Bharat Karnad is an Emeritus Professor in National Security Studies at the Center for Policy Research in Delhi. He was a member of India's first National Security Advisory Board and has authored several books on nuclear weapons and Indian security.

Karnad's blog:

Karnad on the death of Homi Bhabha and of other atomic weapons scientists:

An excellent documentary film on the life of Indian theoretical physicist Homi Bhabha:

Steve and Bharat discuss:

0:00 Introduction
0:58 Karnad's educational background, nuclear research, journalism career
26:50 Refocusing India's defense posture from Pakistan to China
45:21 Why don't India and China have better relations?
53:33 India's nuclear arsenal
1:04:31 The mysterious death of Homi Bhabha, India's Oppenheimer
1:28:50 Land of subjugation, the caste system, and English as the language of Indian elites

Music used with permission from Blade Runner Blues Livestream improvisation by State Azure.


Steve Hsu is Professor of Theoretical Physics and of Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University. Previously, he was Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation at MSU and Director of the Institute of Theoretical Science at the University of Oregon. Hsu is a startup founder (, SafeWeb, Genomic Prediction, Othram) and advisor to venture capital and other investment firms. He was educated at Caltech and Berkeley, was a Harvard Junior Fellow, and has held faculty positions at Yale, the University of Oregon, and MSU.

Creators & Guests

Stephen Hsu
Steve Hsu is Professor of Theoretical Physics and of Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University.

What is Manifold?

Steve Hsu is Professor of Theoretical Physics and Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University. Join him for wide-ranging conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Welcome to Manifold. My guest is Bharat Karnad. He is Emeritus Professor in National Security Studies at the Center for Policy Research in Delhi. Karnad was a member of India's first National Security Advisory Board and its Nuclear Doctrine Drafting Group. He's the author of numerous books including Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security, The Realist Foundations of Strategy, India's Nuclear Policy, and Why India is Not a Great Power. Bharat, welcome to the podcast.

Bharat Karnad: Thank you very much too.

Steve Hsu: So it's a pleasure to have you. I think my audience is going to learn an incredible amount of stuff from you today. I would like you to just start out by talking a little bit about your childhood and I, I know you're educated in the United States, so maybe you could just tell the story of your childhood and how you got to the U S.

Bharat Karnad: Sure. actually I went to a boarding school, a military school here it is called during the British Times. Of course I'm post 47, so I don't know anything about it. But it is called the King George's Royal Indian Military College. And it was a feeder school to the Sanders Academy in England for would-be Indian officers to be commissioned into the Indian Army, the then British Indian Army.

After independence this school, these schools, there are five of them, all over India. They were renamed into something called King George's Schools. And then they got renamed again into the place of the Belgaum Military School. This was based in Belgaum, which is in peninsular India.

A little east of Goa, just to fix things a little south west of Bombay. And it is up in the hills. It is in what they call the Western Ghats. It's a highland formation up in the peninsular India. And so it's a beautiful place to be in. and it helped that my hometown was just 40, 48 miles away.

So going to boarding school was made easier for me because I went to school at seven when I was seven years old. That's awfully early. But then it is still me for life as I see it in some sense, because you learn to survive in a boarding school , whatever it is you learn or don't learn, that's what you learn.

and it turns out that, well, my dad was on the railway. He was a civil engineer, and then he was curiously deputed to the Atomic Energy Commission. where he was chief engineer at Tarapore, the first atomic energy power plant that was general electric, you know, light water plant reactor that was set up there by General Electric and the main construction company was Bechtel, I think.

And my dad was the supervising chief engineer. from the Indian side, overseeing everything. And so my dad therefore had connections to atomic energy, the Bach community, the Bhabha Atomic Research Community in Trombe. and just to cut the story short when I came back and... Got into this business of nuclear strategy and so on.

And this happened after 1998 and the test, the hydrogen bomb test, the fusion test, the so called S 1 test, which I immediately wrote thereafter and and I wrote that I said that it was a dud, it was a fissile. And that got me, you know, the attention of... Dr. P. K. Iyengar, who was a former chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission and who actually started the thermonuclear project and was the main architect of the 1974 test, etc.

And he asked me, when he heard my name and he read my piece, he said, why do you say that? It wouldn't satisfy a physicist like you, but it was Lehman's notion of what may have gone wrong, and it seemed to resonate with what Dr. Iyengar thought was the problem with the thermonuclear test device.

And so then he, the next thing he asked me was your name. Are you related? And then he mentioned dad's name. I said, yeah, I'm his son. And so that established a connection and then I think from there we got along famously. And then I got to know other colleagues of his, that were my dad's colleagues as well, in the Bach, though my dad was not from the main Bach community, he came in from the railways but you know, there was this larger sense of community at that time.

Steve Hsu: Just jump in for a second and clarify a couple of points for my audience? So Bharat mentioned. Homi Bhabha, who is sometimes referred to as the father of the Indian nuclear program, both the energy and the weapons program. He was a theoretical physicist. Some people in my audience will be familiar with something called Bhabha scattering, which we all physicists know about.

And we are going to talk later about it. The early days of the Indian nuclear program, the mysterious Death of Baba, and the event that Bharat is mentioning this nuclear test, which I think it's somewhat controversial, whether they successfully achieved the thermonuclear step or the ulla teller mechanism and still, I think, are somewhat disputed today.

And maybe that's something I would love to get into further, but sorry to interrupt you. I just wanted to clarify a few points. Go ahead.

Bharat Karnad: Right. So I think around I got into my head really that I wanted to get out of the country and study outside and I appeared for the SAT test and I got fairly good um, in a percentile ranking, 98, 99%, something like that. I was actually better at the English language than I was at math and so on.

But it was pretty good. So then I got yeah. And what I was looking out for was basically, essentially a scholarship. Because my father just told me plain in my face that I cannot afford to send you. All I can afford to buy you is a one way ticket, if you manage the money. I said, that's fair. My mother didn't want me to go because she told my dad, Look, if you're going to let him go, you'll lose him.

So, you know, it, so, so she was a bit paranoid about that. But I managed to get a reasonable scholarship and then he bought me my one way ticket to Santa Barbara UC Santa Barbara. And you know it was, my admission was in the undergraduate program in chemical and nuclear engineering. So I started out as it was the first batch of nuclear and chemical engineering in the University of California system undergrad.

And so I was, you know, ostensibly going to be part of it. But I soon realized that I was, you know, treading water, that I was simply not bright enough. Once I got in I somehow managed for a year and then decided that I had to get out. And I told the Dean of Foreign Students and said, Barbara, look, I really have to change my major.

He said, go ahead, do so. And I was surprised because I thought the money given to me was for chemical and nuclear engineering. He said, no, no, no. Look, you have all the freedom in the world. You can change as you wish. So I changed to political science. And then there, at the time in the, at Santa Barbara, there was something called the College of Creative Studies, which allowed you as you know, it matured later.

But the concept was started, initiated around the time when I was there, 67, when I joined 68, I think. something like that. And so it allowed you to fashion your own major, meaning you could have courses from various departments and so on. And you, you know whatever courses you, then you totaled up the units, and you got your degree, essentially.

So, I did this, I did psychology, a bit of social anthropology, and so on. It was a mixed up major. But the major was political science. So I got my undergrad in political science. And then it turned out that, I remember writing something on deterrence or something, which caught my fancy in my senior year, and I wrote a paper.

I remember getting an A or something like that for it. And I had not applied to UCLA. I, I don't know why, because Bernard Brody was there, the great Bernard Brody who was the you know the founder, one of the founders of RAND, the Yale Institute of International Studies and so on. and one of the great pioneers of strategic thought, the author of The Absolute Weapon, et cetera.

And because I had not formally applied to UCLA, I just sent him my paper and I said, look. Not only do I want admission to write my dissertation under you, but I also want money. It's a tall order. So I met him, he called me and he said, fine. So he arranged something. But then you know, I got through my CFIL, the qualify exam and so on, and then I sort of fell out with him because, you know, for whatever reasons, you know, I discovered that and one of the, my seniors in the PhD program said, look, don't upset him by challenging him.

You know, because he doesn't take it kindly. You know, these are human frailties. I was a little too full of myself. and so, you know, I, I kept on. Anyway, the thing is, our relations went south. And I, I decided that, you know, that was that. And then I, you know, after my qualifiers, all I had to do was write my dissertation.

The first chapter was actually just the survey of literature, etc. Which I had already done. And then I didn't come back after actually 10 years in California. It was just too good to ride because in those days there was a lot of money at the University of California. At least the foreign students were funded by the UC system, with oil revenues from the California oil wells.

So it was very rich at the time and they didn't know what to do with it. So they, I benefited from it. So I, you, you, you know how it is, the graduate school, you are on the gravy train, you ride along. Then about 10 years later, I came back home in '76. and by then, I had gotten very thickly into nuclear strategy and so on.

And I didn't know what to do with it because India had not yet, in 76, India had exploded the weapon in 74, but had done nothing with it. So then there was not much of a future as it were in that field. so I have no great idea what to do next. I dunno whether you heard of a great literature called Kwan Sing.

Kwan sing, you know, he is said to have written reportedly the definitive history of the Sikhs, the history of the Sikhs, a two volume, tomb published by Princeton University Press. So, obviously, it has complete, you know, considerable heft, intellectual heft. Anyway, he was, you know, nominated or made the editor of the Hindustan Times.

