JOINING THE NUCLEAR FAMILY:
WELCOME ABOARD SOUTH ASIA
It is profoundly sad that the terrain on which an Indian
government 'stood up' to the contempt, arrogance and racism of
the West should have been that of a display of nuclear strength.
What India and Pakistan have done is to mimic the defunct Cold
War stand-off between the West and the former Soviet Union, which led to such vast expenditure of treasure and waste of resources.
By Jeremy Seabrook
(Third World Network Features)
Mumbai: The euphoria in India over the nuclear tests at Pokharan
was generated as much by the disapproval of the United States as
by the triumphalist response the tests represented to the old
adversary, Pakistan. Whether US Intelligence really had got no
wind of what was to happen is doubtful, a feigned astonishment
designed to conceal a possible future common interest with India
But at last, it was felt, an Indian government was calling the
bluff of the West in general, and of the US in particular. Not
before time. National pride -- a commodity in short supply in the
recent history of India -- was being restored.
Now to challenge the hypocrisy of the Western nuclear powers over
their racist and supremacist assumptions that they are the sole
arbiters of who is fit or unfit to hold weapons of mass
destruction, is one thing. But to emulate them in their macho
posturing is quite another.
To engage with Pakistan in a nuclear arms race is even worse.
For to do so is to concede the terms on which the nuclear powers
conduct their policy in the world. This is the most eloquent
tribute that could be imagined to the rules of the game as laid
down by the US, its allies and competitors.
It is a great paradox, that while defying the bullying of the US,
India -- and the response from Pakistan two weeks later -- engages
in profoundly imitative behaviour, and thereby exhibits, yet
again, another slavish gesture to the very forms of dominance
which it is, in theory, contesting. There is a depressing element
of colonised continuity, even in this apparent act of defiance of
the nuclear powers.
The words of the Defence Minister, which preceded the nuclear
testing, suggesting that China was now the primary adversary of
India, were not necessarily part of a prior justification of what
was to come. The words of George Fernandes were partly a
diversionary veil; signalling to the United States a willingness
to share a perception of the threat from China, but also to
conceal the profounder purposes of the BJP government, with its
fractious and fragile hold on power at the Centre.
The anti-Muslim posture of the BJP remains its principal reason
for existence. Beyond this -- now temporarily muted -- position, it
has absolutely no other policy. Certainly the appeal to swadeshi,
self-reliance and economic nationalism, is simply rhetoric. The
leaders of the BJP, like their counterparts in many of the
mainstream parties, have no intention of any significant
renunciation of their economic privilege, their imported
luxuries, their investments in property in the US and Europe, the
education of their children in foreign academies and centres of
There is no doubt that the explosions at Pokharan, conducted
within only a couple of months of the BJP assuming power, were
principally for domestic consumption, as the extraordinary scenes
of popular jubilation within India clearly demonstrated. And what
other purpose could that serve than as a claim to a future -- and
not distant -- test of electoral popularity, whereby the BJP would
return with a less equivocal grasp of power, and no longer
subject to the chantage of the Jayalalithas of the world.
The electoral calculus is rarely far from the surface, and the
myopia which this preoccupation induces in all governments was
doubtless part of the impulse towards the display of strength
exhibited on 11 and 13 May 1 9 9 8.
The attainment of the convincing majority that has until now
eluded the BJP, would, of course, permit it to return to its
roots, to give more florid expression to those issues on the
domestic agenda which have been frozen since the tenuous and
wavering majority which has characterised its accession to
government in March 1 9 9 8.
It is a cause for the profoundest sadness that the terrain on
which an Indian government 'stood up' to the contempt, arrogance
and racism of the West should have been that of a display of
nuclear strength. For what India and Pakistan have now done has
been to mimic, in South Asia, with all its impoverishment,
wretchedness and injustice, the defunct Cold War stand-off
between the West and the former Soviet Union, which led to such
vast expenditure of treasure and waste of resources for over 40
years after 1945.
