The Convention began with participants observing a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was followed by projection of images from Hiroshima and Nagasaki after they were devastated by atom bombs, interspersed with newspaper headlines reflecting the jingoistic and revanchist posturings by prominent members of the BJP on the issue of nuclear weapons. The draft resolution for the Convention was introduced by Prof.Kamal Mitra Chenoy. Almost to one man, speakers at the Convention described the BJP Government’s action as a monumental blunder that was designed to plunge the countries in the sub-continent into a period of mutual hatred and strife.
Sri N.Ram, Editor of Frontline, termed the tests as “Right Wing adventurism of the most dangerous kind” which would “profoundly affect the terms of the nation’s engagement with the region and the world”. He said that the tests and subsequent “sabre-rattling statements” by ministers including L.K.Advani, which tried to link the tests to the Kashmir issue had led to the internationalisation of the Kashmir issue. He felt that there are clear signals that the Government’s position would rapidly move from one of adventurism to appeasement and even surrender towards the interests of Imperialist powers. He cited in this context the pressures on India now to sign the CTBT ant to participate in the FMCT - the latter involving the laying open of all Indian nuclear facilities to external inspection. Contrary to the view being propagated regarding a national consensus on the tests, he pointed out that leading defence experts like Admiral Ramdas (present at the Convention), Lt.Gen.Raghavan and M.R.Srinivasan (former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission) have expressed grave doubts about the Govt’s plans to follow the nuclear explosions with a weaponisation programme.
"So many Things Can Go Wrong"
In an evocative and emotional address Admiral Ramdas (former chief of Navy) said that the aftermath of the Pokhran blasts, in some ways, marked a “turning point in his life”. He described himself as a person who had spent 45 years of his life in uniform and one who had been an integral part of policy formulation in defence related matters. He was deeply disturbed at the turn of events and said that the tests have “cast an evil shadow over the sub-continent”. He categorically stated that no matter what the compulsions were, there was no justification for India deciding to go nuclear. He said that as a career defence person he could visualise how, “so many things can go wrong with nuclear weapons”, leading to a disastrous nuclear conflagration. Instead of enhancing national security, Admiral Ramdas felt that the Government’s action had only enhanced the threshold for the possibility of things going wrong. Nobody really had a clue, he said, about the implications of a nuclear weaponisation programme, for Command and Control systems. Who, he queried will have his fingers on the nuclear button — the Prime Minister, the Army Chief, the BJP Chief or the RSS? He dubbed the pronouncements by ministers as those of “babes in the wood who had found a new toy” and apprehended that a nuclear holocaust was a real possibility. As a result of an accelerated arms race, the people would have to pay the penalty in the form of cuts in expenditure on Health, Education and other Social Sectors. He said that it was imperative for India and Pakistan to get together immediately and put a cap on their respective nuclear programmes. He said that “we are all fighters here, and we need to fight for peace”, and get the public in both India and Pakistan to understand about the disastrous consequences of a nuclear conflict so that they can pressurise their respective Governments.
Designed to Whip Jingoism
Shri. H.K.S.Surjeet (Gen. Secy. CPI (M)) said that the tests conducted by the BJP Government were designed to whip up jingoistic feelings to serve the narrow interests of a Government that was struggling to survive. Shri Surjeet said that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues have been deliberately trying to instigate Pakistan through their provocative statements linking nuclear weapons to Kashmir and through overt invitation to Pakistan to engage in a war. He said that it should have been apparent even to the entirely naive, that these provocations would force Pakistan — whose Govt. is also under pressure in its own country — to conduct tests of its own. As a result the BJP Govt.’s action has only served to dangerously escalate tensions in the region. But, Shri.Surjeet said, the BJP’s ploy had actually boomeranged as is evident from its complete isolation in Parliament when the nuclear issue was debated and its poor showing in the recent bye elections. This shows that the people of India do not want war — what they want from a Government is peace and development.
Shri A.B.Bardhan said that as a result of the Govt.’s action we now live under the shadow of fear, under the shadow of a nuclear threat. It was foolish, he felt, to believe that the proxy war being waged by Pakistan in Kashmir can be countered with nuclear weapons. Pointing out the fallacy in the argument that nuclear weapons act as a deterrence against war, he said that after 1945 more wars have been fought on earth that ever before in human history. Amarjeet Kaur (All India Trade Union Congress), said that there exists a fertile ground to take the real issues arising out of the nuclear tests to the people. National Security, she said, cannot be safegaurded by ignoring the real needs of the people like food and employment. She said that it was but natural that the BJP and RSS should be engaged in war-mongering, given its past history where the founder of the RSS, Hegdewar, had openly stated that he drew inspiration from the likes of Hitler.
Dr.Ashok Mitra said that he felt ashamed as an Indian after the tests. Drawing a parallel with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, he said that the tests were an attempt by the BJP to create a frenzy in order to divert the attention of the people from their real issues and to bury their increasing problems with their allies in the Central Government. He said that India and Pakistan, in an accelerated arms race, can exhaust their national incomes but would end up in merely maintaining the same levels of relative defence preparedness. He said that by exploding the “swadeshi bomb” the BJP Govt. had actually opened the floodgates for foreign domination over the economy. Foreign Banks and Companies are now to be allowed to remit their earnings unfettered to their parent companies. He was afraid that the South East Asian syndrome — where foreign speculators played havoc with domestic currencies — may now extend to South Asia.
