here is the ready availability of weapons and their cavalier use. In Colorado, for instance, guns are not required to be licensed or registered and there are no age restrictions for the possession of rifles or shotguns (persons under the age of 18 are not permitted to possess handguns). The National Rifle Association (NRA), the right-wing lobby for guns and gun manufacturers whose spokesperson is actor Charlton Heston, was in the process of pushing through a bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons. With such a lax attitude towards guns, Handgun Control (a U.S. non-profit organisation) shows that in 1996 handguns were used to kill two persons in New Zealand, 15 in Japan, 30 in Britain, 106 in Canada, 213 in Germany and 9,390 in the U.S. The NRA, in fact, is scheduled to hold its annual meeting in Denver soon, and in anticipation of this, a billboard stands sentinel on the road to Littleton with a portrait of Heston carrying a gun and asking his fellow Americans to "join me".

Some of the public debate has renewed the call to put checks on the availability of guns. However, the legislature is chary to act on this since the gun lobby is strong (it pours large sums of money into the political process). Instead of addressing the question of guns, the political leaders talk of "gratuitous violence" on television and in films. In addition, there are repeated calls to militarise further the schools through metal detectors, armed guards, school uniforms and random (and illegal) searches of students. This despite the fact that the schools are already militarised and the acts of violence occur despite them. In Littleton, the two boys walked across the football field with their guns in plain view; in other places, the shooting took place from outside the school. More serious issues, such as the alienation of the youth, have not been discussed except by pop-psychologists.

On August 27, 1998, Clinton released a profile of the young killer which included uncontrolled anger, drug and alcohol abuse, a preoccupation with weapons and explosives as well as a sense of being "pushed out of being part of the community". The National Vital Statistics Centre reports that (in 1997) 18,774 Americans died in homicides. However, 29,725 Americans died by their own hand. In Colorado, last year, of the 44 adolescents who were shot, 23 killed themselves while 16 were killed deliberately (five were unintentional deaths). The vast sense of alienation among the youth for a host of complex socio-psychological reasons has not led to a nation-wide discussion. Instead, more money is being spent on the police.

In the Littleton case, the boys clearly sought refuge in neo-Nazism. Harris was known to shout 'Heil Hitler!' and to proffer a Nazi salute when he felt pleased with himself. The members of the "Trenchcoat Mafia" spoke to one another in German and some of them wore Nazi insignias. A lack of trust in the state, a sense that the economy does not produce the 'American Dream' and resentment against the mild forms of redress for chattel slavery of peoples of African descent, combine to produce a strong sense of racism amongst some young people. That the state chooses not to attack racist sentiments frontally and that it often propels these feelings (as in its Welfare Reform efforts in 1996), allows alienated youth to turn to these circles for succour.

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There are, of course, other places that the youth go towards, such as rock or hip-hop bands (Rage Against the Machine, The Coup) and political outfits (the Animal Defence League, anti-racist groups, socialist and labour solidarity organisations). In the wake of a massacre, the media tend not to look for these progressive avenues of social change, but dwell on the areas of social dysfunction.

Even the discussion on dysfunctionality, however, is limited as there continues to be a national panic about homicides. Whether in popular culture or in the media, the fear of being gunned down preys on the minds of most Americans. One is afraid to walk alone at night and one certainly makes sure to lock every door. However, statistics show that handguns are rarely used to kill strangers: one is more likely to be killed by a friend or a relative. In addition, a U.S. resident has a better chance of committing suicide than of dying by someone else's hand. The lack of a public discussion on youth alienation and of suicide is a matter of grave urgency. In a recent book (Dharma Girls, 1996) Chelsea Cain offers us what it means to grow up in the shadow of the Hippies: "Just because you don't still have something doesn't mean it is lost." Just because the young of America seem not to be on the path of social liberation, does not mean they have forgotten the path itself.

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Vijay Prashad is an Assistant Professor, International Studies, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut.

Sanctions: the bark and the bite

R. RAMACHANDRAN cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

An assessment of the degree of effectiveness and otherwise of the sanctions regime put in place by the United States against India in the wake of Pokhran-II.

A MAJOR fallout of Pokhran-II is seen in the trade, economic and military sanctions that were imposed on India under Section 102(b)(2) of the United States' Arms Export Control Act (AECA) of 1976, or the Glenn Amendment. The Glenn Amendment provides for prohibition of foreign assistance, munition sales and licences, government credits, credit guarantees and financial assistance (such as those from the Exim Bank), U.S. support for multilateral financial assistance (from international financial institutions such as the World Bank), private bank lending to entities of the government and exports of specific controlled goods and technology (broadly termed "dual-use" items).

This provision of the U.S. legislation was invoked for the first time after the enactment of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act (NPPA) in 1994. The first round came soon after the tests. While the overall implementation scheme was formalised in the form of interim guidelines on June 18, the full implementation has not been gone through yet because there were no pre-existing regulations governing the matter. For instance, concern over the lack of any exemption in Section 102(b)(2)(D), which governs government credit and credit guarantees, for export of agricultural commodities led to the passing of an amendment on June 11 (as part of Agricultural Appropriations Bill) that allows agricultural exports through the Commodity Credit Corporation and the Department of Agriculture. The impact of agricultural sanctions would in any case have been minimal because of the relatively small value (about $20 million annually) of such credits to India.

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But, more significantly, Section 102(b) of the AECA does not provide for lifting of the sanctions. Therefore, any such move would call for congressional action. Because of the coincidentally concurrent larger ongoing process of reforms in the U.S. Government with regard to unilateral sanctions, a sanction waiver authority was given to the President in October 1998 through the India-Pakistan Relief Act of 1998 (also known as the Brownback Amendment). President Clinton exercised the waiver authority on December 1, 1998, and lifted the sanctions in, as the White House release said, "a limited, targeted way". In fact, the Relief Act is part of the 1999 Appropriations Bill of Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies.

What is behind the "limited and targeted" scope of the waiver is the fact that the President does not have the authority to waive sanctions arising from Sections 102(b)(2)(B), (C) and (G). What the amendment allows the President to do (which he otherwise could not have done) is to lift sanctions imposed under Section 102(b)(2)(A), namely termination of assistance under the Foreign Assistance Act. Assistance under this includes U.S. developmental assistance (including for child survival and AIDS management programmes), International Military Education and Training (IMET) Programme and PL-480 food assistance. Child survival and AIDS - which accounted for a major chunk of the $51.35-million assistance in 1998 - and PL-480 programmes ($91.88 million in 1998) were, in any case, exempt from sanctions. The IMET assistance is of the order of $450,000. However, so far no programme under the IMET seems to have been revived.

Section 102(b)(2)(D) requires denial of credit, credit guarantee, or other financial assistance by a U.S. government agency or instrumentality (such as the Exim Bank). This included credits and credit guarantees for agricultural exports under the Commodity Credit Corporation and the Department of Agriculture. However, the June 11 amendment had already imposed sanctions on agricultural exports. The effect of prohibition on Exim Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) guarantees was in any case marginal because it did not affect already sanctioned cases such as the Dabhol power project and the rest of the exposure was small. Also, these sanctions affected U.S. business interests more than they affected India.

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Under Section 102(b)(2)(E), the U.S. is only required to oppose loans by IFIs and cannot by itself block them. If the President so desired, he could, even without the waiver, allow these loans to go through. As regards Section 102(b)(2)(F), which requires prohibition of any U.S. bank loan or credit to the Indian Government, excluding loans and credits to purchase food or other agricultural commodities, the necessary executive order was not issued after the tests because it was not clear whether the term "government" included Indian public sector banks and other public sector entities, which were the major borrowers from U.S. banks. This was, therefore, not imposed in the first place; it would otherwise have greatly eroded U.S. banks' operations in India.

But, most important, the waiver is valid only for one year from the date of enactment of the Act, which is October 21, 1999. And at least 30 days prior to this date the U.S. President is required to report to the appropriate congressional committees about the "progress" achieved on the intended goals of sanctions, namely, prevent weaponisation and the development of delivery systems, signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), supporting the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), strengthening of Indian export controls on dual-use goods and improvement in Indo-Pakistan relations (read Kashmir). The signing of the CTBT and support to the FMCT seemed imminent and the bus diplomacy was being projected as a sign of improvement in Indo-Pakistan relations - the fall of the Vajpayee Government changed it all. India already has a fairly good export control law for dual-use goods. But the first of the goals has clearly not been achieved and, in fact, the launch of Agni-II is only likely to result in the withdrawal of the waiver, rather than an extension of it, even if India goes ahead and signs the CTBT before the September 1999 deadline.

Of the sanctions that are in place, the first - under Section 102(b)(2)(A) - includes the sale of defence articles and items on the U.S. Munitions List (USML). India hardly imports defence or USML items from the U.S. (In the last three years, only during 1995-96 was $125,000 worth items from the USML imported). So this sanction will not have any impact. The next concerns termination of military financing to India. This also will not have any effect since the U.S. does not finance any Indian military operations. What is likely to have a serious impact is the prohibition on the export of dual-use goods and technologies arising from Section 102(b)(2)(G).

The June 18 interim guidelines were formalised in a new licensing policy of the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC) issued as an 'Interim Rule' on November 19 through appropriate revisions of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR). The centrepiece of this legislation (which, for some reason remains 'Interim') is the Entity List (E.L.) covering over 200 government, parastatal and private entities "determined to be involved in nuclear and missile activities". Export of all EAR-controlled goods to these entities requires a licence "but with a presumption of denial". The E.L. includes military establishments such as ordnance factories, and for these units the legislation says that licence is required for "all items subject to the EAR except EAR99".

A corollary to the export restrictions were the restrictions placed on the issue of visas to Indian scientists and the suspension of collaborative research programmes, exchange of information, data and so on. This was effected through the initiation of the Mantis Programme (a remnant of the Cold War) and the associated sweeping Technology Alert List (TAL), which identified programmes and disciplines where such restrictions would be applied. The Department of Energy, being involved in the U.S. nuclear programme, took specific actions in this regard through what is known as the Pena Memorandum. This identified facilities and institutions (mainly of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) with which all interactions of the department would be terminated. One major programme which came to a halt because of the Pena Memorandum was the 'D-Zero' project at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in which the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) was participating in a big way. The dozen-odd TIFR scientists were sent back. The visa issue continues to be an annoyance, particularly to non-university scientists. However, thanks to the intervention of the U.S. scientific community, some amount of relaxation is evident. They are now able to obtain visas at least to attend conferences, if not to participate in collaborative research programmes. However, the impact of this U.S. measure, while significant, is not serious.

IT is the restrictions on the export of specific, particularly dual-use, goods that is likely to have the most serious impact. But as was observed in an earlier analysis (Frontline, February 12, 1999), a quantitative estimate of this impact is still lacking. Even agencies which have been under one form of embargo or the other for long (the DAE, the DRDO and ISRO) are yet to complete this exercise, let alone the host of other individual institutions and companies that have been named in the E.L. This is mainly because of the absence of a centralised database on high-tech imports from the U.S. despite the Indo-U.S. memorandum of understanding on high-tech transfer of 1984. The U.S. Government, which maintains a database of licences issued for exports to India, has a better idea of India's vulnerability and how severely the export controls are likely to hurt.

Indeed, in its Annual Report on Foreign Policy Export Controls issued on March 30, 1999, the Bureau of Export Administration (BXA) of the DoC has given a comprehensive analysis of its perspective on the impact of sanctions. The report observes that multilateral sanctions are more effective than unilateral U.S. sanctions and, even in a unilateral move, financial sanctions are more effective than trade sanctions like export controls because of the increasing availability of alternative sources of supply of high-tech goods. Nevertheless, according to the report, from the U.S. perspective the sanctions have added weight to U.S. efforts to bring India and Pakistan towards achieving the stated goals of the sanctions.

The report observes that although other countries have expressed some support for U.S. sanctions against India and Pakistan, no other country has imposed new dual-use export controls but the Commerce Secretary feels that this will not render the controls counterproductive to U.S. policy. As the report points out, the precise economic impact on India of export sanctions on dual-use goods and technologies is difficult to determine. According to the DoC database, in the last three years, the total values of licences for controlled goods (see Table 1) sanctioned items to India were $43 million, $149 million and $150 million. The impact of new sanctions would have been reflected in the 1997-98 figures and will be seen in the 1998-99 figures. However, since the sanctions will affect trade in items that were till now exportable without a licence (particularly EAR goods) as well as those requiring licences, the actual impact of the sanctions will be much higher than the $150 million region.

