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Cover Feature

Seminar Against Nuclear Tests

The issue of India’s nuclear blasts remains as explosive as ever. After the Sangh Parivar’s first ‘blast’ on 6 December 1992, nothing perhaps has triggered such a widespread national debate in this decade. However, a month later, the initial euphoria over the five ‘Shakti’ blasts has evaporated and the almost nauseating clamour of ultra-nationalism has settled down too. Parallely, after the initial spate of indignination against the blasts, voices of protest have organised themselves and spread all over the country and abroad.

Forum for Democratic Initiatives, a progressive organisation of left and democratic intellectuals, academics and activists strongly opposing the blasts, organised a seminar titled ... on 15 June in Delhi. The propaganda for the seminar evoked a good response with the venue tightly packed with eager listners. Speakers in the seminar included Chauturanan Mishra, veteran leader of CPI, Vinod Mishra, General Secretary, CPI(ML), Sharad Yadav, President of Janata Dal and Praful Bidwai, eminent journalist.

Making a scathing attack at the BJP, Chaturanan Mishra said that any talk of consensus over the blasts was fake. None of the political parties in the opposition were taken into confidence before the explosions. With an anti-China and anti-Pakistan thrust behind the blasts, the CPI leader said, the form of India’s nuclear policy had become international. The issue of Kashmir too has been sought to be internationalised rather than settling the matter bilaterally. He said that nationalism had been whipped up to dangerous proportions and even Buddha, an international icon of peace, hadn’t been spared. On the one hand the BJP criticised the big 5 for double standards and considered them bullies, on the other, it makes immense hue and cry over joining the same club. To this Com.Mishra said that if one had to join a gang of theives one had to declare onself a thief first. He informed the gathering that his party would press the government to organise an international conference on total nuclear disarmament in New Delhi sometime this year and to try and elicit the support of all NAM nations. He also suggested that a new form of CTBT signed amongst the nations of this region including China would set a new example for peace and disarmament to the world.

Sharad Yadav, while supporting the proposal of Chaturanan Mishra for an international conference, said that his party stood against all weapons. In his speech he detailed how the blasts fitted in the Sangh Parivar’s gameplan to convert India into an autocratic state of Hindu chauvenists.

The next speaker, Vinod Mishra said that liberal, democrats and left-minded people are worried how the BJP’s politics of the nuclear bomb will adversely squeeze the democratic space in India. (see box)

Praful Bidwai, well-known for his passionate struggle for total disarmament and one of the main leaders of the peace movement in India, informed the audience of the possible genocide a nuclear bomb could create. The bombs of today and even the ones India has, are many times more destructive and devastating compared to the crude one exploded in Hiroshima. Calling the blasts a radical rupture from the established nuclear policy of the past 50 years, he informed the gathering about the hollowness of the BJP’s claim that the tests were provoked by deepening threat perception from China. Rather China had at no point of time attributed its nuclear policy to emerge out of a threat from India. Making an impassionate plea for total disarmament Mr.Bidwai assured the house that after the cold-war the superpowers had also taken substantial, though not adequate, steps in dismantling their nuclear arsenals.

Participating in the discussion that ensued after the speakers had concluded, Prof.VK Tripathi, professor of physics at IIT Delhi, spoke on behalf of the many people from the scientific community protesting against the bomb.

'Blasts Pose a Threat to Democracy'

(Speech delivered by Vinod Mishra at the seminar organised by Forum for Democratic Intiatives at Delhi on 15 June. Slightly altered by the speaker in favour of publication.)

I don’t know how far the atomic explosions that took place at Pokhran have released nuclear radiation, but the fact that they have caused a lot of ideological pollution throughout the country is pretty clear.

Now there are several opinions regarding the reasons behind the explosions. Firstly, as Chaturanan ji has also pointed out, while the atom bomb was exploded it was said that Gautam Buddha smiled. At this rate Buddha will perhaps laugh to his hearts content the day the bomb would be used to kill millions of people. Some people argue that the bomb was used to diffuse the two human bombs viz. Mamata Bannerjee and Jayalalitha within the ruling BJP-led coalition. If the government of the day is governed by such irresponsible thinking, it really represents a great danger for the country. There is yet other opinion, which says that the tests were carried out to provide an alternative agenda to the fanatic BJP ranks that were dissatisfied at the postponement of the Ram Mandir agenda. Again this is a matter of great concern because you know that BJP ranks have a communal frame of mind; when they raised the slogan "Say with pride that we are Hindus", it culminated in the demolition of Babri Masjid. Today when centering around the bomb once again Hindu metaphors of Shakti Peeth, Shaurya Diwas are being invoked, I wonder where all this will lead to.

The slogan of Ram Mandir was targeted against Muslims and that of atom bomb is being directed against Pakistan. In this background, for the BJP cadres, belonging as they do to a party whose agenda does not make any distinction between nationalism and communalism and takes the anti-Muslim orientation as its cornerstone, the atom bomb is nothing but a Hindu bomb.

