Libmonster ID: IN-1276
Author(s) of the publication: RAJ CHENGAPPA (India)

The Prime Minister's austere office in the far corner of Delhi's South Block is one of the most spartan in the country. A large portrait of Mahatma Gandhi adorns the wall directly behind the spacious, immaculate teak desk. Next to the door is a bookshelf containing a row of neatly arranged bound volumes that look like they haven't been opened in years. On the shelf stands a large statue of Ganesha , a benevolent Indian god. Two nondescript sofa nooks with chairs filled the opposite rooms. When Vajpayee took over the office, he didn't change or add anything.


On March 20, the day after the President had sworn in Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister along with 42 cabinet ministers, he urgently summoned Kalam and Chidambaram to his South Block office.

Such an early call for a briefing on India's nuclear readiness was indicative of the priority Vajpayee had set for his second term as Prime Minister. This was also the main reason why the decision to conduct the tests remained a secret. He knew that he had placed a "crown of thorns" on his head, which "bleeds" from the first day. After all, the Bharatiya Janata Party was forced to enter into a strategic alliance with 17 other political parties in order to achieve a meager majority in parliament.

For the unmarried prime minister, the greatest threat actually came from two active women politicians-a full-fledged J. P. Morgan. Jayalalitha, leader of the All India Annadurai Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Party (VIADMC) from Tamilnadu and Suhopara Mamata Banerjee, rebel leader of the Indian National Congress (INC) in West Bengal. Jayalalitha made a long list of demands, including cabinet positions, and allegedly sought assurances that the central government would shut down investigations into her activities on corruption charges.

The threat also came from another front: from Jayalalita's leading adviser, Subramaniam Swami, who joined her and won a landslide victory in the Madurai constituency in Tamilnadu. Swami longed for the portfolio of Finance Minister or another equally important post. However, for Vajpayee and the leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Swami, who separated from them in the 1980s, was persona non grata. They were ready for the government to resign if Jayalalita insisted on his candidacy. Jayalalita conceded, but the offended Swami struck back a year later, which led to the fall of the Vajpayee cabinet.

Discord also arose in Vajpayee's own team. He wanted to appoint Jaswant Singh as Finance Minister. But the leadership of the RCC, which has always been disgusted by Sinha's moderate views, strongly opposed, taking advantage of his unexpected defeat in the elections. It is alleged that on the evening before the swearing-in of the new cabinet, K. S. Sudershan, one of the leading leaders of the RSS, came to Vajpayee's house and categorically demanded Singh's removal. Vajpayee was forced to agree and asked the President of India to remove Singh from the list of ministers scheduled to be sworn in the next day.

The impression was that Vajpayee, for all his eloquence, was facing the fate of a weak and incompetent prime minister. Vajpayee was willing to do anything to get rid of this image. He did not want to go down in history as another Indian leader who resorted to flattery only to deceive the voters later. But given his difficulties, it was still widely expected that the new prime minister would need several months before he tackled the nuclear issue.

President Clinton's aide, Bill Richardson, who met Vajpayee on April 14, told him that the United States is very interested in India maintaining a "strategic pause" on the nuclear front. Richardson had the impression that his mission was a success. This assessment was partly based on the fact that on April 9, just a few days before his visit, Vajpayee formed a high-level working group to develop the structure of the National Security Council in order to formulate a nuclear doctrine for India.

If Richardson had known that Vajpayee had authorized nuclear tests in his first 13 days as prime Minister in May 1996, he might not have been so complacent. Then the BJP came to power after the defeat in the parliamentary elections of Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao and his party-the Indian National Congress. Although the Bharatiya Janata Party was far from even simple

Continuation. For the beginning, see "Asia and Africa Today", 2003, N 3.

* Shakti - power (Sanskrit - power, power), divine power, the energy with which the world is created. Among her personifications, Shakti is particularly well known -as the wife of Shiva, the mother of the world, the supreme creative force in her feminine form. (Editor's note)

** Bill Richardson was then the U.S. Secretary of Energy ed.).

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With a majority vote in Parliament, it was invited to form a government, turning out to be the largest party in Parliament. Vajpayee was sworn in as Prime Minister in hopes of amassing a shaky majority. The President told him to get a vote of confidence in Parliament in a couple of weeks.

Vajpayee knew that even if his government won a vote of confidence, it would not last. Therefore, he wanted to take a decisive step that would confirm his party's promise to strengthen India's military power and increase its chances of success in the elections. One close associate of Vajpayee confesses: "Then he wanted to loudly declare himself. He also wanted to show that he is true to his word and has not called on India to make a nuclear choice for nothing over the past thirty years."

On May 16, 1996, the day Vajiayi was sworn in as Prime Minister for the first time, outgoing leader Narasimha Rao sent him a handwritten note: "Talk to Kalam. He knows a lot about nuclear matters." But Kalam could not be immediately reached. After a dozen frantic phone calls, Shakti Sinha, who had just been appointed as the Prime Minister's private secretary, found Kalam in Calcutta and asked him to return immediately to meet the new Prime Minister. Kalam returned on the first morning flight and was surprised by Vajpayee's request to conduct a nuclear test.

