Sixty years after independence, India refuses to see the light of realpolitik. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of nuclear weapons and their political fallout. Ten years after Pokhran II, one cannot but wonder whether chance had a role to play in what India has gained.
Much has happened since 11 May 1998 when Pokhran shook again with nuclear explosions. The “hyphen” between India and Pakistan has disappeared from the American and, if one may say, Western world view. Deterrence is a fact of life and the possession of nuclear weapons will deter any potential state actor from aggression. India’s status in a world of nations is perhaps the highest since the age of Nehru. The potential to become a de jure nuclear power has never been greater.
Illustration: Jayachandran/ Mint
There are things that have not happened, things that disprove critics of nuclear testing. For one, the fears of the non-proliferation lobby have been unfounded. With the possible exception of Iran and North Korea, no country has attempted to take the “Indian road”. Their efforts are subject to international sanctions.
What these critics miss are the structural conditions that made it possible for India to do what it did. It has always been a democracy. More so, in conditions that are inimical to democracy: poverty and a huge population. It has also never gone to war unless there has been grave external provocation. Possession of nuclear weapons by it is less likely to cause anxiety. Pakistan does not and never did meet these conditions. The “hyphen” was a creation of American perception of its self-interest in South Asia. Pokhran II tore that veil of ignorance.
Power is always accompanied by responsibilities. This is a realization that comes hard to democracies. India is no exception. The country is yet to awaken to the responsibilities that accompany the nuclear state tag. China takes those responsibilities seriously. India does not. Whether it is troop contribution to international peacekeeping missions, expanding the security and humanitarian reach of its Armed Forces in the region or taking any international initiatives of its own volition, India shows little interest.
Here, the fractious nature of its polity is to be blamed. The stalemate over the nuclear deal with the US is an example. India has vast reserves of soft power which, when blended with diplomacy, will fetch the country handsome returns. It’s time those resources were used seriously.
What does Pokhran II mean for India? Write to us at email@example.com