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Atal doffs hat to nuke 'father' Rao

Gwalior, Dec. 26: Atal Bihari Vajpayee chose the day after his birthday to make an important disclosure, crediting P.V. Narasimha Rao as the 'true father' of India's nuclear programme.

Participating at a writers' meet in hometown Gwalior today, an emotional Vajpayee said when he assumed the Prime Minister's office in 1996 (the 13-day stint), he received a paper from his predecessor urging him to continue the country's nuclear programme.

'Rao had asked me not to make it public; but today when he is dead and gone, I wish to set records straight.'

In typical Vajpayee fashion, the former Prime Minister went on: 'Rao told me that the bomb is ready. I exploded it. I did not miss the opportunity.'

Vajpayee said he never blamed the Congress on this count. 'They, too, wanted a strong India to counter Pakistan and China. In foreign policy matters, they never lacked a commitment.'

The BJP leader is here in connection with his 80th birthday that was celebrated yesterday. However, because of Rao's demise, he celebrated his birthday simply and many state government functions were called off on account of the national mourning.

The former Prime Minister said he had been given sole credit for India's second nuclear explosion in Pokhran. 'But I wish to give credit to him, too.

The country's nuclear programme was never halted,' he said, adding that he considered Rao the 'father of the country's nuclear programme'.

Rao was often accused of wilting under US pressure to call off the nuclear test. In a recent book, former US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbot claimed that President Bill Clinton's hectic, behind-the-scene diplomatic efforts had dissuaded Rao from conducting the test.

Rao's 'failure' to carry it out was also made a political issue by Vajpayee's party.

Vajpayee said there were several reasons why he decided in favour of going nuclear. The government had full knowledge that Pakistan was making similar efforts, he said. 'Moreover, we could never ignore the China factor, too.'

The poet in him sounded pacifist among men of letters, clarifying that nuclear power is never meant to be used.

'It acts as a powerful deterrent and has its own advantages,' Vajpayee said, before reading out some of his favourite poems.

Yesterday, Vajpayee said people discovered a 'tough side' of him after the Pokhran nuclear test in May 1998. 'Suddenly, my image was transformed. From a suave, gentle (person), I was seen as a tough man who could be aggressive in time of need,' Vajpayee said, adding that his birthday in 1998, after the test, was the most memorable. 'This year is my second-best birthday.'

In his low-key birthday bash, Vajpayee made it a point to meet over 500 people who had queued up at his home. While a number of them were his relatives, Vajpayee recognised several of his old associates, neighbours, and friends recalling the 'good old days'.

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