On Pokharan, scientists were working at a furious pace to prepare the tests. The hydrogen bomb was not yet ready, and the team planned to conduct two explosions: one to test the advanced design of the 1974 atomic device, and the other to test the powerful new atomic bomb accelerated chain reaction fission, which was created in the 80s. In this device, a few grams of thermonuclear fusion material, which are embedded in the core of an atomic bomb, increase its power four times. A mine was also dug for a possible third test of a low-power device of less than one kiloton of TNT equivalent.

The atomic devices were delivered by air from the Center for Atomic Research im. Bhabhas (CAIB) and are lowered into the mines. It was only a day before they were fully installed before the explosion, when it became clear that Vajpayee would not be able to get the necessary number of votes in Parliament to approve his government. The scientists immediately slowed down their preparations. Key officials discouraged Vajpayee from continuing to prepare for the tests, especially until a government is formed that will have to withstand the expected widespread international backlash. Vajpayee reluctantly agreed. But his closest aides believe that only the delay in the search for Kalam led to the failure of an attempt to conduct tests in 1996.

After Vajpayee was sworn in in 1998, he was haunted by the memory of a one-day delay that changed the course of history. The fragility of the coalition only added to the sense of urgency. This time, too, there was a threat of the fall of the government, although not in 13 days, but rather in six months. Aware that the clock was ticking, Vajpayee moved quickly.

When Chidambaram and Kalam were shown into his office on March 20, Vajpayee was sitting at his desk. Against the background of a huge table, the Prime Minister was lost. He stood up to greet them warmly. Vajpayee has always been proud of Indian scientists, considering them true patriots. Chidambaram clumsily entered the charts drawn on the plastic sheets. Vajpayee also invited Brajesh Mishra, who had been appointed Chief Secretary to the Prime Minister a day earlier.

After everyone sat down, Chidambaram got straight to the point. Unlike most southern Indians, Chidambaram is fluent in Hindi, a language that is much easier for Vajpayees to communicate in. But in this case, it remained true to the English language. He said that in the time that has passed since the briefing in 1996, when Vajpayee was briefly prime minister, the nuclear team was able to master the technology of making a hydrogen bomb. The prime minister was delighted. Using illustrations, Chidambaram explained the differences between an atomic bomb and a hydrogen bomb. But when the head of the Atomic Energy Commission sometimes went into too much detail, Vajpayee sometimes looked a little discouraged.

Excited, Chidambaram ignored the Prime Minister and continued. He showed another diagram of the hydrogen bomb's operation. Chief Specialist for

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Atomic Energy explained to the Prime Minister that if permission is given, they will be able to test both Indian fusion technologies together. They planned to use an accelerated fission reaction charge to achieve the high temperature needed to detonate a hydrogen bomb. Chidambaram then told Vajpayee that his team had constructed what he called chhotus - (small) nuclear devices with a power of less than a kiloton. They would allow us to get enough computer information about the reliability of bombs.

Testing less than a kiloton was important because the "big five" nuclear powers had already moved on to computer simulations of testing their nuclear weapons and possibly developing new types of them. This allowed them to circumvent the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) ban on conducting nuclear explosions. Chidambaram also drew attention to the fact that, as the September 1999 CTBT conference approaches, India has only a year and four months to make a decision on the nuclear option. "The longer we delay the decision, the greater the risk that India will lose its right to choose altogether," he told Vajpayee.

Chidambaram must have made other arguments that day. As the lead leader of the 1974 bombing, Chidambaram was most concerned that if time was lost, the older generation would retire, and with them the experience they had gained would be lost. He drew Vajpayee's attention to the fact that scientists and engineers have been working on the bomb for the past 24 years, and "we need to make sure that the younger generation also has the necessary knowledge and skills." Chidambaram wanted Vajpayee to allow six tests - a hydrogen bomb, an atomic bomb, and four devices with less than a kiloton of power-to test a dozen nuclear weapon designs. Then he said it again: "These tests will guarantee the reliability of our nuclear weapons."

Kalam then gave Vajpayee a lengthy update on the state of India's missile program, including the top-secret Defense Research and Development Organization (R & D) project nearing completion to improve the Agni, India's medium-range ballistic missile. Kalam also briefly described how UNI & D managed to place the nuclear devices constructed by Chidambaram's team on their delivery vehicles-aircraft and missiles. To support his argument, Kalam also referred to the fact that India had signed the chemical weapons ban treaty a year earlier, admitting that it owned many of them, thus revealing a closely guarded secret. "We have abandoned this type of weapons of mass destruction. We must be confident, at least, in the effectiveness of one type of such weapon, " he urged.

At the meeting, Vajpayee told them to be ready, but did not commit himself to any tests. However, both Chidambaram and Kalam knew that they did not have long to convince him.

Vajpayee, the BJP, and its parent organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), were ardent supporters of nuclear weapons. They had no doubt that India should have a bomb. They never shared Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of ahimsa, or nonviolent struggle, and believed that Gandhi's "soft-heartedness" led to the partition of India.

