India's nuclear shift to get academic scrutiny

Last Updated 08 October 2012, 06:26 IST

Veterans from the Indian policy community, scholars, international historians and experts will meet here Wednesday to debate on why and how India made a dramatic shift in its nuclear policy in the early 1970s and in the process challenged widely-held assumptions that are largely shaped by literature from Western sources.

Did Jawaharlal Nehru favour nuclear weapons? Was it Lal Bahadur Shastri who first authorised India's nuclear weapons pursuit? Why didn't India undertake its nuclear weapon test before the NPT came into force? Was the 1974 Peaceful Nuclear Explosion intended to demonstrate India's nuclear weapon capability, or was it a genuine exercise for development purposes?

Many such questions remain unanswered in the popular narrative on India's strategic programme, for which answers will be attempted at the seminar.

Defence ministry-funded think-tank Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), along with the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project (NPIHP), is jointly organising the seminar on "Early Years of Nuclear Cooperation and Non-Proliferation: A Dialogue on Nuclear Historicities".

It will discuss and debate on the many milestones of the origins of international nuclear cooperation as well as the early years of India's nuclear programme and the dynamics of decision-making during the crucial years from the 1950s to the 1970s.

"For scholars and policymakers who have researched and debated on the evolution of India's nuclear programme, India was a unique case of a country which developed an indigenous nuclear energy programme and went on to exercise the nuclear weapons options, forced by security compulsions.

There are widely-held assumptions and established thinking on why and how India made a dramatic shift in its nuclear policy, which are largely shaped by the literature from Western sources," an IDSA statement said.

"Naturally, the prevailing assumptions and understanding on India's nuclear past is coloured by biases and inaccurate information, very little of which have been substantiated by official records or corroborated by decision-makers of bygone eras," the statement added.

The seminar will open with a keynote address by Pinak Chakravarty, special secretary (Public Diplomacy) in the external affairs ministry.

The address "will be significant considering the fact that the ministry has recently catered to a long-standing demand by academics and scholars for greater access to its archival records by releasing over 70,000 documents pertaining to India's diplomatic and foreign policy history".

The seminar will have three sessions. The first session will be on the early years of international nuclear cooperation, the second "Nehru, Non-Proliferation and the Bomb" and the third will be a panel discussion on India's decision-making process from 1964 to 1974.

"This decade is quite significant considering that following the Chinese nuclear test in 1964, the nation vigorously debated the need for nuclear weapons. This decade could also be termed as one of lost opportunities as India postponed its nuclear weapon decision and went into the NPT negotiations, only to reject the treaty text and ending up undertaking a peaceful nuclear explosion in 1974, but in the process missing out on the crucial 1968 cut-off, which divided the world into nuclear haves and have-nots," the statement said.

(Published 08 October 2012, 06:26 IST)

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