The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PRISONERS OF THE NUCLEAR DREAM Edited by M.V. Ramanna and C. Rammanohar Reddy, Orient Longman, Rs 575

Pokhran has inspired an outpouring of literature on India’s nuclear strategy. M.V. Ramanna, a physicist, and C. Rammanohar Reddy, an economist, tackle the issue in this book. Among the contributors is Thomas George, who analyses the probable effect of a “limited nuclear war” — a nuclear explosion triggering off radiation that would cause tumours, blood cancer, breast cancer, mental retardation and so on. Forget explosion, even nuclear research, writes George, is unhealthy. Workers in uranium processing facilities suffer from a high rate of cancer.

The essayists of the volume question the official assertion that nuclear research in India is also directed towards peaceful pursuits. Surendra Gadekar and Ramanna assert that despite large investments, nuclear power produces less than 3 per cent of India’s electricity. Reddy writes that the cost of equipping the nuclear arsenal would prevent successive Indian governments in the next decade from providing fresh drinking water and schools to India’s villages. Srirupa Roy portrays a clear and close connection between the emergence of a centralized “masculine” state and nuclear research. She argues that the valorization of science and technology post-Pokhran is resulting in the displacement of Nehruvian socialism by Hindu militarism.

The book is emotionally-charged, but weak in conception and methodology. Even an arch nuclear strategist would not deny that nuclear weapons are a bad thing. But, the whole tenor of the book is directed at criticizing India’s nuclear activities. But even if India were to cease its nuclear programme, it would not help the world. Islamabad and Beijing will pay no attention to the high-minded anti-nuclear lobby. Strangely, the contributors fail to criticize Pakistan and China for their nuclear programme. They also forget that India is a minor member of the nuclear club. American and the Russian nukes present the greatest danger to international security. And they do not care what the Indian anti-nuclear lobby thinks or does.

There are other problems. Roy’s argument is over-simplistic as it assumes that men are basically bad and women good. Roy is also wrong factually. After 1949, as a consequence of Nehru’s brand of state socialism, the post-colonial state emerged as an interventionist polity with a command economy. Again, the causal linkage that Gadekar and Ramanna establishes between the cost of nuclear programme and welfare activities of the Indian state is convoluted. If the Indian government stops spending money on nuclear research it does not mean that the money will automatically go for investment in rural poverty alleviation programmes. The government might use the money for space research or upgrading its conventional armed forces.

If the anti-nuclear researchers think that the Indian nuclear establishment should be more eco-friendly to prevent any Chernobyl type of disaster, they have a point. But, outright rejection of the nuclear programme is impractical. To sum up, this is a wrong book at the wrong time.

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