ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Finger on the Nuclear Trigger

India does not need to fi ne-tune its nuclear weapons policy, it needs to work towards abolition.

When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) first formed a government at the centre in 1996, it began preparations for a nuclear weapons test even before it could prove its majority in Parliament. When, in 1998, it did enjoy a majority as head of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, it lost no time in conducting a series of nuclear tests, thus giving a nuclear edge to all conflicts India would be engaged in. There is therefore some concern that if the NDA once again forms a government next month, it may decide to indulge in some nuclear adventurism as proof of its “strong and decisive” nature. It is in this light that we must evaluate the statements in the BJP’s 2014 manifesto, which promises that its government will “revise and update” India’s nuclear doctrine. This evoked concern that if the BJP were to form a government it would abandon the “No First Use” (NFU) policy that has been a central element in India’s nuclear doctrine since 1999. The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, subsequently sought to douse these anxieties and stated that there would be no “compromise” on NFU and that this policy was “a reflection of our cultural inheritance” (whatever that means). Given the BJP’s naturally aggressive posture, such clarifications must be viewed with some scepticism and it is legitimate to explore what may be on the agenda.

India’s NFU policy states that New Delhi will not start a nuclear war but if an aggressor uses such weapons then the country will retaliate “to inflict unacceptable damage” and it will do so by maintaining “a credible minimum deterrent” that is expected to withstand a first round of a nuclear attack. This is expected to warn the aggressor about the futility of using nuclear weapons. While no one knows whether the country will, in the event of war, stay with this commitment, a stated NFU policy is a signal of a less aggressive nuclear posture.

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