It was one of the premier dailies in India. And he had read it to me somewhere. And I was in California at that time. I was, you know, sort of yo-yoing between California and here. And I was in California in 79. And he said, well, do you want to be my assistant editor at the same time? So I said, fine. Lovely.

Because I had no idea what I was doing anyway. So I came back. And my journalism career then was for exactly 10 years. which included reporting on two wars. The very long Iran Iraq war. I went to the Susan Guard front and so on. Reporting from there is great fun, actually. And then at the 80 3 80, 81, 83, whatever.

I may be getting the dates wrong, but the Lebanon War, Israeli intervention into Lebanon. So at that time, India didn't have any good relations with Israel. So I was amongst the first, and was the only Indian really to be there. So I recorded all the facilities, but the Israelis were very happy to escort me around and so on.

And I lived as a reporter for the duration of my stay there. about two weeks or something in Karachi, Mona, which is a kibbutz on the border of Lebanon. And then I used to, that was the way they required it to be done, meaning that all the reports had to come back into Israel. You could go into Lebanon and come back.

That was the arrangement. Fortunately for me, I met Major General Haron Yariv, who was Moshe Dayan's intelligence chief in the Sinai campaign in 1956. And he was there as a reservist. He had his major general rank, and it's a reserve. And I was rather taken up by him. Of course, I knew him by sight because I had read the Sinai diary, the Sinai campaign diary.

And I've seen his photographs and I suddenly realized he was still very young looking. He didn't have white hair or gray hair, anything of the kind. And so we sat down and he was sort of intrigued by me. And he began talking. And he told me about the planned strike, the Indo Israeli strike on Ghouta, the Pakistani nuclear complex.

So I broke the story because essentially he just said that, look, you know, we were going to do all the dirty work and Indira Gandhi pulled out at the last minute. She got cold feet. Maybe because the U. S. intelligence had alerted the Americans or the Pakistanis or whatever, whatever, however it happened.

But Israelis were not going to be deterred because they were going in and the... you know, the plan generally was for a complement to F 16 strike aircraft with special or, you know, the specialist ordnance that would penetrate deep penetration weapons and so on carrying these weapons. And then these are going to be brought into India and stationed in Udhampur, which is the, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

And what the Israeli aircraft would do was, you had the complement of F 16 aircraft and a combat air patrol complement of F 15 aircraft. So they'll fly together to provide you with the F 15 top layer that would provide protection for the strike aircraft going into target and so on and so forth. And the idea was for them to come in over the Arabian Sea, southwards, so the Pakistani radar won't pick them up.

Coming to Jamnagar, which today is famous for the largest refinery in the world, owned by the richest man in India, Ambani's, as you perhaps are aware. And the, it was also the center for our it was called a TAC D, which is Tactical Development of the Indian Air Force Station. and the aircraft would come in there both the F 15 complement and the F 16 complement.

So, very, very quickly, just very quickly to get through it. The idea was that, the compliment would come into Jamnagar, the pilots would, Israeli crew would rest and so on and so forth, and then take off, fly over, overland into India, and come into Udhampur for final, final flight.

You know fueling up and uploading of the ordinance specialist ordinance. And then you, the aircraft was to just, you know, the rows of attacking aircraft would fly over into Oklahoma and the underground complex at Golder and you know, blow them up. and the idea was it'd be so fast coming in from the Indian side it'd give them, the Pakistanis, only about two minutes notice, three minutes notice.

So they couldn't do anything. They couldn't erect their RBS 70 millimeter guns, which was the only air defense gun available etc. And if you recall, the Israelis had taken out the Osirak reactor the year before. So I'm talking about 82. The planned operation was in 82. In 81 under Menachem Begin, they took out the Osirak reactor.

So these were very experienced crews coming in and they knew what they were doing. And then this was canceled at the last minute by Indira Gandhi. And I, the only thing I recall from my meeting with Arun Yadav, General Yadav was, he was so frustrated and upset. He said, we are doing all the damn work for you, dirty work for you. And you guys back out and it would have aided you. It's absolutely right. And it would have been a very different universe had, you know, we'd gone along with it and so on. So, well, that didn't work. Anyway to cut the story short in 84, I came to in Washington, the Washington correspondent, one Indian, one chief, one bureau, you know, one Indian, one chief, so I was covering America for, for three and a half years, and I made lots of, I had a great many friends in California, and curiously my UCLA graduate and when project made.

We were working on the Vladivostok talks, SALT SALT I talks. And what I was specifically working on, and I was in the strategic aspects of my, my area of research at that time was strategic. And, and the, the target thing was the Vladivostok talks. And the problem assigned me was how do you negotiate between, a side that has a very big throwaway that Russia had and very good accuracy that the Americans had, the terminal accuracy.

And so how do you negotiate? It's apples and oranges, really. And that's the real conundrum. of the SALT 1. Assuming you wanted to very much reduce your strategic arsenals, the question is how would you negotiate it? It is an interesting, you know, sort of problem for me. So I did something and I remember, you know, it was under the RAND ARPA or something, I don't quite remember Aegis and all that.

So then I came back to India and so on and then, something called Business India is a big publishing company. They offered me editorship of something called India Week, a weekly that I founded. And I ran it into the ground in 17 months flat. And I really, really realized that I, Peter Principle, reached my level of incompetence as a journalist.

And I wanted to get the hell out and get back to my field. And it just so happened that You know, my writings got as assistant editor and so on in the Sun Times and then my writings in my own periodical, India Week it was not W E E K E E, it was W E A K in my case so so that bombed but fortunately for me, I got out of journalism and into what I consider my field.

And thereafter my writings had all along... got the attention of many people in the establishment. people like Casey Pant, who was the former defense minister. and in fact, he was a defense minister and he used to, you know, called me in for discussing ideas and so on and he introduced me to his BJP counterpart Bharatiya Janata Party counterpart, Jaswant Singh, whom I got very close to.

So and both of them, I used to talk with them about policy alternatives, what we should do, how we should be more, you know, hard power oriented etc. It was really quite a departure from what they usually heard from. Most people in Delhi and, and, and they're sort of taken up by it. And then in 1998, when the tests happened and the NSAB was set up, the National Security Advisory Board they got me in and then we helped draft the doctrine.

Just two or three of us really drafted the doctrine, even the 26 on the so-called drafting group, because none of them knew anything about deterrence literature. And that is my bread and butter really. and the case of Romania, who was an autodidact. So he taught himself deterrence theory and so on.

In the fifties, he had been in Hudson Institute and you know, parlayed with Herman Kahn and so on. So he taught himself and he was very, really, very good. and so between the two of us and another person, we drafted the doctrine and It was more wishy washy than I wanted, but then, you know, he explained to me, look the, one of the problems was that in the drafting committee it, it was in a sense of preempted by the prime minister who on May 28th in his suo motu statement to parliament, actually said that first of all, we are going to have a minimum deterrence.

And secondly, we are going to go in for no first use as a principle. So, you know, our parameters are pretty much. You know, defined for us. And so, Mr. Subramaniam, an old stalwart civil servant, explained to me, who was a neophyte in these matters. He said, look, if we write our own doctrine, which we think is right for the country, the government will merely trash it.

Because the Prime Minister has already said in Parliament what it needs to be. That it has to be minimum deterrence By way of a concept and whatever forces you can fit into that concept and no first use principle. And that's how the draft doctrine came out. and you know, it had whatever traction it did.

And the government then in its wisdom or lack of it in 2004 used it as, I don't know what, but completely went off and formalized something called massive retaliation without, I think, any of these guys understanding what massive retaliation is. and of course, I, I junked that notion, the what they call the gazetted notion of the doctrine.

But I think it wouldn't be, it would not be wrong to say that the actual operating, the operational concept that the Strategic Forces Command in India follows is what we Thank you. You know, the original draft doctrine said, which is really you know, more flexible response and not massive massive doctrine or something like that is you know, basically conceived by people who don't understand anything about deterrence, know nothing about deterrence literature and merely taken to the idea of massive as a deterrent To what?

Pakistan? You know, I mean, my whole idea was, it's so silly, it sort of completely was, it always used to perplex me when I came back to hear Pakistan is a threat. The one thing Pakistan is not is a threat. And I, over the 30, 40 years here, I've been saying that Pakistan is a nuisance, not a threat. And if you are unable to distinguish between a nuisance and a threat, then we have a problem.

Pakistanis don't. In fact, we have ended up elevating them in the world because we think of them as a threat. more and more, I think the government is coming down to that point of view because, as I've been saying in my books and so on. I've been recommending what to do and they've been following up as the, as some senior army general said the other day to me, you know, what you've been saying we're doing now.

And one of the things I've mentioned was to gain Pakistani confidence, inspire confidence in them. They feel paranoid and they feel that India is out to reunify and get the old India, etc. All that nonsense. but I essentially say to them that, you know one of my recommendations has been, was to demobilize the three strike corps, which is way in excess of need for the Pakistani border contingency.

Three strikes caused an enormous number of tanks, you know, 3, 000 tanks. I mean, ridiculous. and, and you know everybody's a Rommel and, you know so everybody wants to be not just a Rommel, but you know, who's the, who are the other great Nazi armored generals, von Manstein, they hate von Manstein, and Guderian, yeah, and Guderian.

You know, they completely miss out on what, what is, on, not having scale or perspective. Anyway, that's what but now,

Steve Hsu: I could, if I could just jump in. So, for my audience, Bharat has advocated that India focus less on Pakistan as the main threat and more on China. The strike force was really aimed at Pakistan, and he advocates reallocating those resources to something that's focused more on the, I guess, toward Tibet and China.

