Since 15 May, 1974 (Pokhran-I), the world knew that India had the capability of developing nuclear weapons. On 11 May 1998, India confirmed what everyone knew. How do we react to this new development?
The Central Reality of India
Poverty is the defining characteristic of India.
In 1951, India's poor numbered 164 millions; in 1993-94, the number had increased to 312 millions, i.e., double the Independence number of people who could not meet their daily subsistence requirements. Between 1950-51 and 1993-94, the population below the poverty line declined by less than 1% per year. One in three Indians go to bed hungry. Life expectancy is about 60 which is almost 10 years less than in China. Half the Indian population cannot read or write. The Human Poverty Index (HPI) is about 37% -- this index is a composite of Longevity (19.4% of population expected to die before 40), Knowledge (48.8% illiterate), and Standard of Living (19% w/o access to safe drinking water, 15% w/o access to health services and 53% malnourished/underweight children). India belongs well and truly to the club of poorest nations.
Poverty reduction should be the touchstone we should use for reacting to the nuclear tests.
The Gandhi Talisman
Gandhi would have agreed -- he said: "Recall the face of the poorest and most helpless person whom you have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he be able to gain anything by it? Will it restore him to control over his life and destiny?
Have the Tests reduced Poverty?
If there is any positive impact of the tests, the Government have certainly kept it a dark secret. The people have not been enlightened on this very important issue. Not one single positive impact has been cited.
In fact, all the impacts are negative. The security of India has not improved -- nuclear bombs are not weapons of war because they cannot be used, they are only deterrents. And India's deterrent capability was as credible before the tests. The security of the region has deteriorated -- Pakistan will have to follow suit unless they extract some even greater benefit. The economic effects of the sanctions have not yet been fully comprehended. The thrust of Indian S&T, which is already markedly elitist and militaristic, will be further skewed against the interests of the people.
Thus, one cannot foresee any reduction in poverty as a result of the tests; in fact, there is likely to be a worsening of poverty.
Are the Tests a Great Achievement of Indian Science?
It is a great achievement only if one has an inferiority complex, and has doubts about whether Indian scientists are as good as their "Western" counterparts. There is no need at all for such inferiority. Indians are as good as the best -- after all, the best labs and industries of the US are filled with Indian scientists.
Given a clear mission and the necessary resources, Indian science can reach the highest heights of achievement. The tests have only confirmed this truth. There is no need for euphoria. We must not forget that the fission bomb is 53 years old technology, and the fusion bomb is 46 years old technology. So, we have replicated half a century old achievements.
Are those against the tests anti-national?
The question is: what is patriotism? It is repaying the people the debts one owes them. Patriotism consists of "wiping every tear from every face". So, those who stress that making bombs increases tears are patriotic; those who divert attention from the central reality of India -- its poverty -- are anti-national.
"Without the necessary economic infrastructure, all talk of a bomb can be just so much bombast. And should any government discuss such a proposition seriously without first taking steps to provide all citizens of the country with food, clothes, shelter, pure drinking water, education and a chance to live a life befitting human beings, such a government can be called nothing but criminal."
That statement was made after Pokhran-I from Tihar Jail by ..... India's present Defense Minister George Fernandes. Perhaps jail made him see things from the people's perspective.
Now that the tests are over, let us move forward by stopping (a) the jingoistic exploitation of the event by forces with short-term political interests, (b) the erosion of democracy, (c) the further diversion of scientific talent away from the problems of the poor towards military applications of science and (d) an arms race with our neighbors. Let us contribute to the process of international disarmament. And above all, let us turn our attention to our historic mission of giving all our citizens -- and particularly the underprivileged -- a better life at least in the next century.