As was only to be expected, our breast-beating Cassandras have once again been proved wrong, and the worst of international hostility to India’s unexpected decision to go nuclear is already behind us. Even as opposition parties, leftists, secular intellectuals, and peaceniks got the knives out for the Vajpayee Government in the face of initial American belligerence and Japan’s near-hysterical reaction, it was clear that it would take more than a fistful of sanctions to reverse India’s powerful leap from ambivalence to affirmation.
It was equally, and painfully, clear to the opposition parties that this bold initiative, so early in its tenure, had magnified the regime’s appeal manifold across the spectrum, from industry to the increasingly assertive and nationalistic middle class, to those lower down the scale. Hence, the ridiculous rumours about a snap mid-term poll, when the nation has barely recovered from the staggering exercise and expense undertaken hardly three months ago, and is anyway looking forward to see what the annual Budget augurs for the economy and the people.
The petty sniping of opposition parties and self-styled intellectuals cannot detract from the pride and grandeur of this moment. India is a great power, and today it has woken up to this fact, having shed the lethargy and schizophrenia that has steadily eaten into its vitals all these years. It is its moment of affirmation, of truth, of being its real self. And since the experience is novel to India itself, it is understandable that the international community, too, should take time to adjust to the now reality.
Nevertheless, the political deconstructionists are at work overtime, peevishly trying to deny political credit to the Vajpayee Government for putting the nuclear warhead in the country’s kitty. The Congress party’s puerile flip-flop, its attitude of congratulating the scientists and applauding the contributions its own governments had made towards the endeavour, while completely ignoring the courage and political will exhibited by the present regime, is symptomatic of the dishonesty prevalent in our political culture.
The Congress, and its leadership, want credit for themselves, but can be rather niggardly in giving it to others. This is hardly surprising when one recalls that it is the only party whose leaders have specialized in conferring the Bharat Ratna upon themselves, and have considered other great men “not big enough”. Other regimes have scouted around for more worthy candidates, viz, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and MS Subbalakshmi.
Coming back to the Congress, if, over the past decade, there was a government that lasted long enough to give the country stability and direction, and could honestly be said to have nurtured the nuclear crop that Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee has successfully harvested, it was the Government of Mr PV Narasimha Rao. Indeed, former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral has admitted as much, revealing that the Rao Government’s plans for a nuclear test had to be put off because American intelligence agencies got wind of the operation, while his own Government had other priorities. Yet, it is not the Rao Government that the Congress leadership has in mind when claiming credit for the “national achievement”; no prizes for guessing why.
Indian intellectuals, addicted as they are to sterile Marxian notions of progress and development while depriving the concerned peoples of their dignity, cannot be expected to metamorphose overnight into citizens proud of the achievements of their country and their fellowmen. The Vajpayee Government, puffed with a good dose of nuclear haemoglobin, can afford to ignore their petty pinpricks. It would do well to concentrate on containing the diplomatic-economic fallout of the bomb, an area in which it has already made a good beginning, and informing the people about the compulsions to conduct the tests.
We need to debunk the propaganda that there has been no qualitative change in the security situation on our borders, and that hence there is no justification for the tests. A Buddhist precept comes to mind: All static being is based on deception. This means that to regard the three decades of nuclear asymmetry with China and the clandestine nuclear ability built up by Pakistan (with Chinese assistance) as a legitimate status quo, is to deceive oneself. Since the 1962 war with China, and despite the victory over Pakistan in 1971, India has lived in an adverse and declining security milieu, and the fact that it has not had to fight an overt war does not mitigate the situation.
Mr K Natwar Singh and others of his ilk may like to pretend that there was nothing “new” or “provocative” about Pakistan’s testing of the Ghauri missile on April 6, or its proposed Ghaznavi missile, and that the decision to name these missiles after much-hated invaders of India was a happy coincidence. They may claim that Ghauri, and the unacceptable increase in ISI-funded subversive activities in India, particularly in Kashmir, was not sufficient justification for Mr Vajpayee’s April 11 decision to go in for the series of nuclear tests. A prominent school of peaceniks has already floated the theory that India could have continued to live in peace with the increasing Sino-Pak cooperation in military and nuclear technology!
Nationalistic Indians (“jingoistic” or otherwise), however, will appreciate that the Government has finally redressed this gross disparity of power. For close to two decades, India has been fighting a proxy war with its tiny, but troublesome, western neighbour, and the price has been unacceptably high. Thousands of innocent men, women and children have fallen victims to this conflict, the end of which is nowhere in sight.
Mr Vajpayee has taken a bold initiative to end this slow bleeding of India by putting an end to the mealy-mouthed, hollow platitudes that have hitherto passed for politics. Home Minister LK Advani has ably followed this up by calling for a halt to the ineffective politics of reaction, and enunciating a proactive policy towards Pakistan’s support to militancy in Kashmir and other states. This has predictably caused tremors in Pakistan and the US, but Mr Advani would do well to take the next logical step and announce that India will henceforth adopt the doctrine of “hot pursuit” in dealing with terrorists, which will include following them into the territory of their host countries. Breast-beating about “Indian aggression” need not deter us from securing our legitimate interests, the foremost among which is peace and security of life for our own citizens.
On the diplomatic front, the US-sponsored attempt for full international sanctions against India has already come a cropper, and President Bill Clinton has had to moderate his tone and attitude towards India’s status and regional security concerns. In refreshing contrast to our moral disarmament crusaders, distinguished Americans such as Jimmy Carter, Henry Kissinger, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, among others, have berated Mr Clinton for hastily slapping sanctions. At the same time, France, Britain and Russia have ruled out collective sanctions, while the Arab states and our South-East Asian neighbours have responded to the new situation with gratifying maturity.
In all probability, India will be relatively unaffected by sanctions, and will most likely manage to contain the current fracas with China. This will no doubt rile the anti-nuke activists. In coming weeks, they are likely to focus their campaign upon pressing India to sign the CTBT without discussion or delay.
The Pioneer, 28 May 1998