Falsehoods as Scientific Argument
Dr.T.Jayraman (Indian Instt. of Mathematical Sciences, Madras) and Dr.Satyajit Rath (National Institute of Immunology, Delhi) decried the attempts to use patent falsehoods and half truths as scientific arguments, in order to justify the “inevitability” of the nuclear tests by India. They felt that much of the debate on the issue has been ill-informed and has failed to focus on the real effects of a nuclear war. Dr.Jayraman said that the DAE and DRDO were party to the overturning of the national consensus against exercising the nuclear option. He said that India’s scientific capabilities have little to do with its ability to conduct nuclear explosions. He said, for example, it takes a much higher degree of S&T capability to maintain a satellite in geostationary orbit to augment communication facilities, than to produce a missile with a nuclear warhead that can accurately reach its target.
Manufactured Popular Mood
Prof.Prabhat Patnaik, in an incisive attack on the tests, termed them as an “astonishing act of stupidity”. He felt that the tests and their aftermath will be used by the Government to accelerate the neo-liberal thrust of the economy, where we shall see MNCs lording over the economy. He saw in the nuclear tests another move in the direction towards “disenfranchisement of the poor — politically and economically”. A typical way, he felt, of a fascist political formation trying to establish its hold over the country. He said that there has been a major move by fascistic forces to manufacture a “popular mood” in favour of the Govt.’s policy. It is unfortunate that even some sections opposed to the Govt.’s nuclear policy have found it necessary to grant concessions to this manufactured public mood, and thereby temper their opposition. He said that the need of the hour was not to “kowtow” to the so called popular mood but to stand in clear opposition to the diabolic designs of the BJP Government and its cohorts.
The Convention ended with participants unanimously approving a resolution against nuclear weapons. This was followed by the screening of two short films — one on the horrors of a nuclear explosion and the other based on Bertold Brecht’s poem on the rise of fascism in Germany.
Convention against Nuclear Weapons
June 9th, 1998, Pearey Lal Bhawan, New Delhi
The Government has sought to project the recent tests and the moves towards nuclear weaponisation as merely one more step to those taken by earlier governments. In fact, they are a complete departure from the earlier policy frame. Further, the decisions have been taken without the promised strategic review by a National Security Council, which is yet to be set up. The earlier consensus was that India would keep its nuclear option open as long as the nuclear weapon powers persisted in maintaining their monopoly and did not proceed towards nuclear disarmament. The consensus also involved strong opposition to the doctrine of "nuclear deterrence". It meant that, while itself not acting by exercising this nuclear weapons option, India would continue to campaign for global nuclear disarmament. On this count, India has always had a moral advantage in the World community because of its principled position. The BJP-led Government, backed by sections of the military and scientific establishments and cheered on by sections of the media, broke this consensus. It is now legitimising nuclear weapons and has clearly indicated that it merely seeks to join the exclusive nuclear club.
By naming Pakistan and China as providing reasons for exercising the nuclear option and by holding that they threaten the country's security environment, this government has completely undermined the efforts that India had been pursuing to improve relations with them and diminished the global significance of India’s open nuclear option. The policy outlook conveyed by government and ruling party spokesmen have now emboldened the US and other G-8 countries to launch initiatives to “resolve the sub-continental rivalry” thus reducing the Indian nuclear position to one that is only confined to the region.
Any future conflict between India and its nuclear-armed neighbours now carries with it the threat of nuclear exchange which can only lead to mutual annihilation. Even a limited nuclear exchange, either by accident or design, will devastate both countries; causing long-term damage to the land and the gene pool, and a complete civilisational collapse. Radioactive fallout will not respect national boundaries. Yet the current rhetoric among "hawks", engaged in one-upmanship in both India and Pakistan, attempt to paint deceptive scenarios of security through posession and deployment of nuclear weapons. Contrary to the myth propagated, there is no defence against such weapons.
The people of India, and of Pakistan, most whom are keen to ensure peace between the two countries, must act to stop this madness. The Governments of both the countries must immediately halt the programme of weaponisation and must not induct or deploy nuclear weapons. The costs of nuclear deployment and the threat of nuclear exchange are just too high. These developments have diverted attention away from the grave problems facing the country -- hunger, poverty, ill-health, illiteracy and lack of basic infrastructure. It is deeply ironical that instead of making serious efforts to rise from the bottom fifty countries of the world in Human Development, India and Pakistan should want to join the club of the Nuclear Five.
Instead, India must vigorously campaign to dismantle the global discriminatory nuclear regime and initiate moves towards global nuclear disarmament. The nuclear weapons powers, despite all their pious pronouncements about dismantling of their arsenals, have made marginal efforts to do so. Their imposition of sanctions against India and Pakistan is hypocritical. If they are serious about nuclear non-proliferation, they must pursue a credible programme for destruction of nuclear weapons globally, starting with their own. In order to resume India’s due role, India must return to the global nuclear disarmament agenda and stop any further measures towards induction and deployment of nuclear weapons in the sub-continent. Pakistan too must reciprocate with matching measures.
India and Pakistan should jointly take the initiative in convening a global convention for the elimination of nuclear weapons. There already exist global treaties, signed by all countries, prohibiting the use of chemical and biological weapons and for destroying existing stockpiles of such weapons of mass destruction. There is no reason why a similar global treaty cannot be signed by all countries to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons and to eliminate the existing stockpile of nuclear weapons within a time-bound framework. We as concerned citizens should direct our efforts not only at pressurising the Governments of India and Pakistan but also at mobilising world public opinion for fulfilling such a goal.