Libmonster ID: IN-1279
Author(s) of the publication: By Raj CHENGAPPA

It was 1970, more than any other year, that can be considered decisive in terms of the formation of India's nuclear ambitions. In November of the previous year, Indira Gandhi won an uphill political battle to expel the "old guard" from Congress. Together with its leftward-leaning "Young Turks", it gained real power by splitting the party. Her three years as Prime Minister have made her determined, insightful, independent and charismatic.

Indira Gandhi was passionate about asserting herself. Part of her strategy was to build a militarily strong India, which coincided with some good news on the nuclear front. In the previous year, the spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant finally reached its full capacity. India now had enough plutonium to make an explosion if it really wanted to.

In Trombay, Ramanna's atomic bomb team had become very active, and in order to further accelerate the pace of work, he had added an additional number of employees.

Ramanna's orders to speed up the work were also partly a consequence of the major changes that took place in Indian nuclear policy in 1970. A group of members of the ruling Congress Party, led by some of its nuclear-armed hawks, including Krishnan Kant, who will later become the country's vice-president, has called for more decisive action to demonstrate India's capabilities.

Under pressure, Sarabhai asked N. Seshagiri, a brilliant young scientist at the Tata Institute for Basic Research, to do an analysis of the benefits and costs of not only building a nuclear weapon by India, but also of conducting a technological nuclear explosion (TEV). Sarabhai always preferred to use the word TYP instead of "peaceful nuclear explosion", as he believed that this is a more accurate description of the upcoming experiment.

In August, Sarabhai announced a grand ten-year plan for nuclear power development (with which Sethna strongly disagreed), but did not mention the implementation of the Tyawas at all. However, a few months earlier, Sarabhai had apparently decided that India should conduct a TYP/MIP. Perhaps he was told by Indira Gandhi to give the go-ahead. There are no written documents, but it is said that this decision was made sometime in April 1970.

Little did anyone know that Indira Gandhi would take two other decisive steps that year to determine India's true nuclear ambitions. Both of them will take place shortly before it calls for early general parliamentary elections in December 1970.

The first, apparently, was caused by the reaction to the fact that China in April of that year legalized its satellite launch vehicle, also giving it the potential of a ballistic missile. Again, this caused great consternation among members of Parliament. So in November 1970, Indira Gandhi summoned Nagchaudhuri and told him to start a top-secret study of the feasibility of building long-range ballistic missiles. Indira Gandhi's argument to him:"It doesn't make sense to make threats unless you have something to back you up." Later, this project was codenamed "Valiant".

Another decision was actually made two months earlier. In September 1970, Captain First Rank B. R. Vasantha of the Navy, who later retired with the rank of Rear Admiral, was asked to report to C. A. I. B. for a top secret meeting. There, Vasantha, who had just returned from a year's sabbatical for a research assignment in the United States, was told that he was to lead a naval team that would coordinate with C & B to build a nuclear submarine and prepare a feasibility study for the project. He hastily sketched out estimates of the budget and submitted them for consideration. As a result, in mid-December 1970, the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral S. M. Nanda, received a note from Khaksar stating that "the Prime Minister has authorized the Indian Navy to explore the possibility of obtaining a nuclear power plant for naval purposes, and a sum of 50 million rupees has been approved for this purpose." By-

Continuation. For the beginning, see "Asia and Africa today", 2003, N 3-5, 7.

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Given the code name "Project 937", the project was to be completed within 10 years.

Missiles and nuclear submarines, along with aircraft, form a triad of nuclear weapons delivery vehicles that would put India on a par with the nuclear superpowers. Thus, long before the USS Enterprise entered the Bay of Bengal, Indira Gandhi was making grandiose plans for India to join the club of "big countries".

Another thing is that some of Indira Gandhi's nuclear ambitions will be untenable. The initial period of the history of Indian missiles is an example of how a scientific program should not be conducted. And the nuclear submarine project turned out to be something that no project should ever be.


"If you can't build an intercontinental ballistic missile within four years, then I'm closing this lab right now," an exasperated Nagchaudhuri told a bemused senior R & D scientists who gathered at the Nizam's Club in Hyderabad in December 1970 to welcome the new science adviser. A month earlier, he had asked Sundar Lal Bansal, head of the Rocket Engineering Department of the Russian Research and Development Institute, to create a small team of specialists and prepare proposals for the creation of long-range missiles that could cover a distance of more than eight thousand kilometers with a combat load of 500 kilograms within four years.

