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May 27, 1998


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'India is today a nuclear weapons state. This is a reality that cannot be denied'

At 1210 hours on May 27, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee rose in Parliament to deliver a suo moto speech on the recent nuclear tests at Pokhran, Rajasthan.

The thrust of the speech was a reiteration that security, not political, compulsions prompted the nuclear tests. And, further, that the nuclear option was not meant to be used as a weapon of offence, but one of defence. And that India's foreign policy remained committed to the policy of friendly relations with the neighbouring countries.

Vajpayee began with a bland announcement of the event, thus: "Honourable Speaker, I rise to inform the House of momentous developments that have taken place recently. On May 11, India successfully carried out three underground nuclear tests. Two more underground tests on May 13 completed the planned series of tests. I would like the House to join me in paying fulsome tribute to our scientific and defence personnel, who made the immense achievement possible."

Seguing into a recap of India's nuclear policy, Vajpayee put forward the argument that India's nuclear coming of age began as early as 1947, when the nation attained freedom and opted for self reliance, rejecting the Cold War paradigm and opting, instead, for "the more difficult path of Non Alignment".

Nuclear disarmament, Vajpayee pointed out, has always been a prominent plank of India's foreign policy. In this context, the prime minister quoted from Pandit Jawarhlal Nehru's speech in the House in 1954, calling for an end to all weapons of mass destruction, be they chemical, biological or nuclear.

Vajpayee pointed out that in the 60s, India's security concerns deepened, and necessitated that we turn to other countries seeking guarantees of our safety. "The nations we turned to were in no position to guarantee our security, and it is in this context that we refused to sign the Non Proliferation Treaty," he said.

The PM pointed out that as early as 1968, then prime minister Indira Gandhi had in course of a parliamentary debate maintained that as far as the nuclear option was concerned, India would be guided not by the wishes of other nations but by its own needs.

Vajpayee then cut to 1974, "when we demonstrated our nuclear capability. Since then, successive governments have kept the option open," the PM pointed out, arguing that it was for this reason that in 1996, the then government decided not to sign the CTBT.

Cutting to the chase as it were, Vajpayee said that since 1996, there has been a gradual deterioration of the security environment in the region. He itemised a gradual nuclear pile-up on the part of the neighbouring countries, and the "clandestine war" he said India had been subjected to.

During this phase, Vajpayee said, several representations had been made to the nuclear nations to help clear the vitiated environment in the region, and to move towards complete nuclear disarmament. Instead, the PM argued, what was witnessed was the unconditional extension of the NPT, which ensured that the nuclear haves would continue to hang on to their arsenal.

"My government, under the circumstances, was constrained to take the decision to test our nuclear capability," Vajpayee said, "and our national security was the prime reason.

"India is today," Vajpayee declared, "a nuclear weapons state. This is a reality that cannot be denied, it is not a status for others to grant, it is an achievement of our own scientists. It is India's due."

Vajpayee reiterated the government's intention that the weapons would remain one of defence and not aggression against any country.

At this point, he said, the Indian government stood ready to repeat the iniatives of the past, towards complete disarmament. India, he added, is prepared to open negotiations for the setting up of a nuclear weapons convention on the lines of earlier ones relating to biological and chemical weapons, the goal being global disarmament.

Characterising India's nuclear policy as one of restraint, he said his government believed security has to proceed from strength, not from doubt or indecision. Saying that the tests conducted on May 11 and 13 were the minimum necessary to maintain a key ingredient of the nation's security requirements, he said that the government was prepared to move towards a declaration of its intent not to use nuclear weapons as a 'first strike' option.

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