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Jitters at nuke policy hint

Vajpayee

New Delhi, April 7: The BJP today promised an independent military nuclear programme modelled on policies Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government had followed, giving jitters to a global diplomatic community that in recent months has tried to second-guess the party’s nuclear doctrine.

The party declared in its manifesto, released today, that it would review India’s nuclear doctrine because “the strategic gains acquired by India during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime on the nuclear programme have been frittered away by the Congress”.

In western diplomatic circles, former Prime Minister Vajpayee’s nuclear doctrine is seen as a significantly more muscular policy than what the UPA has followed over the past decade, and is symbolised by India’s 1998 nuclear tests.

“There’s been this unspoken worry within the diplomatic community on whether a BJP government will attempt any repeat of what it did in 1998, and today’s manifesto has only added to those worries,” a senior diplomat from a western European nation told The Telegraph.

With pollsters predicting the possibility of a BJP government under Narendra Modi, New Delhi’s diplomatic enclave has been buzzing with speculation over the possible nuclear doctrine a new government under Modi might adopt.

The 1998 nuclear tests triggered a global diplomatic backlash, with the US declaring sanctions and putting off a planned India visit by then President Bill Clinton. The tests also fuelled fresh attempts by western nations to pull India into nuclear non-proliferation regimes that New Delhi has consistently refused to join.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s nuclear policy over the past decade has concentrated on civilian nuclear energy, emphasising to western partners that India’s primary focus in developing and acquiring nuclear technology was on generating energy for peaceful purposes.

That has helped India earn crucial waivers from a club of nuclear-trading nations that allow New Delhi to buy reactors without joining non-proliferation regimes that bar any future testing. Those waivers in turn have helped India ink historic nuclear pacts with the US, Russia and France, ending a global nuclear apartheid against New Delhi.

But the BJP — and other Opposition parties including the Left — has accused New Delhi of bowing to US pressure in key geopolitical areas in exchange for the nuclear deal. The manifesto suggests the BJP may try some tweaks, including bringing the focus back to India’s military nuclear programme.

“We will follow a two-pronged independent nuclear programme, unencumbered by foreign pressure and influence, for civilian and military purposes, especially as nuclear power is a major contributor to India’s energy sector,” the manifesto says, under a sub-head titled “Independent strategic nuclear programme”.

The party has also kept open the option of revisiting the Indo-US nuclear deal, though Indian diplomats said they did not expect any significant about-turn on the pact.