Jaswant Singh’s Call to Honor

Muslim Matters

Jaswant Singh’s Call to Honor

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

NEW DELHI – Even before India’s politicians’ heated debate over the US nuclear deal quieted, Indian nuclear policy came into the headlines from a different angle. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jaswant Singh claims that Uncle Sam has been “snooping” into India’s nuclear secrets for more than a decade. In his recently published book, A Call to Honor: In Service of Emergent India, Singh claimed that there was a “mole” in late Prime Minister P.V. Narsimha Rao’s government who leaked nuclear secrets to the US.

While speaking about this sensational revelation, former foreign minister Singh asserted that he had learnt this a decade ago but had chosen to remain quiet about it. “Yes, there was a person in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). I have evidence, a letter which gives graphic details,” he said.

“Somebody in the PMO was giving information about India’s nuclear program to the US. It was during the previous Congress regime,” he said. The previous Congress government was that of Narsimha Rao’s government (1991-96). Singh also claimed: “The honor of [the] Prime Minister’s Office, to an extent, was at stake. We were snooped, we are still being snooped.” However, Singh has not named the person who acted as a US agent nor has he made any revelation on who is passing on the “secrets” now. Defending his stand on not having made this revelation earlier, he said: “I did not want to sensationalize it. I did not use it then.”

Singh’s “revelations” have agitated Congress members enough to draw swords against him. Daring him to a debate on the issue, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “If he [Jaswant] has the decency and courage, he should name the person whom he is accusing of being a mole. We are not afraid of any debate on the issue.” The premier made this comment at a luncheon meeting of all party leaders, convened by Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee on Sunday (July 23), just a day ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament. Charging Singh for having deliberately made a false claim, the premier said: “This only shows that the opposition has no real issues and they are seeking excuses.”

Dismissing Singh’s claims as a “bunch of lies,” to advertise his book, Congress leader Bhuvnesh Chaturvedi said: “It is baseless, imaginary. As former external affairs minister, he ought to have behaved more responsibly. He has tarnished the country’s image to promote his book.” Chaturvedi, who was a minister of state in the PMO, said that there were only three persons in the PMO privy to all decisions and discussions taking place there. Regarding Singh’s suggestion that Rao had abandoned the idea of nuclear tests as Washington exercised pressure on him after this information was leaked to US by someone in his office, Chaturvedi said this suggestion was a “figment of Singh’s suggestion.”

Irrespective of whether Singh’s revelations spell trouble for Congress or not, prospects of his being cornered on certain issues are gaining ground. Singh recapitulated conversations on Pokhran II, which former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Narsimha Rao and former president R. Venkatarman might well have wanted to keep under wraps. “You don’t disclose such information,” a source said.

Heated debate is also likely to be stirred on a reference made by Singh to Vajpayee’s failed Agra Summit with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Kargil crisis. Questions are also being raised on the role of the Vajpayee government during the Kandahar hijack crisis. The hijackers had threatened to blow apart IC-814, with 166 people aboard, on the midnight of December 31, 1999. Defending his position, Singh said: “The threat was real, it could not be brushed off: what if the airplane is blown up? I could not, in any sense, accept the responsibility of letting 166 innocent men and women and one child, some of whom were not even Indian, be blown apart on the midnight of 31 December as the millennium changed.” Accepting that the weeklong hijack period was a turbulent phase for him, Singh wrote: “At first I stood against any compromise, then, slowly, as the days passed, I began to change.” He has confirmed in the book that the terrorists wanted $200 million along with the release of 36 of their men.

Chances are that hardliners within Sangh Parivar are also not likely to be pleased with Singh having listed “two major negatives” on “BJP’s scorecard.” “First, the getting out of hand of the Ayodhya Ram temple issue, the consequent vandalism at the site, the pulling down of it in December 1992,” writes Singh. The second, according to Singh, “is the loss of state control, in 2002, in Gujarat, after a train-load of pilgrims returning from Ayodhya were trapped and their bogie set on fire in Godhra.”

Honor has raised dust at several levels; the controversial 426-page book, published by Rupa Publications, has taken Indian politics by storm even before its formal release date of July 27.


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