In addition to visiting the lab for the first time, Nagchaudhuri flew to Hyderabad to listen to the group's report. Bansal outlined the possibilities and concluded by saying, " Sir, it will take a minimum of six to eight years, and at the maximum speed of work, without hindrance in terms of finances and personnel. My advice is that we should design something that can only travel 1,500 kilometers."

Bansal's team also considered this unduly optimistic, since by that time they had no experience in building even short-range missiles. So when Nagchaudhuri uttered his threat, Bansal retorted: "Sir, if you can build a rocket by closing the lab, then go ahead. What you're asking for is impossible. We just don't have a basis."

When Nagchaudhuri took office on July 1, 1970, he had strong views on what was wrong in Indian science. He remembers: "The number one problem then was the lack of concentration of Indian science. Second, it lacked cohesion, as everyone went their own separate way. And third, it lacked objectivity." He adds with a touch of sarcasm: "In India, it's natural to be able to make an impact. Therefore, you also need to be able to distinguish between a person who strives for showiness and someone who develops genuine scientific and technological progress."

Nagchaudhuri doesn't remember threatening to shut down L & D over long-range missiles, and says, "I needed a good ballistic missile program. This means that you strive for a working system, rather than being carried away with every nut and bolt."

Why do we need such a long-range missile? Nagchaudhuri leaves no doubt: "Well, Indira Gandhi wanted her. And if we were going to conduct a nuclear explosion, we should have prepared for it in such a way that all the fragments were lined up in a row. But at the time, we couldn't say that."


Since December 1970, when the popular leader of East Pakistan, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won an absolute majority of votes in the National Assembly elections, the seeds of the Indo-Pakistani war have been growing. This was the first time that political power in Pakistan has shifted from west to east. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who won the majority of votes from the West Pakistan region, refused to allow the National Assembly to sit until an agreement is reached on a new regime of power in Pakistan. Since neither side softened their positions, on March 25, 1971

Years later, military dictator General Yahya Khan ordered the arrest of Mujibur Rahman and unleashed a brutal crackdown in East Pakistan. Civil war broke out and some ten million refugees flooded into India, straining its economy.

That same month, Indira Gandhi led the Congress party with its slogan "Garibi Hatao" (eliminate poverty) to a landslide victory in the general election, winning a two-thirds majority of seats in Parliament. Among her foreign policy priorities was to try to solve the tangled tangle of East Pakistan.

* Nizam is the title of the ruler of the principality of Hyderabad. (Editor's note)

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Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, then General and Chief of Army Staff, recalls that on April 29, 1971, Indira Gandhi asked him to attend an urgent cabinet meeting.

When everyone in the audience expressed their concern about the refugee situation, Indira Gandhi turned to Manekshaw and asked him, " What do you plan to do about this?"

Famously serene, Manekshaw told her, " Nothing."

Indira Gandhi ignored his impudent response and told him to move his soldiers to East Pakistan.

Manekshaw retorted sharply: "But - this is war."

Indira Gandhi replied: "I don't mind if there's a war."

Manekshaw then explained that attacking Pakistan is not the right time because of the upcoming monsoon and India's unwillingness to go to war. In addition, when the Himalayan peaks are completely frozen in December, it will not be easy for China to open another front (against India. Indira Gandhi reluctantly agreed to postpone the attack for the winter.

Until winter, however, she will carefully prepare the soil. On August 9, 1971, it signed a strategic Treaty of Peace, Friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union for twenty years, which not only gave India access to weapons, but also a "buffer" from China if it went to war. The treaty itself with the Soviet Union was agreed upon during lengthy negotiations and was ready by October 1970.

Romesh Bhandari, then a senior diplomat at the Indian Embassy in Moscow, recalls that the signing of the treaty was accelerated by the Soviet Union's threat to remain equidistant from India and Pakistan in its foreign policy. The Soviet Union even offered to sell weapons to Pakistan. The neutrality of the Soviet Union would be a worrying prospect for India. Especially in the UN Security Council, where Pakistan has consistently raised the Kashmir issue.

There was also another reason. Pakistan secretly helped the US restore relations with China. India's relations with the US were at their lowest point, as US President Richard Nixon and Indira Gandhi were unable to get along, and the creation of a new axis posed a great threat to India. These events in a certain respect forced her to go into the arms of the"Soviet bear". Although the details of the Treaty were finalized, Indira Gandhi waited until after the 1971 general parliamentary elections before signing it. By then, the situation in East Pakistan meant that sooner rather than later, India would have to go to war with its neighbor.