And that would inspire confidence building in the Pakistan India relationship, because then they're less threatened, immediately threatened by India, and also then would tie down a lot of PLA forces across the border in China. Is that, is that a fair

Bharat Karnad: Absolutely fair. I think the thing is also that one of the things to do is, you know You know, Pakistan, again, one of the things I think Western analysts simply do not understand is the cultural aspect and the India Pakistan thing. The cultural aspect is very, very serious. It's like the dilemma that the Chinese have in dealing with Taiwan, let's say.

It's the ethnic Han homogeneity, you know, that identity notion that, well, we are the same people, so why are you trying to be separate kind of a thing, you see? Now, this is not good for India Pakistan, but the fact is, they were one people, and there are more Muslims in India now than there are in Pakistan.

That's a factor of life. And one of the reasons why India Pakistan... wars have been, not wars really, it is in a beautiful phrase that Stephen Cohen, who was the South Asia expert, the late Stephen Cohen at Brookings and earlier the University of Illinois it is a beautiful thing when he said that India, and it was told to him by a former director general, director of military operations of the Indian Army.

Major General D. K. Pallet, who was perhaps, who is, yeah, who is dead now, but he was perhaps the finest scholar soldier the Indian Army has ever produced. And he called India Pakistan wars communal riots with tanks. You know, it's a very apt example. And I took that very seriously and did an analysis that was published in the Roundtable in London.

A roundtable, as you perhaps are aware, is the Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs. and it was published there. And what I essentially said was precisely this, that the cultural element that prevents India from embarking on a war or executing a war of annihilation is therefore a war of maneuver.

You know, you don't want to decimate anything or do anything, you know, I mean, we just want to just get rid of a few tanks on the other side. And similarly, they respond by doing the same thing. So it's really not serious because they go onto the battlefield and share the same wavelength for their battlefield tactical communications.

It's completely ridiculous. It's called the Bravo Link. I mean, it's completely ridiculous. These are kinds of anomalies, but, you know, it was the old original army. They kept the same wavelength for battlefield tactical communications, even when they're fighting each other. So they knew where the blows were going to come from.

So they merely fainted and they got away from there. And nothing ever happened. They just, you know, crisscrossed the border and just beat up on each other. A few tanks were lost here and there. Anyway, the point to make is these are not serious wars. So therefore, I have never considered them serious wars. Of course, when I talked this way and, and I have done so for 30 years, it used to originally upset the army audience, military audiences that I used to speak to.

But I used to say, look, be, you know, dispassionate and look at it objectively. And you realize what I'm saying is right. And I said, what's the reason? The reason is that, we are India and Pakistan, whether anybody likes it or not, are still connected by kith and kinship relationship still. All the places of Islamic Muslim pilgrimage that Pakistanis want to go to are all in India.

All the great Islamic seminaries, the Sunni Islamic seminary, the Barelvi and the Deobandi seminaries are in India. All the great monuments, Taj Mahal, whatever, you know, that the emperors built are in India. Pakistan was, is what was a rump element of the border, you know, it's a, what they call a frontier state.

Punjab always was, even in the British Empire. And that's what the Pakistanis are stuck with. They have no history, they have no identity, they have no culture. For everything, they look to India. Because all the centers are here. And now in the more popular culture, you have Bollywood. Well, they kind of swing to the Bollywood tunes and dances.

I mean, it's all Bollywood. It's completely Indianized. I've been to Pakistan a great number of times. I've addressed their military audiences there. They understand what I'm saying more than the people here. Opera or at least they act as if, you know, they're very upset and so on. But now I think what I've been saying all along is now that the military is now moving, as I said, the three strike corps that we have are being demobilized in a substantive way.

I said, keep one corps for contingency. Sure, you can't rule out some madman in Islamabad doing some damn foolish things. Okay, fine. So you have that composite. Go for the Pakistan contingencies, but move the two strike corps manpower and whatever war material can be used from the plains to the hills into the mountains to form two additional offensive mountain cores with very light tanks, not the heavy M72, T72s that are there now, which makes no sense at all.

You know, up in the mountains, sick in planes. on the Tibetan plateau at 14, 000 feet. I mean, it's hard to start up the tanks in the morning. Honestly they use, use, they use bazookas to warm up the tanks in the mornings for them to just to start the damn things. So it's a bit of a farce really. We need to rethink the entire thing and I've been saying that and now, fortunately, I think the government is finally on track.

There's been one offensive mountain core formed, the 17th core, and I've said move two more cores from the Western Front and which, by the way, is substantively being done because they have already moved to the China front, like two major cores from the, but they're keeping the establishment because they don't want to give that up and they want to still want Pakistanis to think about it.

That, you know, these are two actual strike corps. They are not. They are really hollow establishments, headquarters establishments with the main fighting elements already up in the Ladakh plains, in the Ladakh sector, where the last hostilities, round of hostilities took place on the Galwan River. So, yes, I mean, I think we are finally getting to where China is becoming, being seen as the premier and main threat and perhaps the only threat, as I see it, the only threat.

I've been saying that you can really literally vacate the western border of the military and nothing will happen. Keep the paramilitaries there. That's more than enough. So anyway, I don't think that's a little too extreme, and I don't think the Indian government and military would allow, you know, that kind of advice to be, you know, realized.

Steve Hsu: Do you think that something on the India China border, which goes beyond just a minor kind of scuffle border clash, is a real possibility in the next decade? Is that true?

Bharat Karnad: well, it is, yeah, it is a possibility in the sense that, you know, I mean one of the problems, and I think this is the kind of Chinese diplomacy that has flummoxed a lot of parties who have dealt with them, you know, all over the place. For instance, They have formalized the Macmohan line in the northeast that was bequeathed to us by the British as the border for Myanmar, Burma.

But it's the same Macmohan line that they don't accept in India. Either you have to be consistent that the Makmohan line is a colonial construct and its imperial design, whatever it is. Okay, fine. Then stick with it. But with Myanmar, you have said, okay. You can have the MacMahon lines, the border. So they have not been consistent.

And they've also been you know, they haven't kept the commitments they make on paper. And our MEA is a bit of a fuddy duddy type of people who believe in sticking to the letter of the law, as it were. And they believe in dotting the I's and crossing the T's. And that makes it problematic because They don't look at it in a more abstract sense of what it's the message that's sought to be conveyed by the Chinese.

The Chinese haven't come out and said, but the fact is that the Chinese have the way they're going about it, incremental annexation and occupation of Indian territory on the Indian side of the line of actual control. it's that they, you know, they conceived of something called I mean, they conceived of their border.

In 1959, it's called the 1959 line in the literature, and the 1959 line was first, you know, propounded by Zhou Enlai, Premier Zhou Enlai, and, and of course, India said no, that doesn't conform to the McMahon line principle that we believe in, which is the watershed principle and then et cetera.

So that's where the dispute has lingered, except the Chinese have been. clandestinely, surreptitiously moving a little at a time. Uh and because the McMahon line was drawn with a very broad Pen nib. you know, you, you know, on the paper, on the map, you can see that, but actually on the ground, it can cover a lot of distance, right?

As you know. So that is a real problem. so we really, the, the, some of these differences are in some sense, irreconcilable. Simply because you're on two different negotiating principles as to what to negotiate. Anyway,

Steve Hsu: I ask

Bharat Karnad: sure. Thank you.

Steve Hsu: the viewpoint from the viewpoint of a strategist in China? What do they actually stand to gain? So, okay, there may be some dispute over the history and how this border should be drawn, but is either side really, or particularly the Chinese side, going to make any use of territory they might gain from India?

It seems like from the Chinese perspective, they're facing a U. S., possibly a big U. S. coalition, which could include India. Why should they Exacerbate negative feelings in India toward them over territory, which to them, I think, is pretty useless, right? Am I wrong? Am I sort of misunderstanding the reality here?

Bharat Karnad: No, I, I'm not sure whether I can speak for the Chinese and what their perspective is. All I can do by way

Steve Hsu: If you could, if you could just pretend for a moment you're the Chinese strategist, why, and someone comes to your office and says, why don't you just settle this? You settled Vladivostok and all these borders with the Russians, the Amur River, you settled all this, and now you can have a nice relationship with the Russians.

Why don't you settle all this with the Indians and that will maybe prevent them from being overactive in the quad or something, something along those lines. If you're the Chinese strategist, what's your response?

Bharat Karnad: no, I agree. that would be a reasonable thing for them to do, if only not to open up too many fronts against themselves, you know, that that would be the obvious thing to do. You choose your enemies and, and then you say, well, okay, yours is far more consequential. adversity to deal with than India is, then let's settle with the lesser adversity and neutralize that front.

Because surely if that front is neutralized, India would be out of it. India would have no incentive then to front up with China or help the Americans do anything in this part of the world. you know, I mean, then it but so much bad blood has now you know, flown down the river as it were.

I'm not sure this will work in Beijing because there are vested interests there. The, the, the southern Tibet commander, for instance, You know, the more territory he captures, the more accolades he gets, the more likelihood that he is then elevated to CMC. You know what politics is. You know, you're a wolf.

Steve Hsu: accept that description but I would just say the following. First of all, if you ask a random person, On the street in Beijing, or even a highly placed academic or highly placed party member, they don't really have emotional feelings about that border. If it shifts a few kilometers, I don't think they care.

