India's Nuclear Blasts - Siddharta's Betrayal

If July has been the month of disasters for Sri Lanka in recent decades, May appears to play a similar role in India. The Prince of May, Siddharta, who was born 2541 years ago and who rebelled against the sight of misery and wandered throughout the plains of the subcontinent, has been betrayed twice over by both these countries. The Sakyamuni's enlightenment also occurred on his birthday, the Pournami of the Tamil month of Vaikasi.

His great mission in life was to sweep the continent of Asia for the next few centuries. Several centuries later, we are faced with a surreal spectacle in which one of the countries that swears by his middle-path is unleashing violence on itself year after year and the other has exploded three nuclear bombs on the Purnima day and added two more tests lest the Tathagata be lost in his meditation!

In India, an act of universal shame has been transformed into an act of bravery. Sheer Evil is India's new pride, and a country of historic greatness has sunk to sub-human levels far removed from its aesthetic and rebellious civilisations. The site of the nuclear explosions is not a real desert. The desert of Pokhran has its own life. It is the mind that triggers nuclear bombs that is the real desert. What it disseminates throughout the atmosphere is not wisdom and dialogue, but jingoism and radioactivity. Peace for India now booms out of its horrible hydrogen bombs. Its celebrations and self-congratulations are methodical and barbaric. Poison fills the minds of the political leaders, scientists and mediapersons who raise their hands aloft in a salute to bombs and jingoism. Horrific perversion. What else can the temerity to blast a hydrogen bomb along with two Hiroshima-type bombs on the very day of the birth of the Gautama Buddha be called! Bizarre is the unholy welcome accorded to the blasts by none other than the Dalai Lama during a speech at Madison that revealed his zealous desire to retrieve Tibet from China.

The Buddha indeed did smile this year on India, as he did on May 18, 1974, when the first Pokhran blast was conducted. In that year, too, the event occurred on the Purnima day. The Pournami had fallen in the month of Vaikasi as usual, unlike the special occasion this year when it was advanced to Chitrai, the first month of the new year. Chitrai brings summer and heat and so does the nuclear bomb. Indira Gandhi attached a codeword to her very, very peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE as it was called in those days): "The Buddha Has Smiled." In contrast, the bombs dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and Nagasaki three days later were called "Fat Man" and "Little Boy," respectively. The names given to these Western bombs were insults aimed at deformed and not fully grown humans, whereas the name given to the Indian bombs deform the very gesture of Buddha's enlightenment, his Smile, which is now lost forever. The ambiguous and life-giving smile of Buddha, the smile of his pain and endurance, the smile of his quiet pleasure at drinking a handful of water poured by Sujata, is now shorn of ambiguity, having been transformed by the codeword into the bare fangs of Evil. This perversion of philosophy and civilisational ethos is complete in the Indian codeword. Awful, were these codewords, just as awful as the act of exploding serial nuclear bombs, which is what the new government in New Delhi has done within 40 days of taking power, evoking great feelings of disgust and repulsion from people across the world who have opposed their own governments' nuclear arsenals or those of other governments.

Siddhartha the Prince renounced all that was his to make us live for eternity. And he gave unto himself and unto us the possibility of enlightenment, the amrit (nectar) of wisdom, the drink of life and non-death, as is evident from the Full Moon of the month of Vaikasi. Contrast this with the draining of wisdom, the darkness of the approaching night, the New Moon, the spewing of the poison of radioactivity and jingoism from India's five bombs exploded at the pitiful site of Pokhran in Rajasthan on May 11 and 13. Don't the blasts constitute a kind of blood-sucking of the wealth of the subcontinent? Don't they reveal a disheartening absence of trust and love in the state machineries of the subcontinent? The prince whose influence is felt here is Dracula, not Siddhartha. We are in the presence of Prince Vlad, the blood-sucking nocturnal beast, the anti-Christ, who lives forever in the mountains of Transylvania, after succeeding in the Crusades but failing in love. At least, Dracula loved one woman, as we learn, and she was reborn in London, a city to which he travelled. India's blasts do not aim to foster love anywhere in the world and, hence, are simply banal.

The blasts at Pokhran betrayed more than one philosopher: Jiddu Krishnamurthy, who was born 103 years ago on the now fateful day of May 11, was also betrayed. JK, too, performed a renunciation in 1929 just as Annie Besant was about to anoint him as the new prophet. He wandered all over the world and kept up a dialogue with the keenest of minds, on behalf of the subcontinent and its philosophers. JK's discussions with David Bohm, the physicist, reveal the philosopher's deep understanding of the problems of modern science, especially the subject-object predicament in the field of quantum mechanics. He was prophetic of the nuclear blasts that have occurred in the last 58 years at Los Alamos, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and other places, including Pokhran.

