NEW DELHI: India prime ministerial frontrunner Narendra Modi said he was committed to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons, seeking to assuage concern after his Hindu nationalist BJP party vowed to revise the nuclear doctrine if elected to power.
India declared itself a nuclear weapons state after carrying out tests in the summer of 1998, which were followed by tests by Pakistan. Since then both have been developing nuclear weapons and testing longer range missiles.
“It is necessary to be powerful - not to suppress anyone, but for our own protection,” Modi said in an interview with the ANI television service.
But he said he would pursue a policy of continuity based on the approach of former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who declared a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons after ordering the tests.
“No first use was a great initiative of Atal Bihari Vajpayee - there is no compromise on that. We are very clear. No first use is a reflection of our cultural inheritance,” Modi told ANI.
His comments came a week after the BJP unveiled its manifesto, pledging to review the nuclear doctrine, whose two main pillars were a no first-use commitment and building a credible but minimum nuclear arsenal.
The pledge, to “study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times”, gave no specifics but raised concerns among former U.S. diplomats that the policy of no first use would be abandoned. The State Department itself declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Indian opposition leader and general election frontrunner Narendra Modi accused the media on wednesday of smearing him over sectarian rioting in 2002 in which more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is on track to win India’s general election and promote Modi from his current post as chief minister in Gujarat - his home state where the rioting occurred - to become the next prime minister. Voting in the world’s largest democracy is phased over several weeks, beginning on April 7 and ending on May 12. Results are due to be announced on May 16. “If the media had not made such an effort to malign Modi, Modi would not be as well known as he is,” Modi, 63, said in an interview with the ANI television service.
Modi’s rise has drawn fresh attention to the riots. Rahul Gandhi of the ruling Congress party has said that, even though a Supreme Court inquiry found that Modi had no case to answer, it did not absolve him of responsibility. Modi has also faced accusations that he has been reticent over the killings because expressing contrition might alienate the BJP’s core Hindu vote in the five-week election. The biggest round of voting will be held on Thursday.
Modi said that his attempts to explain the 2002 events to journalists had proved futile. “There is no top journalist to whom I have not given an interview. I answered every question from 2002-2007,” he said. “Later I saw that this was not an attempt to learn the truth.” He expressed confidence that the BJP would achieve its best ever result in the election, while the Congress party faced its worst ever defeat. “I have said what I had to say,” said Modi. “Now I am in the people’s court, and I am waiting to hear its judgment.”
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