The most powerful Uncle Sam shook the world with the unabashed display of the “much bigger and more powerful” nuclear button on his desk. And yes, it works!
The reference is to the new-year tweet of the POTUS to Kim Jong-un, the dictator-ruler of North Korea. It looked like an Allahabadi gully-cricket slugfest between kids where one claims superiority over the other on the basis of the good bat he has.
However, a nuclear weapon is no ordinary toy – and this statement comes from the head of the state of the only country to have used a nuclear weapon on another. Who can forget the pictures of the ‘mushroom clouds’ formed by the explosion of the Little Boy and the Fat Man on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively?
What happened after the de facto culmination of World War II did not ensue the obliteration of nuclear weapons at large. These exist opaquely in the countries in unknown quantities and intensities under various pretexts, ranging from deterrence to national security.
In essence, these weapons increase the ambit of the realpolitik of the major powers of the world. India also attributes its increased international clout to the development of its nuclear capability. Nuclear weapons justify our ‘animal existence’ – this is reflected very well in the ruminant essay by eminent Hindi litterateur, Acharya Hazari Prasad Dwivedi. titled “Naakhoon kyun badhte hain“. Nuclear weapons are the modern-day nails which ensure the survival of the fittest – a theory recently questioned by a Union Minister. Just like no one has witnessed the evolution of ape into a man, perhaps no one has seen the nuclear buttons of Kim and Trump. However, in my opinion, the latter’s claim has the greater veracity because after all, ‘might is right’.
In that context, Trump’s demeanour is right in the face of the situation and is palatable to those who believe in ‘if you have it then you must show it.’ In India, I think only SRK closely follows Trump in their self-declaration of supremacy. No doubt, USA wields its soft power and hard power with utmost panache. In fact, right from our policies to our daily chores, USA has penetrated our whole existence. It compels one to suggest that instead of seeking DNA samples of Biharis, Nitish ji should have demanded a nationwide DNA test of our Bharatiyata (Indian-ness). If not DNA, then we are sure to fail psychological tests in this regard. We tend to demean all that is ours – and then wish to emulate the USA in its achievements.
It is this perennial incompatibility that makes us live in eternal confusion. Hence, there was a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a ban on communal (read Hindu) prayers in the Supreme Court whereas we are happy to sing the Hindi translation of Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome”. After all, it’s American! I believe that we are perhaps the most xenophilic country in the world. I am sure even Hugo Chavez would be proverbially turning in his grave by the response of India’s left-wingers to the challenges our nation (as a singular entity) faces.
We had an intellectual essay by Arundhati Roy when we conducted Pokhran test in 1998. The whole ‘developed world’, largely responsible for injustice throughout history, rejoiced with their unnatural partners. India suddenly became a creepy land capable of destroying world peace. Our neighbour got a good excuse for taking inspiration from us. Yes, their chief scientist AQ Khan not only developed but also transferred the technology to the land of Kim. There are speculations that the technology was also passed on to the terrorists. So, in my opinion, we shouldn’t be afraid if the next big attack is a non-state nuke attack.
The present bonhomie between India and USA in light of the latter’s ‘Pivot to Asia‘ policy is yet another foreign policy manoeuvre that we must tackle ingeniously. We cannot let our guard down in the presence of gritty neighbours like China and Pakistan. The changing geopolitics is based in the Asia Pacific region for the neutralisation of the ‘superpower-esque’ growth of China.
I believe that China is a juggernaut that can only be stopped by the Chanakyan “sam, daam, dand, bhed”. For that, we need to stop scorning our dharmic values that might need contemporary tweakings. Then again, hasn’t Iqbal claimed that “kuch baat” of ours to be the cause of our sustenance in the timelines of history?
The POTUS tweeted his retort to Kim Jong-un on the day the annual Magh Mela started in Allahabad. It is an annual quest for salvation where Indians (mainly Hindus) all over the country gather here.
Liberation is all that we seek. Hence, what we consider to be our backwardness seems to me to be nothing else but a different template that does not conform to the Western template. Many Americans exploring the world can be found in the holy city of Prayag trying to decipher the mystery of our existence.
Once, we were powerful – but we could not learn the guile needed to keep a powerful hold over the world. We were happy being the jagadguru of the world, which is a benign manifestation of power. Even Alexander had to acknowledge our uniqueness. There are many apocryphal stories that talk about his encounter with a fakir, and ultimately, Porus.
Apparently, we may be a placid culture having no youthful exuberance. However, it’s hard to logically accept this assertion on the basis of a seemingly distorted history of what is undoubtedly one of the oldest civilisations of the world. I agree that it will take some time for us to tweet in the way Trump did. But then, is it really necessary to do so?
After all, America, the eternal peacekeeper of the world, has not signed a single treaty that deals with nuclear non-proliferation. Even the latest Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, or the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty, which is the first legally-binding treaty to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons with an aim to achieve its total elimination, has not been signed by any of the P-5 countries including the US. In that regard, I think that consecutive Indian governments have been smart enough to avoid committing to such arrangements while developing civil nuclear power programmes simultaneously.
The sangam (coming together) of sanatan (certain perennial ideals) and the contemporary is the only way to find a veritable existence in these times. What role does India need to play when the nuclear stockpiles of USA and North Korea collide with each other? After all, radiations are not prohibited from crossing borders. Moreover, we couldn’t punish the American who were allegedly deeply involved with the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in 1984. What chance do we have in dealing with nuclear emergencies today?
The answer lies in finding self-respect and cherishing it to the last breath. Have too many people heard criticisms of Lincoln, Jefferson or Washington by an American, especially in front of others? No. But we love abusing our country and culture without even knowing it or trying to know more about it.
After all this, if someone feels that he can muster the courage to proclaim that their button works, then they are grossly mistaken. Human existence really is a struggle. Institutions are established to minimise these struggles and ensure a congenial existence within accepted norms. Dharma (not religion) has that potential, as it envisages a holistic view of human existence and aims at securing harmony.
To realise that Trump-like power in the domain of the realpolitik, we need practitioners of Swami Vivekananda’s exhortation, “Strength is life, weakness is death. “ Our leaders are only a part of us. We cannot create a genuine Bharatiya persona by developing a foreign psyche. Maybe the symbolic purity of Ganges and the living evidences of our survival can help us light a candle of hope.
We are surrounded by the Kims whose threats have gone unanswered for too long. We need our own version of power that accomplishes its goals with the sword stationed in the scabbard of a smile. Therefore, embrace all that adds to your intrinsic existence without changing it fundamentally, but do not fall prey to the enticements that are easy to follow but are destructive in nature.
I hope to die in a country that will proclaim that their button works. Instead, the very fact that I possess that button should be a veritable deterrence.
Personally speaking, I think that world peace is based on the comity of nations and must be achieved in a harmonious manner. However, that does not mean cowering down in weakness. Assert and strike if needed. Till then, it is better to bow in humility like a fruit-laden bough.
As an aside, I like Trump’s antics. He is only relying on the age-old principle of ‘my home is my castle’. Only the means he uses to achieve this end will create all the difference.
India’s response to this will be of immense importance. Let us take a Bharatiya stand for once by amalgamating our basics and foundations with the realism of the world. It is high time that we have our own Henry Kissinger!
A version of this post was first published here.