PM, 'Vijay Diwas' and the Nuke Sub

As he marks the tenth anniversary of the Kargil War and launches India's first indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine Arihant on Sunday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has an opportunity to rise above the din of Delhi's latest political controversy.

The PM and the government have no reason at all to be defensive on either the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement with Pakistan or the agreement on end-use of American defence equipment.

While the BJP and the CPM will stage a theatre of the absurd in the Lok Sabha next week, the PM must continue to address the three main strategic challenges the Kargil war forced the nation to confront.

First, the Pakistan Army, equipped with nuclear weapons, has the freedom to mount unconventional attacks on India without the fear of punitive military retaliation.

Second, India needs a working partnership with the United States that is among the very few restraining factors on the Pakistan Army. Three, until it can find a genuine reconciliation with Pakistan, India will not be able to realize its global aspirations.

Dr. Singh's predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had the will to reverse Pakistan's Kargil aggression, understood the implications of all three lessons. Despite vicious political attacks, including from his own party, Vajpayee persisted with his attempts to find peace with Pakistan, build bridges with the United States, and expand India's room for nuclear manoeuvre.

That the BJP has abandoned Vajpayee's legacy is clear from the party's opportunistic opposition to the civil nuclear initiative and its latest intemperate attacks on India's engagement with the US and Pakistan.

While 'Vijay Diwas' is an occasion to reflect on the regional peace, the 'Arihant' should help prepare us for the larger global role that awaits India.

If the Kargil war show-cased Delhi's unfinished territorial business in the nuclear age, the 'Arihant' is about India's emerging opportunities to shape the balance of power in the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean littoral.

If and when India liberates itself from the burdens of territorial defence and overcomes the bitter legacy of Partition, the technologies embedded in the 'Arihant' project will let India shape the future of global commons.

Building a submarine is one of the more complex arts. Powering it with an atomic reactor and arming it with nuclear tipped missile that can be launched from underwater is the acme of modern industrial skill.

Only five nations—the US, Russia, France, Britain and China—have mastered it. Joining this exclusive club under Dr. Singh's watch underlines the PM's undeniable contribution to India's rise as a great power.

(The writer is a Professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.)

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