Goods subject to the EAR are classified in the Commerce or Commodity Control List (CCL) by an Export Commodity Classification Number (ECCN). EAR99 refers to the basket of all items subject to the EAR but which do not occur in the CCL and do not, therefore, have a specific ECCN. These are low-tech and non-dual-use items (that normally do not require a licence) such as capacitors, resistors, RF tubes and amplifiers, pumps, pipings valves for chemical industry, and so on, that are generally available all over the world. Even though these items themselves are not directly linked to nuclear or missile proliferation, they are subject to EAR as a result of the Enhanced Proliferation Control Initiative (EPCI) of 1990 whose "catch-all" provision seeks to target all entities with some links to entities of proliferation concern.

The EAR99 items account for a high share of imports in controlled goods. (The sudden spurt can be explained by the gradual implementation of EPCI controls.) According to the BXA report, in 1997-98 a total of 1,008 licence applications, with a combined value of $566 million, were received. Of these, 427 applications valued at $60 million were for items classified as EAR99. The DoC approved 461 licences valued at $138 million, denied 211 licences valued at $9 million, and returned 677 licences (many of these were for EAR99 products submitted for EPCI requirements). Table 2 shows the profile of "processed" cases as against Table 1 which shows "approved" cases in a year. The latter would include pending applications from previous years as well.

Apparently, a single Indian end-user accounted for at least 230 licence applications and approximately 100 applications of these were for U.S. high technology companies in India. In assessing the impact of sanctions on Indian entities, this latter aspect will have to be factored in. These multinational corporations would be able to import goods for their operations. The majority of the remaining licences were for entities now targeted by sanctions.

Clearly, as a result of the sanctions, the number of instances of denial/no-action on applications for EAR99 items is set to grow. For U.S. exporters this has become a major concern, and this happens to be the main thrust of various representations received by the DoC as part of public comments to the Interim Rule on export sanctions. Their key argument is that since nothing prevents the export of these goods to a third country from where re-export to India is not prohibited, the prohibition does not make sense. More significantly, they have pointed out that since other foreign suppliers can easily step in for these goods, this amounts to loss of a big market for them. They have therefore asked for the removal of EAR99 goods from export prohibition. From the Indian end-users' perspective, this is only an irritant because nearly all EAR99 items can be sourced from elsewhere but could call for reconfiguration and recalibration of systems and a consequent delay. Interestingly, no Indian entity or individual seems to have made a representation to the DoC before the deadline of January 19, 1999.

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The major licensed items imported in the last two years pertain to information security or data encryption (both software and hardware) and, interestingly, precursors to chemical weapons. The plausible reason for the former is the liberalised U.S. export policy since 1996 which allows licensed export of "key recoverable" encryption products that have up to 56-bit length Digital Encryption Standard (DES). While this is important for e-commerce, particularly banking operations (most foreign banks are likely to have imported these products), it is also useful for intelligence operations. The single end-user referred to above could be the Ministry of Home Affairs or the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) which are not affected by the sanctions. The import of chemical weapon precursors could be by chemical industries, which is permitted as India is a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Import of numerically controlled machines, a significant import item in the past couple of years and used notably by many of the industries in the E.L., could be affected. But this is an area where it should be easy to identify European or Japanese sources. While digital computers is a major area of imports, the value shown in the tables is not high because of the liberalised licence-free import of computers up to 2000 MTOPS for nuclear and defence end-users and up to 7000 MTOPS for others till 1997. The increase in 1997-98 is perhaps because of the reimposition of the licence requirement for computers above a rating of 2000 MTOPS for all end-users. As a result of sanctions, one can assume that a fairly high share of licence applications will now be denied. So the impact of sanctions on digital computers can be taken to be around $10 million annually.

The single importer of aero-engines, worth $2.4 million, is likely to be the DRDO for the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). This means that the GE-404 engine will not be the cause for the delay in the LCA project. What is likely to affect major programmes like the LCA is the non-availability of critical parts and components, which are required in small volumes, for which the U.S. has been the chief source. An exercise is on within the DAE, the DRDO and ISRO to identify items that are becoming difficult to procure from the U.S. and locate alternative sources. About 200 items, worth $1 million, have been identified and for about 10 per cent of these the U.S. seems to be the exclusive or most reliable source. Most of these 200 items are electronic items such as microwave and RF components, integrated circuits, high-performance electronic devices, oscilloscopes and some critical materials.

From the perspective of research and R&D (research and development) institutions which figure in the E.L., it is the small volume or one-off imports of specific high-tech instruments or high-performance goods and equipment that is posing difficulties. For example, alternative sources have to be identified for speciality chemicals and biologicals for which the U.S. has been the traditional supplier. Similarly, the U.S. has been the traditional supplier also for electronic devices for which the reliability of European sources could come into question.

Similarly, the effect of sanctions on specific high-value equipment (such as the neutron generator and the lithography equipment in Table 1) is what could hurt or delay a programme. But for such items, like a SQUID magnetometer or a liquid helium plant, European sources exist but the entire import process over the last year has gone into a tailspin because of the sudden cancellation of orders. While individual institutes have yet to identify their needs and corresponding alternative sources, including the possibility of indigenous development, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) has initiated a scheme specifically to fund the indigenous development of such items after a feasibility study. Overall, while it seems that in value terms the impact may not be all that significant, in terms of criticality of some items for a given programme and other intangibles, which cannot be estimated, the impact of sanctions may be significant.

Even in the unlikely event of these export sanctions being lifted or relaxed, the government needs to evolve a comprehensive policy, and consider steps such as the setting up of a microelectronics fabrication unit, a centre for speciality chemicals and biochemicals, a high-precision instrumentation unit and a centralised database of high-tech imports, in order to be able to combat any such embargo situations.

The Congress(I) flip-flop

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Once again forced to cause and face a round of general elections that it did not want, the Congress(I) betrays a strange nervousness.

THE Congress(I) celebrated the first anniversary of Sonia Gandhi's leadership of the party exactly a month and a half before the dissolution of the 12th Lok Sabha. Party leaders asserted on that occasion that positive changes had taken place in the Congress(I) under the reign of Sonia Gandhi. Comparing her tenure with that of her predecessor in the post, Sitaram Kesri, P. Shiv Shankar, the party's Deputy Leader in the Lok Sabha, told Frontline that "the Congress(I) has transformed itself from a moribund, non-creative, leaderless and directionless establishment into a vibrant organisation capable of leading the country on the right path by taking up important national and global concerns." Several party leaders concurred with this view.

Yet, strangely, the party betrays an apparent nervousness as it gears up to face its first general election under Sonia Gandhi's formal leadership. A similar discomfiture was evident in the wake of the dissolution of the 11th Lok Sabha after Kesri created a crisis for the I.K. Gujral-led United Front (U.F.) Government by raising the issue of non-implementation of the Jain Commission Report on the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Kesri's intention was not to force general elections but to acquire greater political clout in the Central Government using the Jain Commission Report as an instrument to apply pressure.

The effort backfired and elections were announced. The Congress(I) leadership began lamenting about the innumerable problems it had to contend with: the absence of a "vote-catching leader" and the dearth of "real campaign issues", among others. Intra-party bickering became intense, and this was one of the reasons that compelled Sonia Gandhi to enter the campaign scene. A refrain among Congress(I) Working Committee (CWC) members at that time was that the country and the Congress(I) could have done without elections at the juncture.

Almost all the maladies that afflicted the Congress(I) at that time appear to have returned to haunt the party. The only difference this time is that the party does have a vote-catching leader in Sonia Gandhi; this became evident during the November Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan. But that is small consolation as the party has realised that Sonia Gandhi's appeal alone is not enough to ensure supremacy in national politics.

Already Sharad Pawar, CWC member and Leader of the Opposition in the dissolved Lok Sabha, is on record as saying that the mid-term polls will not produce a result much different from that of the previous elections, which delivered a hung verdict. Speaking at the annual function of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), he maintained that all parties had failed to do justice to regional aspirations and the just demands of the downtrodden people, especially the Backward Classes, Dalits and minorities. He added that unless this was set right, the instability in the polity would continue. The statement was treated in Congress(I) circles not only as an admission of the shortcomings in the party's functioning but as an instance of shadow-boxing against the coterie surrounding Sonia Gandhi (which includes former Minister and CWC member Arjun Singh), which has been dictating party policies.

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AS in December 1997, the Congress(I) has again been forced to face a round of elections that it did not want. When Sonia Gandhi decided to take a proactive stance against the A.B. Vajpayee-led coalition Government by joining hands with other Opposition parties, including All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader Jayalalitha, her intention was to explore the possibility of forming a government under her own leadership. Elections, as per Sonia Gandhi's game plan, were to come after she had had a stint in power, preferably by the year-end or early next year.

It was clear to the Congress(I) leadership during the last elections that they had no issue to present before the people. Kesri refused to make the Jain Commission Report an election issue, stating that "the party's enemy number one will be the communal forces represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party." The furore unleashed over the indictment of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a constituent of the then U.F., by the Jain Commission Report was given a quiet burial.

A similar flip-flop is visible now. It was the Congress(I)'s refusal to settle for a coalition government that became a stumbling block in the formation of an alternative government.

Throughout its deliberations with other parties after the confidence vote, the Congress(I) steadfastly refused to act according to the public statements that Sonia Gandhi and Arjun Singh had made - that the party was not averse to a coalition arrangement. However, after the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, party leaders, including Pawar, have openly talked about pre-poll alliances on the basis of a common manifesto. The parties identified as potential partners include the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the AIADMK, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Republican Party of India (RPI).

Somersaults like these have presented another problem for the party as sections of the leadership describe these as being inconsistent with the "momentous" declarations made at the Pachmarhi conclave in September last. The Pachmarhi declarations took a general line against coalitions and said that such arrangements could be considered in special cases only if the party had supremacy in them.

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However, in the present context, with the realisation that the party will not be able to make it on its own, those declarations have been given the go by. The Congress(I)'s predicament is that it cannot even stick to the concept of being the dominant partner in a coalition that is made as a "special case". For, the Congress(I) cannot expect to have the upper hand in any alliances it make strike with the RJD in Bihar, the BSP in Uttar Pradesh and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.

The climbdown also militates against the stand taken by Arjun Singh and A.K. Antony that forming alliances does not help the long-term agenda of the party, which is restoring the organisation to its "past glory" at the national level. According to these leaders, the revival of the Congress(I)'s fortunes in the North Indian States, especially Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, is central to the party's plans, and any alliance with the RJD and the BSP will prove counter-productive.

The confusion over campaign strategy has divided the CWC. Arjun Singh, who was labelled the chief of the 'gang of four' (which comprises, apart from him, former Minister M.L. Fotedar, Sonia Gandhi's private Secretary Vincent George and R.D. Pradhan) at 10 Janpath that controlled Sonia Gandhi's activities is castigated privately by senior leaders.

A senior CWC member told Frontline that Arjun Singh misguided Sonia Gandhi at every stage, even making her erroneously claim to have the support of 272 MPs. "It was this faux pas," the CWC member said, "that upset the party's chances of being invited to form the government as the second largest party."

The groundswell of opinion against Arjun Singh has forced Sonia Gandhi to scale down his prominence in the party. He was not only taken off from the position of crisis-time spokesperson but, more significantly, not included in part of the delegation that met the President to complain against the Government overstepping its caretaker status.

Sonia Gandhi has a long way to go before resolving the problems and chalking out a viable election plan. What shape the Congress(I)'s strategy will take is not clear. But the biggest consolation for the party and its president is that the Election Commission may accede to its wish to have elections around September. Four months is a reasonably long enough time for any political leader to put his or her house in order.

'Only the Congress(I) can provide stability'

politics

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

For the past three months, P. Shiv Shankar, Deputy Leader of the Congress(I) in the dissolved Lok Sabha, aggressively pushed the line that the party should adopt a proactive position against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition Government. He told Frontline in March that the Congress(I) was getting set to "oppose, chastise and ultimately depose the government". Less than a month later the Congress(I) closed in for the kill, but its plans went awry. Shiv Shankar spoke to Venkitesh Ramakrishnan about the political developments and the party's plans. Excerpts:

The Congress(I) fulfilled its political objective in part when the Vajpayee Government was dislodged. However, the failure to instal an alternative government seems to have created an unfavourable situation for the party, especially in terms of popular appeal. The BJP is trying to create the impression that the Congress(I) lacks the ability to shape concrete alternatives.

