At best, BJP’s poll manifesto that promised to “revive” India’s nuclear doctrine leaves reviewing it open-ended.
But spiking the no-first-use of weapons policy — the fulcrum of the doctrine — ushered in by the NDA in 2003 and unchanged by the two UPA governments, is unlikely.
A range of strategic experts and commentators, who have closely followed this policy, see little reason for India to change a doctrine that has served it well and is the basis for many partners entering into strategic relationship with the country, which remains outside the cusp of non-proliferation treaty.
All of them welcome a review of the policy to make it aligned with the geopolitical realities of the day.
“Abandoning the no-first policy doesn’t do us any good. Doing so will make many partners doubt our intentions,” Lalit Mansingh, a former foreign secretary who served in the Vajpayee regime, told HT.
“Changing the policy of no-first- use will be seen as provocative. I don’t think that is the intention, a radical it could bet, reflected in the manifesto if you read through the entire section dealing with foreign policy in the document,” says M K Bhdrakumar, a former career diplomat well-versed with the region.
“Any such sudden move on no first use could be hasty and imprudent”, adds Uday Bhaskar, distinguished fellow at Society for Policy Studies. India’s nuclear doctrine is against no first use and also against using nuclear weapons on countries that do not possess such weapons.
What is put out in the manifesto on revisiting the nuclear doctrine is seen as a continuum of a policy decision of the NDA government in 2001 that all the policy matters related to national security should be reviewed every five years.
And reviewing the doctrine goes beyond looking at the no-first-use aspect of the policy.
“BJP believes issues related to national security should be matched with the changing dynamics of geopolitics. A review of nuclear doctrine doesn’t mean we are going to abandon the no-first use policy. It also has other elements,” says Ajit Doval, former IB chief and a close associate of the BJP.
The review of nuclear doctrine would mean taking stock of nuclear weapons, technology used and delivery systems.
BJP could have hinted at it for striking an aggressive posture and for impact that could appeal to a section of voters. But the overall foreign policy outlook of the party is far from belligerent.