All this ideological pollution that has come up along with the Bomb has engulfed the country’s skies and constitutes dangerous fallout of the nuclear explosion. Still I would consider it secondary compared to the more dangerous portents of the bomb here at the ground. In the first place, I wonder where this ultra-nationalist frenzies, this jingoism unleashed through the tests will lead us to? Tensions in our relationship with neighbouring countries have been raised to a high pitch, war hysteria is being systematically built up, and we are indeed heading towards war preparations. Now, when you orient the whole thing towards nationalist frenzy, and along with that when you step up military preparations, it has to have its fallout on the national politics as well. That is what we witnessed in the wake of the first nuclear test at Pokhran in 1974 when just one year after that emergency was clamped down on the country. Therefore, a question justifiably comes up in our minds: how far this building up of ultra-nationalist frenzy coupled with the nuclear explosions will tolerate the democratic process that is still there in the country? And we again witness that arguments are being raised that our country needs a presidential system. They say that the present parliamentary system does not bring stability to our polity, where elections are being held off and on, which is not a good thing because it entails heavy national expenditure. And then they talk about the need of a great and able leader, a great personality. With all these middle class concerns and aspirations, attempts are underway to prepare the public mind to finish off the democratic process in the country and impose a dictatorial system. As I see it, this is the greatest danger that lurks behind the ultra-nationalist frenzy coupled with the nuclear explosions and tension building and war preparations against our neighbouring countries.

Secondly, I would like to point out that it is not a case of testing a single bomb. As a consequence of a nuclear test a whole lot of nuclear stockpile has to be built up. During the past 30 years a whole project has been going on in the name of peaceful application of atomic power and enormous funds have been allocated under this head in successive budgets, an expenditure that has never been subjected to public scrutiny and any kind of accountability. Gradually, a whole structure, a giant bureaucratic-scientific establishment has been built up. And now there are attempts to militarise the whole national economy!

I would like to recall the following words of our Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Mr. R Chidambaram which appeared in a national daily a few days back: "The sinews of science and technology which spur development, are also the foundation on which national security is based and without assured security development falters. India needs to build up an industrial-military complex which can ensure security on the one hand and catalyse development on the other." Now this is a radically different hypothesis, a diametrically opposite vision of development, a drastic departure from the kind of vision on which developmental endeavours were being made for the most part of past 50 years. This new vision says that to the extent you strengthen your industrial-military complex through building arms factories, atomic energy, bomb explosions, etc., you pave the way for development. This I feel is a very dangerous proposition. Now it is being visualised not just as a question of testing one or two bombs or even of weaponisation, or for that matter of manufacturing a number of bombs or missiles in isolation from our development strategy; it is not even being taken as a component part of the development model, rather it has been made the central theme of the whole of our developmental thinking. The entire strategy of development will henceforth revolve around the industrial-military complex. This is the Chidambaram thesis of development.

This is extremely unfortunate and disconcerting. Scientists including Albert Einstein, based on whose theory the atom bomb was designed, were not pleased with the weapon of mass destruction. Even Robert Openheimer, the scientist who is known as the Father of the Atomic Bomb, opposed the making of hydrogen bomb, calling it a weapon of unprecedented destruction. As a consequence, in 1953 the US Atomic Energy Department branded him a security risk. But here in India as well as in Pakistan, we see that scientist-bureaucrats are addressing press conferences flashing victory signs and proudly proclaiming their preparedness that if ordered they can make bombs of still greater destructive capability. This I think goes against the whole spirit of science, against the spirit of knowledge. And I do feel sorry for the fact that every party is busy praising these scientists for their so-called great achievements. However, as far as I know, there are a great number of scientists who have also opposed this act.

Well, I wished to pin-point the twin great dangers emanating from the bomb blasts, the danger posed to the democratic process in the country by the systematically whipped up jingoistic frenzy, and the danger of militarisation of the country’s economy and developmental process emanating from the doctrine of a military-industrial complex.

A linked question however arises as to what would be our approach to the bullying tactics adopted by the big powers vis-a-vis India and Pakistan! How rational and legitimate is it on the part of the five big nuclear powers, the B-5 or permanent members of security council, to exert pressure on India and Pakistan for signing the CTBT, while the US Congress itself has not yet ratified the treaty? The US congress is only expected to ratify this treaty in the year 2000. These countries have themselves built up huge nuclear stockpiles and through their hundreds of tests have reached a stage where they can conduct further tests merely by computer simulation. Then, even in the CTBT there is a provision that if necessary, these countries can resume tests in their supreme national interests. When these countries mount pressure on us and on Pakistan to sign the CTBT, it is nothing but sheer hypocrisy. I think that the peace movement should make these big nuclear powers, the P-5, the main target. Among other things it also seems that the tests have opened up a new debate in the world around these old treaties. Doors of newer initiatives have opened up, people are demanding to know from these powers what program do they have for nuclear disarmament. We think that the peace movement in our country should link itself with this initiative.

Sometimes it happens that when things reach their extremes, they begin to turn into their opposites. Although India and Pakistan have made and tested bombs against each other, now that a parity has been reached and both are being made targets of sanctions, both are facing pressures from big powers, perhaps a historical opportunity has arrived when India and Pakistan can stand shoulder to shoulder. As we have already witnessed, offers of talks are being exchanged after the nuclear explosions and I hope that a new round of talks would begin and with their own identities the two countries may evolve a joint stand against the big powers. If this happens it will certainly be a good beginning. Conditions for such an eventuality have indeed begun to ripen. However, till forces like the BJP remain at the helm of affairs in New Delhi, I am afraid, this process cannot gain much of a momentum. The conditions are there, but these governments in India and Pakistan may not be able to realise them. Particularly I talk of the BJP government in New Delhi because its whole agenda is directed against Pakistan. The cause of peace and cooperation between India and Pakistan has got invariably linked up with the task of replacing this government. Addressing this seminar here are representatives of various political parties and various trends of thought, and I hope we will be able to fight unitedly against the militarisation of the country and the growing danger to our democracy.

Home > Liberation Main Page > Index July 1998 > ARTICLE