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It is not correct to say that the party is facing an unfavourable situation in terms of popular appeal. The BJP is of course trying to spread the canard that the Congress(I) destabilised its coalition government. But the fact is that the government collapsed under the weight of its own differences. The problems between (Prime Minister Atal Behari) Vajpayee and the AIADMK were not created by us. And what is the BJP's complaint? That we did not support the government when one of its allies withdrew support? As an Opposition party, it was not our business to save the government.

As for the failure to form an alternative government, the question should be posed to other Opposition parties, such as the Samajwadi Party, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc. For one year, these parties clamoured that the Congress(I) was not aggressive enough. Some of them even said that we were helping the BJP government survive. And when the Congress(I) played the natural role of a party of the Opposition, brought the government down and sought their support to form the alternative, they backed out. The people understand all this. And that is why I say that your premise that the party has lost popular appeal is not correct.

These parties were essentially opposed to forming a minority Congress(I) government. They proposed another secular alternative in the form of a coalition government...

We never opposed the idea of forming a coalition alternative. But the fact was that it was impractical. The non- Congress(I) Opposition parties would have failed to agree on who should be part of such a coalition. That is why we put forward the idea of a minority government. Most of the secular Opposition parties agreed to the proposal.

But the Congress(I) shot down the proposal to make Jyoti Basu Prime Minister.

The proposal came in the form of a demand to allow the formation of yet another Third Front government under the leadership of Basu. We had supported two Third Front governments in the past and they had failed miserably. The Congress(I) is of the view that it cannot allow these experiments to go on in the name of secularism.

On the question of facing elections too, there seems to be some confusion in the Congress(I). Indications are that the party is not sure whether to put forward the traditional slogan of "single party rule" for stability or push the idea of a coalition.

There is no confusion on this. The Congress(I) is very clear that only it has the experience of running governments properly. The tragic experience of the United Front governments and the BJP coalition has proved that only the Congress(I) can provide stability to the country. And you will see the party making huge gains in the coming elections.

But Sharad Pawar has said that the election results would not be very different from what it was last time...

I think that is Pawar's personal opinion. I am sure that we will gain in a major way. Soniaji's tenure as party president has imparted a new vigour to the organisation. The party is integrated and its functioning is much more cohesive now. We are going to sweep the South Indian States and score significant gains in other areas. I can see this result in a hundred small things. Wherever I go people talk about how the Congress(I) is rejuvenated and how it has once again gifted a leader on whom the nation can rely.

Still, the Congress(I) is thinking in terms of alliances in Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh...

The Congress(I) has always had seat adjustments with regional parties. In Kerala, we have a full-fledged coalition that has functioned cohesively for several decades. All this does not detract the strength of our slogan that only the Congress(I) can provide good governance. The simple fact is that we are better even in running coalitions. Unlike the BJP, we do not forge an opportunistic coalition just to grab power and see it fall apart in a year.

Is this not a dilution of the declarations made at the Pachmarhi conclave?

As I said earlier, the Pachmarhi declaration is an ideal guideline. But in practical politics one has to mix idealism with pragmatism, keeping the good of the country in mind.

Politics of compulsions

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The Samajwadi Party appears to have resisted the idea of a Congress(I) minority government out of a desire for self-preservation.

ON April 20, even as party leaders were involved in hectic parleys to work out an alternative government in place of the deposed Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition Ministry, Samajwadi Party (S.P.) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav rushed to Lucknow on an urgent political mission. He was closeted with prominent S.P. activists of Uttar Pradesh for one day. The die was cast at this meeting: it was decided that the Congress(I) would not be allowed total control of the proposed new government.

The party directive was that the Congress(I) should not be permitted to form a minority government that was supported from outside by other Opposition parties. S.P. activists were clearly inclined towards a coalition that would be led either by the Congress(I) or by a non-Congress party, preferably the latter. Another acceptable scenario was a breakdown of the endeavours to form an alternative government, which would lead to a general election under the Vajpayee regime.

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Central to the discussions at the S.P. meeting was the perception that the basic objective of a Congress(I) government would be to hold Lok Sabha elections by the year-end or early next year. S.P activists were asked: what should the party do in such a situation? Contrary to media speculation that the S.P. was concerned mainly about losing Muslim votes to the Congress(I), the focus of the meeting was more on assessing the ability of the Congress(I) to attract Brahmin and other upper-caste votes in Uttar Pradesh.

State and district-level S.P. leaders unanimously concluded that the Congress(I) would be more successful in attracting upper-caste votes if it had greater control of the government at the Centre. If it were in a coalition government or out of power, its chances would be relatively slim. From a position of strength, the Congress(I) could defeat the BJP in at least a few seats at the cost of the S.P. Given that Muslim voters would resort to tactical voting as a way of neutralising the BJP, S.P. interests would be harmed further, the meeting concluded.

The meeting noted that Brahmins and other upper caste members, including prominent BJP leaders and legislators, were upset with the backward class orientation of the Kalyan Singh regime, particularly its tilt towards the Lodh and Kurmi communities. This factor is what partly motivated the open dissidence in the BJP against Kalyan Singh before and after the collapse of the Vajpayee Government. The meeting concluded that as this process was bound to accelerate, it would ultimately benefit the Congress(I) if it had monopoly at the Centre.

S.P. activists conjectured that if the Congress(I) ran a coalition government or if it supported a Third Front government from outside, the upper castes would not return to the Congress(I) in significant numbers. And they further believed that if the Vajpayee Government remained in power, only negligible numbers of upper caste voters would move towards the Congress(I). In a coalition arrangement, they concluded, there could be checks on the Congress(I) and a Ministry led by the Third Front would in fact help bolster the S.P. rank and file.

A senior S.P. leader from Uttar Pradesh told Frontline that these calculations were not fundamentally different from the party's position when the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha (RLM) was formed in June 1998. The RLM, which comprises the S.P. and Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal(RJD), was essentially formed to create a political entity that would help the Congress(I) and the United Front (U.F.) come together in order to dislodge the BJP Government.

At that time the BJP was playing up the differences between these entities, and it looked unlikely that they would openly support each other, especially because the Congress(I) had pulled down the U.F. Government on the issue of the Jain Commission report. The impasse necessitated the formation of a third entity which was acceptable to the U.F. and the Congress(I). The RLM constituents had a perceived advantage because the S.P. was part of the U.F. and the RJD was an ally of the Congress(I) in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections.

The S.P. leader confessed: "We wanted to share power when we exhorted the Congress(I) to take the lead to overthrow the Vajpayee Government." In fact, Mulayam Singh reportedly told the Congress(I) that if it did not want to be held responsible for "bad governance" and for "running a bad coalition", the S.P. was willing to lead the proposed alternative and shoulder the blame for all its shortcomings. However, the Congress(I) refused to take the bait. This time around the S.P. hit back by refusing to help Sonia Gandhi achieve her objective, the leader said.

There have been suggestions that Mulayam Singh was motivated by factors other than the political prospects in Uttar Pradesh. His alleged meetings with Samata Party leader George Fernandes and representatives of business groups have been mentioned in this context. However, S.P. leaders, including Mulayam Singh, deny this.

The S.P. is apparently satisfied with the situation in Uttar Pradesh. Mulayam Singh believes that the S.P. will emerge as the major secular force in the State. The S.P. leadership scoffed at suggestions that the Muslim masses resented its reluctance to instal a Congress(I) minority government. Reports from various sources, including the State intelligence agencies, corroborate these assertions. While urban Muslim voters appear to have shifted loyalty to the Congress(I), the rural Muslim vote is still steady with the S.P. Rural voters account for more than 70 per cent of the Muslim vote in the State. A senior leader of the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) said that some urban Muslim voters may be disenchanted with the S.P. but they would vote for the Congress(I) only if they were convinced that the party could defeat the BJP.

There are indications that the S.P. is making moves to win over recalcitrant upper caste BJP legislators. Several MLAs have responded positively to the overtures. A senior S.P. leader told Frontline that the party's game plan was to cause the holding of Assembly elections along with Lok Sabha elections. The S.P. would like to focus on local and regional issues rather than on issues such as stability, which would be the Congress(I)'s plank.

Another advantage that the S.P. has is that its organisational machinery is superior to that of the Congress(I). Notwithstanding stupendous efforts by Uttar Pradesh Congress(I) president Salman Khurshid, the Congress(I) is yet to restructure its organisational machinery. The S.P. has committees in almost every panchayat ward. By denying the Congress(I) an opportunity to rule on its own and regain its strength, Mulayam Singh and his supporters played a shrewd game. However, in the final analysis, both the Congress(I) and the S.P. could be the losers because any division of the secular vote would translate into gains for the BJP and its associates.

'Nobody can isolate us from the people'

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Several Opposition parties blame Samajwadi Party (S.P.) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav for the failure to form an alternative government after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition was voted out. The Congress(I), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the S.P.'s partner in the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha (RLM), allege that Mulayam Singh's stubborn stance prevented the Congress(I) from forming a minority government. As a consequence of the events in Delhi, a perception has gained ground that the S.P. is politically isolated. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan met Mulayam Singh Yadav for an interview. Excerpts:

In the final analysis, your adamant stand against the Congress(I) scuttled the formation of an alternative government. How do you justify your stand?

I should make it clear that the S.P. did not prevent the formation of an alternative. It was the Congress(I)'s adamant stand of negating the candidature of a wise, senior and renowned leader such as Jyoti Basu for the Prime Minister's post that stood against the formation of the alternative. If only the Congress(I) was ready to atone for its past sins against secularism as well as against secular governments, mid-term elections would not have been inflicted on the country.

Coming to the S.P.'s opposition to a Congress(I) minority government, please remember that the Left parties, such as the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc, and former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar's Samajwadi Janata Party, were also against it. Even if the S.P. had extended support, the Congress(I) would not have been able to form the government.

However, the CPI(M) and the RJD blame you.

They have their opinions on the sequence of events. I have mine. But the CPI(M) finally agreed to make Basuji the Prime Minister. The party held the Congress(I) responsible for pushing the country to the polls. The differences within the Left and the RLM will pass. The future will see us working together again.

When the RLM was formed last year, you said that the days of anti-Congressism were over. The RLM asked the Congress(I) to take the lead in toppling the Vajpayee Government and taking over the reins of power at the Centre. Now you say that the Congress(I) and the BJP are two sides of the same coin, but the RJD continues with its earlier position. What caused the change of heart?

If you look at our statements and policies since the formation of the RLM, you will see that there is no change. We wanted the Vajpayee Government to go because we thought that its promotion of the communal and fascist agenda of the Sangh Parivar was not good for the country. And as the Congress(I) was the largest Opposition party, we were ready to give it an opportunity to lead the fight against it. However, throughout the past year the Congress(I) failed miserably in taking up this responsibility. Instead, the Congress(I) helped the Government survive and was hand in glove with it to push through anti-people legislation on patents and insurance. On top of it all, the Congress(I) mouthed the BJP language and asserted its commitment to Hindutva. Congress(I) leaders such as Arjun Singh are trying to teach us the values of secularism. Nothing could be more ludicrous than this. As a matter of fact, the national executive meeting of the S.P. in Bhopal in February highlighted the fact that the rights and interests of the poor majority of the country are not safe with either the BJP or the Congress(I). The welfare of the people can be ensured only by strengthening the Left and democratic forces. The convention had given a clear direction on this question and emphasised the need to build a third front of secular and democratic parties. And, Lalooji was a party to these decisions as he also had attended the conference as a fraternal delegate. Earlier, CPI(M) leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet was the chief guest at a workers' meeting in Etawah, which gave the direction for the decision taken in Bhopal.

There is also the perception that you were hand in glove with the BJP's allies, such as Samata Party leader George Fernandes, to help the BJP-led Government to continue in the caretaker capacity because a BJP government suits you better than a Congress(I) government at the time of elections. It is also said that this association with the Samata Party may lead to an electoral understanding.

These stories are cooked up and are propagated by the Congress(I) and the BJP with one aim - to vilify the S.P. before its supporters. But this will not succeed. The S.P's followers know that I have never been hand in glove with forces inimical to the national interest and communal harmony and will never associate with such forces in the future. George Fernandes is a leader who has lost his great socialist soul to the forces of Hindutva. To think that I will join hands with him is political naivete.

But there is the impression that the S.P. has been isolated from its political friends.

