Gathering momentum

Published : Aug 15, 1998 00:00 IST

The Convention Against Nuclear Weapons, organised on July 26 in Chennai, was testimony to a shift in the popular mood - from one of confused admiration to one which bears out a much better understanding of the BJP-motives behind the BJP-led Goverment's nuclear adventure.

WHEN the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Govern ment launched its ill-conceived nuclear adventure on May 11, it could hardly have expected things to turn sour so quickly. Pakistan responded in kind to Pokhran-II, and hostile international reaction mounted as days went by. Far more important, saner voices soon asserted themselves. Among the political forces, the Left stood firm against jingoism and initiated a powerful mass campaign against the suicidal nuclear misadventure and for a roll-back of nuclear weaponisation. A significant section of India's scientific intelligentsia took the exemplary initiative of countering Government and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Sangh Parivar propaganda with reasoned argument, in the popular press and in meetings across the country.

The Convention against nuclear weapons held in New Delhi on June 9, in which not only scientists and representatives of the Left parties but also highly knowledgeable persons who had occupied responsible positions in India's armed forces and the defence establishment took part, was a turning point in the campaign against weaponisation. The shift in the popular mood from one of confused admiration (brought about by orchestrated Government and Sangh Parivar propaganda) to a much better understanding of the perils of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition Government's nuclear adventurism was sharply evident in the massive response to the Convention against Nuclear Weapons organised in Chennai on July 26 by the Campaign Committee Against Nuclear Weapons.

The venue of the convention, with a seating capacity of around 2,000, was packed and overflowing by 10 a.m. when the convention began. The composition of the assembly was particularly interesting. Perhaps about a third may have been activists or supporters of progressive and democratic movements, but the overwhelming majority were ordinary, non-political citizens from all walks of life. There were people in the audience who vividly remembered the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There were numerous youngsters, including college students, who had been terribly confused by the events of May 11 and subsequent media coverage. There were many anxious middle class employees and professionals - both women and men - who were keen to understand the consequences of Pokhran-II and its aftermath for the country and for themselves. There was a fair sprinkling of women, though they were far fewer in number than the men. But perhaps the most impressive thing about the audience was that from 10 a.m., when the convention began, until 7 p.m., when it ended, the overwhelming majority of it stayed on and listened with rapt attention.

Welcoming everyone at the convention, N. Ram, Editor, Frontline, set out the aims of the convention. Pointing out that the atomic explosion carried out in May 1998 by India and Pakistan had seriously endangered peace and security in South Asia, Ram stressed the need for a powerful movement for nuclear disarmament and specifically for rolling back the programme of weaponisation that the BJP Government had embarked upon.

Admiral L. Ramdas, former Chief of the Naval Staff, inaugurated the Convention. Recalling the haste with which the minority BJP Government went ahead with Pokhran-II, he pointed out that the decision was taken within three weeks of the BJP coming to power. Worse, the armed forces do not seem to have been in the know of things at all. Citing the BJP's intra-coalition problems, its expectation that by this action it could gain prestige and the pressure brought upon the Government by the scientific establishment of the Department of Atomic Energy as possible proximate causes of this misadventure, Ramdas pointed out the absurdity of the claim that India had become a nuclear weapon state through Pokhran-II. There was no nuclear doctrine or strategy behind the Pokhran explosions. Nor was there even an awareness of the need for a full-fledged command-control-communication-intelligence system, he said. Stressing the need to counter this ruinous policy, Ramdas urged the improvement of relations with India's neighbours quickly. In conclusion, he pointed out that two square meals a day for every Indian was what would make India a strong nation and not the possession of an atom bomb.

Parliamentarian Murasoli Maran, former Union Minister for Industry and leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), lambasted the BJP-led Government for its sharp departure from the national policy consensus on the nuclear weapons issue. Recalling that the 13-day BJP Government of 1996 had tried to push through its nuclear agenda but was thwarted, Maran pledged the total support of the DMK to the convention and the movement against weaponisation. Maran released a collection of essays in Tamil on the nuclear question, brought out by South Vision Publishers. Admiral Ramdas received the first copy.

It is noteworthy that publications valued at more than Rs. 40,000 were sold at the convention.

THE highlight of the convention was a superb rendering by the well-known novelist Arundhati Roy of excerpts from an article of hers entitled "The End of Imagination". (The article has since been published simultaneously in Frontline and Outlook ). Not only was the text itself brilliant, but the eloquence with which it was rendered by Arundhati Roy was testimony to her sincere and deep commitment to peace, secularism and the pluralistic nature of India, as well as her abhorrence of the nuclear adventurism and the ensuing jingoism. Since a significant portion of the audience could not follow English adequately, the text was translated by a team led by M. Sivakumar and rendered in Tamil by R. Chandra, joint secretary of the Tamil Nadu State Committee of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA).

Among the distinguished speakers at the convention was the renowned agricultural scientist Dr. M.S. Swaminathan. In a brief but moving speech, Dr. Swaminathan highlighted the fact that a nuclear war was not only not "winnable" but would pollute the human gene pool permanently. Dr. C.T. Kurien, Chairman of the Madras Institute of Development Studies and a well-known economist, discussed the implications of the sanctions imposed by several developed countries on India in the wake of the Pokhran explosions. He pointed out that coming as they did at a time when the economy and the export sector were already performing poorly, the sanctions would worsen matters, especially in the social sector. Also, the huge negative impact of weaponisation on the country's economic development would be critical, he said.