Indira Gandhi has skilfully prepared international opinion for this. She toured many European capitals, pointing out the serious difficulties that the refugee problem posed to India, and finally went to the United States, where President Nixon gave her a cold welcome. Nixon, however, was now dealing with an Indira Gandhi vastly different from the one he had seen before. She had strengthened her political position and was well versed in the art of government. It was also determined to make India a militarily strong State.

In December 1971, India won a decisive victory in the war with Pakistan. The war ended with the formation of Bangladesh, and Indira Gandhi emerged as an all-powerful leader in the region. Vajpayee even hailed her as the " Durga * of Indian Politics." All this prompted her to embark on her plans to make India a nuclear superpower.

Among the first tasks was to launch a plan for the creation of Indian missiles.


The honor of preparing a mine near Pokharan for the 1974 explosion was given to the 61st Engineer Regiment, located in Jodhpur.

It must be said that Ramanna was never paranoid about secrecy and trusted those he informed about this project, hoping that they would show the necessary discretion. For the rest of the world, the government reported that the Oil and Natural Gas Commission was digging a mine to explore hidden sources of gas.

The entire project was codenamed "Operation Dry Enterprise". The military personnel of the engineering regiment were not initially told about the true purpose of their work. The regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel Prem Prakash Subherval, claimed that they were digging a deep well to supply water to the landfill. When the water gushed out of the mine, the soldiers who were digging it were ecstatic and thought that their ordeal was over. So they were more than surprised to see Subherval dumbfounded when they told him the good news.

Only Subherval and a few other trusted officials knew that the mine had to be completely dry to conduct a nuclear test. Water or just moisture could seriously damage a nuclear device. The regiment began digging the shaft again at a different location in February 1974 and completed it only a couple of days before the May 18 test. Later, the act of leaving the mine half-submerged was cited as evidence that India had attempted to test the device, but failed.

Scientists recall that on May 18, the day of the tests, there was sweltering heat. None of them had slept for more than an hour the night before. To watch the explosion, Ramanna, Sethna, Nagchaudhuri and Iyengar, along with Subherval, were positioned on specially erected platforms about five kilometers away from the mine.

In the end, everything was ready. A countdown began over a loudspeaker near the dais. Ramanna gave Pranab Revati Dastidar the honor of pressing the red button that was supposed to activate the device. Five seconds earlier, the Dastidar, sitting inside the bunker that duplicates the control center, had to turn a switch that would send a high-voltage current to the capacitors. This voltage must be maintained until the Dastidar presses the red button.

When the countdown sounded "five", as planned, Dastidar turned the high-voltage switch. To his horror, he found that the voltmeter to his left indicated that only 10 percent of the required voltage was applied to the capacitors. His assistants also saw it and yelled:

* Durga - one of the hypostases of the consort of the god Shiva, a formidable warrior goddess, defender of the gods and the world order. (Editor's note)

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"Will we stop it? Are we going to stop it?"

In a panic, one of them even stopped announcing the countdown. But Dastidar was sure that the voltmeter reading was wrong because of the high humidity. He had already conducted a test in CAIB once and had encountered a similar case. So he shrilly shouted, " No, we will continue." At 8: 05 a.m., he pressed the red button.

At the moment when the countdown suddenly stopped, Sethna and the others sitting on the dais thought that the device might not work. Ramanna recalls how N. S. Venkatesan, who had been reciting " Vishnu Sahasanamaha "(a prayer that appeals to all incarnations of the god Vishnu), suddenly fell silent.

Just when they thought the worst had happened, they saw a mini-mountain of sand rising up from the ground before collapsing a minute later. It was an impressive, intimidating sight, and Iyengar recalls thinking: "Now I have come to believe all these mythical stories about God Krishna raising a hill."

Sitting next to him, Jitendra Nath Soni thought it looked like a Kuto-Minar . Then the shockwave hit them like a mini-earthquake. Sethna also felt the earth shake violently and thought: "What the hell, I can't hear a sound."

The sound of the explosion, like a muffled roar, came a second later. Chidambaram, Satinder Kumar Sikka and the team around them were congratulating each other like Indian cricketers do after a match is won - hugging and slapping each other on the back. Chidambaram says: "It was the most exciting moment of my life."

