Narasimah – the true father of India’s nuclear plan
By Iftikhar Gilani
NEW DELHI: India, it has been revealed, began developing its nuclear capability between 1991 and 1996 under the watchful eye of late prime minister PV Narasimha Rao, who initiated the cutting of the country’s defence budget to give priority to its “nuclear deterrent”.
This hitherto unknown fact rests in the unpublished portion of the Kargil Committee Report and has been disclosed by its chairman and former national security advisor K Subrahmanyam.
The report also details former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee giving posthumous credit to Rao for securing India’s nuclear status, describing him as the “true father of the country’s nuclear programme”.
Writing in the Chandigarh-based newspaper The Tribune, Subrahmanyam reveals the secret account of Rao’s role in making operational the country’s first nuclear weapon during his administration, a fact he himself disclosed to the committee. Subrahmanyam says that this claim has been “supported by the account of VP Singh (former PM) in the Kargil Report”.
As Subrahmanyam explains, the Kargil Committee had urged the government to release the entire report, including all annexures, since these “had already been screened by the committee to ensure that no material that would hurt the country’s interests had been included”.
However, the annexures recording Rao’s role in evolving India’s nuclear policy had not been released by the government.
Subrahmanyam says that it is not surprising that Vajpayee’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government did not support the publishing of the Kargil Report’s annexures “since the Rao account would have appropriated most of the credit for nuclear weapon development to the Congress”.
He adds that any belated publication at this stage would play into the hands of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
Subrahmanyam reveals that when the Kargil Committee wrote to Rao requesting a meeting, the late prime minister agreed only to a private meeting. When he asked about the nature of the talks, Subrahmanyam replied that Kashmir and the nuclear issue would be on the agenda.
Rao was not ready to discuss the nuclear policy issue but agreed, nevertheless, to talk to Subrahmanyam in his individual capacity. When Subrahmanyam pressed Rao on his obligation to future generations to disclose his account of the country’s nuclear policy evolution during his prime ministership, Rao replied that he had an obligation to one person only, and that he had fulfilled the task.
That person was Vajpayee, who, as his successor, Rao had felt duty-bound to debrief. The Kargil Committee secured a meeting with Rao after Subrahmanyam had indicated to his three colleagues - George Verghese, General Hazari and Satish Chandra - that they should not raise the nuclear question but remain focused on Kashmir.
“At the end of the discussion George Verghese asked him why in view of the Kashmir situation he had outlined, was the defence budget cut during his time. Rao replied that was because the nuclear deterrent was under development and that had priority. Then he proceeded to tell us on his own, how the nuclear arsenal was operationalised only during his premiership,” writes Subrahmanyam.
Following the meeting, a transcript of the talks, including Rao’s disclosures on the status of the nuclear programme under his tenure, was duly sent to him. Subrahmanyam admits that he wondered whether Rao would cut out these portions, but confirms that he simply signed the document and returned it intact.
Subrahmanyam goes on to say that during the period of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, the two senior leaders of the Congress who were in on the nuclear picture were R Venkataraman (who later became president) and Rao himself.
He says that the credit for issuing orders to assemble the nuclear bomb goes to Rajiv, adding that it was Indira Gndhi who restarted the weapon development programme after Morarji Desai halted it. Yet, he concluded, it was Rao who rendered it operational.
Subrahmanyam points out that while Rao was updating Vajpayee on the progress of the country’s nuclear programme, he was under tremendous pressure from the United States to roll it back.
“The evidence of this is that there was no, repeat no pressure from the BJP in parliament on the nuclear issue, though there was a widespread impression in the country that the programme had been slowed down under US pressure,” says the Kargil Committee chief.