Nor did the RSS support Jawaharlal Nehru's vision of a new India inspired by "modern" ideals such as secularism, socialism, human rights, and world peace. For Nehru, science was the main tool for accelerating economic development. For the RCC, it was also a guarantee that no one else would be able to conquer India. The atomic bomb, with its colossal destructive power, was obviously in their eyes the indispensable and most reliable such guarantee.

The RSS, which emerged in India in the wake of clashes between Hindus and Muslims in the early 1920s, usmat-

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Riwala marked the beginning of India's decline beginning around the year 1000 with Islamic invasions that eventually impoverished Hindu creative thought. The RSS believed that the separation of the common people from the Hindu , or ideals of life, caused the decline, and under the British, the process accelerated.

According to the ideologists of the RCC, Hindutva - the reconstruction of society in accordance with Hindu norms and culture-should inspire new forces in the oppressed majority. Only a truly Hindu state - Rashtra-can achieve this goal. To reinforce their belief, they often quoted Aurobindo Ghosh, an influential Bengali philosopher, who once remarked:: "All the great awakenings in India, all the periods of manifestation of the most powerful and diverse energy, draw their life energy from a deep religious awakening."

The RSS believes that a strong Indian state should be built on the foundation of Hinduism and social cohesion. Many of the leaders of this organization believed in the Vedic concept of shakti, which states that each person has a huge kinetic energy that can be used to understand the true purpose of human existence. Similarly, they believed that India would attain true shakti only by reviving its greatness.

The name of the 1998 bombing, "Operation Shakti," was in keeping with the RSS's view that India needed to adopt a kshatriya (warrior) view of the world in order to revive the country. In his first post-ordeal press interview, Vajpayee told Prabhu Chawla of India Today magazine, "The greatest meaning of these trials is that they have given India shakti, strength and self-confidence."

Vajpayee became interested in RSS philosophy while still a student of Hindi literature and political science at Queen Victoria College in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. Dressed in khaki shorts and a white shirt, he was an active member of her shaqa But even then, he showed no fanatical zeal and maintained a wide range of political acquaintances and interests.

A Brahmin by caste and the son of a college teacher, Vajpayee was born on Christmas Day 1926. At school, he had a soft spot for sweets. He also enjoyed visiting his grandfather, who lived on the banks of the Yamuna River in Bateshwar, a village near Agra. From his grandfather, he absorbed a love of Indian sacred texts and a habit of discipline.

In his youth, he showed a talent for the use of the word-first as a poet, and then as an orator. Vajpayee threw himself into politics in 1943 and lovingly edited the RSS magazines Rashtradharm and Panchjanya. When the RSS decided in 1951 to form the Bharatiya Jan Sangh Party as its political wing and appointed Dr. Shyam Prasad Mukherjee as its leader, Vajpayee became his personal secretary. Vajpayee's ability to articulate questions led him to be elected to the Lok Sabha in 1957 from the Balrampur constituency in Uttar Pradesh. He distinguished himself by making colorful speeches, especially on foreign policy, which even Nehru highly appreciated.

According to the results of the elections, the party remained on the sidelines of national politics in the 50s and 60s, collecting about seven percent of the vote and barely winning a little more than 30 seats in parliament.

Nehru liked to cite Hindu electoral failures as proof of how the country felt about their fanatical ideas. However, the crushing defeat in the border war with China and Nehru's death in 1964 led to the end of his era. Hindutva's supporters began to gain strength, and Vajpayee soon led them.

Even then, Vajpayee was deeply interested in nuclear affairs. On December 22, 1964, speaking in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament, four months after the first Chinese atomic bomb exploded, he said: "How can we respond to the atomic bomb? Just an atomic bomb and nothing else." He added: "When the government explains the difficulties of creating an atomic bomb by the difficult economic situation, the need for economic development of the country and, therefore, the impossibility of using our resources to create an atomic bomb, I am ready to listen to these arguments." He added sarcastically,"But please don't refer to moral considerations, nonviolence, or Mr. Gandhi."

Those who know Vajpayee well say that it was the Chinese nuclear test that crystallized his belief that India should possess an atomic bomb. For him, the question was simple: how self-sufficient and strong is India's defense? Vajpayee told his aides that there was one lesson to be learned from India's enslaved past: "You can't win a war with backward weapons." He added :" We were neglecting military force, and look what happened to us."

By 1968, Vajpayee had become president of the Jan Sangh Party, the political wing of the RSS, which was beginning to make electoral gains in some North Indian states. Vajpayee understood that in order to gain power, the party should be made attractive to the masses, getting rid of the image of a party dominated by Brahmins (the highest caste) - and banias (the merchant caste), pursuing their own narrow political goals.

This was the time when Sub-ramaniam Swami, a professor of economics at Harvard University, made an effective entry into the arena of Indian politics. Swami criticized the statement of the American diplomat Henry Kissin-

* Dharma (Sanskrit) is one of the central concepts of Indian philosophy and the Hindu religion: the right moral law that reigns over the world, as well as the moral institution for the "right life", duty (editor's note).

