Source: [THE HINDU], Saturday, June 20, 1998 / SECTION: Opinion
The Hindutva bomb

Date: 20-06-1998 :: Pg: 12 :: Col: c

By Gail Omvedt

``BRIGHTER than a thousand suns,'' is how Martin

Oppenheimer is said to have described the first American

nuclear test, quoting apparently from the Bhagavad Gita.

A colleague is said to have reminded him that following

this were the lines, ``I am become death, the shatterer

of worlds.'' The beauty of the mushroom cloud is indeed

the harbinger of death. Only, whereas in the first days

of the bomb the death-bringers were Americans and the

death-takers were the Japanese citizens of Hiroshima and

Nagasaki, today the threat of the dance of death is

looming over the Indian subcontinent.

However much the countries possessing nuclear weapons

are assuring us that they are being held in order not to

be used, it is too easy to forget the costs of using

them. Mark Selden, in an introduction to the book, The

Atomic Bomb: voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has

given some translations of the survivors' experiences.

Perhaps it would be well to recall some of the

descriptions following the bombing of Hiroshima, which

resulted in an estimated 200,000 deaths. A five year-

old girl recalled, ``Black smoke was billowing up and we

could hear the sound of big things exploding... Those

dreadful streets. The fires were burning. There was a

strange smell all over. Blue-green balls of fire were

drifting around. I had a terrible lonely feeling that

everybody else in the world was dead and only we were


A young Japanese soldier, describes a burnt-out

wasteland the following day: ``Houses had been shattered

and their inhabitants buried in a welter of tiles and

plaster, their naked bodies covered in ashes. Here and

there an arm or a leg protruded. Other bodies lay strewn

about, their stomachs torn open and their entrails

pouring into the ashes... The expressions on the dead

faces as they gazed emptily into space was more

contorted and agonised than those of the fierce

gate-guardian deities of Japanese temples.'' The human

misery caused by the bomb has lasted a lifetime

afterwards for many of those who survived. And these

bombs were miniscule in relation to those developed


India and Pakistan will soon have, it seems, missiles

armed with this deadly brightness poised at each other's

large cities. Millions of people in the subcontinent

will be hostage to the questionable sanity of

governments walking the tightrope of ``mutually assured

destruction.'' Americans and Russians lived with the

knowledge of this kind of national insecurity for

decades; why should not others join the nuclear club?

Now the Hindu bomb and the Muslim bomb are poised

against each other, swadeshi and quami weapons of

destruction and the patriotic young men of both

countries are dancing in the streets. Garv se kaho, ham

Hindu hain; ya Muslim hai, it makes not much difference,

the spirit of fanaticism is the same everywhere.

The nuclear tests were ultimately political statements

for both the countries, statements that we too are

scientific adults, members of the bully club. But to

whom were the statements made? In the case of Pakistan,

it is clear: the tests were a direct response to India,

mutually active determination. In the case of India, it

is not so clear. Were the tests a global statement, to

inform the world that here is a country not to be taken

lightly? It is doubtful if anything like this really was

accomplished. India had a bit of a reputation of being

the land of the Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi, but only a

bit; there was a greater mystique of heat and dust and

hunger and communal riots in the last few years have

torn away much of the theme of morality and peace-

bringing the country had once sought to embody. India

has sought to project itself as ``secular'' in contrast

to Pakistan as a self-proclaimed Muslim nation, but the

world has never taken this seriously, and the overall

image of the recent series of tests simply confirms the

unfortunate popular conception in many other counties of

Muslim Pakistan, Hindu India, traditional enemies at

each others' throats, spending money on arms rather than

on education.

As for their economic results, it is quite clear that

whatever India's ability to ``withstand'' any economic

sanction, few of the world's business community seemed

to be impressed by the tests. The rapidly declining

rupee and the falling stockmarkets are indications that

both the global and swadeshi business, at lea st, find

the tests more a harbinger of insecurity.

The greatest political statement of the tests is

undoubtedly directed at the Indian people. Regardless of

the claims of consensus and non-partisanship, this is a

Hindutva bomb, a BJP bomb, a bomb proclaiming that the

country's foreign policy is going to take a different

and more aggressive direction from the stance it had

taken under Nehru and more recently, under the United

Front. It is a bid for popular support which it seems to

have fairly thoroughly won, at least for the moment. The

tests also seem to have been rather useful in stilling

at least temporarily the clamour of the BJP allies,

though it is doubtful if Ms. Jayalalitha is going to pay

very much attention even to nuclear weapons.

The charges of hypocrisy against the U.S. Government for

trying to prevent other nations from joining the bully

club are quite justified; the only country which ever

used this weapon of death has little right to say

anything about it. American ``patriots'' if anything are

more jingoistic, more racist more chauvinistic than any

of their saffron correlates in India or green correlates

in Pakistan. A couple of years ago when the Smithsonian

Institute proposed an exhibition of Enola Gay, the

airplane from which the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima,

there was a storm of protest from the right because it

included criticism of the Government's decision to drop

the bomb. The exhibition had to be cancelled; the

Americans as a nation are not yet ready to face up to

their responsibility for the havoc of destruction and

misery caused by the use of the atomic bomb.

There are other ironies. The U.S. pressure to formulate

a test ban treaty and move away from the weapons of war

is also a recognition of some democratic pressure, not

simply a matter of trying to throw its weight around but

of also being pushed to discipline itself. It is

important to remember that Mr. Bill Clinton is under

pressure from the American rightwing; just as India has

refused to sign the CTBT, the Republican- dominated U.S.

Congress has refused to ratify it. In both the countries

hawks and doves, that is warmongers and peaceniks, are

in conflict and in both the countries the hawks do not

like ``national security'' to be hemmed in by any

international agreement.

The greatest irony of all is the holding of the nuclear

tests on Buddha Poornima. After 50 years of

Independence, India is seeking to declare itself as a

great power, not by economic achievements, not by

spiritual and moral values, not by addressing science to

the cause of hunger and poverty but through sheer

military power. Seeing the bomb in terms of the

Mahabharata was more fitting; the epic is, after all,

centred round the slaughter of kin, and Indians and

Pakistanis can fairly be called ultimately kin, however

much they may each define their national identity in

terms of the negation of the other. But proclaiming that

the ``Buddha smiled'' is either a deliberate insult or

unconscious arrogance. Buddhism was sidelined a long ago

in the land of its birth; that the cooptation on

nonviolence has only been a matter of rhetoric is shown

in the casual use of such phrases.

The nuclear tests are the BJP's answer to challenges to

its power and they project a path away from the `ahimsa'

that the Buddha represented and that Gandhi sought to

harness in the cause of nationalism and

anti-imperialism. The Dalit-Bahujan spokesman, Mr.

Kancha Ilaiah, has been arguing that it is not

accidental that all Hindu gods are armed; there is,

according to him, inherent violence in Brahmanism. The

nuclear tests represent an awesome, deadly upgrading of

the weapons of destruction and while the bomb has

clearly been developed by all the preceding Governments,

it is not surprising that the ``arming'' is being done

by a Hindutva Government.

We might hope that the political opposition will learn

to define itself in the very different terms of the

morality and compassion of the Buddhist and Gandhian

traditions and that it might attempt more to devote

science to economic growth and the removal of poverty

rather than military might. The immediate response of

the Opposition parties - criticising only the BJP's use

of the nuclear tests - does not give much scope for this

hope, but the genuine traditions of non-violence and

sanity in India are represented in the signs of a

growing anti-nuclear and peace movement.

(The writer is Professor of Sociology, University of