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nehru nuclear offer us kennedy
E.A. Miny./October, 1957, A22a(i) Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, addressing a mammoth gathering at the Peace Memorial Park at Hiroshima during his visit to Japan on October 9, 1957.

Why Nehru Rejected US Nuke Offer?

While former diplomat M.K. Rasgotra’s book revealed that India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had rejected the US President John F. Kennedy’s offer of testing US nuclear device atop a Rajasthan Hill, the inner truth is that the timing was probably not ripe then, especially with War time devastation of Japan with atom bombs still ringing fresh in the ears of all Asians.

In October 1957, when Nehru visited Japan on 10-long days of State visit, it was marked by host of events including his visit to Hiroshima on October 9, 1957 that saw an unprecedented 30,000 crowd greeting him and eager to listen to him. The nuclear devastation was visibly present in the Atomic Dome that laid in the background and it must have deeply moved Nehru, who mixed with the victims whose anguish against nuclear weapons was a stark reality.

Moved by their expectations, Nehru pledged in Hiroshima saying: “We must strive towards the goal of abolition of nuclear devices and disarmament and through mutual trust in each other, we must realise One World.” How could he go back within a year when the offer came from Kennedy just to do the opposite?

nehru nuclear victims

E.A. Miny./October, 1957, A22a(i)
Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, laying a wreath at the A. Bomb Victims’ Memorial at Hiroshima during his visit to Japan in October, 1957.

No wonder, Nehru did not think twice when Kennedy wrote a hand-written letter offering nuclear device for testing and beating China to become the first Asian nuclear power. Bred in lessons of peace and tolerance under Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru’s mindset was known to Kennedy and the attempt proved futile as expected.

Still, Nehru discussed about it with his aides scientist Dr Homi Bhabha and diplomat GP Parthasarathy, who had advised him to unanimously reject the offer and reign in on nuclear ambitions of nationalists in a country that was still finding its way to progress as a democratic nation and not as a tyrannical power, least of all, as a Hindu Empire reborn.

The author of the new book and former diplomat himself, M.K. Rasgotra says that had if Nehru accepted the offer, 50 years later India would not have to yearn to enter into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. First of all, Rasgotra must realize that India in the 1950s was on par with China and looked upon as a future hope of Asia to emulate.

The legacy of Mahatma Gandhi did not die so soon for a country that had achieved freedom with peaceful means in 1947 and ten years is too small for it to cut off the birth chord of peace and friendship that dictated the matured political leaders, who were fortunately not from the splinter ruling clans like many diplomats were during those days.

“Not only would we have tested the nuclear device first in Asia, before China, but it would have deterred China from launching its war of 1962 and even imparted a note of caution to Pakistan’s plans for war in 1965,” said Rasgotra, at the function to release his book “A Life in Diplomacy”.

No doubt, Kennedy, who was an admirer of India’s democracy and held its leader Jawaharlal Nehru in very high esteem, wanted democratic India, not Communist China, to be the first Asian country to conduct a nuclear test. But morals running still high in the 1950s, and that too his Japan visit and the famous pledge being fresh in mind, Nehru could not have yielded to a tempting offer.

One thing that has made Nehru an enemy of modern ‘pragmatic’ diplomats is that the Indian first prime minister remained forever aloft, untouched by jingoistic narrow-minded diplomacy being witnessed today. No wonder, his progeny Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were never like him as they were advised by practical experts like Rasgotra.

In diplomatic parlance, views change depending upon where you are standing. Likewise, the vision for Nehru was different and 60 years later, the vision for his progeny differs but finding him as a whipping boy for all uncontrolled turn of events in diplomacy will not make present India pride.

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