* * Shakha is a primary, grassroots PCC cell (editor's note).

* * * The Lok Sabha is the lower house of the Indian Parliament.

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jera * that the nuclear weapons program is too expensive for a poor country. In an article published in the Economic and Political Weekly, Swami argued that the cost of a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM )would not exceed Rs 4.5 crore . He argued that the total cost of India's transformation into a significant nuclear power would amount to Rs 750 crore, which would require a 15 percent increase over five years in India's defense budget, which in 1968 was equal to RS 1,000 crore.

For the Jan Sangh part, these calculations sounded like sweet music. Especially since the famous Harvard economist voiced the ideas that the party has been defending for many years. Swami became its "star", and Vajpayee even arranged for him to speak to members of parliament from the Jan Sangh. The party offered Swami official membership and a seat in Parliament. Swami recalls that the Jan Sangh at that time was considered a party that believed only in " Hindi, Hindustan and the cow." Vajpayee was "a nice, friendly guy, but lonely."

After the nuclear explosion in 1974, Vajpayee lavished praise on Indira Gandhi in Parliament, but cautioned her against insisting that the explosion was intended for peaceful purposes only. "Let's not limit our right to choose. Let's not get too involved." Many years later, in conversations with his aides, he said, " India did the right thing then. But Gandhi should not have frozen the program, but moved on and made bombs."

Vajpayee first brought his party to power in the second half of the 1970s, when it merged with other opposition parties to form the Janata Party. Unity was achieved not on an ideological basis, but for the sake of one agenda item - Gandhi's defeat in the parliamentary elections and the lifting of the state of emergency imposed in 1975 in the country. Soon after its formation, the Janata Party won a landslide victory in the 1977 general parliamentary elections. Vajpayee was a logical candidate for the post of Foreign Minister, where he was remembered for his efforts to establish friendly relations with Pakistan. But he was forced to temporarily forget about his radical views on nuclear affairs and even warned the government not to conduct nuclear tests.

By the end of 1979, the Janata Party experiment failed, and Indira Gandhi returned to power in the wake of its internal strife. Hindutva devotees left the Janata Party and formed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Vajpayee offered the BJP vague ideas of socialism in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi in order to make the party's slogans more attractive to the masses. In 1985, in an effort to add weight to its image, the BJP first called for "making the nuclear choice"in its election manifesto. But the BJP suffered a crushing defeat in the general parliamentary elections in 1985, winning only two seats in Parliament: in the wake of the Indira Gandhi assassination, the Indian National Congress managed to gain an unprecedented majority in parliament.

But in the general parliamentary elections in 1989 and 1991, the BJP managed to take advantage of a very sensitive issue for voters. The party significantly increased its number of seats in Parliament thanks to its then-President L. K. Advani's aggressive Hindu nationalist policies and inciting Hindu feelings about the Babri Masjid. However, in 1992, the BJP tarnished its reputation when some of its party activists razed the mosque to the ground. Vajpayee was among the first BJP leaders to publicly express their regret. Critical reactions to the mosque's destruction caused the Bharatiya Janata Party to lose support and failed to win a majority in the 1996 general parliamentary elections.

By March 1998, rather by accident, especially due to discontent with the incompetent coalition government, the BJP finally managed to seize power in Delhi. Naturally, the post of Prime Minister went to Vajpayee as the party's top leader.

Finally, the hour of the lonely man from Gwalior arrived. Within a month, he changed the fate of India forever.

At the Pokharan test site, after Vajpayee told Chidambaram and Kalam to fully prepare for possible tests, water suddenly began to seep into the mines, which caused huge problems for the regiment working in the desert, especially in the deeper White House and Taj Mahal mines...

An equally serious problem was the question of how much time the regiment could spend filling up the mines after launching nuclear devices. Scientists insisted on using sandbags to fill up at least 30 meters of the White House, the deepest mine besides the Taj Mahal. This would limit the huge shock wave and prevent the release of harmful gases into the atmosphere after the explosion...

According to Colonel Kaushik, it would take four thousand sandbags, not counting a few dump trucks, to fill up the White House, even if it was working around the clock.

UNO & D representative Santhanam and Lieutenant General Varma were alarmed. {

* H. Kissinger at that time served as Assistant to the President for National Security in the Nixon administration (1969-1974) and played a leading role in shaping US foreign policy (editor's note).

* * 1 crore =10 million.

* * * The rate of 1 rupee fluctuates between 0.15-0.2 US dollars.

**** Babri Masjid-Babur Mosque in Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh), built in the XVI century by one of the military leaders of the founder of the Mughal Empire on the site of the destroyed Hindu temple of Rama. Attempts to "restore" the temple of the deity Rama in its place led to bloody clashes between Hindus and Muslims in 1992 - 1993. For more information, see: "Asia and Africa Today", 2001, N 11 (editor's note).

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This was an unacceptable luxury, since satellites observing from space would probably have noticed such activity.

...After March 20, however, the 58th Engineer Regiment was ordered to prepare urgently for testing. Kaushik, who was on a month-long vacation in Bangalore, was ordered to return immediately. The regiment quickly completed the construction of support posts modeled on billiard tables on a stand to speed up the backfill of the mines...

