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
"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.