Perils of the BJP

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 April, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 April, 1996, 12:00am

The world is already dangerous enough without India resuming its nuclear weapons programme. But that is what the main opposition party is threatening to do if it wins the forthcoming general election.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or Indian People's Party, has warned that it will reassess the nation's present policy of only using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and speed up production of other advanced weapons.

Such a move is likely to trigger a renewed arms race in South Asia. Worse still, a BJP-led government will refuse to sign a comprehensive test ban treaty or adhere to the missile technology control regime. That might well destroy all chance of a global test ban treaty in the autumn.

One must hope that this is simply pre-election posturing, aimed at winning over the nationalist vote in what looks set to be an extremely close contest. Yet the whole tone of its manifesto suggests that a victory for the BJP would be bad not only for India, but also the international community. The process of opening up India's economy to the outside world would falter. The BJP claims to welcome foreign investment, but only in a more selective form than is now allowed - with multinational corporations a particular target for criticism.

Calling for 'computer chips not potato chips' may be an appealing electoral slogan aimed against investors who bring in only consumer goods rather than hi-tech expertise. But, if put into practice, the BJP policies would detach one of the world's biggest countries from the international trading community.

Faltering economic development would leave India at risk of falling off the map, and being ignored amid the rush to invest in China and other emerging markets.

The election campaign still has several weeks left to run, allowing time for a more moderate stance to emerge. So far, the BJP has done nothing that should commend it to India's voters.