Beginning of change in India’s nuclear policy

Dr Rajkumar Singh

INDIA’S decision to develop nuclear energy or to go nuclear in the future is mainly caused by its protest against the discriminatory non-proliferation treaty, but it may be a response to Pakistan and Chinese nuclear power development and lastly it may even have been a deliberate attempt to join the nuclear club.

It all started with Chinese aggression against India in 1962 with China becoming a nuclear power in October 1964.

In a debate in the Indian Parliament as to whether India should become a nuclear weapon country or not.

While speaking on the capital outlay of the Department of Atomic Energy in the Lok Sabha on 23rd March 1963, a member of the Jana Sangh Party strongly pleaded, ‘‘India should manufacture atomic weapons in view of the threats posed by the Chinese on the borders.

He contended that China possessed atomic weapons and it would be impossible for India to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity without the nuclear power’’.

But there were other members in Parliament who were of the opinion that India should not manufacture atomic or nuclear weapons.

However, the people of India, on the contrary felt that India needed to manufacture nuclear weapons as it would not violate the Test Ban Treaty of 1963, and underground explosions were allowed nor would it be going against the spirit of non-alignment.

Regional factors: Further the threat to India had increased with the maturing of Sino-American relationship.

Pakistan connections with China was already well-established. It was furthering renewing its connections with America.

All this was a grave threat to South Asia, ‘‘Islamabad’s willingness to recognise China but not India as the predominant power in South Asia aggravates India’s fear of China as a hegemonic power that is in occupation of its territory’’.

In the context of strategic, political and military implications of Pakistani nuclear capability suggested that India should also formulate a response to safeguard its security and national interests.

India will have to follow such a policy that would serve it best without being sentimental or pseudo-moralistic in approach.

India has to be more concerned about the explicit of the ominous United States-Pakistan strategic consensus than the mere fact of United States arms supply to that country.

Pakistan’s keen desire for a nuclear bomb was there much before India tested her nuclear device.

In Z.A. Bhutto’s calculations: (i) Pak bomb will be status symbol not only for Pakistan but for the entire Islamic world; (ii) It would give Pakistan enough leverage to put India into the defensive.

It is also to mention here that the danger of a nuclear war exists more amongst the smaller nations than amongst the superpowers.

The smaller nations can be provoked into using the nuclear weapons as the last alternative to national demise.

In a war between India and Pakistan, it is more likely that Pakistan would be the first user of nuclear weapons.

The Indian armed forces feel that when the Pakistanis are outnumbered they may use nuclear weapons to prevent the defeat of Pakistan.

Policy of Indira Gandhi: In the meantime, Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980 and her government asserted that it would be vigilant in protecting the national interests.

It was necessary for India to be in touch with the latest technology. India would be committed to the peaceful use of atomic energy but would keep its nuclear option open.

Despite India’s problems with the United States over fuel and spare parts supplies to Tarapur, India did not accept the international safeguards.

During this period the development of missile technology in India grew.

After Indira Gandhi’s sudden demise, Rajiv Gandhi, her eldest son became the next Prime Minister of India, who too adhered to the peaceful uses of atomic energy for the development of the country.

India’s first medium-range missile Agni was developed during this period. It was the most impressive achievement in self-reliance in the field of the indigenous production of ballistic missile.

The development of ballistic missile capability put a long chain of missiles in future, such as Prithvi, Agni, Trishul, Nag and Akash etc. But Agni is one hundred per cent indigenous whereas Prithvi is 90 per cent indigenous.

Missile Agni has even the potential of being developed into an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM).

In a nutshell, India has been periodically testing nuclear-capable missiles and has made known its determination to secure its assets in space.

Rajiv Gandhi and nuclear policy: On policy front both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi expressed India’s views in clear terms.

India has always believed in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Indira Gandhi addressed the 38th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York on 28th September 1983, and exposed the dangers of nuclear war, scientists, scholars and some notable soldiers have vividly described the outcome of a future nuclear war. Imagine a hundred or thousand Hiroshimas at one time… We can all live only if we all combine in the struggle for peace.

In June1988, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made a seminal speech at the UN General Assembly and proposed a world free of nuclear weapons, an end to be achieved through an ‘Action Plan for Ushering in a Nuclear-Weapon Free and Non-Violent World Order.

He proposed a three-stage process of total disarmament with the account on a regime that was global, universal and non-discriminatory.

Rajiv Gandhi’s plan was ranked among the bolder initiatives to rid the world of nuclear weapons along with Mikhail Gorbachev’s call made two years earlier for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Although the Soviet Union welcomed the proposal, the US immediately rejected the Rajiv Gandhi plan. India, however, must continue to push for the acceptance of its ideas.

— The writer is Professor and Head, P G Department of Political Science, Bihar, India.

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