On 11 May 1998, the Pokhran Nuclear tests were commenced by the Indian Government. The series of five nuclear test explosions were conducted in 1998 during the Prime Ministerial tenure of the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. As a consequence of the successful tests, India was able to declare itself a full-fledged nuclear state. The tests, along expected lines, created quite the furore across the world. Apart from harsh words, India also had to endure economic sanctions.
While the international backlash was only to be expected, what was surprising was the opposition to the tests among political entities in India itself. Communists in India, the CPI(M) and its ideological comrades, were not pleased with the development. Given the nature of India’s immediate neighbourhood, where we have an Islamic state that sponsors terrorism against India and an expansionist totalitarian regime on the other, it was of paramount importance that India acquire for itself the nuclear deterrent. And the rationale that prompted India to pursue the same is obvious to anyone aware of basic realities. However, the same was not so apparent to Communists in India.
In a press release in December 1999, the CPI(M) said, “The BJP-led government in May 1998 reversed the long-standing position of India of refraining from weaponisation and deployment while maintaining our independent nuclear technological capacity. The central issue is therefore weaponisation.” It added, “The CPI(M) therefore proposes that nuclear weaponisation be halted and rolled back and that India’s policy be an independent and peace-oriented one.”
One of the steps it wished for India to follow was, “A national commitment to the non-deployment and non-induction of nuclear weapons.” Another proposal that was made was “A national commitment to non-conversion of fissile material stocks, that is plutonium or enriched uranium, into nuclear weapons – first through a unanimously adopted resolution of both Houses of Parliament and then, as soon as feasible, through an Act of Parliament.” The ultimate objective was nuclear disarmament of the whole world, a worthy goal on the face of it. But unfortunately, such scathing criticism was only reserved for occasions when India pursued nuclear security.
Harkishan Singh Surjeet of the CPI(M), who has since then passed away, claimed in June 1998, when he was the general secretary of the party, that the tests were conducted by the Indian Government to whip up ‘jingoistic’ feelings in order to draw political mileage from it. It was alleged that the Prime Minister and his colleagues were engaging in an attempt to ‘instigate Pakistan’ through their ‘provocative statements’ linking nuclear weapons to Kashmir and through ‘open invitations’ to Pakistan to engage in a war against India. KHKS Surjeet also said that such ‘provocations’ would force Pakistan to pursue nuclear weapons of their own and therefore, the actions of the BJP had only served to escalate tensions in the region.
The CPI(ML) says in an article from 1998 on the Pokhran Nuclear Tests, “The issue of India’s nuclear blasts remains as explosive as ever. After the Sangh Parivar’s first ‘blast’ on 6 December 1992, nothing perhaps has triggered such a widespread national debate in this decade. However, a month later, the initial euphoria over the five ‘Shakti’ blasts has evaporated and the almost nauseating clamour of ultra-nationalism has settled down too. Parallely, after the initial spate of indignation against the blasts, voices of protest have organised themselves and spread all over the country and abroad.”
Vinod Rai, the then General Secretary of the CPI(ML) went so far as to call the Nuclear Bomb a ‘Hindu Bomb’. In a speech delivered in June 1998 that was published in written format in a slightly altered form, he said, “The slogan of Ram Mandir was targeted against Muslims and that of the atom bomb is being directed against Pakistan. In this background, for the BJP cadres, belonging as they do to a party whose agenda does not make any distinction between nationalism and communalism and takes the anti-Muslim orientation as its cornerstone, the atom bomb is nothing but a Hindu bomb.” By some weird twisted notion, the nuclear tests were somehow linked to the demolition of the Babri Masjid and other such matters. It is rather perplexing and the precise logic of drawing such equivalences appears rather flawed on the face of it.
While the Communists reserved great criticism for the Pokhran Nuclear Tests, its stance towards the same conducted by North Korea midway through the first decade of the 21st Century was quite different. After North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2006, the Communists were much less inclined to criticise the country with as much vigour. “The US is to be blamed,” said Mohammed Salim, then Member of Parliament and of CPI(M)’s Central Committee. “It was a failure of diplomacy. They were cornered and had to do it.” The CPI(M)’s stance blaming the US was consistent with a resolution it had passed the previous year where it had said, “While reserving the right to produce new weapons and expanding the use of nuclear weapons, the US embarked on a counter-proliferation campaign targeting countries such as Iran, North Korea and Brazil to prevent them from developing nuclear technology. In contrast, Israel, under the special protection of the US, is allowed to keep nuclear weapons.”
To be fair, the CPI(M)’s criticism of US foreign policy was completely on target. However, while they could see why North Korea would want to have the security of nuclear weapons, they could not understand India’s perspective despite being Indians themselves. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that North Korea is a Communist dictatorship while India isn’t. Perhaps, the fact that North Korea shares a special relationship with China might also have something to do with it. The love that Indian communist parties have for China is, of course, not a secret.
The manner in which the Communists in India linked the nuclear tests to Babri Masjid and the ‘Hindu Bomb’ only goes on to demonstrate the intellectual bankruptcy and deep-seated Hinduphobia that runs rife within the ranks of the Communists. Furthermore, their stance towards North Korea’s nuclear tests reveals that their idealism is reserved for the occasions when it could be used to undermine Indian national interests.