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Home > India > News > Columnists > K Subrahmanyam

Politics has defeated the purpose of Pokhran tests

May 09, 2008

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On the 10th anniversary of Pokhran-II test, nuclear reactors in India are operating at 50 percent capacity. This does not appear to have attracted the attention of those who take pride in having declared India as a nuclear weapon state.

While that declaration was a sound decision in India's interests is there adequate understanding among our political class, academia and media what a laughing stock India will be when it has to run its reactors at 50 percent capacity for the next five years as has been highlighted by Dr M R Srinivasan, the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.

Dr Anil Kakodkar, the present chairman has clarified that with the present known stocks of uranium ore in the country (some of which are yet to be developed) India can have only 10,000 MW of indigenous nuclear power. The country needs 50,000 MW of nuclear power if it is to sustain an adequate fast breeder programme which will convert abundantly available thorium into uranium 233 for the third stage of Dr Homi Bhabha's programme of self-reliant nuclear energy generation for India.

The uranium crunch is not news. Dr Bhabha was aware of it. Therefore he devised the three-stage programme to utilise the country's abundant thorium resources and secondly he believed in international cooperation to develop our nuclear energy programme.

Brajesh Mishra, the former National Security Adviser of the National Democratic Alliance government, who played a central role in both military and civil nuclear decision-making during the NDA rule, has pointed out that without India completing the 123 Agreement with the United States there will be set backs to Bhabha's three-stage programme.

Today not much attention is paid to the warnings of scientists. Our political parties are engaged in internecine wrangling, seriously hampering the progress of the 123 Agreement so vital to sustain the future of Indian civil nuclear programme. Presently, our political parties are on test on their commitment to India's nuclear future. This is not an occasion for celebration but introspection.

It is very unfortunate that there is major disagreement between the two mainstream parties on the nuclear issue. Mishra in a recent interview discloses that there was a continuity in nuclear policy between the Congress leadership and the BJP leadership. The former NDA Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in his obituary tribute to the late P V Narasimha Rao, revealed that Rao urged him to conduct the nuclear tests. Rao himself was thwarted from conducting the test in December 1995 after US satellites detected the preparations. The bomb itself was ordered to be assembled by Rajiv Gandhi in March 1989 after his action plan for disarmament was totally ignored by the United Nations.

Just as today many BJP people oppose the 123 Agreement which is a continuation of Vajpayee's Next Steps in Strategic Partnership. In 1998 many senior Congressmen opposed the Pokhran nuclear tests in their ignorance of the policies of their own leaders, Indira Gandhi [Images], Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao. What is the alternative strategy the non-Communist critics of 123 Agreement have to prevent the Indian civil nuclear programme from being wound down to a mere 10,000 MW level?

The Communists are logical and do not have any commitment to India's military or civil nuclear programme. Are we to assume that the non-Communist opponents are equally indifferent to India's nuclear future? What makes them think that they can get a better deal from future US administrations? Now that India's uranium crunch is out in the open how do they expect a future US administration to be more generous than the Bush administration? It is laughable that people are nitpicking on an issue of some long term future security of fuel supply. The world would have lifted the technology denial regime against India.

Why are we in this situation? It is because the continuity of policy that originated with Rajiv Gandhi and sustained by Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee has broken down. In the early 1990s India was able to sustain the pressures of US at the height of its unipolarity in respect of its nuclear weaponisation, and of the Islamic countries on the Kashmir issue. The present generation of political leaders do not have adequate confidence in their own ability to withstand US or any other pressure. The Chinese and Pakistanis do not worry about what the US Congress writes in the nonbinding clauses in their legislation. There is also inadequate understanding of the concept of sovereignty of the country. Otherwise questions whether India would be able to conduct a nuclear test, if it considered necessary, would not have arisen.

The major national parties face a crucial test -- whether they are prepared to place the national interest above their personal and party parochial interests. For the Communist party the interest of the Communist 'Ummah' comes ahead of national interests as it happens for other religious fundamentalists. But what about the non-Communist national parties? Will the Congress sacrifice national interest just to get its tenure in office extended by some three or four months? Will the BJP break with Vajpayee tradition of continuity in nuclear policy and oppose the 123 Agreement to score points against the UPA and for the new leadership to dissociate itself from Vajpayee?

In the 18th and 19th century the British did not send massive expeditionary force to conquer India. Most of the Indian maharajahs and nmawabs voluntarily placed themselves under the rule of East India Company. The parochialism and personal jealousies of those rulers converted India into British Raj. Today the political wrangles among our major parties and political parochialism of regional parties are threatening to keep India shackled in the global technology denial regime.

Major powers of the world want India as a partner. But our political parties are unable to partner each other to a limited extent to advance national interests and liberate India from technology denial apartheid.

Without the lifting of the technology denial and India acquiring the ability to interact freely with all major nations economically and technologically India will not be able to have a real independent foreign policy which will make it an effective balancer of power. That was the real purpose of Pokhran II. Today there is countrywide concern whether India is likely to lose face and its international credibility on the nuclear issue.


K Subrahmanyam




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