Ramanna saw a gigantic mound of earth rise up, as if, in his words, "it was raised by the God Hanuman." But suddenly remembering that this was going to be followed by a shock wave, he immediately began to climb down from the platform. But then the ground shook violently and he fell. In the moment of his greatest triumph, the father of the Indian atomic bomb will find himself sprawled on the sands of Pokharan, swallowing dust. The irony of this situation will be remembered for the rest of his life.


Saturday morning, May 18, 1974, began with a crowd of Indians humming the lyric song from the movie "Bobby", which was broadcast on national radio, with its catchy words: "Suppose I am locked in a room with you and the key is lost?" (And in the coming months, this Hindi film about young love will be released, breaking all box office records.)

The daily headlines were dominated by reports of Indira Gandhi signing an interim agreement with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh. And also about the national rail strike led by George Fernandez, which lasted for the tenth day.

At 9 o'clock that morning, All India Radio interrupted its regular program to announce, "We are transmitting an emergency message. This morning, at 8: 5 a.m., India successfully conducted an underground nuclear explosion for peaceful purposes at a designated security location in western India."

P. N. Khaksar was then in London, where he had arrived to deliver a planned lecture on Lord Mountbatten. On the previous day, Khaksar had aroused the curiosity of B. K. Nehru, then India's Ambassador to Great Britain, by constantly asking if there was any news from Delhi. When the telegram about the trials arrived, B. K. Nehru saw the relief on Haksar's face and understood the reason for his impatience.

Colonel Gurcharan Sawhney was taking a course at the National Defence College in Delhi when he heard the radio message. An English Air Force officer, a fellow student, tapped him on the shoulder and said, " You damned Indians did it."

That same morning, Sethna and Ramanna flew in from Pokharan on a military plane to meet Indira Gandhi. Sethna recalls: "We didn't have time to shower, and we were all dusty and dirty."

Indira Gandhi could not contain her satisfaction and said to them with feeling, " This is a wonderful job. Everyone here is happy."

Then Ramanna made a bold suggestion: "My lady, you must now approve the H-bomb project."

Qutb Minar (Victory Tower) is a famous minaret in Delhi with a height of 87 meters, built in the XIII century. (Editor's note)

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Ramanna recalls that she walked away from this question by stating: "I knew the pressure was coming, but I didn't think it would come so quickly."

(From Sethna's memoirs: "The discussion was cursory, and she said: "So be it.")

Ramanna notes that Indira Gandhi emphatically added, " Now that this has happened, let me tell you, as far as I'm concerned, that the program is over."

(In Sethna's words, "She just said, forget it, guys." He adds: "I'm sure if we had explained it to her that day, she would have agreed. The point is whether we should have done it. The whole problem was, did we need to get carried away while we didn't have the elements of command and control? Tomorrow it will fall into the hands of some complete fool colonel, and then what will happen?")

Later that day, Indira Gandhi, accompanied by Sethna and Ra-manna, held a brief press conference. The Prime Minister described the test as " clean and good work, a significant achievement of scientists and the whole country." And added: "There's nothing to worry about. We are undoubtedly committed only to the peaceful use of nuclear energy."

Sethna was in his element. He held up an orange to demonstrate how they blew up a plutonium balloon, and added: "We chased the wind for 30 to 40 kilometers to see if any radioactive fallout would fall out. There was nothing."

Then Sethna repeated: "It was an experiment for purely scientific research. The Government really has no intention of producing nuclear weapons and is strongly opposed to the military use of such weapons."

This was an extraordinary commitment made by the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. Perhaps Indira Gandhi was very keen to calm the storm that was sure to break out in the international community.

The flurry of criticism was not long in coming. The next day, the New York Times, in an editorial full of strong language and headlined: "Forward to Armageddon: Another Monument to Human Madness," lamented that "so much talent and resources have been squandered on the vanity of power. At a time when 600 million Indians are sliding deeper into poverty, the sixth member of the nuclear club can "go with an outstretched hand" before the end of the year, because Indian science and technology have so far failed to solve the country's main food and health problems."

The Hong Kong Standard was equally blunt: "Can she (Gandhi) afford political champagne toasts in the high society of the nuclear club on the proceeds of ginger ale and a constantly empty stomach?"

The US was understandably furious. Half an hour after the ordeal, P. N. Dhar phoned U.S. Ambassador Patrick Moynihan to tell him the news. Both of them were Harvard graduates and got along well with each other. When Dhar told him about the ordeal, Moynihan angrily blurted out, " What will you do now if the Pakistani generals quietly move on?"

