homes not nuclear weapons, say protesters in New Delhi, India FWD

Tom Boland (
Sun, 17 May 1998 08:07:28 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  CNN World News - May 16, 1998


     From New Delhi Bureau Chief Anita Pratap

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- After the initial public euphoria over the Indian
government's decision to go ahead with nuclear weapons tests, there are
increasing signs that consensus on the issue may be breaking down.

On Saturday, 300 anti-nuclear protesters marched through New Delhi, joined
by members of India's poor low castes, who complained that the government
shouldn't be spending money on nuclear weapons when people are starving and
dying in the streets.

"Before we go nuclear, let us feed the poor," read a sign carried by one

"It's a matter of great shame that we should celebrate an achievement that
announces to the world that India is now capable of killing millions of
people with nuclear bombs," said protester Vrinda Grover.

Police surrounded the marchers, fearing attacks by extremist right-wing
supporters of the government, who had threatened to break up the protests.

Some opposition politicians and newspapers also have started to question
the wisdom of the decision by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his
Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which leads India in a
coalition government.

"The BJP has hijacked the agenda, and it has hijacked it in a very
undemocratic way -- without proper discussion, without consultation with
its own coalition partners," peace activist Achin Vanaik said. "It's a
minority government. It has no mandate to do it on its own."

Even former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, who had enthusiastically
welcomed the testing, is urging Vajpayee to rein in the street celebrations
by government supporters over the nuclear tests.

"As a leader, he must ensure that the country does not get into a
jingoistic mood," Gujral said. "You know, it is very easy to flare this

Other political opponents criticized the BJP for trying to take credit for
India's nuclear program, which has developed over decades and under several
different governments.

The Times of India said Saturday that Vajpayee's government "had played the
nuclear card, gambling with national interests for partisan ends."

When it comes to nuclear policy, India has always been able to maintain a
political consensus in support of the program. Now, cracks have started to
appear in that consensus, and though they are not wide, the fact that they
are there at all marks a significant development.


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