It is a fact that India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in his bid to become a world leader neglected India’s defence preparedness. He was against nuclear weapons. Once, when a journalist asked him about India’s nuclear policy, he categorically said, “Bharat parmanu bomb kabhi nahin banayenge.”
Senior journalist Raj Chengappa writes: “Late PN Haksar, one of Mrs Indira Gandhi’s closest and most respected advisers, whom I interviewed in 1998, remembered Nehru telling him, ‘Let’s save future generations from the scourge of nuclear war. We should not fail’.”
Nehru campaigned for outlawing atomic weapons and he was disappointed when a proposal to get the UN to outlaw atomic weapons failed. In a letter, quoted by Chengappa, in 1948, as Prime Minister he wrote to Defence Minister Sardar Baldev Singh: “The future belongs to those who produce atomic energy. That is going to be the chief national power of the future. Of course, defence is intimately concerned with this. Even the political consequences are worthwhile.”
Nehru failed to respond when the Chinese started making atomic bombs. Although Nehru encouraged Homi Bhabha to develop atomic power plants to generate electricity and harness atomic energy for peaceful purposes, he forbade the latter from developing nuclear bombs. The country had to face consequences because of his confused nuclear policy. Although some Left historians and Darbari journalists give credit to Nehru for India’s nuclear programme, facts show that these claims are far removed from truth.
Unlike Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri was very clear about the need for a robust defence policy for India. After becoming Prime Minister, he attended the Non-Aligned Movement Summit at Cairo, Egypt. When he was asked to him what was India’s nuclear policy, Shashtri said, “Bharat parmanu bomb abhi nahi banayega.” Soon after coming back to India, he assigned the nuclear weapon project to scientist Homi Jahangir Bhabha.
Therefore, it was not Nehru but Shashtri laid the foundation stone for India’s nuclear weapon programme.