A few days later, when Moynihan met with Indira Gandhi to present the official US response, he supplemented his first response. He told her, " India made a huge mistake. Here in South Asia, you were the number one major power. Nobody was number two, and Pakistan was number three. Now, in a decade's time, some Pakistani general will call you and say: I have four nuclear weapons and I want Kashmir. If not, we'll drop them on you, and we'll all meet in heaven. And then what will you do?"

Washington's response to the test, however, was somewhat muted. Partly because President Nixon's mind was preoccupied with the Watergate scandal. His all-powerful Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, recalls: "I wasn't really surprised. We knew that sooner or later a strong country like India would do it. And it was in America's long-term interest for India to remain strong. So we didn't attack her too hard." Still, two years later, when Indira Gandhi was planning to perform another test, Kissinger told her top aide, " Don't do it again. This time, we will destroy you."

The 1974 test of the year was triumphantly received by at least one US agency , the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACRA), but for its own reasons. For the past four years, ACA officials have courted bored senators, even inviting them to dinner parties, trying to get them interested in disarmament issues as well. But with little success. Now, after the Indian bombing, they found that lawmakers had rushed to them for advice and promised to support their cause.

France, meanwhile, sent a congratulatory message to India in connection with the test. Predictably, the Soviets were supportive, and the Japanese expressed deep regret. But the harshest reactions came from Canada and Pakistan.

Pakistan used the Indian test as an excuse to give legitimacy to its desire to acquire nuclear weapons as soon as possible. On June 6, 1974, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto sent a message to Indira Gandhi expressing his concerns. He stated: "It is a well-established fact that testing a nuclear device is no different from detonating a nuclear weapon." And that "a simple statement of intent is not enough to guarantee security in the nuclear age."

Bhutto continued: "Your rapidly developing program for acquiring nuclear launch vehicles, as well as designing an artificial orbital satellite with external assistance, which means obtaining a nuclear weapons delivery system, is a disequilibrium factor." The Pakistani Prime Minister immediately raised the defense budget from Rs 423 crore * in 1973/74 to Rs 560 crore for the following fiscal year. Meanwhile, he secretly called his scientists together and told them to continue working on the Pakistani nuclear bomb at a much faster pace.

In 1990, Viswanath Pratap Singh, as Prime Minister of India, had to deal with a possible nuclear confrontation with Pakistan. However, in 1974, when he spoke eloquently in Parliament about India's peaceful intentions, he noted: "They have stirred up the horror with their own hands, and we are accused of opening the "Pandora's box of nuclear weapons", and

* 1 crore =10 million.

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they pale at the thought of how weak small countries - small dwarfs without any sense of responsibility-will follow the example of the vagabond called India and start the "dirty" work of producing a nuclear bomb-work that is the exclusive monopoly of the nuclear-weapon countries."

V. P. Singh glanced around the House of Parliament to assess the effect of his words, then continued: "The high priests who established the nuclear deity are now afraid that some of the believers in their cult might build their own temples." He concluded by saying, " The game that the nuclear Powers played behind closed doors is over. The latch opened. But we have no intention of entering this room. By proving our ability and yet refraining from nuclear weapons, India has shown the wisdom and foresight to pursue a new path of peace."

Among those who warned Indira Gandhi to leave open the choice of India was Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then an MP.

Member of Parliament and leader of the Jana Sangh Party. Indian parliamentarians did not offer any real opposition to the test, with the exception of leftists and socialists. Since Indira Gandhi assured them that India was not embarking on a nuclear weapons program, this significantly weakened the argument of the opposition, who argued that the commitment to the nuclear option is something that a poor country like India can hardly afford.

In a 1998 interview, Khaksar summed up Indira Gandhi's reasons for allowing the ordeal: "She wanted a strong, cohesive country. And also that the voice of India is listened to with respect."

Then, almost as an afterthought, he added gently:"Yves must strengthen his own position as Prime Minister."

Despite her public denials, Indira Gandhi nevertheless instructed the CAIB team to secretly continue working on plans to improve the design of the bomb they had just made.