Whereas recovering Taiwan, they have deep. Emotional feelings right? So it seems like that's a problem that could be settled. I just don't quite understand why they don't do it now. Some people claim they do it because they want to have a little lever that they can pull every now and then that discomforts the Indian political leadership, right?

So they can cause something to happen, which wrong foots Modi and by promising kind of not to do that. Maybe they can gain leverage with The Indian leadership on some other issue. Maybe that's why they keep it an open matter. I'm just curious how you

Bharat Karnad: No, absolutely. In fact, that's what I've written. You know, and they have, the Chinese have from the very beginning, I think if you recall the Chinese impressions of India are very negative. you know, they, they've talked of India as a slave nation, which I think all of that is very well merited, if you see what I mean, you know, I mean, we have I remember and I put this in my book, Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security,

Polish sociologist. who settled down in England and his description of India as a land of subjugations, you know, I mean, it fits in with I mean, I would, I would have, I have great contempt for India in the sense that we are too easily subjugated.

And that is, I can entirely completely understand why the Chinese. had that, you know they felt humiliated when after the open door policy under the hay thing in the 19th century and so on, they felt humiliated and, and, and they have sought to, in a sense, recover from the century of humiliation.

But there's no such sense of humiliation in India. And we have been, you know, colonized and enslaved as it were for far longer. than a century. Ours was under the British crown and the East India Company for much, much longer. So I completely understand that. and I understand the same kind of feelings that the Vietnamese have of Very strongly you know strengthening their capabilities to deter and dissuade any would-be colonizer or you know, someone who's, you know, a bully like the Vietnamese perceive the Chinese, et cetera.

So I entirely understand that notion of um, Shall we say contempt that the Chinese have held India in and Indian people in. And I, just to go back, Rabindranath Tagore, who was the first Indian Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1913, I think. He went to China as the great Asian peacemaker in Chiang Kai-shek's time.

And he was booed by young Chinese people at the time. Who called the representative, who booed him as a representative of a slave nation and so on. So that's the, the, the common Chinese, the popular Chinese perception of India is very, very It's very, shall we say, it's very stable in the sense that this has always been how they looked at India, a large country, which doesn't make sense for them.

How was it so easily captured? How was it so easily dominated? You know what I mean? So they can't make it to the end of it. and yet, I think one of the things that Mao was warned about when he start, sort of embarked on the 62 war, was he was reminded that this is the great Indian army that defeated the Nazis and you know, the Southeast Asia Command that defeated the Imperial Japanese land forces, that defeated the Afrika Korps under Rommel and North Africa, et cetera.

And by the way, most of the hard fighting was done by the Indian divisions, the 4th Indian Division, the 8th Indian Division, et cetera. in the Desert War and the 14th Army under William Slim in Burma. So you have a tremendous fighting thing. And this was a little after the Second World War. So Mao was one, look, this is the great Indian Army, except the great Indian Army was nothing on the China front, because there was no Indian Army too, you know, they're all in canvas shoes at the heights, another kind of thing.

So because Nehru from the very beginning had this notion of Sino Indian to guide Asia, et cetera. It's the same old Rabindranath Tagore notion. and others have sort of flogged this for a long time. It has made no impression on Chinese people. Because I think they really think of us below their level.

And that you can't deal with India as an equal, simply because it is not. So, as you know, the Chinese notion of hierarchy is very, very, and, and, and so they see themselves as peer competitors and rivals to America, which is what they think the station in international affairs is, and they don't want to deal with India on an equal basis.

So, you know, they would rather that India accept what China tells them, than what China tells it to do. If they did, then we, we'd have peace, but this is exactly where I think they have sort of misjudged India now because [unclear] pushed India a little too far.

Steve Hsu: I'm a generation younger than you. So I've got to say something a little more optimistic about India China relations. I would say most Chinese obviously most Chinese in China don't know that much about India, but most of them actually have a lot of respect because there are so many talented Indians out in the world.

It's hard to ignore and, and it's another ancient civilization where Buddhism came from, et cetera. So, actually, I think they have a lot of respect and some kind of, you know, you, I think the South Asian and East Asian cultures are not one, they're quite different, but there is some kind of Pan Asian instinctive solidarity there still, which could be drawn on.

I think the main question is just whether they see themselves ahead of the Indians in terms of development because they managed to develop very fast. Maybe the 2 countries were equal in development in 1960, and then the Chinese got ahead. So now there is some level of contempt, probably because they're thinking, why didn't these guys, you know, have democracy, but why couldn't they get organized like us and. ahead. So I think that's certainly there, but I think at the level of strategic relations It I just I find it strange that they wouldn't settle this so that they can have an amicable relationship as as they have with the Russians, you know many people thought they were never gonna have an amicable relationship with the Russians because of the border disputes and All kinds of unequal treaties and things like this much much worse actually than anything between China and India, right?

And yet yet now they seem to have a very warm relationship And anyway, so maybe I'm too optimistic, but I'd like to think something like that is possible in the future.

Bharat Karnad: No, I think, look just so you know about, I mean, you mentioned China and Russia, in the latest map they've issued, they have again incorporated the Ussuri territory within China. Yeah. And after the Russians right now, but a month ago, so it's an ongoing problem with the, in some sense, the revanchist China that everybody apprehends is what everybody, and that's, you know, in a sense spawning a lot of anxieties everywhere, whether it's the nine dash line, whether it is North Vietnam, where they have, of course, agreed on a border, but they keep, you know trying to uh arm twist the Vietnamese.

Then there's Taiwan, there's Senkaku in the East Sea, then there's the McMahon Line, the Line of Actual Control versus India. There's the Ussuri River border with Russia. And they seem not to give up. It's one thing to say, well, okay, at Xi Jinping's level. And by the way, in the cultural aspect, you're absolutely right.

What I meant by way of contempt was in the political realm. as, as, as an enslaved nation. There, I was curious. I was invited to be a foreign fellow, visiting fellow, whatever they call them, at the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies. And they wanted me to be there for a longer time.

And I was just there for six weeks. I said no. and, um. So I traveled a lot in China at the time and talked to people who could speak English, you know, I mean, unfortunately, I can't speak Mandarin to my regret, but The culture, the respect for culture is absolutely there. I mean, the legend of the Monkey King is very much like the Hanuman from Ramayana.

And I'm sure it was taken from Ramayana into, by the Buddhists and however that thing went. And the travels westward toward, by the Monkey King and his entourage to the west, western kingdom was India, basically. And so all that is very much there in their minds. And they're not, so I'm not downplaying that.

I'm merely saying by way of a political reality in modern times, why India has been politically subjugated, not culturally subjugated. Because despite everything, it has retained its you know, basic cultural ethos and principles.

Steve Hsu: I do want to agree with you that PRC is capable of incredible, great power, autism, and pissing off all of its neighbors, right? They're fully capable of that, so you shouldn't think of them as 10 feet tall in terms of diplomatic terms either. They can, they can create... Without, you know, without knowing it, a huge alliance against themselves by just acting like aggressive

Bharat Karnad: yeah. But, you know, we, you mentioned the strategic discomforting of India, which is an ongoing thing. And they're very good at it. Let's put it this way. I've said in my writings that if you, and I've said that if India cannot summon the kind of strategic mind and that the Chinese can, just emulate them.

Don't think, just emulate the Chinese. And I've said that one of the one ways to, and I, I suppose this is bloody minded, but you know, the Chinese went ahead and launched a nuclear missile on Pakistan. in a very deliberate way to contain India to the subcontinent. And I've said that one of the ways to do this is to respond.

I said that when I was in the National Security Advisory Board. Let's do it. Now we are doing it by passing on BrahMos and these kinds of cruise missiles. So, you know, supersonic cruise missiles to the island territory, Southeast Asia and so on. And I said then, then by way of priority, send it to Vietnam.

Vietnam is one country that the Chinese respect a whole lot. Because they were bloodied, their nose bloodied when they ventured into Vietnam in 79 if you recall. and so they respect them. And so I said, one way to gain China's respect, you are not going to do it through negotiation. Somewhere there has to be some actual thing on ground and we have always shied away from it.

I remember the foreign secretary at the time when he came before the board and I asked him, have you not thought about You know, reciprocating Chinese actions by nuclear missile arming countries on China's periphery. And he tells me, and I was very upset with that, and I jumped on it. he said, No, it's not practical, Mr.

Karnad. I said, Practicable? I lost my cool, you know. So, as far as mature then, I'm not particularly mature now, but as far as mature then, I jumped on it. But the point to make is, How else do you, in some sense, gain China's respect or get their attention that these guys mean business, that we mean to need to do, need to have some kind of a, a, a, a, a, a, you know, a solution for the disputed border.

Let's do it. but something has to happen. And I've been saying that one way to trigger that is this. Nuclear missile arm. I mean nuclear and everybody started jumping up and down because there are more peaceniks in Delhi than there are anywhere in the world, including the Arms Control Association of Washington, D. C.

But the point is, I think, you know, the point I think is that we need to do something is what I always believed to, in a sense, catch them by the scruff of the neck and say, look, okay, you want to play dirty. We'll play dirty with you and we'll merely reciprocate what you've done and I've called for the tit for tat policy and, and, you know But again, the Indian government is a little cautious, a little too cautious in my view, a little too hesitant in dealing with China on terms that the Chinese understand it as I see it.