It is now very clear that India has had a long-term bomb programme since the time of Nehru, another prince among men who sought to renounce everything during the anti-colonial struggle. (What did he actually renounce?) His dilemma was resolved in favour of making the bomb, as evidenced by his close association with Homi Bhaba, the first chairman of independent India's most secretive organisation - the Atomic Energy Commission. Work on Indian reactors was described in the deceptive terminology of nuclear power, even as the dangerous material needed for the bomb was quietly diverted elsewhere. First, it was the U.S., then Canada and finally France that withdrew their assistance to the Indian nuclear power programme. Then, only tottering Russia was willing to dump one of its old reactors at Koodankulam in the Tamil Nadu coast - not far from Sri Lanka. It is now doubtful whether the Russians will part with their reactors and give them to India.

The nuclear tests have set India and the subcontinent adrift in unknown and uncharted scientific, medical, political, and economic territory. The radioactivity associated with the blasts and, in particular, the hydrogen bomb blast, will create enormous problems among the people of Pokhran and nearby villages, which were evacuated for a few hours on both days. Villagers recall the ailments and sicknesses they suffered in 1974, including polio in children born since that time.

Though the tests were conducted underground, how can the very active Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee state that their enormous radioactivity would be contained within acceptable limits? He made this statement within mere hours of the blast, yet radioactivity takes a long time to clear up. The isotopes disseminated in the blasts have half-lives of up to 40,000 years.

Internationally, India has never been criticised so badly in the last five decades. The country is almost friendless, except for Sri Lanka, a country that condones India's bomb programme. The Indian government seems to have practised the art of deception while dealing with major nuclear powers like the United States. Several visiting U.S. officials were coolly misled by the new BJP-led government in what can be called a diplomatic sleight-of-hand. The Indian government has managed to mislead the diplomats and evade the gaze of spy-satellites while setting off the blasts. This has angered the U.S. to no end. As for other countries, a number of Western nations have gone ahead with sanctions and aid cutbacks. India's bid for a permanent place on the U.N. Security Council may not attract the requisite backing from both nuclear and non-nuclear states. A more tragic loss is that of the ability to lead the Third World. After the blasts, Third World countries may regard India with distrust, deeming that it has joined the "club of hypocrites" or nuclear powers. Third World countries may turn to Brazil, Argentina or South Africa for leadership.

On the subcontinent itself, Pakistan is likely to clamour for a nuclear bomb at any cost. Smaller countries such as Bhutan and Bangla Desh are keeping their fingers crossed at the possibility of a huge arms race. And the Chinese government, which has already taken exception to Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes's outbursts, may quietly help Pakistan quickly develop the bomb.

Politically, all the parties have gone along with the BJP-led ruling coalition in supporting India's nuclear tests. The Communists had certain initial reservations about the timing of the blasts, but came around to the government's view following the Prime Minister's tete-a-tete with leaders on the left. It is true that Vajpayee has been able to divert attention away from the pressing problems his government faces, especially the demands made by his allies in the ruling coalition. However, it is also clear that Vajpayee has tried to project the nuclear blasts as a vindication of the BJP's stand over the issue. He seems to have overplayed this card somewhat. Indeed, copies of "Organiser," the mouthpiece of the dangerous Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, in which the blasts were celebrated, were freely available for Delhi-based newspaper correspondents at around the same time they were flashing the news over the blasts. Whether the RSS mouthpiece had advance information about the blasts is a question Vajpayee alone would be able to answer.

U.S. economic sanctions are bound to hit India badly, as America is India's largest trading partner. Also, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Norway, and several other countries are curtailing inter-governmental assistance to India. Financial organisations such as the World Bank may follow suit. India has been the biggest beneficiary of World Bank loans that help fund projects in several fields including transportation, health, road construction, irrigation, and urban development. The financial support provided by the World Bank may be scaled down when it meets on May 26 to decide on this issue. Foreign direct investment, necessary for the continuing liberalisation process, would be hard to come by at this stage. A U.S. ban on various Indian exports would be a severe blow to India. India's foreign exchange reserves can last only a few months; hence, the country has almost no option but to indulge in very little sabre-rattling and sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to get the sanctions lifted. The more dangerous course of action would be to resist signing the CTBT and attempt to capitalize on the anger that is sure to spring up in India in response to the West's sanctions. The latter course seems more ideologically suited to the BJP who would have no trouble absorbing resentful recruits to implement its agenda fuelled by jealousy and hatred. The route to total fascism would then be open. And the betrayal would be complete.


Pournami or Purnima is the Full Moon. Chitrai and Vaikasi are the first two months of the Tamil New Year.

Ramesh Gopalakrishnan resides in the south Indian city of Madras. He studied mathematics, physics, and later philosophy, and is a keen student of Advaita Vedanta, the school of non-dualism founded by Sankara, the 8th century saint. His writing is primarily focussed in the areas of philosophy and literature.