The Editor
Indian Express , TOI, Economic Times, EPW, Outlook, The Hindu.
Mumbai
May 17 1998


Dear Sir

India Joins the Nuclear Club


We are writing to express our disappointment at the lack of mature
analysis in the sea of euphoric and largely superficial commentary -
designed to add to the already existing `hype« about the recent nuclear
testing carried out by India. It is quite alarming to read the confident
poll findings based on a hasty round of polling in four metropolitan
cities which assert that the `majority of the Indian public supports the
nuclear explosions«! By the same token, the gathering of NGOs academics
and others to protest the outrage in Delhi was categorised as
representing `a small minority«.

It is indeed a matter of concern that a decision which is fraught with
so many grave long term consequences - is treated in an almost cavalier
fashion.These are not some Divali crackers that we were letting off -
but lethal technologies whose devastating effects and impact are well
known, and still being evaluated. It is a sobering thought that the
leaders and opinion builders of this vast and ancient nation have
uncritically acclaimed the setting off of these five nuclear devices at
this stage in our history - a decision which demonstrated scant respect
for any process whereby public debate and informed analysis could have
preceded such a momentous step.

Indeed , the BJP government has cynically used an opportunity to
mobilise a shallow nationalistic jingoism, (shades of Ayodhya?) to paper
over the real problems and challenges facing the nation at this
juncture. The leadership of this country - (and they are not alone in
this) - has time and time again taken recourse to such stratagems. They
know full well, that in a country so full of major unsolved problems,
education for sustained critical thinking and opinion building on basic
issues has never been encouraged. Therefore, the bogey of threats to
national security and territorial integrity, and the decision to fulfil
the promise of `going nuclear«, is bound to whip up patriotic fervour
and support the illusion of a `government that works and acts«. The
present actions are a classic example.

The BJP-led government has had to struggle to govern and to maintain
order among the completely diverse bedfellows with whom it chose to work
in its haste to grab power. The possibility of achieving a consensus on
any single objective or policy seemed to be receding by the day. Their
think-tank had done their homework well - no political party could
really afford to take a different line on the question of demonstrating
India«s scientific and technical ability, especially in the nuclear
field.

It is often easier to cock a temporary snook at external pressures and
sanctions - knowing that in all possibility such an action would not
necessarily evoke a uniform set of reactions. In fact, the predictable
postures of bravado, and `we can go it alone« only add to the mobilising
capacity, and lessen all threats of raising the issues of lack of
performance and delivery on such critical,but Śmundane« matters as
economic performance or food, health and education in the domestic
arena. It is important in our view, to also point out some other
factors ;
- whilst applauding the undoubted capability of our scientific and
technological community, let us understand clearly that this was never
in doubt or question, and certainly did not need the present five tests
to demonstrate that this was so.
· for the BJP to claim political mileage and the credit for acting
`tough and decisively« is another myth - those who made these blasts
possible have been working quietly and invisibly for over two decades -
and every goverment in power has contributed to that process.
· there is no question that the `Nuclear Haves«, as with many in the
developed world, have demonstrated cynical double standards with regard
to the less well to do countries. India's stand on the CTBT and the
need for total dis-armament - had in fact been appreciated and respected
by many. Equally our right to develop our technological and scientific
base is unquestioned and has been demonstrated in countless ways.
· in fact, we added value to our moral ground because of the known fact
that we had the technology and `know how«, and could have built a `bomb«
at any time in the past two decades - but voluntarily chose NOT TO.
Today we have forfeited that position and given up the intrinsic
civilisational values for which this country has been respected the
world over, for some questionable short term gains and the right to
join precisely those nations and that club whose values we have
ridiculed in public forums the world over.
· Most importantly we have lost, or certainly postponed, an invaluable
opportunity to build peace in our own region - and we most certainly
have laid the ground for another arms race . The myth of deterrence has
been shot through by many, most recently by Jug Suraiya in his piece
based on Jonathan Schell's writings.

As this nation approaches the end of the year long fiftieth anniversary
celebrations, there are many who will point to Pokhran and the alleged
"Smile of the Buddha" as the highpoint of our half century mark as a
nation. We would humbly like to submit that these are not necessarily
the opinions of the large and silent majority in this country - most of
whom will not hear or care about Pokhran, and for whom the fifty years
of Independence has brought little change and even less hope of
realising the promise of a life of dignity, and the basic needs of food,
shelter, health and education .

Your government seems to have turned its back on providing our children
the Fundamental Right to Elementary education, and fed them with five
nuclear bombs instead! Will history ever forgive us? More importantly,
will our own future generations , not to mention the children of today
whom we have betrayed yet again?

Perhaps we can only look to the Buddha's Smile for answers?

Signed by
Lalita Ramdas , Dr Priya Nanda, Lt Gen.Gurbir Mansingh, Dr Sagari RamDas, N.Madhusudan, Dr Sanjay Joshi, , Dr Arshia Sattar, Dr Mallika Ramdas, Shankar Ghose