This is where matters stand. But we are now selling the first tranche of Brahmos missiles to the Philippines. We may give something may, maybe give something and we are given other missiles to Vietnam and other countries are in line with Indonesia, et cetera. So they'll get it. But we are 30 years too late and there's an opportunity cost to it.

And the opportunity cost is in terms of not having a border solution. You know, a boundary that both of us can mutually accept. And this, this is where matters stand. Because there's always a cost to not doing things on time.

Steve Hsu: So speaking of weapon systems, I think we can now discuss this thing that you mentioned right at the beginning about the thermonuclear step for the Indians. Strategic forces. they haven't made it, right? So the arsenal in India is based on sort of 20 kiloton fission bombs, right? Not warheads, not fully thermonuclear warheads.

Do you think that's an important step that India needs to actually take to be a credible deterrent? Or the alternative argument is, well, 100 missiles, Agni 5 missiles or whatever they are, And you can hit population centers in China with 20 kiloton bombs. It's still a pretty strong deterrent. So where do you come out on this?

Bharat Karnad: But that's precisely the argument you hear in official circles. Including Trombe, the Trombe Circle. Again, they are not into strategy and I tell them, please don't talk about strategy. you know, I mean stick with your, what you know about science and engineering, a weapon. but the point I think is that you know, the Trombay contention is, and this is something that has been pushed by the former chairman Archidambro, who I think is I think very badly of him.

He's really been the bane of the country's nuclear program as I see it. He's a chap who has been an absolute disaster. And he still rules the roost because he holds a baba chair in Trombe. He's a 90 year old senile fellow. but you know, he's just mucking up things for everybody. Anyway, the point is, his thing is that...

Whatever went wrong with the S1 device on May 13th 1998, it can be corrected by computation, rejigging, you know, through computers and separate component testing, et cetera. And I keep saying, how does it work? I mean, a thermonuclear, according to Richard Garvin, has some 2, 000 parts. 2, 000 things have to go right.

Or a thermonuclear explosion to work, whether the radiation channel. I mean, that's a problem in itself. We don't know what went wrong. And then you compounded your problem by triggering a number of devices at the same time, simultaneous triggering. So how do you then distinguish and discriminate the test results?

You know, it's a massive problem you created for yourself. And of course, credibility problems. for the Chinese, they're quite happy, you know, because you don't, they know for certain that you cannot be certain, Indians cannot be certain that the thermonuclear they boast of will actually blow when it's required to, and the fact of the matter is that unless you test again, which is why I've been advocating from 1998 onwards, after the test, we need to test again, which by the way, was the advice given by the director of field testing at the Pokhran test site, because he saw, he saw that it didn't work and he advised the government, you know, we have to test again.

Thank you. But the government so far, and then we signed the nuclear deal that is conditioned on India not renewing tests, you know, I mean, we, in a sense, hinder ourselves this way. But I suppose if we make up our mind to test, we'll test it, go ahead and test it. Thermonuclear, and this time I said, if you're going to test, let it be open ended and no nonsense about it.

Go megaton thermonuclear because you have to get you cannot talk about tailored yield and all that nonsense. Tailored yield is after you have really had great experience with single, single yield devices which have attained their planned yield, etc. you know, don't start, you know, we start jumping at the edge kind of technologies without going through the process.

Well, how, you know, every other country has had huge data from a large number of tests and India has had just six tests. All together. All together. Seven tests maybe. Six tests. Five tests and one. Yeah. Seventy four tests. So, you know, six

Steve Hsu: So going back, going back to your expertise in the theory of deterrence. So, you know, for a long time, China tried to main or claimed it was maintaining a, just a minimal deterrent against the United States. And it could have been as few as maybe 20 megaton sized deliverable warheads. But now, of course, they've shifted completely to this notion that, well, I think maybe just to manage the psychological attitude of the Americans, they have to have a much bigger force.

Even though, probably destroying 20 major cities, or I guess they had MIRV, they have MIRV weapons, so destroying 50 major U. S. cities would be enough of a deterrent and they don't need to do this. But I think it's based on a psychological judgment. Of the American attitudes. It says like, oh, we just have to have more.

Now we're building fields of hundreds of silos. just to increase our deterrent capability. Is that your attitude for India that in actual terms, these 20 kiloton warheads are really actually sufficient to destroy the economy of China and kill? You know, hundreds of millions of people, but for just purely psychological reasons, you have to have a bigger stick.

Is that the right analysis?

Bharat Karnad: Absolutely. In fact, I've used it precisely. The reason why one of my basic tenets of my advocacy is precisely this. That Unless you can match China's 3. 3 megaton standard issue weapon warhead on their Dengfeng 3, 4s, and 5s, etc. and the 21s. 21 might be 500 kiloton, but the Dengfeng 3, 4, 5s are 3 megaton warheads. Now, I said unless you reach at least a megaton level, you won't have the psychological parity. And makes all the difference because deterrence is I've argued as is the fact, it's a mind game. If you're going to play mind games, if you have a 3. 3 Incoming Delhi do you think any Indian politician who is very I'm selling with nervous Nelly's really from my experience of them, you know, would any, any of them risk anything?

If you have nothing of the kind, you have a 20 kiloton, I called it a firecracker, a 20 kiloton firecracker against a 3. 3 megaton incoming. So, I mean, it's a real psychological problem. And it's a deterrence problem at the heart of it. Because, ultimately, if the Chinese want too or you, and want to, you know, they do nothing more than just take out their Dongfeng 3, the 4s, roll them out of their firecrackers.

You know tunnels and let our cyclites pick it up in a crisis. And what is India going to do? I mean, oh yeah, we're going to, you know, send out me five with a 20 kiloton surefire firecracker into Shanghai. I mean, okay, it might work in normal time, but you know, if you have a cyclone where you're dealing, I've always said, you have to deal with the Indian leadership, the psychological makeup of the Indian leadership, which is very, very timid.

Timidity is the hallmark. I've always argued, and this really makes it problematic. And it's a real problem. It's not an abstract problem. This problem of deterrence from the Indian side is real because we are easily spooked in any crisis, nuclear, non nuclear, military, any crisis. And what happened in the Bombay seaborne attack?

And everybody, you know, everybody's running around like headless chickens in Mumbai. Everybody. I'm the so-called special forces that, I mean, a whole bunch of people just did not know a thing about what they were doing, honestly. And you're expecting that, and that's why I oppose the no first use principle.

I've been opposing it ever since. I said we can't take the first monsoon strike for God's sake, you know, I mean, our cities are flooded. And you think we can take the first nuclear strike? Really? I mean, how foolish or silly is it? And yeah, but people understand what I'm saying, but they say, well, okay, some government has to make up its mind.

You know, sometimes it says, okay, fine. We'll go first. If it's what I recommended my last book, 2018 book, it's called Staggering Forward, Narendra Modi and India's Global Ambition, which I've argued that one way, okay, if you're not going to get a solution, a negotiated settlement with China, then let's at least then play it hard and forward deploy a nuclear weapons as a tripwire. Use Atomic Demolition munitions, which is what I said in my, the Nuclear Weapons Indian Security Book earlier. Use the ADMs, Atomic Demolition Munitions, as a tripwire. It's a passive defensive measure. You're not actively going out there threatening the Chinese PLA encampments, anything alive of that kind.

You're merely placing these things. You don't have a dis naturally you won't disclose where they're put, but you. We know the valleys through which the PLA may ingress, might ingress, and then you place them there, and tell the Chinese, look, if you come in through the, you know, if you come in to, you know, break through the LAC, fine, you risk a tripwire.

We are already in place there. It's your call. You want to be offensive about it? Go ahead, because we are not being offensive. We are being defensive. We are mainly placed ADMs and then we are going to place our Agni 7s Agni 1s with the 700 kilometer and that can cover most of the missile deplacements in on the Tibetan plateau, etc.

Whatever targets you want to hit, etc. And leave it to the Chinese to take the risk, but at least generate some risk for the Chinese. Right now, it's risk free. It's cost free to the Chinese, even in the abstract sense of things escalating. Well, you have nothing. I said, because you cannot match the infrastructure buildup, because you do not have conventional parity, because you don't have so many other things, communication, so forth, then up the ante and get down to forward deploying the nuclear weapons.

You might think that, you know, very provocative. It's not. It's a normal, reasonable deterrence posture to assume when you are placed in this situation.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. I mean, I think it's quite reasonable that if you're facing conventional overmatch that, you know, you might reserve the use of nuclear weapons to defend yourself. in an existential scenario where the conventional overmatch is leading to, you know, existential risk for your, your polity. I would think the other side would just assume that that's a risk, even if you have a quote, no first use policy, right?

So you know, who's going to abide by that if you're getting overrun? Like, maybe you'll actually use your nukes,

Bharat Karnad: absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah.

Steve Hsu: So let me let me. Since we're talking about nuclear weapons, maybe we can go back to Baba a little bit. so, Homi Bhabha died in 1966, is that right?

Bharat Karnad: Yes. February 66.

Steve Hsu: He was an incredible figure. I actually want to say this to all the physicists out there. You just know this formula for Baba scattering, but, but go look into this guy. This guy had tremendous patriotism. He was a visionary. He wanted to, he wanted India to master the 3 different fuel cycles and even build thorium reactors.

I mean, the guy was incredible and he set up, he was Very instrumental in building up fundamental science in India, establishing institutes and such. He died mysteriously. His flight over Mont Blanc blew up and I guess crashed. And I, I don't know what the final story is, but I know at least some people, perhaps my guests today, believe that this was not an accident, that actually he may have been killed by the CIA who were uncomfortable.