It was then that Colonel Kaushik remembered a strange premonition that had struck him only two weeks ago. It was March 13 at a party organized by the regiment to celebrate the Holi festival. That day, they sprayed each other with paint and, as usual, drank sorbet with cannabis. Kaushik drank two glasses, but it didn't seem enough. After the third glass, he began to enter a trance. Suddenly, he saw two flashes of lightning shoot up into the sky from his head, and his hair stood on end. He told his deputies: "Mark my words. Some fateful event will happen on April 6. We have to be ready for it." His subordinates laughed, mistaking it for hallucinations caused by the narcotic effects of cannabis. After all, several regiments had already served their time on Pokharan without waiting for anything.

It may have been a coincidence, but on April 6, an event occurred that prompted India to prepare for a series of nuclear tests. On that day, a Guri rocket with a bright flame flashed through the sky of Pakistan with the speed of lightning.


In his high-ceilinged office of the Prime Minister's secretariat located in Delhi's South Block, Brajesh Mishra heard about the launch of "Guri" from a news agency post on Monday. And then-from the Indian intelligence services.

India already knew that Pakistan was developing powerful missiles. But the Guri's declared range of 1,500 kilometers meant that most of India's major cities were under attack for the first time, which caused a slight shock. So far, Pakistan's Hatf-5 or M-11 missiles, which were supposed to have been smuggled in from China, have been able to reach targets up to 300 kilometers away.

As the Prime Minister's chief secretary, the most troublesome position for a government official, Mishra had access to intelligence and analysis. One of India's most experienced diplomats, the impenetrable Mishra enjoyed a reputation as an ardent supporter of the Cold War. He knew that Guri had to be taken seriously.

Mishra walked briskly into the Prime Minister's office next door. He told Vajpayee that it was not so much the missile launch itself that was worrying, but rather Pakistan's claims that it could reach anywhere in India. Mishra believed that such statements have a demoralizing effect on the country, especially on the military, and India should respond to the threat. "Guri" could be used as a convenient excuse for conducting nuclear tests.

Vajpayee agreed with Mishra's suggestion and asked that Kalam and Chidambaram be called to an urgent meeting without drawing attention to it, as well as to conduct an analysis of the possible consequences of the tests and outline a strategy to neutralize the negative international reaction.

Given his experience in the foreign service and his knowledge, Mishra was ideally suited to carry out such an assignment. Over the years, Vajpayee truly appreciated Mishra's judgment, which was instrumental in appointing him as the head of his secretariat. The prime minister never doubted his loyalty, either. Mishra's father, D. P. Mishra, a former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, was a good friend of Vajpayee.

Mishra first studied in Jabalpur and then Nagpur, majoring in political science and law. In college, he was particularly interested in the Mughal era and the reasons for India's defeat in the war against foreign invasion. Now, many years later, in a conversation with Vajpayee, he made this argument in favor of conducting nuclear tests: "If you look at Indian history, you will see that we were defeated, not because our soldiers lacked courage and bravery, but because they did not have advanced technologies." This was in line with Vajpayee's opinion.

The nuclear problem haunted Mishra. In 1968, when he was working in New York at kach-

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As Deputy Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, he was disappointed when other States imposed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), even though he argued hoarsely, criticizing the discriminatory articles of this document. From 1973 to 1979, he was ambassador to Geneva, and at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament, he had to defend the conduct of a nuclear test in 1974 in a significant battle with Agha Shahi, who later became the Foreign Minister of Pakistan.

On May 24, 1974, a week after India's first Pokharan bombing, Mishra told the Conference on Disarmament: "We have had nuclear technology for many years. The current tests show our restraint, not our refusal or lack of it." He recalls saying many times while working in Geneva that a peaceful nuclear device was detonated in 1974, even though "no one really believed us."

From 1969 to 1973, Mishra served as India's ambassador to China on the instructions of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The appointment was mistakenly attributed by many to Mishra's antipathy to China and Vajpayee's undiplomatic message to the United States after the tests, in which he defended them, citing tensions with his giant neighbor as one of the main reasons for the tests. The usually cautious China reacted violently to this message, and relations between the two countries were seriously damaged.

The hostility, however, did not start during Mishra's time in China - in fact, India's relations with its giant neighbor improved then - but before that, they were frozen for a number of years after India's humiliating defeat by China in the 1962 border war. Mishra still remembers Gandhi's admonition to him before he left for Beijing: "Our relations with China are at an impasse. I would like you to lead us out of this impasse."

After that, he worked hard for the sake of warming relations between the two countries. Shortly before completing a business trip to Beijing, at a public event, the great Mao Zedong smiled at Mishra and even shook his hand. It was a signal that China is seeking to restore normal relations with India.

Mishra left the foreign service when relations between his father and Indira Gandhi deteriorated, and he felt that he was becoming the victim of a falling out. He also had serious disagreements about India's approach to the crisis in Afghanistan and the Soviet Union's unqualified support for it. Mishra joined the United Nations and served as Special Envoy to Namibia until his retirement in 1987.

