His early breakfast, departure for work on a holiday, and cryptic calls on RAX line, were all tell-tale signs that my father Jaswant Singh was an active participant.
When the tests were announced at a press conference on a hot afternoon, it was the biggest story that every defence correspondent could ever dream of. The fact that the world was caught napping made for heady stuff.
It wasn’t long though before I was overcome by an awkward feeling that I was caught napping too.
My father, Jaswant Singh was the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, who along with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and principal secretary to PM, late Brijesh Mishra, had taken the decision to go nuclear. Later, replaying events of 11 May 1998, I came to realise how my father was in the loop right from the beginning.
His early breakfast, departure for work on a government holiday, and cryptic calls on the RAX line, were all tell-tale signs that he was an aware and active participant. Of course, I missed all the signs.
But this is what I remember after the test.
It so happened that the United States ambassador at that time, Dick Celeste, knew my father very well, and was open enough to demand a coffee and explanation about motives behind the tests. When he came over, my mother noticed the ambassador was looking very disturbed. His face had reddened as he spoke about the horrors that were about to be inflicted on the world. And how all hell would befall India from the tests-related sanctions.
He then raised his voice and said something about his newborn son, and what kind of future the little boy would face in this nuclear ice-age gripping the world.
Hearing him, my father asked how old his son was. There wasn’t much difference between his own grandson and the ambassador’s son, he realised. He asked my mother in Rajasthani if there was a gift he could give to Dick Celeste’s baby boy.
“He is so emotional I want to calm him down with a gift for his son,” my father told her. She pulled out a tiny silver Rajasthani rattle toy.
Later, it was dining-table talk that evening at home. He said, quite out of the blue, ‘you haven’t heard what your mother said about the tests’.
Apparently, the night before the tests, during pillow talk, my father did tell her they would be testing the next day. She replied: “I didn’t know the priority of your government is testing nuclear weapons!”
Manvendra Singh is Editor-in-Chief of Defence & Security Alert. He is currently a BJP MLA in Rajasthan Assembly and former Member of Parliamentary Standing Committee of Defence.