New Delhi: The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has promised to study “in detail” India’s nuclear doctrine and “revise and update it to make it relevant to challenges of current times”—words analysts interpreted to mean changing India’s long-proclaimed policy of no-first use of nuclear weapons. The party’s position was stated in its election manifesto unveiled on Monday at start of the April-May Lok Sabha election where the BJP is predicted to win the most seats.
A relook at the no-first use policy would mark a major departure from India’s existing nuclear policy which states that “the fundamental purpose of Indian nuclear weapons is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons by any State or entity against India and its forces. India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail. India will not resort to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against States which do not possess nuclear weapons, or are not aligned with nuclear weapons powers”.
India joined the nuclear club after successfully conducting nuclear tests in May 1998, when the country was led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee of the BJP. The nuclear doctrine was completed in August 1999 also under Vajpayee’s premiership.
According to the BJP manifesto released on Monday, “the strategic gains acquired by India during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime on the nuclear programme have been frittered away by the Congress”, which it suggested, necessitates a revision of the no-first use policy.
According to former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, the promise to “revise and update” the nuclear doctrine, which could mean a re-look at the no-first use policy, “seems to be driven by the increasing nuclear threat from Pakistan”. Countries like the US do not have a no-first use policy, Sibal said, adding that China does not recognise India as a country possessing nuclear weapons.
In a letter to then US president Bill Clinton, Vajpayee had cited a threat from China rather than Pakistan as the reason for India coming out of the nuclear closet, news reports said. According to reports from many international military think-tanks, Pakistan had more than doubled the number of its tactical nuclear weapons to 90-110 in 2012.
“Pakistan refuses to change its nuclear doctrine”, which does not include a no-first use policy, Sibal said adding that “if Pakistan had a no-first use policy, the nuclear situation in South Asia can get stabilized. The threat of the use of nuclear weapons would be remote,” he said. If India reconsiders its no-first use policy “it would be a useful lever to push Pakistan towards a no-first use policy,” Sibal said.
The manifesto added that India will maintain a “credible minimum deterrent” that is in tune with changing geostrategic realities.
On ties with neighbouring countries, the manifesto said that the BJP believes that political stability, progress and peace in the region are essential for South Asia’s growth and development. It charges the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance with “having failed to establish enduring friendly and cooperative relations with India’s neighbours”.
“India’s relations with traditional allies have turned cold. India and its neighbours have drifted apart. Instead of clarity, we have seen confusion. The absence of statecraft has never been felt so acutely as today,” the manifesto said. “We will revive Brand India with the help of our strengths of 5 T’s: Tradition, Talent, Tourism, Trade and Technology,” it said, adding that the party would work towards utilizing the full potential of brand India.
“Instead of being led by big power interests, we will engage proactively on our own with countries in the neighbourhood and beyond. In our neighbourhood, we will pursue friendly relations. However, where required we will not hesitate from taking strong stand and steps,” it said without naming any country.