Hindutva, Zionism and Nuclear Weapons: The Totalitarian Ideology
The number of nuclear warheads world over, has been on the rise ever since the start of the Cold War. Estimates made in the year 2015 place the figure at around 16000nuclear warheads, globally. Efforts to curb the rise of nuclear weapons and multilateral agreements on the same have hardly had any effect, with proliferation only increasing. The most famous amongst the treaties that are aimed at curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which has three aims including non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, disarmamentand promoting peaceful uses of nuclear energy. While the treaty itself has many loopholes, there most glaring part of the treaty is the three countries which are not signatories to it viz. India, Pakistan and Israel (North Korea withdrew from the NPT much later).
On the 11th of May 1998, three nuclear devices were detonated in the Pokhran region of Rajasthan near the India-Pakistan border. The then Prime Minister of India, AtalBehari Vajpayee went on air and declared that India was a nuclear armed state. Two tests were then carried out, on the 13th of May 1998, taking the total count of nuclear tests to five. There is enough and more evidence however, to suggest that the undercurrent running through the tests of 1998 was that of a Hindutva ideology. The agenda of the BJP to make India a nuclear armed state was a clear intention stated in its 1998 election manifesto, the election which allowed the BJP led NDA to come to power. While the manifesto did consist of other promises, this was the easiest one to fulfil as the BJP had managed to develop a consensus on the nuclear issue by terming it as an “issue of national and strategic importance” so much so that the nuclear weapons were detonated within a few months of coming to power without reviewing any earlier military or security doctrines.Reports have highlighted that even the three service chiefs and the then defence minister had been informed only in the last minute while RSS ideologues knew of the tests much before.Emilio Gentile in his influential book titled ‘The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy’ describes how fascism operates through totalitarian methods and one of the key factors in this is the element of a foreign policy which often draws inspiration from the myth of national power and greatness. The tests that India conducted in 1998 were named Shakti and references were made by the BJP to the strength India possessed as a world power by going nuclear. In addition, PrafulBidwai has argued that the BJP fulfilled two of its aims by conducting the nuclear tests. One the one hand, the BJP and its ideological backers including the RSS satisfied their own obsession for nuclear weapons which in itself is derived from an obsession for militarism while the second point that Bidwai emphasizes on is a point put forward by Umberto Eco in his essay titled Ur-Fascism where Eco argues that one of the fundamental properties of fascism is appealing to the frustrated middle class. Thus, a new process is given impetus under the nuclear weapon doctrine of the BJP, which is that of a combination of Hindu nationalism and neo-liberal capitalism, which appeals most to the middle class. It allowed the BJP through its Hindutva ideology to further a majoritarian national identity with a jingoism directed at Pakistan which responded with its own nuclear tests on the 28th of May 1998 thereby leading to proliferation of nuclear weapons in South Asia.
The other state which has not ratified the NPT is Israel. While the earliest proponents and advocates of Zionism had shown open admiration for possessing nuclear capabilities, Israel itself has a more opaque policy on nuclear weapons. The opacity is such where Israel is known to possess nuclear weapons while at the same time denies their existence. This is one of the key ways by which the state of Israel has managed to keep international repercussions of possessing nuclear weapons at bay. Estimates of Israel’s stockpile of weapons are not clear with numbers ranging from anywhere from 200-500. Israel has also managed to keep the nuclear option in the background while at the same time using the military aid it receives from various countries and from Zionist organizations abroad to build a military centred on conventional capabilities which plays the role in the occupation of the Palestinian people. Israel however, constantly makes use of the narrative of the threat of nuclear weapon use by reinforcing Zionist ideology. If we were to revisit Emilio Gentile’s point about foreign policy and fascism, the point he makes acquires much greater weightage in the case of the state of Israel. Israel since its very creation has created a narrative that its very existence is at threat and nuclear weapons often serve as deterrence to keep the “war mongering neighbours” at bay. Gentile also argues that one of the policies espoused by this kind of totalitarianism has ambitions of imperialist expansion and this becomes of particular relevance in the case of Israel where the occupation of the Palestinian people is clearly an imperialist objective which is furthered by the state of Israel. Further proof Zionism’s role in this process can be gauged from the fact that some reports have highlighted that the entire idea of Iran procuring nuclear weapons is a charade driven by Zionist concerns.
There is much in common between the ideologies of Zionism and Hindutva. For starters, they are built on the plank of exclusivity. While Zionism views Israel as exclusively for the Jews, Hindutva views the Indian state as exclusive to brahminical Hinduism. Such exclusivity is then propagated by giving a divine sanction to the idea of the nation-state and holding it as supreme. Once the idea of the nation-state is given such primacy, the narrative is then shifted to how there are elements out to destroy the very idea of the nation-state and its very existence. Nuclear weapons provide the strongest response to these perceived threats. Even if they are not actually used, the threat of nuclear weapon use and their very existence allows for Hindutva and Zionism to celebrate them and define national interest as well as strategic interests on their myopic terms. They allow Zionism and Hindutva to exercise a muscular, jingoistic posturing of ultra-nationalism which in itself is closely tied to the growth of the neo-liberal economic order. This has larger repercussions on the global nuclear disarmament front. India’s nuclear weapon testing has led to proliferation of weapons in South Asia while Israel’s possession of the same (and Iran’s supposed possession) has raised questions if a similar proliferation is possible in West Asia. While there are worries of nuclear weapons falling into the “hands of terrorists”, it might be useful to remind ourselves that there are equally if not far more dangerous ideologies, in possession of the same.
Viswesh R is a wannabe academic whose disgust with the sciences brought him into the social sciences.
The credit for the Israel cartoon goes to Carlos Latuff, the India Pakistan one to Nicholson, and the missile test cartoon to Dave Grandlund.