His colleagues, such as Maharaja Krishna Rasgotra, a former first deputy foreign Minister, remember Mishra as "one of the best minds in the foreign service." He had the ability to put aside diplomatic rhetoric in meetings and focus on key issues. Others describe him as " hard and hard working."

When Mishra returned to India, the Indian National Congress initially courted him, but Mishra resisted, believing that " Rajiv Gandhi was surrounded by sycophants who allow independent thinking." He also appeared to be angry with the Congress for not being nominated for the Rajya Sabha despite promises from party leaders.

He joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in early 1991 largely because of his proximity to Vajpayee. Mishra emphasizes that this happened only after the party's lists of candidates for the parliamentary elections were announced. Vajpayee asked him to lead the Foreign Affairs group, which also dealt with the atomic bomb problem.

It was a time of great change. The Berlin Wall fell, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, India was left without a protective umbrella. There was a need to get our own nuclear deterrent. By then, it was already clear that Pakistan had a bomb.

Mishra was concerned that, as his friendly conversations with senior retired officers had shown, the Indian armed forces had little confidence in the country's nuclear capabilities. He had long discussions with Vajpayee and other BJP leaders about the need to strengthen India's security, especially on the nuclear front.

However, not everyone in the BJP was convinced that the new government should conduct nuclear tests so quickly. When the party manifesto for the 1998 elections was being prepared, Mishra and his wife were on vacation in Kodaikanal in Tamilnadu, where they had spent their "honeymoon" 42 years earlier. When he returned, he saw that the draft had greatly softened the resolution on the nuclear option. It was suspected that this was the work of newly converted BJP members, including Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha and his advisers. Mishra was furious.

When he arrived at Vajpayee's residence, he found that the candidate for Prime Minister had already gone to the BJP headquarters for a crucial meeting to finalize the "National Governance Agenda" election manifesto and coordinate it with all the alliance partners. He called Vajpayee and read the phrase he would like to restore: "We have reviewed nuclear policy and will exercise the right to choose on nuclear weapons."

Vajpayee retained Sinha's sentences, but restored the phrase Mishra had advocated.

And on the morning of April 6, when Mishra spoke to Vajpayee about the challenge and yet convenient excuse of the Gauri missile, the Prime Minister listened with particular attention.

Fortunately for Mishra, the previous three governments were constantly weighing the pros and cons of conducting nuclear tests. Mishra knew that in

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these estimates pointed out "many disadvantages, especially from an economic point of view." Although foreign exchange reserves were large, economic growth slowed significantly and a downturn began. There were also concerns that the US would put pressure on the Gulf states to cut off oil supplies to India. At the same time, there were great advantages for strengthening India's security and its desire to create a minimum nuclear deterrent capability.

An informal analysis periodically updated for the Prime Minister gave the following assessment of the reaction of the main foreign states.

Pakistan will conduct a nuclear test and face serious economic consequences as a result.

China will be displeased, but there is little it can do.

Russia is an ally. But she is concerned that if Pakistan follows India's example, it could lead to Islamic fundamentalists getting their hands on an atomic bomb in the future. However, Moscow will oppose the introduction of sanctions against India.

France is also an ally, and it can be won over by a commitment to buy weapons and technology on a long-term basis.

The UK, as a" cousin " of the United States, will follow its line, but will also oppose sanctions. A few "carrots" in business can ease tensions in relations with this country.

Japan is a moral problem. This problem is difficult to solve and will negatively affect business relationships.

Germany is a friend. It'll only growl, but it won't bite.

USA. Their position is very worrying. Sanctions will probably be imposed, but the economy is stable enough to withstand sanctions for a year.

Conclusion: if India plays its business and political cards well, the most difficult period should end in six months.

Part of Vajpayee's big game was taking a tough approach to China, which India has always seen as a long-term threat. India has long resented China's transfer of nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan. The Indian government's plan was to take advantage of the powerful anti-China lobby in the US in the hope that it could split US public opinion and ease sanctions.

Therefore, Vajpayee's letter to Clinton, written at Mishra's instigation, was intended to be made public in any case, even if there was no "leak" to the New York Times from American government circles. But in reality, the anti-China plan failed to materialize.

As Vajpayee listened calmly to Mishra, he felt the weight of the decision he was about to make. Over the years, Vajpayee has mastered the ability to get to the heart of a major problem without allowing himself to be confused by numerous arguments. The simplicity and directness of his thoughts made it easier to make a quick decision.

It was clear to him that military might was also needed to restore India's greatness. He didn't change his position. Earlier, he told one of his assistants: "In defense, we must rely on our own strength. We simply can't depend on the help of other countries."

It was clear what had to be done. Vajpayee knew that the testing ground had already been set by previous governments. The problem of ensuring India's security was getting worse. Now several countries, including Pakistan, are armed with missiles that pose a threat to India, possibly equipped with nuclear warheads.

When Vajpayee became Prime Minister, India's options narrowed considerably. With characteristic brevity, Vajpayee told his assistants, " No need to think too long. You just have to do it."

