Pokharan II: Why?

21 May, 1998    ·   92

P. R. Chari looks into the reasons behind Pohkran II

No doubt the BJP’s election manifesto, issued in February, promised to "re-evaluate the country’s nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons"; and "expedite the development of the Agni series of ballistic missiles with a view to increasing their range and accuracy". When BJP President, L.K Advani, now Home Minister, was asked whether his party would conduct nuclear tests for this purpose he replied that "nuclear tests may not be necessary for India to induct nuclear weapons". Following the five nuclear tests held recently, it is apparent that Advani’s pre-election evasiveness is of a pattern with later official denials in India and abroad that it would not undertake these tests, and the BJP government’s declaration that it would consider exercising India ’s nuclear option only after undertaking a Strategic Defense Review by the yet-to-be-constituted National Security Council. They seem part of a carefully constructed deception plan.



The Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister has provided the official rationale for these tests after the first three were conducted. Apparently, the Government is concerned with the "deteriorating nuclear environment in India ’s neighbourhood"; hence, these tests were designed to "provide reassurance to the people of India that their national security interests are paramount and will be promoted and protected". The unidentified nuclear threats obviously emanate from Pakistan and China . Subsequent official clarifications have highlighted India ’s concern with Sino-Pak linkages in the nuclear and missile spheres; India ’s unresolved border dispute with China ; Pakistan ’s support for terrorism in Kashmir and so on. How nuclear weapons will address this range of threats to India ’s security has not been clarified. How nuclear weapons address the real problems of India ’s national security that arise from its internal and non-military threats is also unclear.



Furthermore, a BJP spokesman extended the dimensions of India ’s "nuclear environment" to the Indian Ocean , which is "awash" with nuclear weapons. This comprises the naval/air bases and forces operating in these waters. They include, among others, the United States ! Establishing credible nuclear capabilities to meet this fuller range of perceived nuclear threats would need India to deploy intercontinental (over 6000-mile) range nuclear missiles mounted on airborne and submarine-borne platforms. This would be inordinately expensive.



Nuclear threats being the rationale underlying these nuclear tests are, therefore, an unconvincing justification. Perhaps scientific-bureaucratic pressures from the Atomic Energy Commission and the Defence Research and Development Organisation establishments were operating. But these could easily have been contained as done by previous Governments. The remaining rationale--domestic political compulsions--has clearly informed the BJP to conduct these tests. (Apparently, orders in this regard were issued on April 11, a month before the first three tests occurred.) The BJP leadership would have concluded that the shaky coalition they were heading was inherently unstable. The government also needed to accommodate the unreasonable demands of its alliance partners, which made governance almost impossible.



A diversion, hopefully, could still controversy within the coalition alliance, at least for some time. And, when fresh elections became unavoidable, the BJP could present itself to the electorate as the party of national resurgence that had brought "honour" to the country. Hence its precipitate decision to conduct these nuclear tests. Brave statements have since been made by BJP leaders that India should tighten its belt, and be prepared to face the consequences of economic sanctions. The hope has also been expressed that the people will emerge stronger after the nation passes through this ordeal. An effort to take India into "laager" is evident.



Two further matters require notice.



·                     First, it was not possible for the scientists to have manufactured the nuclear devices exploded within one month. It is clear that they were refining them for quite some years whilst India was reassuring the world about its peaceful nuclear intentions. So it is truly an Indian and not a BJP bomb. These activities probably started during Indira Gandhi’s second tenure (1980-84). But the other pre-BJP governments did not discourage them. Amusingly, both Narasimha Rao and Gujral have sought "credit" for India ’s displayed nuclear prowess, whilst decrying the nuclear tests for proceeding beyond India ’s "keeping the option open" nuclear posture. A case of eating the cake and having it too!


·                     Second, there is, undoubtedly, great euphoria obtaining in the country. Not unlike May 1974. Euphoria is transient and ephemeral. The 1974 euphoria evaporated within a few months. Scarcely a year later the Emergency was imposed. Two years later Indira Gandhi was defeated in the general elections of 1977. Apropos, these tests are currently being lauded for having defied international, especially American, opposition. In truth, a bitter resentment obtains in India with the discriminatory/selective non-proliferation policies that have been pursued by the United States . As, for example, the US ’s tolerance of Pakistan ’s nuclear quest, China ’s blatant proliferation activities, and Sino-Pak collusion in the nuclear and missile spheres. Indeed, Pakistan ’s Ghauri test on April 6 proved a godsend to the BJP for going ahead with its pre-planned nuclear tests.