It has been fashionable for long for the representatives of the upper classes, including sections of the media, to "isolate" forces of social justice, such as the S.P. Despite their best efforts we continue to grow from strength to strength. That is because nobody can isolate us from the people. For, we represent the values of secularism, egalitarian development and the dedication to fight communalism and economic policies that militate against the national interest. We will continue our struggle in these directions and you will see the coming elections spring a surprise on all those who have written the S.P's obituary.

Reports from Uttar Pradesh suggest that the minority vote base of the S.P. is shifting towards the Congress(I) in the background of the recent events.

I do not want to comment at length on this. But do you think that the Muslim minority will believe the party that helped the Sangh Parivar demolish the Babri Masjid more than the party that sacrificed its government to protect the masjid? If you have come to such a conclusion, you credit the people with no intelligence. Just wait and see. The people of Uttar Pradesh and the rest of the country will teach the communalists as well as pretenders to secularism a fitting lesson.

Strange bedfellows

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Breaking ranks with old friends, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam drifts towards the Bharatiya Janata Party in a desperate bid to isolate the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu.

THE ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu has virtually decided to align itself with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Lok Sabha elections. Their other allies may include the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress (TRC). This realignment of political parties in Tamil Nadu is broadly in consonance with the pattern of voting on the confidence motion in the Lok Sabha on April 17.

The DMK breaking ranks with its allies - the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Janata Dal and the Indian National League (INL) - and voting for the confidence motion was a surprise. The MDMK, the PMK and the TRC, which were allies of the BJP, also voted in favour of the motion.

After the fall of the Government, the DMK was the first off the mark in looking for new allies. At the DMK administrative council meeting on May 1 in Chennai, party president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said that the general council and the executive committee of the party would take a final decision on a "new front" after the Election Commission announced the election dates. However, it appeared to be a foregone conclusion that the DMK would go with the BJP, the MDMK, the PMK and the TRC. This much was evident from the tenor of the administrative council's prolix resolution, which denounced the CPI(M) in particular, and attacked the CPI, the TMC and the Congress(I) to a lesser degree. Karunanidhi bristled at the CPI(M)'s allegation that the DMK's stand in supporting the Vajpayee Government was "opportunistic". He claimed that the CPI(M) had also changed its position on various issues and on various occasions.

Events moved rapidly after Karunanidhi strongly hinted on May 1 that the DMK was keen on an electoral alliance with the BJP, the PMK, the MDMK and the TRC.

After the TRC executive committee met on May 2, its founder and Union Petroleum Minister Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthi told reporters that his party would continue to be a part of the BJP-led alliance and that if the DMK became a part in it, the TRC would wholeheartedly welcome it. He predicted that Jayalalitha would be isolated in Tamil Nadu, and added sarcastically that "nationally, she may have a few friends like Mayawati and Sonia Gandhi". Ramamuthi saw a Vajpayee wave in the making.

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On May 3, PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss met Karunanidhi and finalised their alliance. Ramamurthi was present at the meeting. Informed sources said that the Union Minister played an important role in bringing them together.

Karunanidhi called it a "good beginning" and a "good sign". A few hours after this meeting, BJP leader and Union Power Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam met Karunanidhi.

IT will be interesting to watch the proceedings involving the DMK and the BJP, given the fact that the DMK's rationalist Dravidian politics is antagonistic in spirit to the BJP's Hindutva philosophy. Similarly, any joint campaigning by DMK and MDMK cadres will be an interesting spectacle. For Vaiko broke away from the DMK to found the MDMK. There was also no love lost between the DMK on the one side and the PMK and the TRC on the other.

It looks as if there will be a three-way contest in the State for the 39 Lok Sabha seats. The other two possible fronts will consist of respectively: the Congress(I) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), and the TMC, the CPI(M), the CPI, the Janata Dal and the INL. The Congress(I), which did not win any seat in the 1996 and 1998 Lok Sabha elections, will now be sought by the AIADMK and the TMC. Given its own weak presence in the State, the Congress(I) will prefer to rely on the AIADMK's support base and cadre strength to try and stay afloat.

However, the road to this partnership may not be smooth because the AIADMK is bound to drive a hard bargain in the matter of the sharing of seats. The Congress(I), however, is keeping its options open. It may well give a wide berth to the AIADMK if the Supreme Court upholds the appointment of three Special Judges to try the 46 corruption cases against AIADMK general secretary and former Chief Minister Jayalalitha, her former ministerial colleagues, and some bureaucrats, and also quashes the Centre's notification of February 5 transferring the cases from special judges to sessions judges.

In such a situation, the Congress(I) will do business with the TMC led by G.K. Moopanar, who broke away from the Congress(I) in 1996 to float the TMC. Informed TMC sources said that Moopanar had told Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi that the AIADMK, which has been seen to have resorted to "blackmailing techniques", would be a millstone around her neck. TMC sources said that Sonia Gandhi had not taken a decision yet. Moopanar hopes that the Congress(I) would align itself with the TMC in order to form a broad-based front comprising the DMK, the CPI(M), the CPI and the Janata Dal. But the DMK jumped the gun and indicated its preference for the BJP. Political observers are nonplussed by this as even in late April, a top DMK leader had expressed the DMK's keenness to align itself with the Congress(I).

The clearest enunciation of its position has come from the TMC, which has said that it will oppose in equal measure the communalism of the BJP and the corruption of the AIADMK. Moopanar said on April 28: "We are clear in our policy of not going with the BJP or the AIADMK... if the DMK has an understanding with the BJP, then I cannot be there." He added: "Any party's chances will be affected if they join hands with the AIADMK." In effect, Moopanar ruled out any tie-up with the Congress(I) if the AIADMK was a part of the deal.

The Left parties reacted with indignation to the DMK's decision. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury said: "It is unfortunate. They (DMK) all along professed to fight communalism. This is a sudden volte-face." CPI national secretary D. Raja accused the DMK of "taking a stand against secular, democratic forces..." However, in Moopanar's assessment, Karunanidhi was leaving his options open, as he had said the final decision would be taken at a joint meeting of the DMK general council and the executive committee. "Karunanidhi has not pronounced the final word on his party's stand regarding an electoral alliance," Moopanar said.

Janata Dal president Sharad Yadav was more bitter. He said: "We sacrificed the United Front Government for the DMK, which has now ditched us."

The DMK administrative council resolution, which made out a case for the formation of a new front, explained why the party decided to back the confidence motion. According to the resolution, the DMK's view had been that its allies (namely the TMC, the CPI(M) and the CPI) and the DMK should jointly take a stand on the confidence motion. According to the resolution, the DMK made it clear that no party should fall into the trap set by Jayalalitha because her motive in toppling the Government was to extricate herself from the corruption cases and to get the DMK Government dismissed. So the DMK decided not to back Jayalalitha's move to dislodge the BJP-led Government.

The resolution said: "(Our) allies thought over it and gave us an assurance as if they will accept our standpoint. However, since they took a decision on their own without even informing us, the DMK decided to support the confidence motion."

The DMK resolution targeted the CPI(M) and claimed that party general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet accepted DMK leader Murasoli Maran's explanation that the DMK could not be seen in the company of the AIADMK. The resolution said the DMK received reliable information that Sonia Gandhi had agreed to Jayalalitha's demands for the repeal of cases against her and the dismissal of the DMK Government. According to the resolution, after the fall of the Government, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat ruled out any electoral understanding with the DMK even before the DMK had taken any decision on its allies. "This is akin to the horse throwing off its rider and digging his grave too," the DMK resolution said.

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Besides, a public meeting organised by the TMC, the CPI(M), the CPI, the Janata Dal and the INL in Chennai on April 28, "supposedly"aimed to persuade the DMK back into their fold, instead heaped abuse on the DMK, the resolution said. It assured the minorities that "whatever be the changes in the political situation, the DMK will perform its historic task of safeguarding their welfare."

Karunanidhi rejected the allegation that the DMK was being opportunistic. He said that at the 16th CPI(M) congress in Calcutta in October 1998, the BJP and the Congress(I) were described as being of the same hue, and that one was in no way better than the other. However, this time the CPI(M) sought to make Sonia Gandhi the Prime Minister," he said.

According to CPI(M) Polit Bureau member R. Umanath, Karunanidhi was "factually wrong" when he alleged that the CPI(M) congress had viewed both the Congress(I) and the BJP as being of the same hue. He said: "The party congress made it clear that our main task is to fight the BJP."

DMK sources said that the party preferred to go with the BJP because the BJP was prepared to form a coalition government with the DMK as a partner at the Centre if it returned to power. Besides, the BJP would not insist on a lion's share of seats to contest from Tamil Nadu. This would enable the DMK, the BJP, the PMK and the MDMK to contest more seats than they did in February 1998. Conversely, the Congress(I) was averse to forming a coalition government and wanted a big share of seats to contest.

As in the case of the Congress(I), the AIADMK is keeping its options open. If an alliance with the Congress(I) does not fructify, it is prepared for a tie-up with a third front. Jayalalitha said that there were "definite chances" of her party forging an alliance with the third front. But there is a rub: the TMC will then back out of the third front.

In election mode

V.VENKATESAN politics

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The collapse of the coalition government has placed the Election Commission in the unenviable position of having to hold a round of mid-term elections at short notice in the most difficult part of the year.

CHIEF Election Commissioner M.S. Gill was on a lecture tour of the United States and the United Kingdom when the 12th Lok Sabha was dissolved, on April 26. He had spoken at various universities on Indian democracy, expressing optimism about the success of the Indian political system. Naturally, he could not have been amused by the turn of events in New Delhi. Gill rushed back to India and held consultations with President K.R. Narayanan on the issues involved in setting the electoral process in motion, and met leaders of various political parties informally to obtain their views on the time-frame.

The Election Commission was hardly prepared for a round of mid-term elections, and Gill and the two Election Commissioners, G.V.G. Krishnamurthy and J.M. Lyngodh, were caught unawares. Gill maintained after his meeting with the President that the 13th Lok Sabha would be constituted in good time after "intensive examination" of all aspects. The next Lok Sabha has to be constituted on or before October 22: Article 85(1) of the Constitution states that "six months shall not intervene between its last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first setting in the next session."

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The CEC pointed out that elections to nine State Assemblies (Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Goa, Maharashtra, Sikkim, Orissa and Bihar) were due between October 1999 and March 2000, and that the possibility of clubbing them with elections to the Lok Sabha would be considered. The Commission, according to sources, would consider the logic of holding simultaneous elections in order to avoid duplication of efforts in matters such as the movement of security forces, the deployment of civil servants, schoolteachers and local functionaries, the opening of polling booths, the transportation of ballot papers and the blocking of schools to serve as polling and counting centres.

The Commission was of the view that the financial crunch faced by some States was also a factor that could delay the conduct of elections. The Centre is yet to reimburse to some States expenditure incurred in conducting the last Lok Sabha elections. Conservative estimates put the expenditure on the next elections at Rs.800 crores, and most State budgets have made no provision for mid-term polls.

Besides, the Commission does not want to call off the ongoing process of summary revision of electoral rolls undertaken with a view to including the names of all those who have attained 18 years of age as on January 1, 1999, as it would enable about 40 lakh voters who could be left out of the voters' lists to challenge in court the E.C's decision. The revision of rolls is expected to be over by mid-July.

Disappointed that the 12th Lok Sabha could not complete its term, Gill had even suggested the introduction of a constitutional amendment to ensure that the Lok Sabha lasted its full term.

EVEN as it was getting down to business, the Election Commission was caught between conflicting demands from national and regional political formations on the timing of the elections. While the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies, which hoped to cash in on a supposed "sympathy wave" in thier favour, called for early elections, preferably in the second week of June, parties in the opposite camp, including the Samajwadi Party, the Tamil Maanila Congress, and the Left parties such as the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), were in favour of a September-October schedule, after the summer and the monsoon.

In a joint memorandum submitted to the Election Commission on April 29, the CPI and the CPI(M) underlined the need to complete the revision of the electoral rolls so that all citizens who have attained the age of 18 years can vote in the coming elections. "It will be an injustice to deny them, as citizens, the right to vote in such a major election," the letter said. The Left parties also pointed out that by the time the rolls were revised the monsoon would be in full swing, which would hamper both campaigning and voting. Polls were not feasible before July as the entire northern region would be reeling under heat and the monsoon would have set in in the southern and western coastal regions, the memorandum explained.

The Congress(I) declared its intention to abide by the E.C's decision, although it broadly hinted that it would like the elections to be delayed. Party representatives Pranab Mukherjee and Sharad Pawar, who called on the Election Commissioners on April 30, suggested that the process of updating the electoral rolls be completed before the elections. The Congress(I) did not take a stand on the issue of holding simultaneous elections in nine States.

