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'Hell broke loose': Yashwant Sinha recalls time of India's nuclear test

Press Trust of India/New Delhi 14 Jul 19 | 01:20 PM

A few days before India conducted nuclear tests on May 11, 1998, the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee asked his finance minister Yashwant Sinha to remain prepared to deal with backlash from the world powers, especially in the economic field.

Sinha was summoned to Vajpayee's residence one morning in early May 1998. When he reached there, he was taken to the prime minister's bedroom.

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I guessed immediately that what he was about to tell me was not only important but also highly confidential, Sinha recalls, adding Vajpayee then broke a piece of stunning news that left him feeling both proud and shaken.

I have decided to go for nuclear tests in the next few days. It is a highly secret operation because the world powers are not going to like it. They may take punitive action against us, especially in the economic field.

So, we must be prepared to meet any challenge the move would throw up on the economic front. I thought I should warn you in advance, so that you are not taken by surprise when it happens, Vajpayee told Sinha.

It took Sinha some time to absorb the full import of what Vajpayee had told him so calmly.

Sinha recollects this incident in his autobiography Relentless, which is scheduled to be launched on Monday.

As expected, all hell broke loose after the world realised what India had done. Almost every major country in the world condemned India for the tests and imposed various forms of sanctions, he writes.

The Vajpayee government was determined to meet the challenge of sanctions head on.

There was no question of succumbing to them or surrendering. When the sanctions started hurting the imposing countries themselves, more than India, and after our compulsion was explained to the sanctioning nations, they started withdrawing them one by one, the book, published by Bloomsbury, says.

Sinha also mentions how Vajpayee reacted when Bush Administration, in the wake of the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, was very keen that India send a large contingent of troops to Iraq and was putting tremendous pressure to do so.

Some respected columnists in the media were also clamouring for it. There were some in the government as well, mainly L K Advani and Jaswant Singh, who also thought that we should accept the US request as it would dramatically upgrade our bilateral relationship, he says.

However, Vajpayee kept his own counsel and refused to be pressured.

Sonia Gandhi had written a letter to Vajpayee opposing any such move, and he promptly called her for a meeting. She came, accompanied by Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh and Natwar Singh, and Vajpayee listened to them with great interest. He also consulted the BJP's NDA partners on this issue, besides having a discussion in a meeting of the Union Cabinet, Sinha writes.

Thus, the US request was not acceded to, based precisely on such a consensus, he says.

Sinha chronicles his journey from modest beginnings to the highest corridors of power. He also mentions about his early days, his stints as an IAS officer in various capacities and his role in state and national politics.

From JP and Chandra Shekhar to VP Singh, Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, the book gives an insight into the rise and fall of leaders and ideologies that have charted a unique course for the country's democracy amid fierce personal and political strife.

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