Indian prime minister defends nuclear test decision
May 11, 1999
NEW DELHI (CNN) -- Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose coalition government was toppled last month, marked the start of his election campaign Tuesday on the anniversary of India's first nuclear tests in 24 years.
Vajpayee ordered the tests a year ago, prompting India's foe, Pakistan, to react with blasts of its own.
The order made Vajpayee a national hero in the eyes of many, but he fell from grace in India's parliament when his Hindu nationalist-led coalition lost a vote of confidence.
Vajpayee's government is continuing in a caretaker capacity until the general election, which will be held either in September or October.
Vajpayee still defends his nuclear-test decision, saying being ready for war has given the country the power to pursue peace.
NATO's "naked aggression" in Yugoslavia, he said, makes it clear that the decision was the right one.
"Who is safe in this world?" he told more than 100,000 people at a rally in Bombay. "In this situation, we cannot let our defenses slip. Nuclear weapons are the only way to maintain peace."
Vajpayee called the day "Resurgent India Day."
Protesters picket for peace
While the government celebrated the one-year anniversary of the tests, anti-nuclear activists began a three-month march across northern India, starting near the underground test site at Pokharan.
A small group of anti-nuclear activists began a walk from Khetolai, the closest village to the test site in the Thar desert, to Sarnath in the eastern state of Bihar, where Buddha preached peace 13 centuries ago. The activists planned protests in five cities.
Nearly 60 other anti-nuclear activists held hands and marched through New Delhi.
Arms race in south Asia?
India and Pakistan carried out matching nuclear-capable ballistic missile tests this year, raising further concern about an arms race in South Asia.
Despite international pressure, India and Pakistan have yet to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or a nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
Before it fell, Vajpayee's government seemed to be inching towards acceptance of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in return for a gradual easing of the economic sanctions imposed by Washington after the tests.
Since last year the United States has spearheaded Western efforts to draw India into the nuclear arms control regime, which New Delhi has long argued discriminates in favor of the five official nuclear weapon powers.
Atomic Energy Commission Chief Rajagopala Chidambaram told the Times of India that a moratorium on testing had been declared.
He said last year's blasts had provided an adequate database for developing a credible nuclear deterrent.
Taking a less exuberant view than Vajpayee, the government has coined Tuesday's anniversary 'Technology Day,' saying the day is meant to honor the country's nuclear and defense scientists.
U.N. concerned about India, Pakistan missile tests
India-Pakistan Nuclear Crisis
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