Had Vajpayee been confirmed as the PM in 1996, he would have ordered the tests at that point because the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty negotiations were moving forward , Rakesh Sood, ex-diplomat
New Delhi : Atal Bihari Vajpayee would have ordered the nuclear tests in 1996 when he became prime minister the first time, but his government lasted only 13 days which delayed India’s journey to becoming a nuclear weapon state, experts said on Thursday.
When he assumed the prime ministership for the second time in March 1998, he immediately ordered the tests, following which India declared itself as a nuclear weapon state.
Under Vajpayee’s leadership, India successfully carried out three underground nuclear tests on May 11, 1998. Two more underground tests on May 13 completed the planned series of tests. Following the tests, India declared itself a nuclear weapon state. The decision to conduct tests was taken by Vajpayee’s predecessor PV Narasimha Rao, but could not be executed as he lost the 1996 polls. In the polls, the BJP, under the leadership of Vajpayee, emerged as the single largest party.
Vajpayee formed a minority government, which barely lasted a fortnight (from May 16, 1996 to June 1, 1996) as it failed the floor test. “Had Vajpayee been confirmed as the prime minister in 1996, he would have ordered the tests at that point because the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty negotiations were moving forward,” said former diplomat Rakesh Sood.
When Vajpayee became the prime minister for the second time in March 1998, he immediately ordered the tests that were executed in less than two months after coming to power. The former PM had also announced a moratorium on future testing at that time.
“did it (ordered nuclear tests) as soon as he could when he returned to power (in 1998). He was convinced of its necessity and also that India could weather the storm. We are lucky he decided so, because it was already very late, and couldn’t be delayed any more,” Rajeshwari Pillai Rajagoplan, distinguished fellow and in-charge of nuclear and space initiative at the Observer Research Foundation, said.
Following the tests, the West, led by the US, imposed sanctions against India.
“After the 1974 test, India did not declare itself a nuclear weapon state, as the then PM Indira Gandhi had described the test as a peaceful nuclear explosion. The 1998 tests reflected both a technical imperative to test as well as a political decision to declare India as a responsible nuclear weapon state,” Sood, the special envoy of the then PM for disarmament and non-proliferation from 2013-14, said.