- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

NEW DELHI They are derided as peaceniks, champagne socialists, even agents of Pakistan, but members of New Delhi's tiny intellectual elite are beginning to mobilize against the political leaders they fear are leading the Indian subcontinent toward nuclear catastrophe.

These members of the chattering classes lawyers, writers and academics are undeterred by the realization that politicians and the general public are united in utter indifference to their fashionable causes.

New Delhi is a city living under the mild threat of nuclear war, though you would not know it by visiting here. There is no sense of panic, and the air-raid sirens which were tested during the 1965 war with Pakistan have been silent this week. No one seems to be sure if they still work, and there would be no point anyway in sounding them for there are no nuclear shelters.

"I have my friends asking me if they should get out of Delhi," said Kamal Chenoy, a professor of international politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a founding member of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace, which was set up 18 months ago. "I tell them there's no point in heading out, as it won't make them any safer."

Mr. Chenoy's daughter, who is studying at the London School of Economics, called to make sure her parents were all right. He told her not to panic because he believes it is unlikely that even the dreadful array of politicians of the subcontinent could launch a nuclear war.

The CNDP and allied peace groups are scrambling to mobilize against war, organizing a rally tomorrowat the capital's India Gate, symbol of former British colonial power.

Organizers hope for a couple of thousand protesters on the streets though, in a country of a billion people, they acknowledge even that would be a depressingly feeble turnout.

"It'll just be a bit of a fashion parade," said one political analyst. "They're just your champagne socialist types, who speak only to each other."

The affluent political activist tends to be seen at the city's India International Center, a comfortable and exclusive club overlooking exquisite 14th-century gardens. Though usually blessed with old money and new high-performance cars, they frequently dress ethnically, carrying the distinctive jhola, a colorful cloth satchel.

Arundhati Roy, who won the 1997 Booker prize for "The God of Small Things," has watched the nuclear standoff over Kashmir with a growing sense of despair, partly because it has distracted international attention from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's suspected connivance in the recent massacres of Muslims in Gujarat state.

From her home in New Delhi this week, she ascribed the lack of panic to the general view that life is cheap in India, where people are inured to natural or man-made calamities.

"There is a different attitude here in India," she said.

The Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace will never become a "people's movement" until Indians are liberated from environmental degradation, corruption, natural disasters and grinding poverty, she said.

All those who might be termed the intellectual elite of Delhi are united in their desire to build alliances across the border with Pakistan.

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