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“Do not whisper when speaking truth to power”

March 27, 2008

On  Tuesday March 11 there was a Plenary session  “Dialogue with Parliamentarians and Political Leaders” during which several members of the Parliament of India spoke. My experience of this session finally led me to ask for the word during the afternoon session:

I have been sitting here this morning, listening to one politician after another, who argue that India must have nuclear weapons in order to work for nuclear abolition. I felt anger and rage rising within me. It was difficult to identify the origin of my wrath. Then the words of  Bernard Lown started to reverberate in my head: “Do not whisper when speaking truth to power”.

I was angry at myself: I had not even whispered. I had kept quiet, and applauded. The politicians spoke, and quickly went away. They probably left with the feeling that we all agree: India is working hard for a nuclear weapons free world. One speaker, one only, Dr Farooq Abdullah, admitted that India started the nuclear arms race on the subcontinent in 1974 with its so called “peaceful nuclear explosions”. But India continued to speak for nuclear abolition.

All credibility India may have had as country working for nuclear disarmament was then effectively blown away with the nuclear tests in 1998. Not one of the Indian Parliamentarians said that these tests were a horrendous mistake. The arms race increased, India had become a likely target for a nuclear attack, and India had exposed itself as just another nationalistic country.

And here we sat, trying to understand the message: If you want nuclear abolition, build nuclear weapons. Maybe the speakers were able to trick themselves into believing what they were saying. The human capacity of self-delusion is remarkable. But we should not pretend that we believed their Orwellian newspeak. We should say: You have betrayed India’s great tradition as a peace-making country. You must begin anew. The first step is to regret the nuclear tests. The second is to sign the nuclear test ban treaty, CTBT. If you do not sign  you would show that you are planning to go ahead with new bombs, more bombs, “nuclear superiority” instead of “minimal deterrence”.

India’s politicians, you have a great tradition from Mahatma Gandhi and from Jawaharlal Nehru to build on. Do not squander your heritage.”


The following should be added: The tests in 1998 were met with a great outburst of nationalist pride in India. One of the very few dissenting voice came from Indian Doctors for Peace and Development. The President of IDPD dr L.S. Chawla said that IDPD did regret the tests, explaining that they would accelerate the nuclear arms race in the region and decrease the security of India. The cost of nuclear weapons would make fewer resources available for health. For this Dr Chawla and his brave colleagues were called traitors.

They did not whisper. They spoke the truth loud and clear. IPPNW should be proud of our Indian affiliate.

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