New Delhi, Aug. 18: Former diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyar today made a brief return to where he belonged a quarter century back as he spoke on the mothballed Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan on nuclear disarmament following an invite from the foreign ministry.
The plan has survived only in the memory of those who shared the former Prime Minister’s views rather than that of successive governments, which found it more pragmatic to forget.
Aiyar, who served in the Indian Foreign Service till 1989, was one of the few who opposed the 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests but had been shouted down.
On Tuesday, Aiyar would address an event in the capital to reminisce about the plan for universal nuclear disarmament that the late Prime Minister had presented to the third UN Special Session on Disarmament in 1988.
Aiyar, then a joint secretary on deputation in the Prime Minister’s Office, was closely associated with drafting the plan. He took voluntary retirement in 1989 to join politics. Rajiv was assassinated in 1991.
Since then, no government, whether led by the Congress or a non-Congress coalition, has shown any interest — barring stray lip-service — in reviving the plan as India emerged as a big arms buyer and a nuclear-armed power after the Pokhran blasts during NDA rule.
Now, 23 years after he quit the IFS, Aiyar has managed to convince Manmohan Singh’s office and the ministry of external affairs (MEA) that the moment was favourable to advocate universal nuclear disarmament with the action plan as its roadmap.
Today, unveiling the plan for Tuesday’s event at the ministry’s conference hall, Aiyar said unilateral disarmament was impractical for India. He said the government should hold bilateral discussions with both America and Russia, who between them possess 90-95 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons stockpile.
He criticised Pakistan for being the sole stumbling block in “deadlocking” discussions at the Conference on Disarmament towards reduction of fissile material.
Aiyar said the US and Russia possessed enough nuclear weapons to wipe out life from this planet 17 times over. “Surely, once should be enough if they wanted to wipe us out,” he said.
The former minister said Tuesday’s event would be aimed at creating awareness about disarmament among young Indians and added that Australia and many Latin American and Scandinavian countries wanted a nuclear weapons-free world.
Tuesday’s event at New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan will be attended by Vice-President Hamid Ansari and national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon along with 1,500 schoolchildren.
Aiyar would start the proceedings with a speech in Rajiv’s memory and hold an interactive session on the need for a world free of nuclear weapons and how India should occupy its “traditional place in the vanguard” of such a movement.
MEA officials said the Indian Council for World Affairs, an arm of the ministry, was supporting the effort. Sources said not much was being spent from taxpayers’ money, indicating that Aiyar and others pushed for the event with the PMO and the MEA to remember Rajiv, whose birth anniversary falls on Monday.
An official source said if it had not been for Aiyar and the name of Rajiv associated with the plan, such an event would never have received the government’s blessings. “We can’t start appealing to the world to give up their guns while we continue to carry one ourselves,” said an official source.
Aiyar was a central minister for petroleum and youth affairs and sports in UPA I. He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha during the UPA government’s second stint.