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As Russia invades Ukraine, here is how Vajpayee govt was right in conducting nuclear tests despite criticism by opposition

Congress, Left and other opposition parties had criticised the Vajpayee government for the Pokhran nuclear tests

With Russian troops attacking Ukraine on 24th February 2022, the attention of the whole world has been diverted to the crisis between giant Russia and its eastern European neighbour. Russia has threatened of using a nuclear weapon, should any other force enter the war. It, therefore, becomes necessary to revisit the importance of the Indian nuclear program and the Pokhran nuclear tests of 1998 performed by the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and APJ Abdul Kalam despite futile criticism by the Congress and the left. It must be noted that Vajpayee and Kalam both are Bharat Ratna awardees.

Pokhran is the place where India has conducted its nuclear tests. In 1974, for the first time, India had performed the nuclear test. Indira Gandhi was the then Prime Minister of the country. However, the way the Congress party had reacted over the nuclear tests of 1998 is certainly not appreciable. Rather, at the time when a country like Russia is threatening to use a nuclear weapon, it becomes necessary to take an account of the reactions which had portrayed India’s commitment to strengthening its self-defence as the attempts to create unrest in the subcontinent.

The Congress party had actually opposed these nuclear tests during the Vajpayee government. Sonia Gandhi had then said, “Real strength lies in restraint, not in the display of shakti.” The impact of the tests on the Indian polity was so big that she too had to think for ten days before giving this reaction. The tests were done on 11th May 1998 while this statement by Sonia Gandhi was given on 21st May 1998 when she was talking on the occasion of the seventh death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi.

Though Indian opposition and even some of the allies of the BJP looked stunned and confused on these tests, one thing was assured that none of them was openly supporting the nuclear tests. Instead, there was more wordplay and rhetorics. The left had criticized Vajpayee in their own age-old style. The core of their anger towards the then PM was for ‘trying to equate the bomb with patriotism and whip up a jingoistic ardor’. The then leader of the opposition Sharad Pawar who was in the Congress party at that time was not shy of equating the tests with national pride but at the same time he had cleverly directed the discussions in a different direction saying “I fail to understand why the BJP is linking the tests with a threat from China.”

This dubious stand of Sharad Pawar was one of the reasons for the confused oppose from Sonia Gandhi who was later advised by the likes of Salman Khurshid and Mani Shankar Ayyar to condemn the tests. Party spokesperson Salman Khurshid had said that BJP had done the test for political reasons and not to enhance the security of the nation. One must not forget that the Congress party and the left were opposing the nuclear tests despite knowing the fact that Pakistan and China had nuclear weapons.

It is also notable that as the current Russian president Vladimir Putin has threatened of using nuclear weapons in case of any interference by other international powers amidst the ongoing war, so has been the case with Pakistan. Many military officials and political leaders in Pakistan have been repeatedly threatening India of the nuclear attacks in their various talks. India has been on a war against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir for the last three decades. Besides, Pakistan has been actively involved in various terror attacks by Islamist terrorists in various Indian cities.

It must also be noted that Ukraine’s Ambassador to India, Igor Polikha, has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene and hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin given the special ties between the two countries. In fact, it is not just because of the bilateral ties alone. If India is asked for help, then this clearly means India has a certain capacity. When Ukraine is asking for help amidst the fear of a nuclear attack, this ‘certain capacity’ essentially refers to nuclear weapons only, which India has today thanks to Vajpayee and Kalam.

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staffhttps://www.opindia.com
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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