He was known for his simplicity and rigor. Therefore, the manifestations of his sense of humor are similar-

he looked at the blinding flashes of lightning, until they were "extinguished" by the domineering and menacing appearance that is always inherent in him. Morarji Desai didn't have anything annoying, not even his personal habits. Born into a Gujarati farmer's family, Desai married when he was fifteen, had five children, and by the time he was twenty-eight, had vowed to abstain from sexual relations. He became an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi, and his political life was influenced by many of the latter's ideals, including spinning wheel weaving. According to one of his close advisers, it was "simple to the extreme degree of simplification." And when I made my decisions, I usually thought, " What would Gandhi do if he faced the same problem?"

He was capable, so capable that Nehru even made him finance Minister, and by the early 1960s, he was widely considered the most likely person to succeed Nehru. But there were also many who did not like his uncompromising approach to solving problems and his excessive zeal in defending his principles. Nehru also began to show dynastic leanings. So in a clever move in 1963, then-Congress President K. Kamaraj devised a plan that would be named after him to reduce the number of all "pretenders to the throne" to manageable levels. He forced all of Nehru's cabinet ministers to resign, saying that several of the most important ones needed to be sent to party work. Desai, of course, was transferred to a party post, which removed him from the ranks of potential successors.

This paved the way for L. B. Shastri and then Indira Gandhi to succeed him, although not without Desai's protests. When Indira Gandhi became the party's chosen candidate after Shastri's death, Desai announced his participation in the contest and demanded a vote. He lost, but as a compromise was made Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister in Indira Gandhi's cabinet. His paths diverged with it during the great Congress split of 1969, and he became head of the rival Congress Party (organizations). Then he joined forces with the Janata Party and together with the Jana Sangh they formed an impressive opposition to Indira Gandhi. In March 1977, when

The newly formed Janata Party won an impressive victory over the (ruling)Congress Indira Gandhi, of course, he was elected head of the troubled coalition.

Desai may have been an outstanding finance minister, but as Prime Minister he didn't live up to expectations. Not to mention that he was tough and arrogant, as one assistant noted, "he could be stubborn as a mule" and "at times impossible to deal with." It wasn't just his flaw. The coalition came together with the sole intention of defeating Indira Gandhi. After this goal was achieved, the coalition leaders had little in common, except for their undisguised ambitions. Desai held on as Prime Minister for two tumultuous years before the coalition collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions.

Desai, who openly promoted the therapeutic value of drinking his own urine for people, was even more eccentric in the eyes of many, not to mention the fact that it caused a lot of jokes.

Desai has always been vehemently opposed to India developing nuclear weapons. He argued: "From an economic point of view, we will be greatly harmed if we try to enter the nuclear race, because of its fabulous cost... Also, how will it help us? Most of our people will die of poverty and demoralization even before there is any destruction from the bomb dropped by China on our country."

When he was Prime Minister, his antipathy to the bomb became even more obvious. He constantly made fun of Sethna, with whom he spoke about her in his native Gujarati language. But he reserved most of his sarcasm for Ramanna. Whenever Desai met Ramanna, his eyes would sparkle with mischief and he would speak meaningfully: "Hello, Mr. Bombshell.

Desai misled everyone with his cryptic approach to the nuclear program. Sethna recalls that shortly after Desai was sworn in in March 1977, he convened a Cabinet Committee to discuss the nuclear strategy that India should adopt, including whether it should be allowed to do so.

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the country should prepare for a nuclear test in general. At first, his cabinet ministers thought that Desai had called a meeting to decide only whether India should sign the NPT. But the Prime Minister told them sharply: "Why are we discussing signing the NPT? India is not going to sign it. This will make India a third-rate state."

At the end of the meeting, among other things, a vote was held on whether to prepare for a nuclear test. Sethna claims that Finance Minister H. M. Patel and Defense Minister Jagjivan Ram were in favor of additional tests, but surprisingly, A. B. Vajpayee (already in his new role as Foreign Minister) found the timing inappropriate. According to Sethna, Vajpayee said: "Wait a minute. We shouldn't do it now. If we have to do this, we have to think about it and then do it." Although Sethna is quick to make it clear that Vajpayee never said no.

Desai, however, repeatedly muttered "evil, evil" throughout the meeting, but said nothing. Sethna thought that the meeting had ended on an unfinished note. But even before he left for Mumbai, he was surprised to receive the minutes of the cabinet meeting with this passage:: "The Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission has been given the necessary instructions to continue acting."