In an important exercise, Dr. C. Rammanohar Reddy, Development Correspondent of The Hindu, brought out the cost of weaponisation. Estimating the cost at around Rs. 43,000 crores spent over five to 10 years, Dr. Reddy highlighted the useful investments that could be made in health, education and rural infrastructure if this money was available.

Mythily Sivaraman, national vice president of AIDWA, gave an inspiring account of the popular struggles for nuclear disarmament and against nuclear weapons. She highlighted the role of women in these struggles and emphasised that all sections of the democratic movement must intensify the campaign for universal nuclear disarmament and the roll-back of nuclear weaponisation.

Lalita Ramdas, who has been active nationally and internationally on issues of gender, education and development, elaborated the need for a broad-based and enlightened movement against nuclear weaponisation and against what she termed exclusivist, fascist and fundamentalist political forces. She also stressed the need to mobilise women in this struggle.

C.V. Narasimhan, who has served India with great distinction in the United Nations, exposed the hypocrisy and short-sightedness of both the Indian Government and the big powers. He called for strengthening the forces against nuclear weapons.

Dr. N. Srinivasan, former Director of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, and a former member of the Atomic Energy Commission, gave a succinct exposition of the science of the bomb, putting in proper perspective the claims being made by the defence and nuclear establishments. Noting that a bomb could be made by "putting together a few nuclear physicists, high pressure scientists, metallurgists and detonation control experts with laboratories and calculational facilities", Dr. Srinivasan said: "Lots remain to be done to reduce the costs of nuclear power stations and for reducing construction time and updating technology for reliable safe operation. It is time attention and resources are diverted towards tackling these issues rather than to self-destructive adventures like the tests."

A.B. Bardhan, general secretary of the Communist Party of India, recalled in his speech the perfidious role of the United States, which is the only country to have used nuclear weapons in utter disregard of all ethical considerations. Bardhan called for carrying forward the movement for peace and nuclear disarmament and against the present Indian Government's adventurist policies.


In a typically crisp and lucid presentation, Prakash Karat, member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), set out the logic behind the BJP-led Government's disastrous nuclear policy and outlined the steps that needed to be taken to combat it. Noting that the Chennai convention was the most broad-based of all the conventions against Pokhran-II and its aftermath organised so far, Karat pointed out that this reflected the increasing popular support for the movement against weaponisation and exploded the myth of a "national consensus in support of the Pokhran explosions" so assiduously claimed by the Sangh Parivar. In Karat's view, there was an urgent need to carry out massive popular mobilisation on this issue. He noted that Pokhran-II flowed logically from the RSS understanding that India must possess nuclear weapons in order to be strong. Spewing venom against Pakistan and China was also part of the RSS-Sangh Parivar agenda. Further, their agenda linked the Ayodhya temple issue and nuclear weapons, he said.

The BJP's nuclear policy constituted, in Karat's view, a complete and sharp break with the national consensus that was in place right from Independence. This consensus had three aspects: a. Develop nuclear energy; b. Keep the nuclear option open but do not weaponise; and c. Do not become a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) or any other discriminatory treaty that reflects the unequal world nuclear order, even while pursuing the goal of universal nuclear disarmament. Karat clarified that the CTBT should not be signed because it does not prevent the nuclear powers from producing and stockpiling weapons and, moreover, allows them to constantly improve their nuclear weaponry constantly. He pointed out that the BJP Government was moving from its initial nuclear adventurism to capitulationism and was seriously considering signing the CTBT. The utmost vigilance was therefore called for as the people needed to ensure that the Government did not surrender to big power pressures, he said. Karat called for building a powerful popular movement for the roll-back of weaponisation and the restoration of pre-1998 national consensus on nuclear policy.

N.M. Sundaram, general secretary, All India Insurance Employees' Association, moved the main resolution at the Convention. Tracing the sharp worsening of India's security situation to the BJP-led Government's nuclear misadventure, the Resolution demanded that the Government of India:

* Stop weaponisation forthwith and restore the status quo ante.

* Restore the policy of active propaganda to achieve the goal of universal nuclear disarmament and on that basis, oppose the unequal global nuclear bargain.

* Initiate talks with Pakistan to resolve the current crisis and make efforts to sort out all outstanding bilateral issues. Promote confidence-building measures.

* Restore amicable relations with China on the basis of trust, cooperation and good-neighbourly spirit.

* Reaffirm India's commitment to peaceful and non-military uses of atomic energy. Emphasise the important role of science and technology in promoting human welfare and development.

The resolution was seconded by Dr. T. Jayaraman, a physicist at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, and a leading national campaigner against nuclear weaponisation. The convention unanimously adopted the resolution.

Delivering the closing address of the convention, N. Sankariah, secretary of the Tamil Nadu unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), congratulated the campaign committee against nuclear weapons on organising the remarkably broad-based and highly successful convention. Pledging his party's and the Left's total support to the widest possible popular mobilisation on this issue, Sankariah called upon all those present to join the mass actions planned for Hiroshima Day on August 6.

Other eminent persons who participated and spoke at the convention included noted Tamil journalist Maalan; actor Dhritiman Chaterji; Dr. P. Mitra of Apollo Hospitals, a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons; activist lawyer N.G.R.Prasad; Chief of Bureau (South) of Outlook magazine A.S. Panneerselvan; and nuclear medicine specialist Dr. V.M. Sivaramakrishnan.

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