It is difficult to believe that the political parties have stated the actual reasons for their positions on the poll dates. The BJP and its allies have maintained that it is not right to have a caretaker government at the Centre for a period of well over five months. A question asked was whether the 'caretaker' Government would be allowed to take major policy decisions such as a decision on signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and meeting India's commitments to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

However, the Government also asserted on April 28 that it did not agree with the concept of 'caretaker government' as the Constitution does not provide for it; as such, it would be well within its right to function as a democratically elected government and take decisions on issues of national importance as and when necessary, it said. Despite this claim, the BJP and its allies are acutely aware of the Government's limitations and so wanted early elections in order to end the political uncertainty. Giving reasons for their objections to delaying the elections until September, the coalition leaders said that the services of schoolteachers could be used in June when the schools remained closed for vacation; between July and September, they said, there was the possibility of floods and rain disrupting transport and communication facilities in several States.

Election Commission sources were quick to point out the apparent contradiction in the Government's position: on the one hand it claimed that it was a full-fledged government and on the other its leaders lamented that if the polls were delayed the people would be deprived of an elected government that could be responsive to the nation's problems.

The BJP and its allies probably fear that a delay in holding the elections held the prospect of alienation of voters from the Government as a result of price rise and food shortages caused by a bad monsoon. Also, it hopes that if the elections are held in June, the failure of the Opposition parties to cobble together an alternative government after pulling down the Vajpayee Government would be fresh in the minds of the voters and generate sympathy for the BJP.

The BJP and its allies, and also the Telugu Desam Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, warned that any delay in the holding of elections would result in an economic slowdown for six months. Venkaiah Naidu said that elections could be held on the basis of last year's electoral rolls. Revision of electoral rolls was being used as an excuse to delay elections, he alleged. No Lok Sabha elections had taken place during the period between July and October, he said.

The Commission was not impressed with the argument that the caretaker government should not continue for long only because it would be handicapped without sufficient powers to take decisions. In its view, meeting the commitments made to the WTO would pose no problem if the Prime Minister sought a consensus on the matter among political parties.

The E.C. asked the Government to exercise restraint and function within the framework of established democratic norms until a model code of conduct was in place. The Congress(I) complained to the Commission about misuse of the government-controlled media by the incumbent caretaker government. In his address to the nation on April 28, Vajpayee had appealed to all political parties to ensure that the "election of the millennium" was conducted in a peaceful and transparent manner.

The debate about the time-frame apart, Gill said that the E.C. would be blamed whichever month it ultimately chose for the polls. Krishnamurthy, who shared this view, warned that any miscalculation would affect the turnout; in areas facing extreme climatic conditions it could also lead to cancellation of elections, he said. Even as Gill admitted that the various aspects of conducting the elections "worried and frightened" him, the "mother of all elections", involving nearly 600 million voters, promises to be as exciting as ever.

Uncertain in Uttar Pradesh

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The political situation in Uttar Pradesh is becoming increasingly complex with BJP dissidents and the alliance partners of the party stepping up their campaign against Chief Minister Kalyan Singh.

ALL through April, the fortunes of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh swung like a pendulum, between serious threat to the survival of his Government and a fresh reprieve. In this dicey situation, the divisions within the State unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party as also the ruling coalition assumed unprecedented dimensions, so much so that the BJP and its allies admitted that they were ill-prepared to face elections to the 85 Lok Sabha seats in the State.

Central to the problem is the resentment, within the BJP and the coalition partners, the Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress (UPLC) and the Jantantrik Bahujan Samaj Party, over Kalyan Singh's "autocratic style of functioning". The strategies of Opposition parties such as the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress(I), have had an add-on effect. In a sense, it is the inability of the Opposition parties to link themselves successfully with the dissidents in the BJP or with the dissatisfied allies that has helped the Kalyan Singh Ministry survive. However, with the Lok Sabha elections approaching, there are indications that the S.P. is keen on a decisive tie-up with both the groups.

It is learnt that the dissidents plan another mission to New Delhi. According to a senior dissident leader, 50 BJP MLAs will visit Delhi to demand Kalyan Singh's removal. He said that the dissidents, ranks had swollen in the past month, making them strong enough to strike.

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Dissidence gained momentum in the first week of April after Family Welfare Minister Devendra Singh Bhole resigned, accusing the Chief Minister of "corruption, prejudice and being under the influence of bureaucrats". Immediately after submitting his resignation, Bhole, along with Sarjit Singh Dang, MLA, and Rajesh Pandey, Member of the Legislative Council, led a delegation of 30 party rebels to New Delhi and submitted a memorandum to A.B. Vajpayee. The dissidents argued that Kalyan Singh's leadership affected the party's organisational development and that this was bound to impair its electoral prospects. "This trend can be reversed if Kalyan Singh is replaced," they claim. They have adopted a more aggressive posture as their earlier complaint to the Central leadership did not result in any concrete action. A rebel leader told Frontline that they were now in a "do or die" mood. If the intensity of the dissidence is anything to go by, this statement is no exaggeration. It is learnt that already 30 MLAs have prepared their resignation letters, which are expected to be submitted to the party's national president, Kushabhau Thakre, if the demand to replace Kalyan Singh is not accepted.

Immediately after the collapse of the Vajpayee Government at the Centre, many rebel leaders started receiving threatening telephone calls. The caller warned them that they and their family would come to great harm if the activities against the Chief Minister were not stopped. Kalyan Singh went on the offensive and told a public meeting: "If a king's pleasure does not bring benefits to those who receive his benevolence and if a king's anger does not bring damage to those who are the targets of his anger, he is not fit to be a king." He went on to imply that dissidence would be put down: "I am not an inefficient king." Obviously, the rebels drew the right conclusion.

The Chief Minister's supporters, however, scoff at their efforts. A senior leader, referring to the campaign in April, pointed out that although the dissidents thought that they were on the verge of victory, everything came to naught.

This bravado notwithstanding, it is clear that the pro-Kalyan Singh camp is unnerved. The idea of a change of leadership had the sanction of Vajpayee and Murli Manohar Joshi, long-time adversaries of Kalyan Singh, and was almost approved by Kushabhau Thakre. The threat to Kalyan Singh became all the more real when the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) withdrew support to the Vajpayee Government and the Central leadership made a desperate attempt to woo the BSP. Vajpayee's confidants in the State BJP, such as Lalji Tandon, had suggested the removal of Kalyan Singh and soft-pedalling on the corruption cases against former Chief Minister and BSP leader Mayawati. Even as the proposal received wide support among the Central leadership, Kalyan Singh rushed to New Delhi and used his mentor L.K. Advani's clout with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to stall it.

YET the Chief Minister's troubles are far from over. Apparently, 25 of the 50 MLAs opposed to him are even ready to quit the BJP in order to carry forward the struggle to a decisive end. If that happens, the Kalyan Singh Government, which enjoys a slender majority of seven, will collapse. This could also lead to simultaneous elections to the Assembly and the Lok Sabha.

It is in this context that the S.P.'s political strategy comes into play. Already fighting a vigorous battle to retain its position as the foremost secular party in the State, it would prefer simultaneous elections as such a scenario would help it focus more on regional issues. If the Lok Sabha elections alone are held, the Congress(I) has an advantage because issues such as stability and proven record of governance at the Centre will dominate the campaign.

The coming days are crucial for all political forces in the State.

An alarmist view on nuclear safety: NPC speaks

other

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

It is clear from the article by Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan, titled "Issues of nuclear safety" (Frontline, March 26), that the author's main objective is to induce changes in the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 and the powers of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). However, in his attempt to do so, he has made several comments about safety issues at the nuclear power stations operated by the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) at Tarapur, Maharashtra; Rawatbhatta, Rajasthan; Narora, Uttar Pradesh; Kakrapar, Gujarat; Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu; and Kaiga, Karnataka. The comments are not based solely on fact; in fact, they seek to create an alarmist view regarding a national programme as important as the nuclear power programme, which has a tremendous role to play in achieving self-reliance in the energy sector.

At the outset, the NPC wants to set the record straight by pointing out that safety is of the utmost concern to it. Its expertise in this regard is internationally acknowledged. In fact, NPC engineers have shared their expertise internationally by participating in safety reviews and inspection of reactors in other countries conducted by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). We are continuously updating our safety systems and procedures even at the cost of short-term economic benefit. Besides, all our plants are designed, constructed, commissioned, operated and maintained under the strict supervision of the AERB. The regulatory agency has pointed out from time to time various safety-related improvements that the NPC should make with regard to systems and operating procedures as a matter of abundant caution. The NPC has been abiding by these directives in letter and spirit. Whenever the AERB's experts have made a suggestion for improvement to the NPC directly, it has taken steps to implement it. We do not consider the AERB, the NPC, various undertakings under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and even the experts in the various Indian Institutes of Technology and other academic institutions in India as being adversaries. We are all part of a single scientific fraternity that has been mandated by the founding fathers of the nation to develop and deliver the numerous benefits of nuclear energy to the nation in an economical and safe manner.

It has been the practice of the AERB to bring to the notice of the Station Directors and other executives of the NPC any lapse or scope for improvement in safety procedures. Such directives have been immediately attended to. In fact, as the licensing authority the AERB has the power to shut down any reactor at any time if it deems it necessary. Dr. Gopalakrishnan deviated from all these practices just before his term ended as Chairman, AERB and came out with a list of 130 "safety issues" and submitted it to the Atomic Energy Commission. The Commission asked the NPC to reply to this report. The NPC found that 95 of the 130 "safety issues" concerned its area of operation and submitted a report to the AEC. Out of the 95 "safety issues", 78 have been implemented and the remaining 17 are under various stages of implementation. Some of them are of a medium- and long-term nature. The AERB has not come under any pressure from the DAE to suppress this report; instead, it has overseen the time-bound implementation of the report.

There are a number of vested interests internationally who are running down India's self-reliant achievements in nuclear energy and have been periodically using the international media to create fear psychosis. "Another Chernobyl in the making", "Sitting on a volcano" and so on have been the refrains, which are nothing but half-truths and motivated lies. It is clear that these international quarters are in no way interested in nuclear safety, but are bitten by the old colonial bug of "white man's burden". Unfortunately, the author's refrain of "130 safety issues" has added grist to the mill.

In order to clear some misplaced doubts raised in the article, the following information is presented:

The NPC's reactors have worked at plant load factors of 60 per cent (1995-96), 67 per cent (1996-97), 71 per cent (1997-98) and 75 per cent (1998-March 1999) and are yielding a handsome return on investment to the government, with net profits of Rs.152 crores, Rs.253 crores, Rs.265 crores and Rs.326 crores (till March 1999) during the respective periods. No doubt the NPC is the envy of any power utility company in India, whether in the private sector or the public sector. The article states: "TAPS-1 and 2 (reactors at Tarapur) should have been shut down long ago." Although these reactors are over 25 years old, their life has been extended; even the parts which the author claims are "uninspectable nor do Indian scientists have the tools or technology for doing this" have been inspected, using sophisticated robots developed by the DAE, and the reactors have been found to be safe. The two reactors are working at above 100 per cent capacity (160 MWe, derated from 210 MWe owing to the non-availability of secondary steam generators) and produced over 2.3 billion units of power in the last 12 months. This, incidentally, is sold to electricity boards at an attractive price of 82 paise a unit. It is a boon in power-starved India. Regarding the Rajasthan reactors, the coolant channels at RAPS-2 have been replaced under the strictest international norms of quality control and tested to the satisfaction of the AERB before restart-up. Now this unit is running well. It is an important feat achieved by NPC engineers. During the same operation, a high-pressure injection core cooling system was introduced. A similar operation of re-tubing and connecting the high pressure emergency core cooling system will be carried out at RAPS-1 as well during a planned shut-down. The MAPS reactors are being continuously monitored for any sagging in the coolant tubes and on the basis of the Rajasthan experience there is a plan to re-tube them as well. Currently they are being operated in a safe manner and in the past year they have supplied over 2.2 billion units of electricity to the grid. GEC, the designers of the turbines at Narora, found that owing to poor water chemistry, the turbine blades had developed small cracks in other installations worldwide. GEC recommended first inspection of blades after 20,000 hours of operation and thereafter every 5,000 hours until the blades were modified. The NPC was planning to carry out the work accordingly. However, the blades failed, leading to a fire after only 16,000 hours of operation. Later it was found that wide-ranging frequencies in the Northern Grid had led to the failure. Thus it was a situation beyond the control of the NPC. However, the fail-safe systems built into the reactor worked, the operators took timely action and there was no nuclear accident. Since then, not only at Narora but at Kaiga, Kakrapar, Madras and Rajasthan, the blades have been modified as a measure of abundant caution though they had thousands of hours more to go. It is not true, as was mentioned in the article, that Narora was on the brink of a core meltdown. Indian reactors are safe against such an eventuality of a fire incident and they will go into a safe subcritical mode in case of a station black-out. After the unfortunate delamination in the inner containment dome at Kaiga-1 during its construction, a stringent design review was carried out to the satisfaction of the AERB. Redesigned domes with high performance M-60 concrete (used for the first time in India) have been built in Kaiga and Rajasthan. These projects are nearing completion after a delay of three years caused by the redesign process. All pre-commissioning tests are being conducted at the sites under the supervision of the AERB. The NPC has not only considered safety to be a paramount requirement but has tried its best to inform and educate the public through its Department of Health, Safety, Environment and Public Awareness headed by an executive at the level of a director. An informed public will support this national endeavour and not panic owing to scare-mongering by misinformed Indians or motivated foreigners when anti-science and irrationalism are on the rise worldwide. The Directorate publishes a large amount of literature, conducts exhibitions, organises seminars and so on to raise the scientific temper in the country. Most of this information is available in the magazine NuPower which is produced by the NPC and distributed freely. Recently the NPC's Web site (https://www.npcil.org) was launched. Anyone who needs more detailed or technical information regarding health and safety at the NPC, its financial performance and so on may contact the NPC's offices. They can also be put on the mailing list for NuPower. We are extremely sad that Dr. Gopalakrishnan, an erudite and knowledgeable engineer himself with whom we have had a long association, is now tilting at windmills. If he wants to educate parliamentarians about the need for a new law or any other matter of public interest, he should use means other than misdirected scare-mongering. M.Das Chief Engineer, Health, Safety & Public Awareness NPC, Mumbai

Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan, former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, responded to the NPC's comments on his article. Excerpts:

I stand by all the data and information given in my article. The article was written with the twin objectives of arousing public interest towards demanding a truly independent nuclear regulatory agency in India and exposing authoritatively the untruths and misconceptions spread by the NPC and the DAE on matters related to the safety and economics of nuclear power. Let me answer some of the specific comments made by the NPC.

The average capacity factors for Indian nuclear power stations which I have quoted in my article are as published in Nuclear Engineering International (December 1995), calculated by the publication on the basis of data taken from the annual reports of the DAE, the NPC and the Central Electricity Authority (CEA). To my knowledge, the NPC has never questioned these data. Without questioning any of the figures I have given in the article, the NPC has now cited new data relating to the period since 1996; I have no means to check the veracity of the data relating to this period. The international practice is to compute capacity factors on the basis of the initial installed power capacity of a reactor unit. If, as in the case of India, the operating power level of a reactor is lower than this initial capacity, one has to account for this inherent inability to raise power as a shortfall in the capacity factor, since the investment was intended for the initial installed capacity level. By not doing this and manipulating the data in many other ways, the DAE and the NPC are cooking up high capacity factors to mislead the public, Parliament and the Government. Let the DAE publish an open technical report with the complete raw data and an analysis of the economics and performance of nuclear power stations since their inception, including the details of all costs on mining and uranium metal production, fuel element fabrication, waste processing, waste disposal and so on, which are currently not accounted for

The reactors at the Tarapur Atomic Power Station (TAPS), by virtue of their 1960s design, have many highly-stressed crucial inside locations which are unreachable, even with the world's most sophisticated remote-handling tools. This, among other reasons such as the high cost of repairs and modifications, is why similar reactors all over the world have been shut down. Besides being costly, these repairs will require supplies of foreign components and skills that are far beyond the DAE's present capabilities. With all these deficiencies, the TAPS reactors are run at a great risk to the population. The inspections done by the NPC are at best in only 50 per cent of the locations that are inspectable. To carry out these inspections, India again sought assistance from the United States as late as in 1994; the request was turned down. The fact that such a request was made shows that the DAE lacked the technological confidence to tackle the problems in Tarapur. When the Indian request was turned down, I had warned both the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and State Department officials that the U.S. would be held morally responsible if a major accident happened in the American reactors at Tarapur owing to the denial of spare parts and assistance in inspection. The U.S. responded by saying that India had the option to shut down the reactors, instead of subjecting its people to this increased risk. But the DAE's position hardened following this: it decided not to shut down the reactors but to run them with whate

The low cost of nuclear power and the so-called revenues earned by the NPC are irrelevant. Of course, if the DAE does not spend any money to get qualified spare parts or inspection tools for a reactor, postpones repairs for more than 20 years after they have been identified as essential, and does not take into account the large associated costs in the rest of the nuclear fuel cycle, it is no surprise that it is able to show attractive revenues and profits. All these earnings and much more will evaporate in no time, along with the reactor core, if a devastating accident occurs.

In 1994, the DAE and the NPC approached Canada for consultancy, technical assistance and tooling to carry out the replacement of coolant tubes in the second unit of the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station. If the DAE and the NPC were confident of their technological knowledge and capabilities to do this job for the first time ever in India on their own, why did they seek Canadian assistance? It is difficult to believe the NPC's claim that the retubing at RAPS-2 was done excellently. Neither the DAE nor the NPC nor the AERB has ever undertaken a similar job, and only time will tell whether or not it is indeed a high-quality repair job. The recent incident in which 14 tonnes of radioactive heavy water was spilled at the Madras Atomic Power Station also does not reflect the NPC's claim that it has learnt enough about the maintenance and repair of such reactors.

As regards the cracks in the turbine blades in the Narora Atomic Power Station, GEC recommended the first inspection of blades after 20,000 hours of operation for the company's customers world-wide who were operating their turbines within the stipulated low level of vibration. In India, given the frequency fluctuations in the Northern Grid and the frequent shutdowns and re-starts, the NPC has been operating the NAPS turbines at high levels of blade vibration. And yet, with all the expertise it claims it has, the DAE did not foresee that, given these operational conditions, fatigue failure of blades could occur much earlier than 20,000 hours. In fact, BHEL did realise this and recommended that the NPC replace the blade design before any accident occurred. But the DAE did not act on this advice until after the accident. The cause was an unquestioning belief in a guideline without examining its technical basis and the ground realities in India, which in most cases are much more adverse than those experienced abroad.

The delamination of the containment dome at Kaiga was an avoidable incident. Senior NPC civil engineers and the private firms which provide civil engineering designs and construction drawings to the DAE have had a close relationship. In this atmosphere of comradeship, the NPC engineers did not carry out the necessary quality checks on the designs they received before passing them on to the Kaiga project team. The AERB also did not check this, because it had almost no civil engineering staff with it. Serious design errors went undetected and these eventually led to the failure of the dome. It was negligence by the NPC civil engineering team that caused this. A distorted NPC report, which tried to cover up this reason, was rejected outright by the non-DAE members of the AEC, while the AERB report that spelt out in detail the actual reasons was approved.

Whenever the facts and evidence go against it, the DAE takes shelter behind the AERB, which it created and controls. The AERB's approval has, therefore, no sanctity in the present set-up where the Board is used as instrument of convenience by the DAE to mislead the public, the Government and Parliament. The entire structure and line of control of the AERB needs to be altered and the DAE's hold on it removed if the AERB is to do its job properly.

The NPC statement says that I "deviated from all these practices... and came out with a list of 130 safety issues and submitted it to the AEC." The AERB reports to the AEC; its charter is to carry out independent evaluations of safety. All that the AERB did in 1995 was to refer back to the earlier recommendations of the various safety committees of the DAE, the NPC and the AERB and consolidate the unfinished actions in a report. What was wrong with this? The AERB was fully within its rights, and the entire Board approved its action. It appears to have hurt the DAE because the DAE could not sweep those issues under the carpet with the collusion of the AERB, as it did in the past. Its game was fully exposed in the process. But the preparation of the 1995 Safety Issues Document and its submission to the full membership of the AEC was a bold and necessary step. It focussed attention on the callousness and the negligence of the DAE. One hopes that sincere corrective actions will be taken at least now.

The insinuation in the NPC's comments is that articles like mine are part of the attempt by "vested interests... who are running down India's self-reliant achievements in nuclear energy (with) half-truths and motivated lies." It has been a practice for the DAE to dismiss any criticism of its functioning as the work of anti-nationals. It is unfortunate that the DAE, which prides itself as a great scientific establishment, does not believe in the basic tenets of scientific temper, which should include an honest exercise in self-evaluation and introspection in the face of criticism.

India's nuclear programme was started with the promise of supplying abundant nuclear electricity to the nation. After 40 years of this programme, we have a total derated nuclear power capacity of 1,840 MWe of which on an average hardly 900 MWe had been available over these years - an output less than that of a single conventional power station of the NTPC. Add to this the near-meltdown of the core in Narora, the poor condition of the reactors at the TAPS and the RAPS, the dome collapse at Kaiga, the flooding at the KAPS, and the recent 14-tonne radioactive heavy water spill at the MAPS. The DAE seems to be effectively running itself down without any outside help.

LETTERS

other

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Politics

At last, the hue and cry over the Opposition pulling down the so-called nationalist government is over. It is now clear that political parties except the Communists do not believe in the secular structure of our country and that they define secularism in their own terms. For instance, Janata Dal leader Ram Vilas Paswan says that communalism will not be an issue in the coming elections in Bihar because there were no communal riots in the State for several years now. According to him, Laloo Prasad Yadav is more dangerous than communalism. Who are the losers? The minorities, especially Muslims and Christians.

Muslims have suffered equally at the hands of all political parties except the Communists. Mulayam Singh Yadav betrayed Muslims at a crucial moment. He is the one who strengthened the BJP by switching his loyalties from the Janata Dal and joining hands with the Congress(I).

Noises are made now about changing the country's political structure. The presidential form of government is said to be the most preferred system in the country. Is it not better to adopt the proportional representation system, which will ensure that minorities get representation in Parliament in proportion to their numerical strength?

Aftab Mahmood Khan Riyadh, Saudi Arabia * * *

Political parties in India are busy drawing up their "war strategy" in order to stay afloat. Barring a few exceptions, politicians are desperate to cling to power and enjoy the privileges of power.

Have you ever heard of any political party announcing a strategy to curb population growth, uplift the poor, educate the masses, improve the supply of water and electricity, lay good roads and stamp out corruption?

Lt. Col. S.K. Mushran (retd.) Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh

* * *

Your Editorial ("The end of a benighted phase", May 7) described Jayalalitha's decision to leave the BJP-led coalition as an "expression of the realisation that the saffron cause was in headlong retreat in the national political arena and, therefore, continuing to ally with it would be a self-damaging course." Frontline, which has carried several articles explaining how the BJP-led Government had to keep this temperamental politician in good humour for its survival, now says that her continued support to the BJP would have caused electoral losses for her. If this is the case, why have the AIADMK's other allies in Tamil Nadu chosen to remain in the BJP-led coalition?

What spelled doom for the Government was not its chauvinistic nature but Jayalalitha's covert and overt demands. Just as the BJP faced defeat in Rajasthan and other States in the Assembly elections last year for having carried out a divisive agenda and misgovernance, Jayalalitha will be defeated in the coming elections for having held the Vajpayee Government to ransom.

Sanjeev Khonkhar Agra, Uttar Pradesh Agni-II

This has reference to the exhaustive coverage of the test-firing of Agni-II ("The arms race", May 7). The successful test-firing has certainly brought credit to the team of scientists and engineers and others involved in the project. It has been proved that they are competent not merely in the area of science and technology but in the managerial aspect of forming a cohesive team and coordinating work among people drawn from diverse fields. The crucial role played by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, over the years in achieving a high level of team-work has to be specially commended.

While our scientists and engineers have legitimately earned the gratitude of the nation, we should consider whether our politicians deserve the credit they claim for themselves for the success of the test. Let us for a moment ignore the political mileage the erstwhile ruling coalition is believed to be getting out of the timing of the test. The delay or dithering that preceded the test gave rise to doubts that the Government was indeed succumbing to political and diplomatic pressures from abroad. At one time it was rumoured, as pointed out by John Cherian, that it was in deference to the wishes of the visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary, Strobe Talbott, that the test was postponed. Contrast this with what the Chinese did when President R. Venkataraman visited their country. They conducted an underground nuclear test. The reason they gave was that they had planned the test some months earlier and any postponement was out of the question. To the Chinese, their own strategic considerations had the highest priority.