News must have reached the United States about Desai's supposed permission to further improve the design of the device, despite his public denunciation of nuclear weapons. That is why, in May 1977, US President Jimmy Carter hastily appointed Robert Gohin as US Ambassador to India and asked him to meet with Desai immediately. Gohin brought Desai a candid message from Carter, asking him to curtail India's nuclear weapons program and participate in nonproliferation negotiations.

As a carrot, Carter promised to use his presidential authority to allow the shipment of nuclear fuel for the Tarapura nuclear power plant, which was blocked by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

When Gohin met with Desai, Desai is said to have told the new US ambassador: "I will never build a bomb, and yes, we will enter into negotiations." On June 28, perhaps in a quid pro quo, Carter cleared the supply roadblocks to Tarapur. Then, in July 1977, US Undersecretary of State Warren Christopher was sent to India to continue the pressure and also set the stage for President Carter's planned visit. Meanwhile, there was growing protest in the country against Desai's public position not to conduct even peaceful nuclear tests. In the same month, he was forced to clarify in Parliament: "We have come to the conclusion that no explosion is necessary for peaceful use... But if anything is needed, we can always do it by consulting with other people."

Carter visited India in the first week of January 1978, becoming only the third sitting U.S. president to visit the country. His mission included, among other things, pressuring India to abandon its nuclear options. And also to warn that if it "fails", then his administration will take harsh measures, such as cutting off fuel supplies for the Tarapura nuclear power plant. Since both characters were known to be fastidious, their meeting was presented as if one "Pope meets another". Desai, who had studied science in college, imagined that he knew more about nuclear issues than most politicians.

During one discussion, he told Carter, " What India did in 1974 was subversive. It's not an explosion."

Carter, clearly puzzled, asked, " What is it?": "What do you mean by that? I don't understand the difference."

Desai, putting on the air of a patient mentor designed to influence incapable students, explained: "When you go to a quarry, drill holes, put dynamite or some other explosive substance in them, and blow it up, then it's an explosion. We did just that. An explosion is different." Carter was confused. This explanation left even Sethna puzzled.

It was during this meeting that, not noticing a reporter's microphone turned on, Carter made the mistake of telling his assistant, "When we get back, I think we should write him another letter, just a cold and very sharp one." Carter blushed with embarrassment when the daily papers reported this, but Desai acted "sportily", saying that the remarks "were not meant to be heard, were not heard."

Carter's response came in the form of the so-called Nuclear Nonproliferation Act, which was passed by the US Congress on March 10, 1978, and became the cornerstone of America's nuclear policy. Under this law, the United States could only export strategic nuclear materials, including enriched uranium fuel, to countries that agreed to place all nuclear-related facilities under comprehensive IAEA control. One of the main goals of this law was the Tarapura nuclear power plant. The United States gave a year and a half to allow interested countries to confirm their agreement with the new legislation.

The NRC then took a hard line against India, refusing to issue a permit to send the next batch of fuel to Tarapur. Desai was furious. In Parliament, he threatened that India is free to " take whatever course we like to safeguard our own interests." His tough stance worked. On April 27, 1978, Carter used his presidential powers to reverse the NRC decision, explaining that it seriously undermined his Government's efforts to persuade India to meet the necessary conditions by the March 1980 deadline for the NRC to take effect.

Reassured by Carter's actions, Desai then called for a nuclear-weapon-free world at the UN special session on disarmament in New York in June 1978. In his speech, he said with pathos: "We are the only country that has promised not to produce or acquire nuclear weapons, even if the rest of the world does. I once again solemnly repeat this promise before the Assembly in August of this year." He shocked many members of his cabinet when he later said: "In fact, we have gone further and abandoned nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes." Much to Desai's annoyance Vajpayee publicly distanced himself-

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depending on this decision of his. After a storm of protests over his speech in July, Desai awkwardly explained in Parliament that his proposals were driven by the mood in the world taking steps to disarm nuclear Powers.

A month later, in July 1978, Desai made another controversial decision when (apparently at the insistence of Industry Minister George Fernandez) he signed a protocol on economic, industrial, scientific and technical cooperation with Libya. The document unexpectedly provided for assistance to it in the field of technology for the production of nuclear energy.

During a period of oil turmoil that soared the cost of Indian imports, Desai's government sought out friends in the Middle East to ease its difficulties. So in October 1977, Fernandez toured a number of countries in the region as Desai's special emissary to win over some of them, including Libya and Iraq. Fernandez believed that closer ties with Libya would lead to cheaper oil imports to India. The Libyans were willing to invest $ 1.5 billion in joint ventures with India and expected India to help them generate and transmit electricity, including helping them build a nuclear power plant. It was said that then Fernandez by "twisting hands" forced Desai to allow the conclusion of such an agreement with Libya.

