Factors Surrounding India’s Nuclear Development

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) confirmed that there was a cyberattack on the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) in Tamil Nadu, India, in September, 2019

Since the early 1960s environment stands nuclearised. China and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons and delivery systems to pose a nuclear threat across the length and breadth of India. A substantive amount of nuclear technology moved from the US to Pakistan. In situation, the basic adverse nuclear asymmetry was not likely to be resolved through disarmament in the predictable future and the only option left for India was to “exercise” the option towards a nuclear deterrent. In addition, the humiliating defeat at the hands of China in 1962 awakened India to the new realities of military power as a major factor in international politics and inter-state relations. The prevailing developments held in the nuclear sphere necessitated the shift in India’s defence policy. Especially, in the context of the 1962 India-China war, Nehru admitted that it had stalled the pace of development. In fact, he felt that the Chinese attack was primarily meant to derail India in its journey towards economic growth. The set- back had opened the eyes of the powers that be, leading the modernisation of the armed forces and induction of advanced weaponry in all the three wings.

Overhauling of defence policy

After the death of Nehru in May 1963, Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeded him as the Prime Minister of India. As a  result of India-China war of 1962 but particularly after 16th October 1964  when China exploded its first nuclear device, the people of India began to agitate over the likely nuclear threat that China could pose to this country. The Chinese tests showed considerable sophistication but the more worrying fact was that they have all the basic facilities viz., manpower requirements and raw-material requirements for a sustained weapon programme. The Chinese explosion provided the greatest incentive for self-reliance in defence production and hardly a week after it, Mrs Indira Gandhi, then Minister for Information and Broadcasting had said in an interview with the French Television in Paris on 22nd October 1964, ‘‘India is in a position to produce the bomb within eighteen months. But we should not deviate from our stand and should use atomic energy for peaceful purposes only.’’ Further during Lok Sabha debate on foreign affairs, in November 1964, members of different parties, including some Congressmen demanded a  change in the Government’s “no bomb policy”. The indication was given on 27th November 1964  by the Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri. Sharing the concern of members over the Chinese blast, Shastri said that Government’s present stand should not be regarded as a permanent one. No Government can afford a static approach. He said, ‘‘I cannot say that the present policy is deep-rooted,  that it cannot be set aside,  that it can never be changed…….and an individual may have certain static policy….. But in the political field, we can not do so. Here situations alter, changes, take place and I have to move our policy accordingly. If there is need to amend what we have said even we will say all right, let us go ahead and do so”.

It was in that kind of situation that India, under Shastri’s premiership, initiated the nuclear explosives programme in 1965 and later carried out by Mrs Gandhi’s Government. But unfortunately, given the strength of India’s general anti-bomb orientation, the untimely deaths of both Lal Bahadur Shashtri and Bhabha during 1966, followed by the economic difficulties and Vikram Sarabhai’s opposition to pursue this scheme; India’s nuclear programme got delayed by many more years.

China’s successful Atomic test mentioned as a headline in The Japan Today on 17 October 1964 (A day after the Chinese nuclear test)

Failure of global efforts on disarmament

On the other hand, earlier, by the end of the 1950s when the prospects of successful negotiations on disarmament were once again getting dark, many non-aligned nations like India, Yugoslavia, Egypt, Ghana and  Indonesia mounted the pressure of their demand on activising the UN General Assembly in respect of disarmament. Also, in the wake of the Chinese explosion, the world powers became aware of the implications of a nuclear device.  A treaty banning all nuclear tests except those held underground was signed in Moscow on 5th August 1963, by the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain. India also signed the treaty on 5th August 1963. But this treaty did not bring about a breakthrough in relations to the problem of disarmament. It had only a limited value for it failed to secure a ban on all nuclear tests by not covering the underground tests and limiting itself only to the tests on the ground, in water and in the atmosphere. There was certainly a lot of use despite the ban on these. India too, despite signature, had opposed it as an unequal and discriminatory instrument conferring unequal privileges on the powers then possessing equal weapons, and imposing one-sided restrictions on the non-nuclear weapon powers. In this regard, India favoured ‘Genuine Disarmament… and not just those arms control measure which suits the convenience of the major military powers’.

In its capacity as a responsible member of the world body, India’s representative while participating in the initial debates in the UN General Assembly on Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in November 1965, stressed the need to establish ‘‘an acceptable balance of mutual responsibilities and obligations of the nuclear and non- nuclear powers”. Earlier India had hoped that the Test Ban Treaty of 1963 would encourage steps towards complete and comprehensive disarmament.

The final shape of policy

Thus, the regional and global environment prevailing in the 1960s compelled India to be ready for nuclearisation. In addition, China’s first atomic test had indeed unleashed a national uproar which was to kick-start India’s first serious debate in favour of building nuclear weapons. The sixty-ninth annual session of the Indian National Congress which followed the Chinese test in January 1965, witnessed a heated debate on the issue. Again, during September 1965, over one hundred Members of Parliament (MPs) from various political parties submitted to the government a joint memorandum demanding a prompt and immediate decision to develop nuclear weapons. The annual session of the Indian Science Congress in 1966 passed a resolution making the same demand.

Homi Bhabha Atomic Research Centre

At last, Homi Bhabha, the founder architect of India’s nuclear establishment, had to reassure the nation, that, given the political green signal, India’s scientific community could explode a nuclear bomb in eighteen months. And it is in this context that the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was to sanction the proposal put forward by Bhabha on investigating a Subterranean Nuclear Explosion Project. This can be seen as the earliest signal of a pro-bomb tilt in India’s nuclear policy. By the end of 1966, there was unanimous support for a nuclear weapons programme. Further developments on the discriminatory aspects of the Non- Proliferation Treaty of 1968 which India rejected, New Delhi had decided to sustain its independence on international security by allowing her for the development of the peaceful nuclear explosion technology.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Dr Rajkumar Singh

Dr. Rajkumar Singh is presently Professor and Head, Department of Political Science and Dean of Social Sciences at B.N. Mandal University, Madhepura (Bihar), India. His 19 books published in addition to 900 articles in national and international journals and daily newspapers from 25 foreign countries.

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