BOOK REVIEW
By Achin Vanaik

N. Ram, "Riding The Nuclear Tiger", Leftword Publications, New Delhi, 1999,
paperback, Rs.60; pp.120.




This book, though not carrying the official imprimatur of the CPM, to all
effective purposes represents its perspective on the nuclear issue, one
from which those of CPI and CPI-ML do not markedly differ. This covers not
just the causes and consequences of India's decision to go openly nuclear
but also matters like the earlier Indian posture of ambiguity, attitudes
to the CTBT, FMCT, international disarmament, etc. As a long time critic
not only of India's nuclear posture but also of this Left's understanding
of the issue, I could either use up this limited review space to air my
differences with the latter, or in general solidarity with its content,
endorse its effort to convince the lay reader why the trajectory set by
Pokharan II must be reversed. My differences can be more comprehensively
and systematically discussed elsewhere.

However, before examining the undeniable strengths of this book, I will
register (but not elaborate upon) the fundamental theoretical-political
plank of disagreement between this Left and others like myself who not only
oppose India's recent overt nuclearisation but also demanded earlier that
it foreclose the nuclear option itself. From this foundational
disagreement arise a whole series of differences in regard to perceptions
about the precise nature, limitations and possibilities of the CTBT, FMCT,
NPT; regional nuclear weapons free zones; the matter of the "Red Bomb";
the efficacy of deterrrence, etc. To put it succinctly, they arise out of
very different understandings about what the existence of a discriminatory
non-proliferation regime divided between nuclear haves and have-nots
constitutes. Does this mean `nuclear imperialism' also exists not merely as
a matter of the intentions of certain nuclearly equipped states like the
USA, but as a concrete and institutionalised reality? Or are nuclear
weapons so fundamentally astrategic that no kind of flirtation with notions
of positive forms of nuclear nationalism (or what this volume calls
"nuclear sovereignty") is justified?

Most importantly, the book accurately delineates some of the basic causes
and consequences of the May 1998 tests. There was no serious security
rationale for what happened. It was not changing external threat
perceptions that provoked the decision but the longstanding desire of the
Sangh Combine, in accordance with its miltaristic Hindu nationalist
ideology, to have such weapons as an expression of new-found Indian
`manhood'. The book could, however, have focussed more attention on why and
how over the last decade, changes in the general character of elite Indian
nationalism greatly facilitated the Sangh's project of rupturing India's
earlier posture of ambiguity.

The negative consequences are many. An expensive and wasteful arms race in
South Asia has been inaugurated and the shadow of a nuclear exchange now
covers future Indo-Pakistan conflicts (Kargil has already stimulated
frightening nuclear noises on both sides) when it need never have done so.
Relations with China have been seriously damaged and the space for an
Indian foreign policy independent of others, e.g. the USA has actually
substantially lessened. For pro-bomb advocates to insist that Indian
security has been enhanced not only flies in the face of the obvious but
shows ludicrous trust in the supposedly wondrous powers of deterrence. A
separate chapter is devoted to criticising the fallacies and
inconsistencies of deterrence-based security thinking. Two other chapters
are devoted to exposing the scientific pretensions and claims of those who
carried out the tests, and to an overview of the country's decades-long
pre-Pokharan II nuclear policy which expectedly is given quite uncritical
endorsement and praise.

N. Ram has warmly acknowledged the contribution of T. Jayaraman who is
almost a co-author of the book and whose expertise is clearly discernable
in the more technical parts of the book discussing post-Pokharan II claims,
in particular highlighting the enormous difficulties India will have in
establishing a credible "minimum deterrent" against any country other than
Pakistan. The inference is that India in going nuclear has accomplished
little more than nuclearising South Asia unnecessarily and that its search
for extra-regional and global eminence via nuclearisation is a political
chimera reinforced by its technological inadequacies.

In its final chapters, the author has warned against joining the CTBT and
FMCT preferring to advocate instead national bans (via Acts of Parliament
-- which, of course, will never happen) on further testing and conversion
of fissile materials into weapons fuel. This, along with a commitment by
both India and Pakistan to dismantle any existing weapons and to abjure any
induction and deployment of such weapons in the future, constitute the
heart of the programmatic perspective which the author hopes can be the
basis for mobilising a mass democratic campaign to reverse what has
happened. This call for a general reversal and return to nuclear sanity can
only be endorsed but there is one disturbing development the book has not
taken account of, written as it was some time ago. A non-BJP Central
government can only be a Congress-led one, but contrary to earlier hopes,
this Congress is now explicit that it will not reverse the dynamic let
loose by the BJP. This makes the task of Indian opponents of Pokharan II
all the more difficult as well as all the more urgent.

[appeared in "The Hindustan Times" of July 4, 1999]


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