Fernandez denies that he made any clear commitments. He recalls that in Tripoli, when he met with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on October 4, 1977, he was sitting on a huge throne in his palace and "was as prim as you can be prim." Gaddafi began the meeting by demanding an apology from the Indian government for Subramaniam Swami calling him depraved, and said: "I am a revolutionary. How can someone call me depraved?"

Fernandez reassured him that Swami did not represent the government. Gaddafi said that he is more friendly to Pakistan and prefers to help it. Fernandez replied: "Brother Gaddafi, there are 80 million Muslims in Pakistan. And we have 150 million. So you have 100 million more reasons to be friendly."

According to Fernandez, Gaddafi's eyes flashed when he heard this, and he said that he could do business with India. Fernandez brings clarity: "I didn't offer Gaddafi any nuclear items. Nuclear power was managed by Morarji Bhai, so how could I make any suggestions?"

This is not exactly how Romesh Bhandari of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who accompanied Fernandez, presents the episode. He recalls that the Libyans did ask India for cooperation in the field of nuclear technology, and states: "They wanted us to transfer scientific and technical knowledge. But we only agreed to teach them how to use them in a peaceful way, and we gave up on anything sensitive."

When Sethna learned of the agreement, he was horrified: "The Libyans were only interested in one thing: come and make a bomb. Or give it to us." He remembers: "I used to tell them: leave me alone. But they wouldn't listen."

Sethna met Desai and told him in Gujarati, " If information about these things gets out, you will be in big, big trouble."

According to Sethna, Desai haughtily told him, " As Prime Minister, I can do anything."

When Desai had cooled down, he asked Sethna, " Now tell me how I can end this."

So Sethna and Bhandari devised a scheme to trick the Libyans. Part of it was sending (to Libya) a delegation led by R. K. Iyengar to study the feasibility of creating nuclear facilities. When Iyengar arrived, the Libyans made it very clear that they wanted India to help them build nuclear power plants and research reactors.

Iyengar says that he went back and wrote to Sethna that " the infrastructure in Libya is so weak that there is no point in talking about these things." Privately, he'll say, " One look at them and you know they're not prepared for the hard work. They all want to have it ready." As a result, Sethna wrote to Desai that the agreement cannot be implemented until the Libyans create the appropriate infrastructure.

Sethna confirms that the Iraqis have also expressed interest in India building nuclear power reactors for them. In exchange, they would pay in oil. He notes, " The really smart stuff came from Iraq. Top-level engineers were sent. They were extremely professional." India also sent several delegations to explore the feasibility of a 200-megawatt plant and proposals for extracting uranium from phosphorous deposits. The Iraqis wanted to know if they could make bombs out of plutonium generated in spent fuel rods from a power reactor. India has warned them against doing so, pointing out that even nuclear-advanced countries find it difficult. Nothing came of the negotiations, because by then the war between Iran and Iraq had broken out.

This is not to say that Desai has stalled all development on the nuclear weapons front. It was during his tenure as prime Minister that an agreement was signed to purchase Jaguars, long - range attack aircraft, from British Aerospace. One of the reasons for this choice was the possibility of using them for nuclear strikes, if such a need arises.

In December 1976, the Navy came to the conclusion that the design of the power plant developed by Ts AI B did not provide the submarine with sufficient energy, and abandoned it.

It was around this time that the Soviet Union first made an offer to help India build the right submarine. But Indira Gandhi was going to call a general parliamentary election, so nothing could be done. And when Desai took office, he showed no interest in the Soviet proposal.

By mid-1979, Desai's government had fallen. In the December 1979 elections, when the Congress won 350 of the 525 seats in the lower house of Parliament, Indira Gandhi triumphantly returned for a fourth term as Prime Minister. On the nuclear front, it started where it left off. She stated bluntly that India had not abandoned the IAP option. To put weapons projects back on track, she began promoting the generous Ramanna to take over the reins of nuclear power.

(To be continued)


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By Raj CHENGAPPA, REGIONAL SECURITY. HOW INDIA'S NUCLEAR WEAPONS WERE DEVELOPED // Delhi: India (ELIB.ORG.IN). Updated: 15.05.2024. URL: (date of access: 21.06.2024).

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