With the India nuclear weapons program at the time.

Bharat Karnad: Oh, absolutely. I think the CIA look, India benefited a lot in trying, in, in getting the knowledge really with the Atoms for Peace literature that was declassified by the U. S. government, as you recall. and so we had stores of it bought over from wherever Vienna and so on, and I and people gained from it.

Bhabha from the very first day, he was the director of TIFR, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, which was the seedbed for the Indian Atomic Energy Program, as you may be aware. and the first batch of incoming scientists in the TIFR batch was P. K. Iyengar and P. K. Iyengar, Dr. Iyengar told me that look, we were told from day one when Bhabha came in and said, look, we are going to proceed parallelly on what in effect was bomb track and the civilian nuclear reactor track, you know, civilian uses and military uses would, would proceed parallelly and that there would be no distinction And in real sense, I think Nehru also pretty much signaled it.

In Parliament, he talked about our nuclear program being Janus faced. I mean, how more revealing can you be?

Steve Hsu: Yeah, it's rather obvious, right? So

Bharat Karnad: Right. The Greek god with two faces looking in opposite directions. He called it Janus faced and he was very clear about it, what he intended the Indian government to do vis a vis the atom the civilian atom and the military atom.

The remarkable thing about Nehru, and here I, I think Nehru is, I, I was, I started out as a bit of a skeptic. calling, thinking there was a bully headed and so on. He was in various respects vis a vis China and he completely misjudged everything. He rejected the United Nations Security Council seat that Chiang Kai shek's, you know, Taiwan vacated for a visit, vacated that was offered to us by both Russia and John Foster Dulles, Ike's administration to India.

And we said, no, no, China deserves it better. I mean, it's the level of, it's interesting. Self abnegation that is hurtful, you

Steve Hsu: Yeah They still haven't recovered from that. They still they deserve a seat, but they still have

Bharat Karnad: Yes. China is now in a position to block India's entry forever. Anyway, so we have been a little too boy scout-ish about it. and, and, and, and, Bhabo was very clear, his 1955 three stage plan that you were referring to, the first race of natural uranium fueled reactors producing the feedstock for the breeder reactor, which in turn provides the feedstock for the thorium reactor.

And that was based entirely on the last stage raw material, thorium. And India has the largest reserves of thorium in the world. That's the basis and it's out there. You don't need much by way of You know, mining it and so on. You may have to refine it, but it's in the, you know, the monazite sands on the Kerala coast.

You just got a man to go, you just lift it up. There's thorium. nature has blessed us. So, and that was the basic point that Baba started out with. And he worked backwards to say, well, okay, what do we do? The marvelous thing is between Bhabha and Nehru and you might think this a little covert and they had their own little thing going, but how do you you know, as you perhaps are aware, Bhabha was the first chair of the Atoms for Peace conference in Geneva in 1955, but even as he was the chair, and atoms of peace and all that.

And he was talking about this you know thing about how the future of the world is going to be hugely benefited by peaceful atoms and so on. He was talking to Nehru about getting the NRX reactor from Canada. which became the Kandu reactor, which fuels the nuclear weapons program. And he told Nehru that this was a cypher correspondence in secret going on between Bhabha and Geneva, who was saying that he was playing the deal for the Canadian NRX.

With this in mind, weapons in mind, it is an extraordinary thing. And the great thing is Nehru put up this beautiful strategy of misleading the West into thinking, Oh, we are for peace and Indians. Oh, well, they are all for peace and disarmament. And India's disarmament campaign in the world was a beautiful, beautifully done operation.

Because it, in a sense, covered up for what we were actually doing in terms of trying to get to a stage where we could make bombs and weapons. And we reached a threshold with the plutonium reprocessing plant going on stream in February, March of 1964. Nehru died in 1964. the Chinese test in October, October 16, 1964.

Everything is happening in 64. In 62, when the Chinese humiliated the Indian army in the Himalayas, Bhabha went to Nehru and said, let me explode and, you know, conduct a test. It'll raise the spirits of beaten people and so on. And Nehru always, one of the things about great people are, they always have frailties.

And Nehru's case is that he was called the Hamlet of Indian politics, you know, very indecisive at the wrong times. And his constant thing to Baba was, be ready, but not now, not now, not now. And he died saying not now. And the trouble with the Indian nuclear weapons program was it was so secret and it was so shielded structurally, bureaucratically and so on.

By the way, it's the only department of government that writes its own checks, by the way. Only a department of the government. There's no financial advisors, the finance ministry doesn't have a say. They just, the secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy, writes his check. This year we want X number of, you know, rupees.

And there's no... No finagling with the finance ministry. The finance ministry just has to say, okay, that's fine. And that's the reason why this thing was set up. It's a two man loop that the Secretary Department of Atomic Energy and Director of BAK which were co terminals. BHABA was everything and everything.

She was Secretary of Government, Department of Atomic Energy, Director of the Trombe Establishment et cetera. And the Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister on nuclear matters, atomic matters. And. He prevailed on Nehru to be also the Minister of Atomic Energy. So you see the two man loop. There's no bureaucrats involved.

No, and by the way, it's the only paperless ministry in the world. There is no paper. Nothing is put down on paper. Even now, the prime ministerial decision is given, you know, by word of mouth. Yeah. He tells you, okay, you do it. There's nothing on paper. Even then, Bhabha and Nehru were aware that, you know, various Western agencies would be interested, various people would be interested.

So no paper trade. And because the Indian system otherwise is very well known for everything in duplicate. We generate paper by cutting down forests like mad, you know, every little thing is. So, you know, he said no. So financial sovereignty, autonomy for the department, absolute secrecy. No bureaucrat knew about it.

The downside was, there were no stakeholders in the bureaucracy after it died. They both died. So Bhabha was central and he was taken away by these nefarious means and then Nehru died and the two people who were in charge of the entire program were gone. And Lal Bahadur Shastri who stepped in didn't know a thing about anything.

Nor did any of the Civil Service bureaucracy. It's incredible how they kept the secrets even from the CIA. Because one of the things that the CIA later said, well, you know, well, we can track the damn things and they have the capability. And there was a front. He asked Major General Nichols, if you recall, Major General Nichols was the manager of the Trinity Explosion in New Mexico.

And he passed through Delhi. He was trying to peddle some... reactors of his own. so Nehru asked him, he called him into his office and asked Baba in his will. I recall, I sort of detailed that meeting in the book and he said well, do you think Baba can do it? Meaning build a bomb? And Nikul said, yes, from what I've seen in yes.

And he said, this was 62, 63. My So, you know, we have missed the boat, obviously, you know, and it has hurt us hugely.

Steve Hsu: So can I ask you about that history? So Nehru dies in 64 Baba is still in place and

Bharat Karnad: Still in place, but again, had no traction because nobody then in government knew anything about it. First, they had to verify what Baba was saying. Well, there was, again, no paper.

Steve Hsu: right.

Bharat Karnad: It was just Baba saying that Nehru had authorized me. And here, nothing is so, shall we say, suspect as anything with no paper trail.

You know, in the Indian system, because there was no paper trade, very difficult,

Steve Hsu: Nero is gone, and Baba is having some trouble now, because the special relationship is not in place anymore, why would the CIA kill him in 66? What's the, what's the, why, why, why then, why not earlier?

Bharat Karnad: because Bhabha was still proceeding with the idea that we should have something ready. So, the reprocessing unit was, you know shall we say revving up and that was a very iffy thing the reprocessing and then we got it, we got a little bit, a little amount, and we the amount needed for an actual explosion, we didn't reach it until about 1970.


Steve Hsu: I see. So there were still critical, there were still critical things in, in,

Bharat Karnad: But that had to be done under the government's under the government's without the government coming to know of it. This is Bhabha's own agenda because he thought he had the thing going with Nehru and that was his brief. And so the Central Intelligence Agency, I think, knew of it. And then this guy Crowley was Robert Crowley who's, who became the head of clandestine ops CIA.

You know, and then he had some very racially abusive things to say about Baba and so on. If you look at the conversations, it's not very nice. so, you know, so he, you know, and so Baba was targeted. Everybody knew that he was the man. He was the linchpin. You take out the linchpin and the whole thing collapses, which happened, really.

Steve Hsu: So just for my audience, this guy Robert Crowley, who was a high level CIA... I guess on his deathbed or when he was dying, gave a set of interviews and in those, I think it's something like an interview with the crow. His nickname was the crow

Bharat Karnad: Right. Conversations with the crow.

Steve Hsu: conversations with the crow and you can find this book and Crowley basically says that they killed Baba and by putting a bomb on his plane in the luggage compartment. People are, I think, divided on whether Crowley is a reliable source. What I'm curious about is. You know, if the leader of the Chinese bomb program or the Iranian bomb program were assassinated or killed mysteriously, the internal security services of that country would eventually come to an opinion about what happened here.

Was this actually just an accident or is there some foreign power that's knocking off our top scientists? I'm just curious if among people who would know in that generation, do you know what their opinions are about what happened?

Bharat Karnad: No, as I sort of mentioned to you in my message. Um. Yes, I think the Tromba people knew right away. Right away meaning they suspected and then the way it happened after they got the technical details about the flight path and so on and so forth, they're very certain what happened. Um you know, they want to, the plane was on the glide path to Geneva airport and so on.