Kangayam R. Rangaswamy Pennsylvania, U.S. The Onges

The article on the Onge community of the Andamans ("A people in peril", May 7) and the pictures helped me learn a great deal about Little Andaman, its people and the problems faced by the Onge community.

That the Onges are on the verge of extinction is a matter of grave concern. The Government should formulate and implement plans to ensure the welfare of the Onges.

S. Raghunatha Prabhu Alappuzha, Kerala The Niyogi report

The article "An old debate in a new context" (April 23) was biased. It appeared to pardon every crime of people belonging to the minority community and try to justify their deeds. It blamed even the judicial inquiry conducted by M. Bhawani Shankar Niyogi, whose report is an authentic document on the issue.

You have presented the views of Christians without giving a single view against the activities of Christian missionaries. Even the most secular and liberal sections have spoken against missionary activities. But you appear to portray them as victims of majority fundamentalism. The humanitarian work of missionaries is praiseworthy but it does not give them the right to convert people.

Prashant K. Baranwal Dumka, Bihar Military and the media

I found it odd that your April 23 issue should have carried both incisive coverage of NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia and a puff piece on the Indian Air Force show at Pokhran (by the same author, no less). The fetishisation of military hardware in the latter piece (which carried numerous photographs) was no better than that routinely served up by the U.S. media. It was disappointing to see that nationalistic techno-machismo, which one associates with Tom Clancy novels, infected the pages of Frontline.

Ian Petrie Calcutta Burmese stories

I take pleasure in reading Frontline and am particularly interested in the literature section which does not seem to be a regular feature. The Burmese stories by Thein Pe Myint, translated by Usha Narayanan, are wonderful. But in the past one year Frontline carried only three Burmese stories. I request you to include the literature section in every issue.

Fareena Hyderabad Kashmir

Kashmir has been the bone of contention between India and Pakistan for over 50 years now. The dispute has proved to be a drain on the resources of both countires. However, it is heartening to note that sabre-rattling and rhetoric are being gradually replaced by a process of dialogue. There is no harm if India moves towards disengagement along the Line of Control where frequent flare-ups have caused losses of life and property on both sides.

The hardships Indian soldiers undergo at the Siachen Glacier are mindboggling. The huge cost of defending this mount of ice (estimated to be Rs.1 crore a day) could very well be used for development.

D.B.N. Murthy Bangalore Thackeray's politics

A decade ago Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray was asked to differentiate between the Bharatiya Janata Party's version of Hinduism and his own. He said that while the BJP believed in Gandhian Hinduism he followed a narrower definition. According to him, Muslims who do not agree with the ideology of Hinduism are traitors. He added that he did not believe in democracy and nonviolence. He said: "I am raising a Hindu militant body and a bloodbath cannot be avoided in future" (The Indian Post, May 8, 1988).

His statement shows the dark side of Indian politics.

Iqbal Akhtar Delhi

Correction: In the May 7 issue, a photograph of Dr. R.N. Agarwal, Mission Director of the Agni Project directing the launch at the Mission Control Centre in the new missile test range on Wheeler Island off the Orissa coast, was errorneously carried on page 122 along with a story on INSAT-2E with a caption that identified the location as the "Mission Control Room in Hassan..." The photograph should have appeared with the feature on the missile launch that started on page 23 of the issue. The error is regretted.

Deterrence and other myths

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The Vajpayee Government's fascination with the doctrine of deterrence ("minimum credible nuclear deterrence") marks a complete overturning of India's nuclear policy and its principled opposition to an obnoxious theory.

UNTIL Pokhran-II, official Indian policy had always ranged itself firmly and eloquently against the doctrine of nuclear deterrence. This opposition dates back to the early days of the Indian nuclear programme and policy. In recent times, a stinging indictment of the doctrine was presented in the Indian memorial to the International Court of Justice in 1995 on the question of the legality of nuclear weapons. Among the arguments for a ban on nuclear weapons, the memorial included the following: "Nuclear deterrence has been considered to be abhorrent to human sentiment since it implies that a state if required to defend its own existence will act with pitiless disregard for the consequences of its own and its adversary's people."

One of the features of the new nuclear policy, post-Pokhran and post-Chagai, has been the complete overturning of this principled position. Official propaganda today, when it recites the long list of Indian disarmament initiatives over the last fifty years, edits out of the picture the record of official Indian opposition to deterrence theory. A chorus of apologists in the strategic affairs community and in the media have also begun to intone the virtues of deterrence.

That this official fascination with deterrence theory has received political sanction is evident from the remarks made by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee in the Lok Sabha on March 15, 1999. Replying to the debate on the motion of thanks to the President, Vajpayee claimed: "The nuclear weapon is not an offensive weapon. It is a weapon of self-defence. It is the kind of weapon that helps in preserving the peace. If in the days of the Cold War there was no use of force, it was because of the balance of terror."

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WHAT is the theory of deterrence and how did it come to play the predominant role that it does in strategic affairs and international politics? One must begin with the observation that this Western ideological-political construction did not have the importance that it does today until several years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While the United States retained overwhelming superiority in nuclear arms and the means to deliver them, there was no need to talk of deterrence. The stated goal of American nuclear forces was 'massive retaliation' in response to any attack from the Soviet Union. In later versions of the U.S. nuclear doctrine, it was 'assured destruction'. Deterrence theory came into its own only when it became clear that the Soviet Union, in any realistic assessment, had caught up with the U.S. and that 'assured destruction' had turned into 'mutual assured destruction'.

The central thesis of the theory of deterrence is that it is the possession of nuclear weapons that ensures that nuclear war will never take place. Both sides should possess a retaliatory strike capability that is invulnerable, that will not be annihilated under any circumstances by a first-strike. "Perceptions" and "psychology" play an important role in convincing the adversary that any aggression by him will only lead to his annihilation. The theory of deterrence is not concerned with the threat of nuclear annihilation; living in its shadow is the name of the game. In the perverse logic of deterrence, teetering on the brink of the nuclear abyss is the only way of ensuring peace and stability.

But there is more to deterrence than brinkmanship. The awful, essential, truth of deterrence theory is that the possessor stands committed to using, and threatening to use, nuclear weapons. If it is admitted in advance that nuclear weapons will not be used in a crisis, then the benefits of deterrence cannot be enjoyed prior to its breakdown.

Did deterrence ever really work? Did it, as its proponents claim and Vajpayee obligingly echoes, preserve the peace during the Cold War? In the first instance, the strategists of nuclear war themselves were the first to shift gradually away from deterrence. Once the Soviet Union gained parity with the U.S., fears began to be expressed that this would enable the Soviets to attack Europe without fear of retaliation. The result was that eventually the 'breakdown of deterrence' became the central concern of strategists and not the question of how to make deterrence work. In the heyday of Reaganism and Star Wars, the emphasis shifted for a while to 'winning' or 'prevailing' in a nuclear war.

But the most comprehensive debunking of the theory of deterrence comes from the testimony of those who held key leadership roles in its practice, particularly in the United States. Among the most important of these is the interview with Gen. Lee Butler, former commander of the U.S. Strategic Forces, or in plain language the U.S. nuclear arsenal, presented in Jonathan Schell's book, The Gift of Time: The Case For Abolishing Nuclear Weapons Now (Penguin India, New Delhi, 1999). Butler cites three major reasons why deterrence never really worked. First, deterrence never really led to stability. Perfect invulnerability, a prime requirement of deterrence, always meant perfect vulnerability for the opponent. As a consequence, any balance struck was unstable, and each side constantly built larger arsenals or searched for more sophisticated technologies. Secondly, the 'psychological' dimension of deterrence never really worked. Each side caricatured and demonised the other's intentions, motivations and beliefs, dialogue was virtually non-existent, and war plans based on the wildest assumptions were devised. In practice, the sophisticated dialogue required by deterrence never took place. Thirdly, in Butler's view, deterrence was in practice "turned on its head". Whatever one side did to enhance and make evident its capability of a retaliatory threat appeared to the other to be suspiciously like an increase in first-strike capability. Whenever deterrence was operationally realised in terms of actual warheads and delivery systems, it achieved exactly the opposite of the 'stable security' that was desired - because it always forced the opponent to respond in kind.

As for the contention that 'war' was prevented, Butler argues that it is not even evident that a war was intended in the first place by the Soviet Union. What kept the peace was the experience of the Cuban missile crisis, which convinced both sides that caution was absolutely necessary if there were not to find themselves at nuclear war.

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Peace has been preserved because an overwhelming caution has surrounded nuclear weapons for obvious reasons. It is only the grave uncertainties that face the state that chooses to use nuclear weapons first that have held the world back from nuclear war.

Nor has the possession of nuclear weapons proved to be of much avail in conventional conflicts. The experience of the United States in Indochina and that of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan are among the notable examples. Nor could the menacing entry of a U.S. aircraft carrier into the Bay of Bengal during the Bangladesh conflict influence the course of events in any serious way. Despite this example being cited frequently in support of the Indian case for nuclear weaponisation, it is clear that the overwhelming support that the Indian policy had, both in India and abroad, proved more than a match for any implied nuclear threat.

It is this discredited theory of deterrence, an immoral and dangerous justification for the possession of weapons of mass annihilation and genocide, that the Vajpayee Government and assorted nuclear hawks have embraced in their pursuit of a "minimum credible nuclear deterrence" doctrine for India's nuclear weapons. The current official claim is that even if both India and Pakistan proceed with nuclear weaponisation, deterrence will preserve peace and stability in the subcontinent.

It is already evident that deterrence on the subcontinent will achieve precisely the opposite of peace and stability as it has done elsewhere in the world. India's declaration that it will not resort to first use of nuclear weapons carries little conviction with Pakistan, which sees its nuclear arms as a hedge against India's conventional superiority. The unilateral nature of the 'minimum' in India's minimum credible deterrent, which is to be determined by India as the situation warrants, is hardly likely to inspire confidence in Islamabad. The building of India's second-strike capability will constantly tend to trigger a response from Pakistan, as has happened after the Agni-II tests. An arms race is clearly on, notwithstanding pious statements to the contrary from both nations. The claim that India and Pakistan will achieve the necessary 'communication' in the perceptual and psychological dimension of deterrence is hardly a guarantee for peace, considering the record of misunderstanding and mutual demonisation that has characterised India-Pakistan relations.

AN important aspect of the maintenance of nuclear arsenals that deterrence theory has little or nothing to say about is the danger of accidental or unauthorised nuclear exchange. The problem is bad enough in the case of the arsenals of the United States and Russia. There is a long and frightening record of incidents that could have led to a nuclear exchange; such incidents occurred even during the Cuban missile crisis. A nuclear stand-off in the Indian subcontinent will be even more dangerous, given the geographical proximity of the two nations and the low level of command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) capabilities that they will be able to deploy.

The new-found official fascination with the doctrine of deterrence marks a low point in the history of India's nuclear policy. It opens the door in the subcontinent to the dangers of nuclear brinkmanship, and condemns the peoples of India and Pakistan to live under the shadow of the threat of nuclear annihilation. The democratic campaign against nuclear weaponisation in India must put up as a key demand on the Government of India the rejection of the doctrine of nuclear deterrence and its Indian variant, the 'minimum credible nuclear deterrent'. It must demand a return to the path of an active advocacy of global nuclear disarmament.

The South Asian nuclear mess

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Pokhran-II and Chagai have done nothing to enhance the security of the people of India and Pakistan. On the other hand, they have triggered an arms race that both countries can ill-afford.

IN the perception of many Pakistani leaders, India's nuclear tests at Pokhran proved to be advantageous for Pakistan in strategic terms. "India did us a favour," a senior Minister told Indian journalists some time ago. "If India had not gone in for its tests, we could never have tested our own devices."

Given the international pressures that have been brought to bear on Pakistan as far as its nuclear programme is concerned, Islamabad's bomb came out of the basement only because of the bellicosity of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government in New Delhi which believed that nuclear weapons fetched big-power status.

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It is well known that Pakistan had since the late 1980s been in possession of an untested nuclear device. The invocation since 1990 of the Pressler Amendment, under which aid to Pakistan from the United States was made conditional on the U.S. President certifying each year to Congress that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear device, was an acknowledgement of Pakistan's undeclared nuclear capability and ambitions. However, only in 1998 did Islamabad muster the courage to test its device, and that too only after New Delhi had played a facilitating role.

