|Interview with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
"India is now a Weapons State"
In his first Interview since taking over
as Prime Minister two months ago, Atal Bihari
Vajpayee spoke to India Today's Executive
Editor Prabhu Chawla. Excerpts:
Q : Why did you decide to explode the nuclear
device now? How would you
A : We conducted the series of nuclear tests
in keeping with our commitment made
to the people of India during the elections.
It is part of the National Agenda for
Governance. The decision to carry out these
tests was guided by the paramount
importance we attach to national security.
I have been advocating the cause of India
going nuclear for well over four decades.
My party, the BJP and earlier the
Bharatiya Jana Sangh, had been raising this
demand consistently and forcefully for
long. Now that we are in the Government, people
expect us to translate our
long-standing commitment into action. And
we have showed them that we mean
Q : Why didn't you wait for the National
Security Council to be set up so it
could decide whether the threat perception
demanded it or not?
A : The National Security Council has a comprehensive
brief. Among other things, it
will carry out India's first ever Strategic
Defence Review. The conducting of nuclear
tests provides necessary information for this
important exercise. It is important to
distinguish between the two measures.
Q : What was the compulsion to carry out
the tests now?
A : Important measures that are guided by national
security considerations don't
follow immediate compulsions. Rather, they
are guided by long-term imperatives
based on a sound appraisal of regional and
global security realities. It is important
for us and the world to know that by conducting
the latest tests, India has
responded to a stark regional and global reality
that has evolved over the past 50
Q : What is this new reality which your
Government has discovered now?
A : We live in a world where India is surrounded
by nuclear weaponry. No
responsible government can formulate a security
policy for the country on abstract
principles, disregarding ground realities.
Nor can policy be based on anything but
the supreme consideration of national interests.
The world knows the truth about the
progress - or, rather, the lack of it - made
by the nuclear powers in the direction of
nuclear disarmament. The world community should
appreciate the fact that India,
the second-most populous country on earth,
waited for five decades before taking
Q : Doesn't your Government's decision constitute
a radical departure from
the policies of the past five decades?
A : No. My Government's policy is consistent
with the nuclear disarmament policy
that successive governments have followed.
Like all previous governments, we too
believe that India's national security, as
also global security, will be increased in a
nuclear weapons-free world. Past governments
have taken a number of initiatives in
this regard in the United Nations. As an MP
and leader of the Opposition, I had
supported these initiatives. Since 1968,
all governments in India have
acknowledged the need for keeping India's
nuclear option open in view of the
regional security environment. And successive
governments have also been
concerned that the present non-proliferation
regime was singularly ineffective in
preventing proliferation in one region and
exacerbating our security environment.
Q : Why didn't India make effective noises
A : These concerns were spelt out during the
CTBT negotiations in 1994-96. My
Government's action has to be seen therefore
as a minimal response necessary for
addressing the growing concerns. We would
have preferred the collective route to
address these concerns. However, initiatives
taken by India and other like minded
members were rejected by the nuclear weapon
states and their allies. Our action
was therefore measured and marked by restraint.
Q : What is the worst-case scenario that
you had worked out? Do you think
we can withstand the pressure?
A : It is absolutely unwarranted to think in
terms of worst-case scenarios. I would
like to assure the people of the world, especially
in our part of the world, that there
is no cause for worry at all, much less any
alarm, on account of India's action. All
that India has done is conduct five nuclear
tests. You place this fact in the context of
the hundreds of nuclear tests that have been
carried that India's action does not in
the least warrant consideration of worst-case
Q : What is your reaction to the US insistence
that we sign the CTBT?
A : We have made our stand on the CTBT very
clear. We have indicated our
readiness to discuss certain provisions of
the treaty on a reciprocal basis. But, taken
as a whole, the CTBT is discriminatory because
it allows nuclear weapons states
with advanced technology capabilities to continue
their nuclear weapons
programme. And so also is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT). There is
no question of India accepting any treaty
that is discriminatory in character. No one
should have any illusions on this score.
