Table of Contents
'What wrong did this man do?'
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.
Minister A.B. Vajpayee at the Pokhran test site in May 1998. Within weeks
of coming to power, the BJP-led Government hijacked India's peace-oriented
nuclear policy and twisted it perilously out of shape, at great cost to the
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
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
newspaper advertisement released recently, part of the propaganda fusillade
with which a saffron brigade front has launched Campaign '99.
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
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.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the Chagai test site in June 1998. India's
nuclear tests worsened regional tensions and relations with Pakistan.
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
Secretary of State Strobe Talbott with India's special envoy Jaswant Singh
during talks in New Delhi in July 1998. The U.S. has emerged as the arbiter
of the Indo-Pakistan nuclear stand-off and as the intervenor shaping the
future of India's nuclear policy.
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
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
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
KYODO / REUTERS
1998 demonstration in Hiroshima to protest against the Pokhran-II tests.
Pokhran-II and its follow-up have harmed India's reputation among peace-loving,
democratic and progressive constituencies around the world.
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
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.
6, 1998, Hiroshima Day, an anti-nuclear march in New Delhi, led by, among
others, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat and CPI general secretary
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
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.
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,
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.