And Mount Blanc, it sort of veered off and you can see if the cargo hold blows up, how the thing, and they sort of, And those times may have simulated it. I don't know. But they were very certain because everybody that I talked to, the old stalwarts were not there anymore, you know, P. K. Iyengar, yeah, I'm sorry.

Steve Hsu: Your father's friends, maybe.

Bharat Karnad: Yes, my father's friends. And we were the first batch of Bhabha students coming into, scientists coming into the nuclear establishment in 1947. And by the way, our Indian Atomic Energy Agency, Indian Atomic Energy Commission predated the American. Commission by several years.

That October when the Chinese set off the explosion. Trombe arranged for a plane to, the Air India flight, actually, that used to go to Hong Kong to fly as near the Chinese border as they could to see if something could be picked up and they swapped the aircraft after it came back and they knew that the Chinese had an implosion trigger, so they detected all that before it ever came out, so by, you know, within a week of the Chinese explosion, October 16th 64.

The Trombe establishment had come to know that this was what they'd used. They'd used an implosion trigger, that this was the yield, etc, etc. They'd got the basics down. And that was my reason for saying that Bhabha proceeded with you know, even after Nehru's death by continuing to do what he was doing on the weapons front because of this.

They had the Chinese thing. He had a, you know... arrange for all the data to come in and have it analyzed in by a scientist and they came to a conclusion yes the Chinese have this and then we should have it too and we'll prepare we'll proceed on the basis that we're going to have it so you know and so that was the basis on which they proceeded.

Steve Hsu: I was gonna say that I thought if somebody blew Baba up, the Chinese probably had more motivation than the CIA, right?

Bharat Karnad: No actually no because if you recall uh the Chinese the CIA tried blowing up You don't know that?

Steve Hsu: Right? No, I didn't know that.

Bharat Karnad: Oh yeah, at the Bandung Conference, the Indian you know, Nehru in his Chini Chini Hindi Bhai Bhai days, India China Brothers,

Steve Hsu: Yes, yes.

Bharat Karnad: Hindi phrase, he sent an Air India plane called the Kashmir Princess to pick up Zhou Enlai and, and that was blown up over Shuru Sea or someplace like that.

You know, incredible,

Steve Hsu: I guess I had heard the story. Yes, Joan Lai took a different plane, right?

Bharat Karnad: took a different plane, so he got to know of it and let the plane go and that plane blew up again is the same kind of mine in the cargo hold, you know, the timed explosion. So, you know, this is something that they tried, they've done it, the CIA has done it, I mean, you know, and the Kashmir process blew up.

So, you know, in Air India, we have been very, very tolerant, shall I say, of the American actions, and they've done it all along, maybe with others as well.

Steve Hsu: I have written a couple papers with Iranian physicists. And there have been assassinations over the

Bharat Karnad: Oh, yeah.

Steve Hsu: 20 years going on there. And sometimes, strangely, like, a guy who's very theoretical, like a string theorist, gets blown up. And I asked my colleagues, I said, Was this guy secretly doing some defense work in his spare time?

They said, No, this guy was very pure. He was just doing mathematical physics. And I think they're just blowing these guys up to scare us. Like, sometimes they're not even blowing up the right people, but just to scare everybody. So... Uh,

Bharat Karnad: This, this might be more the Israeli Mossad at

Steve Hsu: oh, this is, this is, I'm sure it's Israel, not, well, I don't, I'm not sure about anything, but it's probably Israel.


Bharat Karnad: Basically Mossad, I think. Nathaniel has virtually admitted that, and I think I've been to Israel many times, and you know, I

think, yeah, I mean, they said, look, we can't take chances. That it is. We simply can't risk

Steve Hsu: Yes, of course.

Bharat Karnad: Zero risk. We are going to make it zero risk. We, we don't care if we, I mean, assuming what you say is right, killing the wrong people, say we can't take any risks. And I've heard from people from Israel that we can't take any risks.

And, and I keep, I used to joke with them, but Here is India that takes all the risks unbidden Other end of the spectrum, we are so tall

Steve Hsu: But India, India is not going anywhere. I think India is, no, no one is an existential threat to India. I think India will, you know, if India can just develop its own internal economy, it will thrive. I think that's basically the, you know,

Bharat Karnad: Absolutely. Absolutely. But then, you know, so many things our democracies also works against us as you know Because it's one thing and you guys are having problems in a so called developed democracy of yours, you know after the trump

Steve Hsu: Yeah.

Bharat Karnad: So on. And you have a real problem in America. So think of India where, you know, it's such a patchwork country of different ethnicities racial ties.

I mean, we are the ultimate mongrel nation.

Steve Hsu: Yeah.

Bharat Karnad: It's unlike the Chinese you know, and we are the ultimate melting pot. Don't Daniel Moynihan's notion of America. I laugh at it. I laugh at it. And when Americans say America is a melting pot, my God, India is the ultimate melting pot. You know, and Brazil perhaps comes next, you know, but China is absolutely homogenous.

So they have a great many shall we say advantages when dealing with India.

Steve Hsu: They have a long history of an

Bharat Karnad: Very difficult to reach consensus. You know, decisions in India on anything on any issue, there will be 10 different, literally 10 different positions. Modi in that sense has perhaps has streamlined the decision making process and been a bit more aggressive, aggressively nationalist.

You know, if he loses in next year's election, he's out. So we'll go back to the Congress party and all their iffy kind of politicking and so on. So we don't know what will happen. So we have the same kind of uncertainties that the United States has from administration to administration. The Chinese have none of that.

Steve Hsu: You know, one thing that people have kind of forgotten in the West, but. People from East Asia remember this, that every one of the tigers that developed to modernity had an authoritarian period, like South Korea, Taiwan, they had authoritarian governments to get things on the right track.

And then only later, very recently, did they implement democracy. So I think that's in the minds of the Chinese communists as well. So,

Bharat Karnad: But that also is, as you know, Steve you know, most of Southeast Asia, it's called Indochina, of course but there are scenic elements in this. more pronounced in terms of the Confucian order, the notions of Confucian order, hierarchy and so on. there's more, you know, when democracy doesn't sit that easily you know, because it's not natural to the culture.

There's a Confucian order, you know, and, and, and, and you know, it's a very different, very disciplined kind of setup. When in India, we are a hybrid of everything. We are, we do not have the Western innovation. We do not have the Confucian discipline. We are just, you know, we, we are everywhere doing everything and going nowhere fast.

You know, I mean, it's that kind of a conundrum, that kind of a bubble we are in, you know, I mean, we don't know how to get out of it, but that'll take time. I mean, I'm, I'm, I'm optimistic. But the Chinese are you know, in that sense far more on the ball they know their game, and they play it well, they play it hard, it's something that the Indian government has to learn to do play game hard, you know, and play it for high stakes, because the Chinese in that sense are very singularly oriented, and, and, and, and they they know what they're doing, and what they want.

Here we don't even know what they want, there is no strategy paper, there's no vision paper. Xi Jinping says we want to be by 2049, we'll want to be the dominant, predominant power. He has said so. Whether China becomes one is a different thing, but he has a vision that he has set before all the parties within his country, all the, all the constituencies, PLA, industry, private sector, everybody is on board.

They know, okay, we have to reach this. Here we have nothing. And I keep saying, where is the vision paper, where is Modi saying, okay, we'll buy 20, and we have very abstract notions. Vishwa Guru, which is what I've you know I've really criticized in my last book, Staggering Forward. You know, what does Vishwa Guru mean?

Vishwa Guru means universal sage. I mean, okay, that's nice, but how does it work? I mean, is it by acclamation? I mean, how do you, how are you made the Vishwa Guru? So this is our problem, you know, even the most hard minded amongst us, our politicians still come up with these abstract notions as vision, not at all strategic.

They're completely abstract. So, you know, in that sense, because the Chinese have been very practical minded people, it's what I always appreciate. The Chinese have, India invented zero, algebra. But the Chinese built canals, they built you know, the great, you know, mastered the riverine system, you know, Great Wall of China.

They have actually done things over thousands of years. And we have just gone into, okay, brilliant. We're brilliant. You know, zero was invented here, fine. Algebra was invented here, fine. But what did you do with it in practical terms, really? Which is where I think our Indian culture is lacking. We are not

Steve Hsu: So I've kept you for a long time and I can be close with, there are two questions about Indian culture that I kind of wanted to ask you about. So if we just close with that, would that be okay? Okay. So one is, yeah, you've, I've heard you mentioned this term land of subjugation before which I guess originated from this Polish sociologist who spent time in India.

Could you flesh that out a little bit? So in what sense do you mean that? Do you mean that, okay. Because there are castes and the people in those have maintained those roles for thousands of years. That, is that the form of subjugation or what, what, what is meant by that?

Bharat Karnad: No, I think he meant foreign subjugation. that almost any, any, you know, all, all in any waves of invaders that are coming from the the passes, the Himalayan passes or Hindu Kush passes from Afghanistan and so on. Periodic Raid. They then set up shop as emperors and rurals of India, as easy as that. The campaign season would start and the Afghan looters would come in through the Bolan Pass and the Khyber Pass coming to Delhi to loot Delhi.

Because the Indo Gangetic Plain was rich. It was fertile. there's enormous wealth produced at the time. Addison you know, the Addison's data about India and China in 1787 or whatever it was 20. China had 25% of the world trade. India had 24% of the world trade in, you know, 17 late 18th 17th, 18th century.