Q : Does it mean that we will go ahead and
weaponise the nuclear devices
that we exploded?
A : You would have noted that neither my own
statement of May 11 nor the longer
official text released later that day has
characterised the nuclear tests as " peaceful
nuclear tests". Our intentions were, are,
and will always be peaceful. But we do not
want to cover our action with a veil of needless
ambiguity. India is now a nuclear
weapons state. Ours will never be weapons
Q : What does this explosion mean for our
A : Millions of Indians have viewed this occasion
as the beginning of the rise of a
strong self- confident India. I fully share
this assessment and this dream. India has
never considered military might as the ultimate
measure of national strength. I would,
therefore, say that the greatest meaning of
the tests is that they have given India
shakti, they have given India strength, they
have given India self-confidence.
Q : Will there be more tests?
A : The planned series of tests have been completed.
Q : What is the estimate of the price India
has to pay in facing the
A : Every decisive action has its consequences.
But if the action is inherently in the
national interest-and I believe our decision
to conduct the tests is in supreme
national interest-then we have to face the
consequences and overcome the
challenge. There is simply no other alternative.
No price is high enough when it
comes to securing national interests. We must
be ready to face any eventuality.
Q : Are you prepared to bear the political
and economic consequences of your
A : Yes, our action has entailed a price. But
we should not worry about it. India has
an immense reservoir of resources and inner
strength. If we tap this reservoir, the
benefit will be a hundred times more than
any price that we may have to pay in the
Q : But what about sanctions against India?
A : There is talk and threat of sanctions.
Some have already been announced. My
Government will present India's case before
the international community-both
bilaterally and in multilateral bodies. I
am confident our argument will be appreciated
by more and more people. Already, countries
like Russia, England and France have
shown a commendable sense of realism in their
Q : Other powerful nations have come down
A : Frankly, the talk of sanctions does not
stand the scrutiny of logic or fairness.
Besides, it sounds hypocritical. Some of the
countries which have talked of
sanctions or have otherwise criticised our
action, have done, but they have also built
huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons and delivery
systems. Many of them are
enjoying the shade provided by somebody else's
Q : But don't you agree that these sanctions
will adversely affect our economic
A : Sanctions cannot and will not hurt us.
India will not be cowed down by any such
threats and punitive steps. India has the
sanction of her own past glory and future
vision to become strong-in every sense of
Q : Wasn't this meant to divert attention
from Internal political problems?
A : This view is not only cynical but is totally
at variance with the way a vast
majority of Indians, cutting across the political
and social spectrum, have reacted to
the event. India has never played politics
with national security. An overwhelming
majority of Indians, including those who did
not vote for my party or its allies, have
spontaneously supported India's step of conducting
nuclear tests. Almost all the
parties have supported it. There is an absolute
national consensus on this issue.
Q : Will your party exploit this for political
A : Indian democracy's greatest strength is
that we have always put the nation above
politics. It happened during Indira Gandhi's
time, when India first conducted the
nuclear test in 1974. My own party, then the
Bharatiya Jana Sangh, and other
opposition parties were at the time engaged
in a major political campaign against
Indira Gandhi. But that fact didn't in the
least prevent us from supporting the
government on the issue of the nuclear test.
Q : Would you say that with the latest test,
India's nuclear establishment has
come of age?
A : Yes, you could say that. Our nuclear scientists
and engineers have done a
splendid job and, naturally, the entire nation
has risen to salute their professional
excellence, discipline and patriotism. They
have had the benefit of having been led in
the past by great men like Homi Bhabha and
Vikram Sarabhai. Also, we should not
forget that a visionary like Pandit Jawaharlal
Nehru understood the importance of
nuclear science and gave full personal support
to the founding of a world-class
nuclear establishment. All the prime ministers
who followed him have continued to
support India's indigenous research and development
in the nuclear field. What we
are doing today is to build the superstructure
on that solid foundation.