India passes 1998 n-tests anniversary quietly (Roundup)

May 11th, 2008 - 9:00 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, May 11 (IANS) On this day ten years ago, the country had erupted in joy, bursting firecrackers and distributing sweets after India exploded a nuclear device at Pokhran. A decade later, the mood has changed - the day has passed quietly without national euphoria or official celebrations. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government had already decided against any official celebrations of the day.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani Saturday roundly criticised the government. The ruling coalition had “dishonoured” late prime minister Indira Gandhi, under whose leadership the country conducted the first nuclear test in Pokhran in 1974, Advani said.

But then, neither Advani’s BJP nor former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who announced the nuclear tests to a stunned world, had any special observances to mark the historic day.

“Today being Sunday, it is a day of rest for him,” Vajpayee’s personal aide told IANS. “There is no special programme on the Pokhran anniversary,” he added.

Vajpayee, 84, has been rarely seen in public in recent months and is said to be in declining health. He has withdrawn from day-to-day politics of his BJP, and many saw the recent endorsement of the Indo-US nuclear deal by Brajesh Mishra, former national security adviser and his closest aide when he was prime minister, as carrying his imprimatur.

The BJP too was not going to celebrate. “There are no programmes as such,” party MP and spokesman Prakash Javadekar said.

Meanwhile, in the small town of Pokhran in west Rajasthan, there were also no official or private ceremonies to mark the event.

“We would only have marked the event if there were any instructions from the Centre (government). But, till Friday, there were no such directions,” said a senior official of Jaisalmer district, under which Pokharan is a sub-division.

India has conducted two rounds of nuclear tests in 1974 and again in 1998 inside the highly-guarded Pokharan military range, which is over 500 km from the state capital, Jaipur.

A museum set up on the outskirts of Pokhran to mark the nuclear tests was also quiet, with the employees enjoying the Sunday with their families.

“We have had no official events to mark the anniversary in previous years too. We have never really advertised our link,” said the manager of Fort Pokaran hotel, Daulat Singh.

The town itself has no official plaque or signboard indicating its association with India’s nuclear programme. “We do not allow signboards to come up due to security considerations as this is a sensitive area,” the district official told IANS.

Residents of Pokhran well remember that the nuclear tests had come as a surprise to them, though they had felt the tremors on the afternoon of May 11.

“But, we are used to vibrations from exploding ammunitions at the military range, so we did not give much attention to it. It was only after the announcement on television that we learnt about it, and we were so happy,” said Singh.

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