Yeah. Or 17th century, whatever it was. uh. So, you know, Mattingly's data, you know, his book.

Steve Hsu: Angus, Angus Madison, I think you mean.

Bharat Karnad: yeah, it isn't Matt, yeah, it's, yeah, Angus Madison, sorry.

Steve Hsu: So is, is this phrase, is this phrase land of subjugation, is it equivalent to the observations by colonial British that the Indians are not a martial people? Like, I think they said things like that when they first

Bharat Karnad: Yeah, no, absolutely. No, they, it's not Marshall, you see, our the, the caste system is very deleterious in that respect because what it talks about are these four castes. And soldiering is to be done by one caste. So protection of the sovereign state or kingdom, whatever, was the duty or responsibility of one caste, the second caste, the warrior caste, the kshatriya caste.

Well, you know, you can have only so many people in that caste. So all the rest of the society was spared any responsibility. of protecting it if invaders came. Hey, that warrior caste is supposed to do it. If they fail, or fail, that's our karma, our fate. You know, I mean, we, very fatalistic. It bred a very fatalistic fatalism in Indian society.

It's a very fatalistic society in that sense, our culture. So it bred that. And then it was added to by Hinduism and Buddhism, where you say, well, life is a maya, which is an illusion. Life is an illusion. You know, I mean, all of this sort of meshes into making Indians and India a very, a passive culture, you know, it's not that you can't fight, but the culture says, you know, well, you're not supposed to, some class is going to do the fighting for you.

Or if you're being beaten, it's okay. You know, that's your fate accepted. It's what Gandhi's Mahatma Gandhi's you know, I completely think is a complete idiot and a fraud. And I've said so in all my books. He is the worst kind of fraud who perpetrated, who did great violence to India, because he could have, you know, quite literally, he could have driven the British out by the 1920s, and he didn't.

He acted like a recruiting sergeant for the British Army in the First World War, Boer War, and then the Second World, First World War, and then in the Second World War, you know, he just said, well, yeah, you know, he was wishy washy. I mean, he was a complete goof off, you know, I mean, the more you think of him.

So I'm no, I'm no. you know, fan of Gandhi's,

Steve Hsu: Spoken like a real hard power realist.

Bharat Karnad: I'm an absolute hard power realist. So, you know, I mean, I think all the nonviolence is crap, you know, I'm sorry, it doesn't work in real life. and, you know, the thing is, you have to protect what you have, you know, you can't live on the mercies of other countries. Or as you know, was a Tennessee Williams character in Streetcar Named Desire Dubois.

The lady says, Blanche Dubois, you know, who says, I live on the kindness of strangers, you know, and that's what I've said. We have lived on the kindness of strangers. We can do it ourselves. Let's do it. And let's not rely on Americans and so on and so forth. That's been my,

Steve Hsu: Chinese are obsessed with hard power because they saw their summer palace burned and all of their objects are taken to London, you know, and other places. So they learned the hard way about hard power, right? So,

Bharat Karnad: Absolutely. No, but also to be fair to the Chinese. Chinese history has been very, very bloody. I mean the Taiping Rebellion, I mean, the kind of massacres and I mean, it's hideous to think of it.

Steve Hsu: Fool around.

Bharat Karnad: They don't fool around. My God, you know, I mean to me, when I read of it, I, I'm absolutely you know, I'm awed by how they have overcome that and become a great nation.

So, I admire the Chinese and I admire China because of how single mindedly it proceeds to get what it wants. And it's very

Steve Hsu: Let me finish with my last question. So. From the Chinese perspective, they envy Indians because Indian elites speak beautiful English, actually, and therefore you can operate much better in the Western world. Many elite intellectuals from China, including my father, who was an engineering professor, Never really spoke very good English.

Like he would, he would not be able to convince other people of his point of view because of his limited linguistic capabilities. And it's quite hard because the two languages are so far apart, you know? So one thing that surprised me, which I didn't realize until fairly late, is that it seems to me that.

All the intellectual discourse in India is actually happening in English. Is that true? Like, do you feel like, in a way, the British have still colonized, in a sense, all the kind of high culture in India and it persists to this day. Will that persist forever? Or what do you think will happen? Could you maybe just react to that observation?

Bharat Karnad: Yes, I think it's a great observation. The fact is, I think Modi's trying to change that. That's why there's a little controversy of Modi saying, you know, having that legend on his table in the plenary of the G20 meet that says Bharat which is my name, by the way, for India, you know, it's an old Sanskrit name for the country Bharat.

So it's and in the constitution it says India, that is Bharat, you know, we the people of India, that is Bharat. So in the constitution, both the names are there, the indigenous Bharat. When it becomes personal, it becomes Bharat. When, for the country, it's Bharat. So, that's how it is. That's how you distinguish the personal from the collective.

But, that said, you know, it's hard to get it, look, the English language has been a great boon for all the reasons that you just mentioned. We can slip into any mainstream anywhere, any Western mainstream anywhere, and begin to, you know, I, I recall what Krishna Menon, our first defense minister, not first, Nehru's confidant, and he's the one who sort of championed Indian independence India League in London and so on in the 20s and 30s, 1920s and 30s and you know, one, I think it was BBC or somebody deign to ask him, but Mr. Menon, you speak such good English. I know, I think it is Transcribed by After it was an American, obviously, no, sometimes I say, I think it was an American at the United Nations where, you know, he spoke for the longest time in UN history. He spoke for 13 hours or something. It's like literally a ridiculous record.

You can check it out. I'm not sure of the figure, so don't hold me to it. But he spoke so beautifully in English and brought in poetry and, you know, big literature. There's that, you know, English liberal thought Thomas Locke. And everything else which had no connection. I mean, the entire United Nations was sitting there getting a lesson in world history from Krishna Menon.

Anyway, an American, I think, approached him and said, Mr. Menon, you speak such beautiful English. and then, you know, Mr. Menon is... Reported to have pulled himself to full height and he was a tall man. He said, yes, because you are learning English. We study it in our mother tongue. You know, I

Steve Hsu: Yeah, absolutely. No, I get it. I think he's 100 percent right, but it was, for an outsider, it's amazing that, you know, if I go on YouTube and I want to hear what intellectuals are discussing in Delhi, I can go listen to a panel discussion with you on it, and you're all discussing in English. It's, it's kind of amazing, actually.

Bharat Karnad: because in many respects we are not all that fluent in the Hindi language. And Hindi is just one language. By the way, in Peninsula India, there are, you know, how many languages in dialect and three. 300 main, there's supposed to be a thousand dialects, but 300 main languages, 28 recognized languages, something like that.

I mean it's just an extraordinary melange really, the lingual melange is so incredible. And it's cross fertilization, you know? I mean you have English words coming in, Urdu words coming in, Persian words, it's a mix of everything. And so a South Indian may not understand a North Indian. A person from Assam may not understand a Gujarati, which is the Prime Minister's home state.

No, this, this is India. So the common language, however bad it is, is by way of colonial legacy. And it's true, it can be hindering. It's not your native tongue. but the fact is it has given us little edge in terms of international transnational industry, commerce academics. There are a lot of Indians now in academia in America and the UK and elsewhere in the top positions.

And the Chinese are in that sense, perhaps not anymore. I think they have come up slightly disadvantaged because of the language thing. But otherwise they're excellent and perhaps better. But the thing is that English is also, it's a boon in that respect, but a Bain in that because it's a borrowed language, it's a colonial language.

And that's the lingua franca, by the way, officially, that is in Hindi. But English is a co language. Which the South Indians want to retain. They said, no, we don't want Hindi to be imposed on us and we'll keep it English because otherwise we'll demand Tamil to be the state language and so on and so forth.

These separatist notions, you know, nobody wants to deal with the language aspects. It is a problem because I think the Chinese from the very beginning understood and admired their own culture and were schooled in it and are rooted in it. While we are not in our own indigenous culture. Their culture, of course, is Indian culture, the Hindu culture, and envelopes all over the subcontinent, including Pakistan.

You know, Islam in Pakistan is nothing like the desert Islam of Saudi Arabia. I mean, all the rituals are Hindu rituals. All the marriage rituals are Hindu rituals. That is what's different. I've attended marriages and I'm from the Goa side. you know I'd say Western Indian, West Indian from the Goa side.

And my wife is a Punjabi from the north. and her mother was from what is present day Pakistan from Dera Ghazi Khan you know, and my father in law, my mother in law was from Dera Ghazi Khan. My father in law was from East Punjab, meaning Indian side of Punjab. and it's such a mix and, and you go to Pakistan and you attend the weddings.

It's very like the Punjabi wedding, which was mine, like my, my wife's Punjabi. So they had a Punjabi wedding. No different, except you have the Quran and the thing, and you say, well, in the Hindu thing, you go round the fire seven times. That's the only difference. Only difference. Otherwise, everything else, the three day wedding ceremony, is exactly the same.

Paste turmeric, turmeric paste put on the bride, bride grooms and brides, etc. Everything is the same. So, you know, Hindu culture. It's extraordinarily penetrative. So, Islam has touched it very barely. Sure, Pakistan is swayed by Islam and so on and so forth. But the point is, everything else is for, it's subcontinental.

It is, I won't say Hindu, but it's Indian culture. That's a better umbrella to describe the subcontinental culture, South Asian culture.

Steve Hsu: Great. Bharat, I thank you for your time and hopefully we can continue this conversation on another day.

Bharat Karnad: Thank you very much.