After the tests, Vajpayee said: "I believed that our country would have enough strength to withstand all the difficulties that might arise from the tests. The economy was basically strong, and the people are ready to make any sacrifice for the sake of ensuring the country's security."

An incredible combination of circumstances, even a conspiracy, according to some, created a win-win situation for Vajpayee in the matter of conducting the tests. Due to the RCC's chauvinistic stance on the bomb, the testing immediately attracted hawks to the Prime Minister's side and dispelled fears that he was emasculating their agenda. Vajpayee was aware that nuclear weapons symbolized strength and power and would enhance India's prestige. To some extent, he himself would be in a halo of glory, getting rid of the image of a weak leader. The signing of the Universal Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons were just around the corner. And India needed six months to weather the storm that was sure to break out after the tests. In addition, previous governments have already instilled in the Indian public that the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty is yet another example of Western power tactics.

After Mishra's report, Vajpayee had almost made up his mind. The next day, at an informal meeting with the Prime Minister, three chiefs of staff of the armed forces expressed great interest in the nuclear option.

Three days after the Guri test, Mishra arranged a meeting with Chidambaram and Kalam on April 9 on Vajpayee's behalf. When they met in the Prime Minister's office that morning, Vajpayee asked:: "How soon can the tests be completed?"

Kalam and Chidambaram were expecting this question.

"Time X minus thirty days, sir," Kalam replied.

Realizing that Vajpayee might not understand the language of professionals, Kalam quickly added, " One month from the day you give the green light."

Mostly demand time-

page 58

The main task was to mobilize people and materials for testing and transfer them to Pokharan without arousing suspicion. Some practical and diplomatic factors also had to be taken into account. Conducting tests immediately after the launch of the Guri would look like an attempt by India to once again pull ahead of its rival. It was more important to present these tests as a measure to ensure the fundamental, unquestionable long-term security interests of the country.

In addition, the wedding of Chidambaram's daughter was scheduled for April 27. It couldn't be postponed, and it took a week to retrain. Chidambaram's absence from the wedding ceremony might have raised suspicions that something serious was going on. There was also a hitch with the President of India, who was going on a tour of Latin America from April 26 to May 10.

Vajpayee instructed Kalam and Chidambaram to set a test date and coordinate with Mishra. After checking the state of affairs on Pokharan, Kalam and Chidambaram informed Mishra the next day that they would be able to conduct the tests no earlier than May 11. Mishra reported to the Prime Minister, who approved the date.

Without informing the leaders of the nuclear team, Vajpayee continued informal consultations with experts and some of his colleagues about the feasibility of testing. Among those he consulted until the evening before the nuclear test was Raja Ramanna, who had led the nuclear team in 1974 and had been nominated to the Rajya Sabha.

At the meeting, Ramanna temporarily played the role of "devil's advocate". He told Vajpayee that the feasibility of conducting tests to test the suitability of nuclear devices will always be hotly contested.

Then Ramanna asked: "Why did you decide to do it now?"

Vajpayee replied: "I want India to be strong, not a weak country."

Ramanna nodded his head and added ," Besides, you can't keep scientists in limbo for 24 years. They will simply disappear into oblivion."

Ramanna later recalled how Indira Gandhi was persuaded to conduct the test, despite the fierce opposition of some of her advisers. Ramanna is usually deliberately vague when it comes to dates and certain episodes in the history of India's nuclear weapons program. But he clearly remembers the final meeting in 1974 when Gandhi decided whether India should detonate a nuclear device or not.

As in 1998, when Vajpayee approved the test, the meeting was held in 1974 in mid-April, a month before the explosion. In order to arouse less suspicion, Gandhi called a meeting in her office in the parliament building to discuss the annual budget.

The meeting was attended by CAE Chairman Sethna, CAIB Director Ramanna, UNDIOC Director B. D. Nagchaudhuri, Chief Secretary to the Prime Minister Dhar and Close Adviser Gandhi Khaksar.

Noting that the preparations are almost complete, Ramanna said, " We have reached a stage where there is no going back. Almost everything is ready, it remains only to deliver the nuclear device to the site. This can't go on for long. People are under incredible pressure."

The next speaker was Nagchaudhuri, an outstanding physicist who was given a double task: cooperation of UNI-research laboratories with Ramanna in the manufacture of conventional explosives wrapped in a plutonium balloon, and coordination with the army in the preparation of mines.

Nagchaudhuri had been pushing for UNID to develop a long-range missile called the Brave, and to do so, he secretly set up a separate team at the Defense Research and Development Laboratory (L & R), but found that this task was too much for him. He and Ramanna had been good friends, and now that his missile plans had come to fruition, he saw no reason to object to the tests.

Next to him sat Sethna, the gruff boss of the Atomic Energy Commission. Sethna considered Nagchaudhuri "a damn good and smart guy with a very broad outlook", but at the same time "with a mess in his head". Sethna was very annoyed that the head of R & D might not be able to make an appointment on time.

Sethna and Ramanna fell out immediately after the test, not sharing, first of all, laurels. But at that meeting, they still got along with each other. Sethna fully supported the trial. He believed that " only the explosion will show whether we can carry it out."

