The time has come, loyal readers, to let you know what happened at 7 Race Course road last Monday, May 11.
That day, in case you have forgotten, was when India flew high on the nuclear wave -- the day when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee got three N-bombs bust in Pokhran and, in the process, almost burst a vein. So back we go in time, to PM V's house in New Delhi, to savour those unforgetful moments of nailbiting...
It's 1500 hours. Vajpayee has moved into his official bungalow only a few hours earlier, and the first of the ministerial visitors are arriving: In walks Union Home Minister Lal Kishinchand Advani into the drawing room. He brakes suddenly to stop bumping into another visitor -- Defence Minister George Fernandes has beaten him into the room by the skin of the skin of his teeth.
Inside, Advani and Fernandes find Planning Commission Deputy Commission and Vajpayee-man Jaswant Singh hogging the edge of a chair, as cool and unruffled as a cat who has seen a dog. The PM, too, is there, more or less in a similar condition.
A little later, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha walks in to complete the high-powered inner circle which is privy to what is about to happen. And the short, nuclear wait begins...
There are weak, very weak, attempts at small talk, but silence, finally, reigns supreme. Cold khus-khus sherbet is brought in but the inner circle shuns it -- they prefer to savour the beauty of the telephone -- hotline to the command centre in Pokhran -- than the coolness of the sherbet...
Near Pokhran, scientific adviser to defence minister Abdul Kalam and Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Dr R Chidambaram, meanwhile, are earnestly doing their share of nailbiting. 1545 hours arrive, and the triple bangs go off as planned. Kalam waits three long moments for the earth to settle and the echo of the blasts to die down...
At 1548 hours the hotline comes alive, and Vajpayee pounces on it. What Kalam is telling Vajpayee, whether he is saying 'Buddha has smiled again' or `We have done it,' the rest in the room can't make out -- but the message is clear from the expression on the PM's face.
Vajpayee and Fernandes take turns congratulating Kalam and his colleagues on a blast well-blasted. Tension yields to relief -- nay, elation -- and thalis of sweets are brought in. The earlier-shunned sherbat, too, makes a reappearance and is gulped down in quantity.
The first 'outsider' to be taken into confidence is the PM's chief trouble-shooter Pramod Mahajan. He joins the group to plan the post-blasts strategy...
The idea to have the PM announce it to the world was part of the game-plan which the group worked out. The nice little patriotic touch in flying the national flag behind the make-shift podium in the front lawns of Vajpayee's house, from where he addressed what was probably the briefest press conference ever by any prime minister, was Mahajan's -- borrowed, ironically, from the Americans (remember US President Bill Clinton addressing the Middle East summits from the White House lawns with the US flag flying merrily behind him in the breeze?)! And what a backdrop it provided to an event which had the entire nation awash in a wave of patriotism!
A well-kept secret
Okay, now for some quiz: How many people were privy to the decision to conduct Pokhran II? And when was it taken?
You may find it hard to believe, but in principle the all-powerful troika of Vajpayee, Advani and Professor Rajendra Singh, the RSS chief, had decided for India to go fully nuclear weeks before the BJP-led government was sworn in. On his becoming the PM, Vajpayee lost no time in taking Fernandes into confidence. He gave the green signal to Abdul Kalam within days of assuming power. At a later stage, Yashwant Sinha was let into the secret.
As for the 'Nuclear India' issue of the Organiser, the RSS weekly, which hit the stands within hours of the tests, it was a mere coincidence. The RSS boss had conveyed to the Organiser editor to mark the silver jubilee year of the first Pokhran blast with a special issue -- that was all.
Amma is unhappy
Now that Pokhran has blasted the wind out of AIADMK bosswoman J Jayalalitha's sails, the lady has, very kindly, decided to leave Vajpayee alone. But that doesn't mean she has given up her hobby of making people's life miserable.
Amma's new preys are her men in the government. She expected them to do her bidding, pronto. But they, loyal men they are though, are finding it excruciatingly slow to move the governmental juggernaut in New Delhi.
A case in point is the appointment of a senior Tamil Nadu cadre IAS officer in a plum slot. Jayalalitha had faxed her orders to Minister of State for Personnel K Janardhanan. The obedient minister in turn handed over the message to his aide seeking quick action on it. Unfortunately for him, someone appended Jaya's message to the file pertaining to the appointment as it began to do the rounds for necessary approval.
A senior home ministry official, on finding Jaya's note, promptly issued instructions that henceforth care should be taken that such notes do not form part of official files. On learning about Janardhanan's faux pas, Jaya is said to have berated him openly.
Incidentally, the AIADMK supremo 'reviews' the functioning of her contingent in the government every Saturday at her Poes Garden bungalow. Unless otherwise engaged, all AIADMK ministers are expected to make themselves available for the review!
Jaswant's magnum opus
Jaswant Singh, gentleman-politician and once-columnist, has just given the final touches to the manuscript of his forthcoming book.
To be published by Macmillans, London, the book takes a comprehensive look at India's security environment. It analyses the history of war from Vedic times and covers the entire gamut of issues leading up to India's gatecrashing into the nuclear club last Monday. It could be a compulsory read for the large community of defence and strategy experts. The book is due next August.
A Freudian slip?
Sign on the wall of the railway reservation office for hon'ble MPs, inside Parliament: "Do not spit (repeat spit) on the chairs of MPs."
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