BJP and Indian Nuclear Policy

28 Feb, 1998    ·   61

Maj. Gen. Dipankar Banerjee (Retd.) studying the 1998 BJP's Election Manifesto with particular reference to the Nuclear Policy, points out that tests and weaponisation cannot be ruled out as an option, however minimal the hawkish lobby

As the country gears up for the counting of votes in early March, questions are already being raised on the policies of a future government. The BJP is clearly in the lead and is the party that is likely to win the maximum seats. Will it be able to cobble up a majority? While the odds are strongly in favour, it is not a foregone conclusion. What will be its likely policy on major security issues, especially on nuclear weapons?



The nature of its coming to power is likely to determine the policies it will adopt. Will its tally exceed 200 seats in Parliament (273 for a majority) and along with its allies exceed 240? It can then wean away enough supporters to form a government. If the experience in UP is any guide, the Party will not hesitate to provide strong incentives to others to defect. The BJP leaders have been in opposition far too long and the senior ones are getting old and impatient. This is probably their last chance. By the same token, it will also have strong incentives to remain in office for a full term. A comfortable majority will allow it to be assertive. Else, it may be cautious and adopt more cautious and consensual policies.



The key to learning what the BJP in power might do lies in understanding what the Party really is. It is a Party that represents India 's middle class, reflecting the aspirations of a steadily growing group, the bulk of whom live in semi-urban India . The Party believes in nationalism defined in nineteenth Century terms. It is for an emerging India , a "powerful" nation and one that counts globally. A country that must have its "rightful place" in the world. Its credo is Hinduness (Hindutva), incorporating all that is good in traditional "Indian" culture. Its economic policy is Swadeshi (self-reliance). It's foreign and security policies are likely to be assertive and pro-active.



The BJP has rejected the CTBT, FMCT and MTCR in its election manifesto. It will stick to it.



It is likely to support deployment of the Prithvi short-range missile. It is committed to resuming the Agni (medium range ballistic missile) programme. The constraint in the latter will be money. The odds are that recovering from economic recession will need all the effort and acumen of the new finance minister. It will call for carefully harnessing the nation's resources. Strong rhetoric and minimal financial support are likely to be the preferred initial response.



The Party is committed to "assume" a nuclear capability. What does it mean? Will it conduct one or several nuclear tests? There are two interpretations.



Assuming a nuclear capability may mean only a strong affirmative declaration and nothing more. Increasing the rhetoric, keeping options open and safeguarding national economic interests may be the measures that will be followed. Most Party members accept that there is an economic cost to overt nuclear weaponisation. But enormous haziness as to what that cost would really be.



This position has already come under fire from the hawkish strategic lobby in Delhi for its unsustainability as a policy. The so-called Party Think Tank, whose influence on Party decision making really is minimal, also strongly supports tests and weaponisation. There is no way that this can be ruled out as a possible option that the Party may actually adopt. Privately many of its top leaders have said so.



Ultimately middle class morality may be the determining factor. Pragmatic self-interest is a virtue of any middle class. The BJP is not likely to be different.