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India Defies Globe With Nuke Test

May 12, 1998

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ Firecrackers exploded in New Delhi and congratulatory telegrams poured in from villages Tuesday, signaling Indians’ unbridled joy at their government’s nuclear show of force.

All across this vast nation, in grocery stores and schools, commuter trains and buses, Indians huddled around newspapers, reading with delight about Monday’s three successful nuclear test blasts in the Thar desert southwest of the capital.

New Delhi’s Pioneer newspaper said the tests ended ``India’s pushover status.″

In Pokaran, near the site of the nuclear tests, villagers were reveling Tuesday, recovered from their alarm Monday when the explosions rocked the ground. Hundreds had poured out of their houses, fearing an earthquake.

``We are not frightened _ we are all celebrating. We are happy that India can now defeat Pakistan,″ student Anek Kanwar Rathor said from Pokaran.

India has long said it needed to keep its nuclear option open, since neighboring China is a declared nuclear power and rival Pakistan is an undeclared one. In its 50 years of independence, India has fought one war with China and three with Pakistan.

Purshottam Dave, 60, said his hometown was bombed during India’s 1965 war with Pakistan. On Tuesday, dozens of his neighbors sent telegrams congratulating Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for going ahead with the tests, which shocked India’s friends and foes alike.

In this country wracked by poverty, illiteracy, and caste and ethnic conflict, news of the technological achievement confused some.

``My milkman asked me in the morning if India had exploded atom bombs in Pakistan,″ said Surendra Nath Shukla, who heads a computer software firm in New Delhi. ``We might be a poor nation, but we have proved we are among the best in several respects.″

Even Tushar Gandhi, the grandson of nonviolent independence campaigner Mahatma Gandhi, applauded, although he said the government should have more carefully considered the impact of any economic sanctions imposed because of the tests.

``As an Indian, I am proud it was done in India and by Indians,″ Gandhi said.

Trying to contain the diplomatic fallout, Vajpayee’s Cabinet declared Tuesday that India ``remains committed to a speedy process of nuclear disarmament,″ but only if other nuclear powers agreed to a timetable.

That also was India’s position when it refused to sign a global test ban treaty in 1996, arguing it discriminated against developing nations. The Cabinet statement indicated India was prepared to reopen talks on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but this time as a nuclear state.

Vajpayee also sent messages to President Clinton, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and other world leaders conveying India’s concern about its nuclear-capable neighbors, Pakistan and China.

Few people in the streets seemed concerned by threats of economic sanctions by the United States and Japan. Indian stock markets fell slightly Tuesday, which analysts said reflected faith that any sanctions would be mild.

Firecrackers greeted visitors to the headquarters of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the main partner in India’s governing coalition, which called for rallies Saturday to celebrate the tests.

Update hourly