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17th May 1998

India after nuclear tests

By Mervyn de Silva

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It was at the Bandaranaike Centre that Inder Kumar Gujral propounded his doctrine of reciprocity. India would not demand reciprocity from its smaller neighbours. For such goodwill he was called a "softie" by the hard-boiled Delhi-wallahs who demanded that India should always assert its regional pre-eminence.

But he was no real softie in fact. The BhabhaniSen Gupta affair proved that. The author of THE FULCRUM OF ASIA, this U.S.-educated specialist in strategic studies, was an adviser to Prime Minister Gujral. But when some hostile columnists in Delhi reminded the Prime Minister that he had once written to the New York Times calling on the U.S. to "put serious pressure on India" over its arsenal of nuclear weapons, Mr. Gujral dropped him from his "team" next day.

K. Subramanyam, who speaks on these issues more authoritatively has said: "The test formalises the situation obtaining in this region since to be early 90's when India had to get ready its deterrent after Pakistan became a nuclear weapon in 1987 with active assistance from China and tacit U.S. connivance. Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as well as Mr. Nawaz Sharif, General Aslam Beg and Dr. A.Q. Khan have confirmed their possession of nuclear weapons, amidst reports that the Pakistani weapon was not only of Chinese design but was tested in LOPNOR in the mid 80's"

If Mr. Subramaniam is India's Henry Kissinger, he is far from shy to point out that it was Henry Kissinger who made the historic breakthrough - his secret trip to Beijing on the sound reason that a nation of 800 million armed with nuclear weapons could not be ignored. Whatever the immediate reactions and the short-term reservations India too will be treated with respect on the long run. Mr. Subramaniam goes one step further. The B.J.P. government, now riding the nationalist high wave, should take the next logical step... It must sign the C.T.B.T. but only if there are no sanctions.

Upbeat Mood

It would be naive to ignore the plain fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership and its top advisers were quite certain that the party's prestige will soar. Plain patriotic pride would bring a large dividend to a coalition that has not yet settled down to tackle the gigantic problems that confront it. The parties that support the B.J.P. and guarantees it a stable majority in the Lok Sabha, have their own agendas. Smaller the party the more demanding.... an old, well-tested rule. The vulnerability of all such "alliances" is all too transparent... as transparent as the B.J.P.'s action last week. (Transparency is a new, highly valued virtue.) Yes, the B.J.P. has made its message and motive clear. India, soon a billion stands on the doorstep of the 21st century, its head high.

About nuclear weapons, proliferation, threats and risks, let the pundits debate, what really matters is mass psychology. Elected government, the intelligentia and the people.... the mood is upbeat. The big question is how long can the B.J.P. rely on such a climate of opinion.

As for the attacks from neighbours and the Big Powers (count Russia out) that may help the B.J.P. since the opposition parties, the Congress, in particular, appear to have read correctly the mass mood. A Cabinet Minister (unidentified) was quoted by M.D. Malapat (TIMES OF INDIA): "The critics should realise that" painting a country as an outlaw becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy sometimes".

Soviet Union

Indian policymakers evidently appreciate the Russian response so far. One wonders how Moscow (the Presidency and/or Parliament) would have reacted if the Soviet Union had not crumbled. It is the post-Cold War geo-political changes that have left India without a superpower patron or ally. Both the United States and China have lined up with Pakistan, a formidable trio. The balance of power is decidedly in favour of Pakistan. Already, many an analyst argues that the crisis has left Pakistan far stronger. Both the capitalist US and the "communist" P.R.C. have lined up with Islamabad.

For all her "non-alignment" and Nehru, not Tito, was the authentic architect of "non-alignment..." India under Indira Gandhi signed the Indo-Soviet Treaty in 1971.

The Soviet implosion has left India without a superpower ally. Will the US, China and Pakistan see this as a window of opportunity. When the neighbourhood, or the world is hostile and too many enemies and rivals sink their differences to attack you, the wise ruler must go to the people, his last, but quite formidable ally.

Will the B.J.P. leaders decide this is the moment to dissolve Parliament? I doubt it, and yet it is useful to bear in mind the Prime Minister' options.

Hindu Extremism

The western news agencies persisted in introducing the B.J.P. as "Hindu nationalist", "Hindu ultra nationalist" or "Hindu extremist".

So is this the "Hindu Bomb", a nice companion to "Islamic fundamentalist" bomb that the Ayatollahs are secretly putting together in a suburb of Tehran?

In the opinion of C. Raja Menon, a specialist on Indian policy and the Indo-US nuclear dialogue, the US should be more willing to "look at the arms control significance of the China factor".

Hulftsdorp Hill

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