THE BJP AND THE BOMB
ON MAY 11 AND 13, 1998, India exploded a total of five nuclear devices in the Rajasthan desert. Since 1974, when India first tested a nuclear device, there had been an expectation that New Delhi would once again test and perhaps go nuclear outright. Yet the 1998 series of tests caught most Indians and the world by surprise. Why did India test after a gap of twenty-four years? Most accounts and explanations of the Indian nuclear tests—including the government's own public statements—have focused on the strategic rationale for India's nuclear program. Much less attention has been paid to the domestic roots of the decision to test. What role did domestic political considerations play in the Indian government's decision?
This chapter addresses two questions about domestic politics and the Indian nuclear bomb. First, what were the domestic political incentives for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which came to power in March 1998, to test barely six weeks later? Second, what were the domestic political effects of the BJP's decision to test nuclear weapons? Here, I focus on how the BJP remained politically unscathed despite a series of crises with Pakistan in the Indian part of Kashmir after the party took a series of positions and initiatives that were either palpable failures or that contradicted earlier stands. Why was the party not taken to task by the public and not hurt politically, including in the 1999 elections that occurred just after the Kargil War?
I have put the BJP at the center of my analysis. Although the BJP was only one of the twenty or so parties that made up the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that came to power in March 1998, it was the single largest party in the alliance and indeed the largest party in India in terms of the number of seats