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Internal opposition builds over India's nuclear tests


Protesters march in New Delhi

May 16, 1998
Web posted at: 6:40 p.m. EDT (2240 GMT)

From New Delhi Bureau Chief Anita Pratap

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- After the initial public euphoria over the Indian government's decision to go ahead with nuclear weapons tests, there are increasing signs that consensus on the issue may be breaking down.

On Saturday, 300 anti-nuclear protesters marched through New Delhi, joined by members of India's poor low castes, who complained that the government shouldn't be spending money on nuclear weapons when people are starving and dying in the streets.

CNN's New Delhi Bureau Chief Anita Pratap reports
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"Before we go nuclear, let us feed the poor," read a sign carried by one protester.

"It's a matter of great shame that we should celebrate an achievement that announces to the world that India is now capable of killing millions of people with nuclear bombs," said protester Vrinda Grover.

Police surrounded the marchers, fearing attacks by extremist right-wing supporters of the government, who had threatened to break up the protests.


Some opposition politicians and newspapers also have started to question the wisdom of the decision by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which leads India in a coalition government.

"The BJP has hijacked the agenda, and it has hijacked it in a very undemocratic way -- without proper discussion, without consultation with its own coalition partners," peace activist Achin Vanaik said. "It's a minority government. It has no mandate to do it on its own."

Even former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, who had enthusiastically welcomed the testing, is urging Vajpayee to rein in the street celebrations by government supporters over the nuclear tests.

"As a leader, he must ensure that the country does not get into a jingoistic mood," Gujral said. "You know, it is very easy to flare this up."

Other political opponents criticized the BJP for trying to take credit for India's nuclear program, which has developed over decades and under several different governments.

The Times of India said Saturday that Vajpayee's government "had played the nuclear card, gambling with national interests for partisan ends."

When it comes to nuclear policy, India has always been able to maintain a political consensus in support of the program. Now, cracks have started to appear in that consensus, and though they are not wide, the fact that they are there at all marks a significant development.


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