Blasts Pose a Threat to Democracy

[Speech delivered at the seminar organised by Forum for Democratic Initiatives in New Delhi on 15 June 1998. The text of the speech was published in July 1998 issue of Liberation after slight alteration by the speaker in favour of publication.]

I donít 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 Chaturananji has also pointed out, it was said while the atom bomb was exploded that Gautam Buddha smiled. At this rate Buddha will perhaps laugh to his heartís content the day the bomb is 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 another 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 "Proudly say we are Hindus", it culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Today while centering around the bomb, once again Hindu metaphors of Shakti Peeth, Shaurya Diwas etc. 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 are to a party whose agenda does not make any distinction between nationalism and communalism and which takes an 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 countryís skies and constitutes the dangerous fallout of the nuclear explosion. Still I would consider it secondary compared to the more dangerous portents of the bomb here on the ground. In the first place, I wonder where this ultra-nationalist frenzy, 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 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 on the country. Therefore, a question justifiably comes up in our minds: how far will this building up of ultra-nationalist frenzy, coupled with the nuclear explosions, 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 the present parliamentary system does not bring stability to our polity, where elections are being held often, which is not a good thing, because it entails heavy national expenditure. And then they talk about the need for 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 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 subject to public scrutiny and any kind of accountability. Gradually, a whole structure, a giant bureaucratic-scientific establishment has been built. 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 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 greater part of the past 50 years. This new vision says 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 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 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 this weapon of mass destruction. Even Robert Openheimer, the scientist who is known as the Father of the Atomic Bomb, opposed the making of the 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 that every party is busy praising these scientists for their so-called great achievements. However, as far as I know, there are also a great number of scientists who have opposed this act.

Well, I wished to pinpoint the twin great dangers emanating from the bomb blasts ó the danger posed to the democratic process in the country by the jingoistic frenzy which has been systematically whipped up, and the danger of militarisation of the countryís economy and developmental process emanating from the doctrine of a military-industrial complex.

A related question however arises as to what should 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 P-5 or permanent members of the Security Council, to exert pressure on India and Pakistan to sign the CTBT, while the US Congress itself has not yet ratified the treaty? It is expected to ratify this treaty only in the year 2000. These countries have themselves built up huge nuclear stockpiles, and through 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 the peace movement should make these big nuclear powers, the P-5, its 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 they have for nuclear disarmament. We think 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 come our way 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 will 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 momentum. The conditions are there, but these governments in India and Pakistan may not be able to realise them. I particularly 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 militarisation of the country and the growing danger to our democracy.