India’s prime minister Narendra Modi doubled down on the nuclear threat against Pakistan this weekend. Speaking on the campaign trail for re-election, he told a packed crowd:
“India has stopped the policy of getting scared by Pakistan’s threats. Every day, [Pakistan] would make claims about having nuclear weapons. Even the media would bring out reports about Pakistan having nuclear weapons. So what do we have? Are we saving them (nuclear weapons) for Diwali?”
#WATCH Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Barmer, Rajasthan: India has stopped the policy of getting scared of Pakistan’s threats. Every other day they used to say “We’ve nuclear button, we’ve nuclear button”…..What do we have then? Have we kept it for Diwali? pic.twitter.com/cgSLoO8nma
— ANI (@ANI) April 21, 2019
“Are We Saving Nukes For Diwali?”
Referring to India’s festival of lights, Diwali, Modi boasted that India’s 140 nuclear warheads are not just for a fireworks show. The comments come less than a week after Modi threatened Pakistan with the “mother of nuclear bombs.”
The incumbent prime minister is ramping up the nuclear threat during a tense election battle in India. Modi’s strong military rhetoric is seen by many as a bid to attract voters. Terrorism and India’s clashes with Pakistan have dominated headlines in the election run-up, and Modi is capitalizing on the fears.
PM Modi asks: are our nukes for Diwali? No sir, they are not for Diwali, Eid or Xmas or any ‘festival’.. I know it’s election time and tough talk gets votes, but let’s not speak casually of a nuclear threat/war.. ‘New’ India needs ‘Vikas’, a nuclear bomb spells ‘vinaash’..
— Citizen/नागरिक/Dost Rajdeep (@sardesairajdeep) April 22, 2019
290 Killed in Terrorist Attack in Neighboring Sri Lanka
On the same day, Modi mourned the “bloody game” played by terrorists in neighboring Sri Lanka, where at least 290 were slaughtered in vicious suicide attacks. Modi proclaimed himself the only candidate that could eliminate terrorism from the region.
“In our neighboring Sri Lanka, terrorists have played a bloody game. They killed innocent people… Can you think of any name other than ‘Modi’ who can eliminate terrorism?”
Many on social media have criticized Modi for using terrorist activity and nuclear threats as a ploy to galvanize Indian voters.
Such flippancy about the nuclear button, Mr. Modi.
Tragic, uninformed, unimaginative, disgraceful.
We know you have an election to win, but nuclear war in the Subcontinent will evaporate millions in our countries.
Hope there are people in your country who will object ferociously. https://t.co/Jx6xjulyxe
— Kanak Mani Dixit (@KanakManiDixit) April 21, 2019
Growing Tensions With Pakistan and Terrorism
Tensions have flared between India and Pakistan in recent months after terrorists killed at least 40 Indians in February. Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack.
Modi responded by launching airstrikes over the border aimed at Pakistani terrorist camps. A tense arms race has since broken out with military aggression from both sides.
In the most recent exchange, Modi told Pakistan:
“We have the mother of nuclear bombs. I decided to tell [Pakistan], do whatever you want to do but we will retaliate… It is now Pakistan’s turn to weep.”
Modi is possibly the first Indian PM to talk so casually about a nuclear war with Pakistan at public meetings. To suggest “our bombs are not meant for Diwali” is to appeal to the basest instincts.
— M K Venu (@mkvenu1) April 22, 2019
How Real is India’s Nuclear Threat?
India has up to 140 nuclear warheads according to estimates by the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists:
“India is estimated to have produced enough military plutonium for 150 to 200 nuclear warheads, but has likely produced only 130 to 140.”
India’s is also in the process of updating its nuclear arsenal with a view to launching them via air, sea, and land.
“India continues to modernize its nuclear arsenal, with at least five new weapon systems now under development to complement or replace existing nuclear-capable aircraft, land-based delivery systems, and sea-based systems.”
For now, it remains unclear whether Modi’s nuclear threats against Pakistan are genuine or just empty election rhetoric.