Certain domestic compulsions too motivated Pakistan's decision to go nuclear: there were many people who believed that notwithstanding the leaders' bluster, Pakistan just did not have the bomb. This section had to be silenced. But the most compelling reason for the Chagai tests was that India's nuclear "provocation" could not go unanswered.

From a narrow security point of view, the Pakistani establishment believes that it is now equipped with a deterrent. For the first time in 52 years, Pakistan believes that militarily it stands on an equal footing with India, notwithstanding the imbalance that continues to exist in respect of conventional forces. Islamabad's consistent opposition to a no-first-use agreement with New Delhi is perhaps based on its nuclear doctrine. Given the imbalance in conventional military strength, Pakistan is loath to enter into any such arrangement with India since it would blunt its nuclear strike capability.

However, as in India, there are sections of people in Pakistan who argue that nuclear weapons offer no security guarantee and that they are a drain on resources. Pakistan's economic problems, exacerbated by the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and some other countries following the nuclear tests, gave the managers of the economy a scare, but a bail-out programme from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank materialised in time: the West, spurred by fears of what a nuclear-capable Pakistan would do if it found itself bankrupt, came to the country's rescue. Although economic analysts have pointed out that the impact of the economic crisis has not been fully overcome and that it has only been postponed through debt rescheduling, the spectre of a default in debt repayment no longer haunts Pakistan.

IN the year gone by, India and Pakistan have been locked in an arms race despite the expressed intention of the leaders of the two countries to avoid one. The perceived need to "match" each other's military capability was reflected in the tests of the Agni-II and Ghauri-2 missiles (Frontline, May 8). The Lahore Declaration and other statements of good intentions that were issued by the two countries were evidently not enough to prevent an arms race and the development of weapons delivery systems. The only difference between previous missile tests and the most recent ones is that this time round both countries gave advance information of the tests as they had agreed to in Lahore.

Hawks in both India and Pakistan argue that the two "nuclear neighbours" are better placed than ever before to sort out their differences. Prior to the fall of the BJP-led Government, it was claimed that given the ideological orientation of the ruling parties in Islamabad and New Delhi - the Pakistan Muslim League and the BJP - there would be little domestic opposition within the two countries to any settlement of bilateral disputes that might be worked out by the two right-wing governments.

With the BJP-led Government having fallen, that hypothesis cannot be tested immediately. The fact is that the Lahore Declaration and other agreements are yet to be operationalised. Other than the meeting of the two Foreign Ministers in March at Nuwara Eliya (in Sri Lanka), little else of import has transpired since the bus diplomacy was initiated in February.

THE collapse of the BJP-led coalition Government also raises questions about the course of the strategic dialogue between India and the United States, to which the U.S.-Pakistan dialogue process is linked. It is not insignificant that the only real progress made in Lahore by the two Prime Ministers was in the area of nuclear issues, an area of particular interest to the U.S.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by the two parties reads: "The two sides shall engage in bilateral consultations on security concepts, and nuclear doctrines, with a view to developing measures for confidence building in the nuclear and conventional fields, aimed at avoidance of conflict."

GIVEN the discussions between India's External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, which were spread over several rounds, there is reason to believe that the U.S. is somewhat disappointed with the fall of the BJP-led Government. The dialogue process will have to begin anew with whichever party or grouping that comes to power after the elections. Further, Pakistan is not inclined towards taking any step on nuclear-related issues unless India takes matching steps. For instance, it will not sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) unless India does so, and given the political situation in New Delhi, an Indian decision on this will have to be put on hold until a new government is in place.

It is clear that the BJP has displayed tremendous flexibility vis-a-vis the U.S. in foreign policy matters, especially in facilitating a dialogue with Pakistan; the U.S. perhaps hoped that it would be replicated in other areas as well. The dialogue between the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan, which had been deadlocked since September 1997, was revived only after an agreement emerged at a meeting between the two Prime Ministers in New York in September 1998. In fact, a statement issued by the two Prime Ministers on that occasion reflected a major departure from India's negotiating position on Kashmir insofar as it accommodated Pakistan's stand on the mechanics of the dialogue process.

The joint statement issued on September 23, 1998 said that the two leaders "reaffirmed their common belief that an environment of durable peace and security was in the supreme interest of both India and Pakistan, and of the region as a whole. They expressed their determination to renew and reinvigorate efforts to secure such an environment. They agreed that the peaceful settlement of all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, was essential for the purpose."

Had any other Indian government or leader taken such a position on Kashmir (which marks a major departure from India's known stand) and linked a solution of the Kashmir dispute to the question of regional peace and security, the BJP would have been the first to accuse that government of having "sold out" India's interests. But since it was a BJP leader who did it, even the foreign policy hawks in India were silent. The implications of the New York formulation are still to sink in: increasingly, Pakistan quotes not so much from the Lahore Declaration as from the September 1998 joint statement.

In recent months, Pakistan has linked a solution to the Kashmir issue to the larger nuclear question in the subcontinent. Pakistan Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz informed the Senate on March 8: "The nuclearisation of South Asia also underscored the urgent need for Pakistan and India to resolve all outstanding issues between them, in particular the central issue of Jammu and Kashmir. At the international level, the nuclear tests served to focus attention on the need for resolving the root cause of tensions between the two countries..."

However, it was India's Home Minister L.K. Advani who made the original and strategically ruinous linkage between the Kashmir dispute and the nuclearisation of the subcontinent. Immediately after the Pokhran tests, he thundered that India's "decisive step to become a nuclear weapon state has brought about a qualitative new state in India-Pakistan relations, particularly in finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem. Islamabad has to realise the change in the geo-strategic situation in the region and the world." His pronouncement had the effect of achieving what Pakistan had failed to do for many years - internationalise the Kashmir problem.

There is little doubt that Pokhran-II and Chagai have done nothing to enhance the security of the people of India and Pakistan. But given the logic of realpolitik, it is a reality that the people will have to contend with in the future.

At a crossroads

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

While the Narmada Bachao Andolan has managed to sustain its programme of protests against large dams in Madhya Pradesh, it appears to be heading for a setback in Gujarat.

THE Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), which fought for the rights of families displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) on the Narmada river for 14 years, is at a crossroads. Despite having an active presence in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the NBA faces bleak prospects in terms of resolving the issues that formed its core concerns.

The final hearing in the SSP case in the Supreme Court resumes on May 7. This follows the submission of a report by the P.D. Desai Committee, which was set up by the court to examine whether the relief and rehabilitation measures taken by the Gujarat Government were adequate. Sources say that the Desai report does not endorse the NBA's case against big dams. Nor does it justify complaints by people displaced by the projects of inadequate relief and rehabilitation measures, they say. It is reliably learnt that the report gives the Gujarat Government a clean chit; activists therefore fear that the Supreme Court may allow the State to increase the dam's height by 5 metres to 90 m, as laid down in the court's interim order of February 18.

Without waiting for the verdict on the status of displaced persons in Gujarat, the NBA renewed its agitation against the Madhya Pradesh Government's move to build major dams on the Narmada in that State. On April 7, the NBA launched a dharna in Bhopal. More than 500 people, who are affected by large dams such as Maheshwar, Lower Goi, Jobat, Upper Veda, Maan, Bargi, Sardar Sarovar and Narmada Sagar, participated in it. Seven NBA activists went on a hunger strike in Bhopal but after 11 days, on April 23, the police took them to hospital and force-fed them. The NBA deployed seven more activists to continue the fast. The NBA's demands include the stopping of the ecological destruction and social disruption in the Narmada valley.

The Narmada Valley Development Project (NVDP) consists of 30 large dams, 135 medium dams and more than 3,000 small dams on the Narmada and its tributaries. Except the Sardar Sarovar Project, all the dams will be located in Madhya Pradesh. The Madhya Pradesh Government constituted a Task Force in January 1998 to review the Narmada valley projects and prepare an alternative framework to develop water and energy resources in the valley. It was chaired by former State Chief Secretary S.C. Berar, who is involved with the people's movements in the State.

The Task Force submitted a report on the Maheshwar project in November 1998 and an overall report in January 1999. The reports acknowledged the grave situation arising from the displacement of people and recommended an alternative approach to develop water and energy resources in the Narmada valley. The Task Force also recommended that the projects not be taken up if the rehabilitation of the affected people and environmental protection could not be ensured. The NBA alleged that no project in the valley ensured the rehabilitation of the affected people and that the lives of thousands of people were likely to be disrupted during the monsoon.

The NBA urged the State Government to follow the recommendations of the Task Force, suspend all the projects, carry out comprehensive surveys and implement alternative projects as recommended by the Task Force. Chief Minister Digvijay Singh agreed to go in for alternatives in the case of new projects, such as Veda and Goi, but refused to accept the Task Force's recommendation for a review of the economic viability of the Maheshwar project. The Task Force's role was only advisory and therefore its recommendations were not binding on the Government, sources close to the Chief Minister said.

The Rs.1,760-crore, 400 MW Maheshwar project is India's first hydel project in the private sector; it is promoted by S. Kumars. Other stakeholders in the project include German companies Bayernwerk, VEW Energie and Siemens. Quoting "reliable sources", the NBA claimed that Germany had decided not to extend guarantees to the project and that two German companies had withdrawn from it. The Shree Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation Limited (SMHPCL), the company involved in the project, denied this, saying that the two companies are slated to acquire 49 per cent equity in the project.

After investigating the project, a German environment and human rights organisation, Urgewald, reportedly advised the two German companies and the German Government to keep away from the project. The NBA alleged that power from the project would be prohibitively expensive. The Madhya Pradesh Government has agreed to purchase power at the high rate of Rs. 5 to 8 a unit, and assured a 16 per cent rate of return to the company. According to the NBA, the Government is shouldering all the risks while the company is set to take all the profits.

The Task Force recommended a re-examination of the cost-benefit analysis of the project and the feasibility of the rehabilitation programme. The NBA claimed that there were cheaper alternatives to the project, which would have a far less severe impact on the social and environmental fronts and create a higher potential for employment locally.

The NBA has the backing of social worker Baba Amte, who arrived on April 21. He was apparently distressed by the alleged "inhuman" behaviour of the police in dealing with the protesters, including women. He vacated the Government guest house as a mark of refusing official hospitality. The State Government, however, has justified its action by saying that it cannot watch the fasting activists die. The NBA's struggle, it appears, is set to continue.

Doomsday rumours

other

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

THE world will end around the time this issue of Frontline reaches readers - or so believed a number of people and it created something of a meltdown of the established economic order in parts of western India.

The panic began after a New Delhi-based Hindi magazine carried in a supplement that it published in mid-April a doomsday prophecy, which said the world would come to an end on May 8. Word appears to have spread rapidly through communities of migrant workers from the Hindi-speaking States. Marathi, Gujarati and other vernacular newspapers reproduced the predictions and added to the panic.

The most widespread word-of-mouth version was that devastation would come in the form of a massive earthquake, somehow related to the unusually intense summer heat. These predictions were also wrongly claimed to have been broadcast on the British Broadcasting Corporation's radio services.

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Among the areas worst hit by the prophecy was the shipbreaking port of Alang in Gujarat. Reports suggested that thousands of workers packed their bags and returned to their villages, saying that they wished to die at home.

Desperate efforts by the authorities at Alang to convince them that astrological predictions were incorrect had little effect since the Maritime Board had put up storm warnings along the coast around the same time. Some workers stayed on, lured by spiralling wage payments; however, Bhavnagar District Administration officials estimated that over 80 per cent of workers had left Alang. Several projects in Maharashtra and Gujarat were affected by such exodus, but on a smaller scale.

Popular responses to the doomsday prophecy open up several interesting interpretative possibilities. In the case of Alang, notorious for horrendous occupational hazards and oppressive working conditions, the prophecy may have offered the workers an opportunity to protest. Then, summer is traditionally a time when migrant workers head home and this factor may have been sharpened by the rumours.

The doomsday prophecy is the latest in a series of similar recent episodes, the most dramatic of them being the mass hysteria whipped up in the autumn of 1995 by widely reported claims that idols of Ganesha had begun to drink milk (Frontline, October 7, 1995). The word Allah in the Arabic script was subsequently claimed to have been found in such unlikely media as aubergines, and similar "miracles" have been reported from some Christian communities. The organic link between such rumours and communal politicians had come to notice in the past. In a larger sense, the doomsday rumour has accentuated the need for a serious study of the systems through which rumours travel and acquire virtual credibility.

Praveen Swami

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