Jyoti Basu | The Frontline – Nov 21 – Dec 04, 1998

West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu is one of the world’s most influential revolutionary and Left figures. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader is independent India’s longest-serving Chief Minister. In this article, he takes stock of the profound damage done by the BJP-led Government’s nuclear adventurism and jingoism while calling attention to the nuclear double standards of Western countries led by the United States. “Atomic India”, a special number of the quarterly journal, New Approach, which carries the article was recently released in Calcutta by President K.R. Narayanan.

IN recent months, India’s position has gone down considerably in the comity of nations owing to the misdeeds of the BJP-led coalition Government at the Centre. India has never been so crisis-ridden in the past 50 years. On the domestic front, economic slowdown, growing unemployment and social inequalities are worrying us all.

Future-of-nuclear-weapons-in-South-AsiaIn recent times, however, what has caused most concern to all right-thinking Indians is the country’s increasing isolation in the international arena, particularly after the Pokhran-II serial blasts. In essence, the blasts conducted between May 11 and 13 in Rajasthan in a surreptitious way represent the BJP’s unconcealed desire to make India go nuclear, in total disregard of popular opinion and realities at home and abroad.

Soon after the blasts, which triggered an unholy arms race in the subcontinent in South Asia, the BJP and especially the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – its driving force – tried to whip up passion in the name of “nationalism” or “patriotism.” Taking advantage of the early excitement over the blasts, both the RSS and the BJP are attempting to propagate the dangerous and volatile thesis of “Hindutva”. They are, in fact, misrepresenting and denigrating Hindu religion. The BJP and the RSS are trying to saffronise everything that is sacred, humane and secular in Indian life. The purpose behind the nuclear tests was to gain short-term political advantage.

Science and technology cannot be trivialised and allowed to be hitched to any particular political group or bloc interests. In a poor country where even the slightest development calls for relentless struggle, the progress of science and technology should be measured only in terms of its contribution to improving the quality of human life. And we have to keep in mind that it is not the first time that our scientists have carried out nuclear tests. In 1974, they had carried out the first tests in Pokhran. The BJP will be distorting history if it claims credit for India’s nuclear capabilities.

We must note that the Pokhran-II blasts gave rise to jingoism and hysteria, entirely directed at Pakistan, our next-door neighbour whose leaders responded equally irresponsibly by carrying out a matching string of nuclear tests. This jingoism, fuelled by the pursuit of “Hindutva”, has considerably frustrated the attempts of various democratic and progressive forces on either side of the border to reduce tension and normalise relations between the two neighbours. We have to remind ourselves constantly that the Vajpayee Government has single-handedly destroyed the good work of the United Front and other previous governments especially in the field of foreign policy and brought India perilously close to a nuclear abyss even though it is governing the country on a thin majority. It has no administrative or popular sanction to alter India’s foreign policy direction for worse. The Pokhran blasts represent the Vajpayee Government’s desperate attempts to divert popular attention from its many inadequacies and its failure to tackle mounting problems on the domestic front.

In the international sphere, both India and Pakistan stand scorned for making the danger of a nuclear war in South Asia very real. The international concern is not difficult to understand because located here side by side are two countries which have fought three wars, have gone ahead to arm themselves with nuclear weapons, exposing millions of poor, underdeveloped and hapless people to the unimaginable risks of a nuclear holocaust. The Vajpayee Government went for the Pokhran-II blasts giving a false impression to the people that they would help establish India as a superpower. It was a criminal act in that India is one of the 20 poorest nations which depend on borrowings and aid from the World Bank and other international funding agencies for managing their affairs. It is important to bear in mind that the vast number of people in India and Pakistan are plagued by poverty and deprivation. According to reports, the people of Pakistan are almost facing starvation because of the Pakistan Government’s decision to achieve nuclear capabilities to counter India.

WE have to keep in mind that the BJP’s attempts to create a nuclear India has adversely affected our relationship with China. The BJP and the RSS are offering the justification that the bomb is necessary to contain China and its hegemonistic plans. The realities, however, do not suggest that China can be held responsible for India’s stepped-up nuclear activity. After the India-China war in 1962, various quarters in India and China have been working steadily towards improving relations between the two countries. They have achieved a degree of success in the past two decades. The Vajpayee Government has been trying to base the justification on charges that China has set up a naval base in Myanmar and a helipad inside India in pursuit of its so-called plan for expansion and that it is overtly helping Pakistan in its nuclear programme.

In this context, it may be recalled that the U.S. first used the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan which led to a great tragedy. After the Pokhran blasts in May this year, the U.S. and Japan have responded to India’s nuclear activity with a plethora of economic restrictions. Their response means application of the brakes on foreign investments and aid from international agencies.

Like many States, West Bengal, too, has experienced a temporary halt in the inflow of such funds, but we are confident of managing our affairs well. The Western countries, particularly the U.S., taking the high moral ground by way of sanctions is not only surprising but also condemnable because their stockpiling of nuclear arms and missiles is chiefly responsible for the global arms race. In fact, the democratic and progressive sections of Western society are increasingly questioning their countries’ self-appointed role of nuclear policeman at a time when their own arsenals are bursting with weapons and missiles. They do betray a sense of guilt about their countries’ immoral doublespeak on the issue.

Having made this observation, we must bear in mind that the Western or industrially advanced countries will use the situation to play India, China and Pakistan against one another, and, in the immediate context, will capitalise on the restrictions to derive business advantage from the Indian market. To ride out the international isolation, the BJP will find itself forced to offer concessions to the Western countries.

WHAT is alarming is that the Vajpayee Government is talking these days about signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The nationally accepted position is not to sign the CTBT, so the people must strive to equip themselves with nuclear literacy and begin to put pressure on the Government to dissuade it from signing the treaty without popular sanction.

There is no doubt that all patriotic Indian and Pakistani citizens want security, but we must first satisfy ourselves how such “patriotism” and “security” are defined by the two governments. We must learn to recognise that communal forces, when in power, play dangerous games to perpetuate their stay in office. Such games must be frustrated to safeguard the interest of innocent men, women and children. So the people of both countries should try their utmost to restrain their governments from pursuing plans for hegemony. What we need to create is a situation where the common man and woman will utter the last word. The only way to create a conducive situation is through discussion.

Lastly, it is a matter of relief to note that our people, after the initial enthusiasm, are realising that the bomb is of no value as it does not enhance the quality of life. It does not eradicate poverty, spread literacy, improve health, or increase the lifespan.

We have been consistently saying that India and other countries must step into the 21st century with the pledge that they will not engage themselves in any war and that they will work towards nuclear disarmament. Our people will have to build pressure on the Government towards that end.