Updated: April 23, 2019 12:14:25 am
National security has been a major focus of campaigning by the BJP this election season, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking the lead on the subject. He has held forth on military operations against Pakistan — the trans-LoC surgical strikes of 2016 and the recent air strikes at Balakot — under his watch. There has been discomfort about Modi’s campaign thrust among a section of military veterans, who have appealed to the President to keep the armed forces out of politics. There is, however, a counter-view that a political leadership which envisages and orders military action must be allowed to highlight its decisiveness to the electorate. After all, the armed forces are an instrument of the state and operate under the democratically-elected political leadership of the country.
Even if this contention is accepted as occurring in an acrimonious election campaign, Sunday’s speech by PM Modi in Rajasthan, where he invoked exchange of nuclear weapons with Pakistan, does cross a line. Modi said that “our newspapers also wrote, ‘Pakistan, too, has a nuclear weapon’. So what do we have, is it kept for Diwali?”. At one level, his statement merely reiterates India’s no-first-use doctrine of retaliation to a nuclear attack, something which has been public since India became a declared nuclear weapon state in 1998. But the manner and context of his invocation doesn’t serve any purpose for India. In fact, it has the potential of bringing the global spotlight on establishing a false equivalence between India and Pakistan, where both the countries are seen to be less than responsible with their nuclear arsenal.
Being seen as a responsible nuclear power has been the cornerstone of New Delhi’s position historically, which has given it global credence, leading India to be treated as a de facto nuclear state. A credible and transparent nuclear doctrine, backed by sober talk from the country’s political leadership, has earned India the respect which led to it being granted the exceptions by Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and signatory to the India-US nuclear deal. New Delhi’s quest for membership of NSG under the BJP government has also been based on the same arguments. Despite opposition by a strong anti-India nuclear lobby in the West, it has taken a lot of time and effort for New Delhi to reach this stage. To undermine these strategic gains for votes is not a terribly smart idea.
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