It seems that India and Pakistan are doomed to revive and to re-
live the futility, insecurity and waste of which the former
colonial powers in the recent past provided such a spectacular
example. When the West boasted that the threat of mutually
assured destruction (MAD) had maintained the peace in Europe
since 1945, they did not expect to hear their words echoed by
entities created by the dissolution of the British Raj amid such
bitterness and hatred at the same time.
Of course it was long overdue for India to take a stand against
Western dominance. If only it could have been on issues which
also form part of BJP rhetoric, if not reality. On the economic
subjection of India to the international financial institutions,
to the whole panoply of Western manipulation, the reach-me-down
consumerism, the machinations of the transnationals, the
impositions of the WTO, the blackmail and threats whereby the
West conducts its economic policies in the region.
They will not do so, for they know that economic 'sanctions'
implemented against their defence posturings will be small
gestures compared with the wrath they would bring down upon
themselves were they to contest the economic majesty and might of
Should we now conclude from this episode which has filled the
Indian people with such a conspicuous sense of glory that the
India of ahimsa, of non-violence, of frugality, of ancient moral
wisdom, has now finally been buried beneath the fall-out from the
recent detonations in the Thar desert?
That the India of Gandhi should demonstrate its importance in the
contemporary world by means of nuclear tests seems to be the
final denial and the nullification of the tradition which earned
the country independence 50 years ago. Are we now to write the
last obituary of moral force, and to celebrate the enthusiastic
embrace of a destructive and nihilistic realpolitik?
Governments, of course, always seek to silence opposition and to
stifle critical voices by appeals to 'national security'. The
predictable riposte of Pakistan establishes the same 'balance of
terror' which, while it is supposed to have kept the peace in
Europe during the Cold War, is perceived, with characteristic
hypocrisy by the West, to be profoundly destabilising, when the
same situation plays itself out in South Asia.
National security offers, in any case, a strange kind of shelter
to the 350 million or more Indians whose own insecurity, in terms
of health, nutrition, livelihood and life itself, is only further
undermined by the 15% or so of government expenditure which is
now being spent on this selective and highly volatile form of
Could it be that it is really a matter of national security, that
the poverty, exclusion and marginalisation of so many people must
be protected and perpetuated by nuclear weapons, their
development inhibited, their education stunted, their life
In the light of all this, the bitter pleasure to be derived from
observing the existing nuclear powers, with their curious
moralisings, their synthetic indignation and contorted
justification for their own monopolistic hold on weapons of mass
destruction, becomes a sadly attenuated sentiment. The Indian
government has little to fear from US sanctions: there is scant
prospect that these will be deployed with the same earnestness
with which the US has set about the pursuit of the people of
Sanctions in Iraq have, after all, been yet another weapon of
mass destruction (destruction of health, of lives and of well-
being), towards the banning of which there has been no crusade,
no demonstrations or protests. India requires no such foreign
visitations, for its own successive governments have imposed
their indigenous form of sanctions upon their own poverished
people; once again, in faithful conformity and in
continuity with the example of their colonial predecessors.
History thus repeats itself, cycles within cycles. In order for
the Indian government to express its 'independence', it must
abandon Indian traditions of non-violence, must emulate Western
forms of dominance.
In the process, it must contribute to even greater levels of
insecurity, not only in the South Asian region, but also for its
own wanting people. Who will soon discover, if indeed they do not
know it already, that nuclear euphoria is a poor substitute for a
full belly, that the draughts of national pride quench thirst
less effectively than potable water, and that the whipping up of
hatred for enemies, within or without, is a curious spiritual
sustenance for those excluded from the basic necessities of even
a half-decent life.
Mumbai. It is late evening. On a piece of sacking on the
sidewalk, three children are sleeping. A girl of about nine lies
facing her brother, who is perhaps a year younger. Their knees
are drawn upwards towards their stomach, and their heads touch, a
tangle of dark hair. Between them sleeps a small child, two years
old, utterly secure in the protective chamber formed by their
vulnerable, utterly defenceless bodies. -- Third World Network
About the writer: Jeremy Seabrook is an author and freelance
journalist based in London.
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