Make it a bomb to disarm

Indians will be safest in a world without nuclear arms, not with their own nuclear bombs

Published: Monday 15 June 1998

the series of nuclear tests conducted by India in the last fortnight have proved one point. That given a strong political commitment, India has the ability to prove its prowess and stand up to the rest of the world. The Indian scientific establishment today feels confident that it does not need any more tests and can continue to design and develop nuclear bombs with the help of its computers. And that, as long as the country is accepted as a nuclear weapons state by the global powers, India is quite prepared to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (ctbt). India's leading nuclear scientist, Raja Ramanna, even went on to say proudly on television that "India has once again shown that it is a great nation".

There can be no doubt that the Indian government, which has shown considerable prevarication over nuclear testing since Indira Gandhi's first foray in 1974, has been driven to this step by the nuclear nations of the world, especially the us, which has turned a blind eye to the goings-on in Pakistan and China. And India had to take this step to protect its own national security even in the face of world opposition.

But beyond these realities, the tests raise a host of doubts. Let us take the issue of consistency. The government of India has always argued for a comprehensive nuclear disarmament treaty. Is it now saying that as long as the country is accepted as a nuclear weapons state and admitted to the membership of the world's exclusive power club, it is quite prepared to accept the inherent inequities of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (npt) and the ctbt? Does this mean that once it becomes a member of the power club, it will swallow all its high-moral rhetoric of the past? If this is true, then India's track record will be just as hypocritical as that of the current nuclear weapons nations of the world.

It is important that the government makes its policy known to the nation and a national consensus is reached on this issue. This is not an issue that can be decided by just one party or even a clutch of parties. Given the extraordinary dangers that nuclear arms pose to humanity, India must continue with its principled stand that there should be a comprehensive nuclear disarmament treaty. And if it has to pull off a dozen more blasts to shake up the smugness of the nuclear powers, so be it. But it must not sign the npt or the ctbt. It should only sign a world nuclear disarmament treaty. It will be a very high price for a poor country to bring the world community to its senses. But then, in its own interests - keeping China and Pakistan in mind - and in the interests of humanity, it should be prepared to pay that price. Sounds crazy, but only then would the Indian bomb become not just a "Hindu bomb" aimed at an Islamic nation but a "human bomb" aimed at the madness of humanity, a bomb for world peace.

Under no circumstances should India become a nuclear weapons nation. Not only will the cost of developing and deploying nuclear weapons and their delivery systems be too high but also the psychology of living in a country that is in the thick of a nuclear arms race would be totally unacceptable and morally reprehensible. It is high time that the world is forced to give up the mad (mutual assured destruction) doctrine. India cannot join the mad race. Let not just a temple, as proposed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, but also a mosque, a gurudwara and a church be built at the Pokhran site. But only if the nation is prepared to make these tests a step on the road to world peace. A nation that speaks with a forked tongue cannot expect to earn respect.

Let us take up yet another question, that of priorities. The worst thing that these tests can do is to breed a sense of false megalomania and smugness within the gullible Indian middle class that "India has made it". On the contrary, on most social and economic indicators, India today lies in the bottom pile. Quality of life is fast deteriorating across the country, especially in environmental terms. Regardless of what Ramanna might say and what nuclear scientists may have proved, there is precious little science in the daily lives of Indians. In governance systems, there is not even any talk of it. The use of India's scientific capabilities is non-existent in areas where it matters. If India cannot deal with its poverty, illiteracy, social divides and tensions, no amount of nuclear bombs can stop its collapse. The country's internal weaknesses have often led to its defeat at the hand of invaders. Indians have to recognise the country's internal crisis, powered by growing casteism, communalism, regionalism and political criminalisation, and get angry about it. If there is no anger, there will never be a sense of challenge and no effort to bring about change. The bombs cannot be allowed to breed smugness in our false greatness. The world has a great example in the former Soviet Union.

India has to be strong both internally and externally. The current government has to be watched closely to see if it will display the same zeal in dealing with internal concerns. Putting clean water in people's houses is going to be a far, far more difficult task for Atal Behari Vajpayee than blasting a few nuclear bombs. One is not even sure that he even knows how to do it.

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