A day and ten years ago today, India conducted the first round of its second nuclear tests. On May 13, 1998, it would add two more tests to the earlier three in Pokhran, Rajasthan. Unlike on May 18, 1974, when India conducted its first nuclear test, Pokhran II took place in a world that had clearly moved out of any Cold War scheme of things. If Prime Minister Indira Gandhi missed the opportunity to sidestep India out of any nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), some quarter of a century later PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee succeeded in making India’s nuclear strategic interests unambiguous to the world.
Unfortunately, since Pokhran II, our nuclear weaponisation strategy has been a mixture of coyness and lethargy. Which is one way of explaining why the India-US civilian nuclear deal that remains in a comatose stage for more than two years has been allowed to be seen through muddled lenses.
Even as PM Manmohan Singh makes vaguely hopeful noises about winning the Left over to the benefits of the India-US nuclear deal, the question of Indian sovereignty over its weapons programme has always been thrown back at him and other supporters of the deal as a good reason to kill the deal.
Strange as it may sound, the communists, who till yesterday were vociferously anti-proliferation and more in line with the values of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament movement, are today the strongest articulators against the bogey of India’s weaponisation being halted by a ‘hegemonic’ America. With former National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra continuing to make his remarks about the virtues of the India-US deal — and confirming ‘continuity’ of India’s nuclear weaponisation programme from the time of Rajiv Gandhi as PM down to that of Mr Vajpayee — one would have expected the BJP to be less churlish about seeing the truth about India’s unhampered-by-the-nuclear deal weaponisation future.
In the meantime, the US State Department has issued a ‘virtual gag order’, asking the US Congress to keep even unclassified information on the deal ‘secret’, for fear that public disclosure could ‘torpedo’ the deal. With External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talking about the India-US nuclear deal last week (but with no one wanting to talk about what they talked about), we guess that those they fear will ‘torpedo’ the deal are sitting pretty in Delhi rather than in Washington. As for the deal stopping India’s strategic weaponisation plans, that canard continues to be thrust forth like a crucifix to a non-existing vampire.