Dhar, who took over as Gandhi's chief secretary from Haxar in 1971, had a reputation for being a good economist. He expressed great concern about the deterioration of the economic situation.

The previous three years were really very difficult. In 1971, India entered a costly war with Pakistan that led to the formation of Bangladesh. The following year, the country was hit by a severe drought. And in 1973, the first of the oil shocks occurred, caused by unilateral price increases by Arab countries that were unhappy with the support of Israel by the West.

For India, which was struggling with a passive balance of payments, this was a major blow. In just a few days, the deficit increased by several billion dollars. I had to ask the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for new loans, and the World Bank for additional assistance. Dhar noted that the inflation rate has reached a " politically unacceptable 23 percent."

Dhar's main argument was that India needed to decide on its priorities, and since the state of the economy was of particular concern, it would not hurt

page 59

postponing the test for some time.

"The planned annual growth of seven percent cannot be maintained for a long time, as long as the various directions of our policy do not reinforce each other, coming into conflict. I believe that, first of all, a strong economy is needed, and then a military potential will follow."

When Gandhi gave him a quizzical look, as if to ask how this was possible, he explained: "I am in favor of following the path of Germany. Germany can build nuclear weapons tomorrow if it wants to. That is, we are not talking about a substantive disagreement, but about a different sequence."

Dhar also argued that India needs a free flow of technologies, especially dual-use technologies that can be used for both civilian and military purposes. In the event of nuclear weapons testing, India may be denied such technologies, and this will slow down economic development.

Dhar expressed concern about the possible imposition of sanctions, especially if there is a strong negative reaction from countries such as the United States. He said that the US Agency for International Development - India meeting is just taking place, and India also has to deal with the IMF: "They may ask why India needs help if it has money for bombs." He wanted to postpone the test until a more convenient time.

Khaksar, who had listened calmly up to this point, nodding his head as Ramanna and Sethna presented their arguments, and even agreeing with Dhar's concerns, interjected: "What do we really get from the West? Remember, under US pressure, we devalued the rupee (in 1966). And what did it give us? Nothing but suffering. Our dependence on foreign aid is not so great. The West will make noise for a while, and then calm down."

However, on that day, Khaksar was also inclined to take his time with the test, believing that the explosion would be preferable to be carried out closer to the general parliamentary elections scheduled for 1976, which would allow Gandhi to make additional political capital.

In 1998, before his death, he told the author of the book :" I also thought about the future. We should have been better prepared. We needed to use this explosion to build nuclear weapons. And there was still a lot of technical work to do. I wanted us to plan in detail what to do next, otherwise this explosion would only have a political effect. I wanted a series of challenges."

Dhar expressed his thoughts to Gandhi earlier: "It doesn't have to be an idle blast. We need to finish the job. To do this, we need to change the fundamentals of our economic policy. How can we afford to stagnate the economy at three percent?"

Sethna countered that a series of tests would put India in an even more difficult position: "Would a series of tests make us a nuclear power? No. Other countries would have told us to go to hell anyway. The best option is to show them that we can master nuclear weapons. And that India is not a bad country."

"I was also concerned about keeping the secret," Haxar told the author of the book. - It was not easy, and the real achievement was not the test itself, but the fact that the Americans remained in the dark. They kept thinking we were drilling for oil or water in Pokharan."

Gandhi, in her usual manner, remained completely silent throughout the meeting, listening carefully to various points of view. At the end of the meeting, she summarized briefly: "Although it might be more logical to abstain, I don't accept that logic. We need to conduct a test."

That was settled. Everyone realized that the final decision had been made, and the meeting ended in just 40 minutes. Since it was top secret, the minutes of the meeting were not kept. Therefore, there are no official documents, there are only memories of those present and their interpretation of the meeting.

Six weeks later, as the nuclear devices were being lowered into the mine, Sethna met Gandhi again. Her reaction surprised him.

Sethna said to her, " Ma'am, listen, I'm putting the devices back in place tomorrow, and after that I won't be able to remove them. You just can't tell me to stop."

Gandhi replied: "Go ahead. Are you afraid?"

Justifying himself, Sethna said, " No. I only tell you that there is no going back now."

Two days later, on May 18, 1974, India launched an underground nuclear explosion, becoming the sixth country in the world to demonstrate the ability to do so.

Indira Gandhi has never explained why she disagreed with her top advisers and decided to take the test. Dhar recalls, " She didn't talk much about it. She always liked to listen more than talk. This was one of her great strengths. She always listened very carefully."

Over the next 24 years, there was much debate and speculation about what prompted Gandhi to make such a decision, turning 180 degrees the policy pursued for decades. And especially about why she claimed that the nuclear explosion was carried out only for peaceful purposes (and this is still repeated).

The main reasons for her decision were always in plain sight. But those who were aware of the situation did not want to bring them to a common denominator.

Vajpayee's decision to carry out a series of bombings in May 1998 only served to crack the mystery. Although he will also claim that it is not a "weapon of aggression". Just a weapon of peace.

(To be continued)

Translated from English by S. BARANOV


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