Describing India’s commitment to its voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing as “steadfast,” National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan on Saturday came down hard on those making a case for the resumption of testing by claiming the May 1998 thermonuclear device test had been a failure.

In an interview to The Hindu, the NSA described the man at the centre of the current controversy — the former Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) scientist, K. Santhanam — as “a bit of a maverick” who had no locus standi to comment on the measurement of the test yields despite being the DRDO’s point-person at the Pokhran test site in 1998.

DRDO not in scene

Asked whether Mr. Santhanam’s claims had undermined the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent because this was the first time Western doubts about the yield of the 1998 test had been echoed by a DRDO insider, Mr. Narayanan said: “First and foremost, DRDO has nothing to do with [this aspect of the] tests, frankly, whatever plumage they may like to give themselves. The measurements are not done by DRDO.”

Citing the “authorised and proven measurements” of yields done by Anil Kakodkar and S.K. Sikka from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, he said nobody had really questioned their conclusions. “If those who were involved come forward and say, ‘I have looked at the measurement and these are the mistakes’ that would be different. If Santy says, ‘I have an independent set of measurements about the tests,’ let him come forward,” Mr. Narayanan said, referring to Mr. Santhanam by his nick-name. Western analysts had been questioning the Pokhran-II tests because “they don’t want to recognise that we are a nuclear weapon power, particularly that we are capable of a fusion device,” the NSA said. “Now if Santy honestly believed that there was something about it, he should have said so [then], not 10 years later.”

“A maverick”

Mr. Narayanan said that Mr. Santhanam’s statement would lead to increased international pressure on India on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), even though U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had publicly declared that Washington had no right to make demands on Delhi until it had itself ratified the treaty. “I think we are going to face pressures from the international community. They don’t know Santy … I mean, he is extremely bright but he is a bit of a maverick in these matters! But the international community is going to say that this is one of India’s very devious methods of preparing for a test, that [our] scientists are saying that was a fizzle, therefore India may find it necessary to prove itself once again. This is my worry. I hope it doesn’t happen.”

Anticipating a “new rash of [statements] saying India should not test,” Mr. Narayanan said, “In any case, our decision not to test has nothing to do with this. We have a voluntary moratorium. At the moment, our people feel that we don’t need a test. I suppose that’s where we are.”

Asked whether he could think of a situation where India might want to resume nuclear testing in the absence of a deterioration in the international security environment, the NSA said, “As of now, we are steadfast in our commitment to the moratorium. At least there is no debate in the internal circles about this.”

But if that were the case, did the Manmohan Singh government stand by the formulation first advanced by Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister in September 1998 — that India would not stand in the way of the CTBT entering into force? Throughout the world, that statement was understood to mean India would have no problem signing the treaty if the others whose ratification is required for the CTBT to enter into force — especially the U.S. and China — did so. Mr. Narayanan ducked a direct response. “I think we need to now have a full-fledged discussion on the CTBT. We’ll cross that hurdle when we come to it.”