Budha Pournamy With A Difference
by Elizabeth Menon

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It was May 1974: ‘Budha smiled’ in Pokhran, when India entered the nuclear age with the blessings of Mrs Indira Gandhi. Twenty-four years later Budha Pournamy on 11 May 1998, sent shock waves across the world. India chose the auspicious day to gatecrash into the world’s most exclusive nuclear club. The great nation decided to play the game as a nuclear power and the underground explosions were conducted in the desert sands of Pokhran. It was the culmination of years of research and dedication that finally showed India’s nuclear capability to the rest of the world. There was euphoria on the streets of India - it was a symbol of national achievement and hence the celebrations. We dream of a world where people live in complete harmony: a world in which there is no need for nuclear power for self defence - a world with no war - a world filled with music and love. It is an ideal world; but we do not live in an ideal world yet! Till such hopes and dreams are fulfilled, nations may feel justified in conducting nuclear research and tests so that they are able to defend themselves.

Rajiv Gandhi believed in Global disarmament and tried to achieve this goal while he was the Prime Minister. Indira Gandhi maintained that the test in 1974 was for “peaceful purposes”. It started with Homi Jehangir Bhabha who built the nuclear establishment near Bombay, when Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister. Nehru was well aware of the importance of nuclear science and Homi Bhabha was his answer. Peaceful application of nuclear science has always been the mission for great men like Nehru, Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai. Have we forgotten this concept? It was a great surprise to the world that there were only a few protests in India, against the explosion. An average person on the street may not know much about nuclear science or test-ban treaties: to him, the nuclear tests were symbols of national pride and achievement.

Mr R. Chidambaram, current head of the Atomic Energy Commission, who had a great part in drafting the convention on Nuclear Safety in1994, was the main force behind ‘Operation Shakthi’. He maintained that the five underground nuclear tests conducted in two stages were well within the limits of nuclear non- proliferation treaty (NPT) He also insisted that these tests were aimed at self preservation and self defence. India has not violated any international treaty as it is neither a signatory to NPT nor the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) It is important to remember that India has never attacked another country: the Indo-China and Pakistan wars were in self defence. According to Mr Chidambaram, India still aims to use the nuclear power for peace and self defence.

The international response to the Nuclear tests has been quick and hypocritical; the underlying hypocrisy in imposing sanctions on India was quite obvious. When France conducted the nuclear tests a few years ago, there was no talk of sanctions! India has made a stand on the nuclear option and therefore, should be prepared to face the adverse reactions from the rest of the world. Sanctions may do some good, forcing the country to strengthen its capabilities without having to rely on foreign support. The nuclear test was probably a protest against hypocrisy and ‘nuclear discrimination’ and to restore nation’s pride. One only hopes that this does not trigger a nuclear race in the region. Now that India has shown its nuclear strength, perhaps this is the time to sign the CTBT and concentrate on tackling the socio-economic problems.

© E Menon



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