India was lucky to have Ambassador Arundhati Ghose, as the Indian Representative at the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD), Geneva, in 1995-96 negotiating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Her diligence in keeping abreast of the often secret meetings and machinations of the five so-called Non-Proliferation Treaty-recognized nuclear weapons states (P-5), kept India out of trouble. She thus thwarted the CD proceedings designed to corral this country into a Test Ban and freezing its nuclear weapons technology at the level of an unproven basic fission device. There were procedural moves devised by the P-5 and similar surprises US and its camp followers in Western Europe that were prevented from being sprung on the Indian delegation by Arundhati and her team. MOreover, her straight talking to her US counterpoint left Washington in little doubt what they were up against, which was capped by her ringing affirmation in the plenary voicing India’s final rejection of the CTBT, her now justly famous declaration that India would not sign that flawed treaty “not now, not ever”.
For those who care to know more about Arundhati’s finest hour, the most complete account of the evolving thinking of GOI and the P-5 machinations, and her maneuverings around the diplomatic booby-traps and mines laid by the dastardly Five in the CD, according to Ghose, is in my tome ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy’. She repeatedly referred to this book in her well-attended (and perhaps, last) public talk on “India and the CTBT Negotiations” at the Raja Ramanna-founded National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore,on Nov 29, 2015 (text at http://isssp.in/india-and-the-ctbt-negotiations/). She “would recommend”, she told the audience, “that anyone interested in the discussions military, scientific and political at the time, refer to Karnad’s book (pages 370-390).This also contains information on the negotiations themselves, based largely on interviews with me, soon after my return from Geneva to India in 1997 when my memory was still fresh.”
No finer Indian diplomat held the fort so courageously in the international arena in the face of concerted attacks. But the real hero, per Arundhati, was the prime minister who, at that crucial moment in time, was HD Deve Gowda, often derided by his opponents and the media as a PM who quite literally slept on the job. Except he had the earthy and instinctive understanding about the roots of national power, and once the stakes were outlined to him that signing the test ban treaty would close off India’s chances of ever becoming a nuclear weapon state, with great certitude he verbally instructed Arundhati, back in Delhi for consultations, to reject the CTBT outright.
Considering how most of the influential circles in the capital leavened by the advocacy of the strategic community elite headed by K. Subrahmanyam — its “doyen” and his acolytes in the govt, IDSA, and the media, among them the late Air Cmde Jasjit Singh (Retd), and which advocacy was backed by the then chairman, atomic energy commission, R. Chidambaram (and still adviser S&T to PM), had prepared the political and public relations ground for India affixing its signature to the CTBT, a nervous Ghose asked Deve Gowda for written instructions to that effect. Thus armed, Arundhati sallied forth to Geneva, there to bury the CTBT.
What ifs of history — what if a supposed sophisticate or a West-leaning pol had been PM (say, Rajiv, or Inder Gujral, or Vajpayee — or the de facto PM at the time, the late Brajesh Mishra, or Manmohan Singh or, dare we mention, Modi?)– not Deve Gowda, he’d not have hesitated to order Arundhati to sign on the dotted line, and thereby permanently strategically crippled India.
It must be recalled that those who promoted CTBT signature also led the charge on the N-deal with the United States, and those who opposed the CTBT were the same small handful of us — one or two strategic analysts and the old guard from Trombay — the late PK Iyengar, AN Prasad, A. Gopalakrishnan, who just as vehemently campaigned in 2005-2008 against the nuclear deal with the United States, which from the beginning has sought to shackle India and, with the nuclear deal, succeeded to a considerable extent. (See our collated public writings in the latter episode in the book ‘Strategic Sellout: The Indian-US Nuclear Deal ’). We relentlessly pounded GOI’s movement towards and its eventual succumbing to US pressure and blandishments. Again the strategists pushing for the deal were Subbu, Jasjit, and that caboodle in the official corridors, the media, and now doing duty in Western thinktank (Carnegie, Brookings, IISS) branches setup in Delhi to shape GOI’s policies. Not surprisingly, just about every thing that’s going wrong with that N-deal, CSC, including the perils of the buys by Modi of the six cost-prohibitive, untested and unproven Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors after his most recent US visit, which purchase, hazards-wise, could prove calamitous, was prophesied by the deal’s critics (See ‘Strategic Sellout’).
The point that Arundhati — a confirmed disarmament-walli by the way, repeatedly confessed to me, and something she alludes to in her NIAS talk, is how unprepared the Ministry of External Affairs is to negotiate on technical issues, such as anything related to nuclear, which requires some very serious domain knowledge. And why it is imperative to have permanent institutional mechanisms where the technically proficient scientists and engineers are in periodic consultations, so that Indian diplomats at the negotiating end and by way of MEA’s institutional memory. are brought up to to speed on where not to give way, where to cede ground, grudgingly, and the bulk of issues that are non-negotiable and if put on the table how carefully to configure legal escape routes and safeguards to always leave open the option for the country to ease itself out of tight corners and onerous treaty commitments.
Having quickly realized that neither of us was going to be able to convince the other on N-disarmament and big power-driven arms control measures, where we were invariably on opposite sides of the argument, our mutually respectful relationship settled into a breezy, jokey, affair. Whenever we met I’d good naturedly rib her for her “naivete” and she’d throw up her hands in mock horror at my “love of the Bomb”. The wonderful thing was that our differences only spurred us to tap each other for information and insights, though the traffic was mostly one way. Plainly said, what I know about MEA’s attitude to disarmament and how it evolved, and about the workings of DISA (disarmament and international security affairs) Division in that ministry was gleaned from her. She kept up with the goings-on in MEA and especially DISA as current officers in that Division are in one way or another her proteges or have matured under her influence penumbra.
Many of us knew of the cancer consuming her. But because she didn’t make too big a fuss about it, many of us who met her now and then didn’t either. Cancer or not, she wouldn’t give up her cigarettes or the tiny ‘Altos’ lozenges she chewed on. She was a fixture in the seminar/conference circuit relating to India’s nuclear policies. That stopped earlier this year. And then the day before yesterday we heard she had passed on.
Arundhati will be sorely missed — a Wonderful old Gal with real fighting spirit. RIP.