Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bonding with Rajasthan and the nuke tests

JAISALMER/JAIPUR: had a deep association with Rajasthan through his close friends like former vice-president and former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh much before becoming the prime minister first in 1996 and then again in 1998.

It is, however, the nuclear tests at in Jaisalmer district conducted by his government in May 1998 that Vajpayee’s association with the state is most remembered.

The former PM had visited Pokhran soon after the nuclear tests. “During his Pokhran visit, Vajpayee spoke like a statesman, kept away from anti-Pak rhetoric and explained why the nuclear tests were needed. He assured the local people against fears of radiation’s side-effects due to the tests. Vajpayee told locals that his government would do everything to control radiation and help them,” recalled Rajan Mahan, a veteran journalist who covered the event from Rajasthan in 1998.

Shekhawat was Rajasthan’s chief minister when was conducted on May 11, 1998. While Vajpayee got huge public support for the tests, his friend Shekhawat could not turn the support for BJP into votes and lost the assembly elections in November 1998. “Shekhawat lost because of anti-incumbency of nearly 10 years (1990-92, 1993-1998), internal dissent in state BJP and crimes against women like Bhanwari Devi and Bhabha hostel rape cases,” said Mahan.

“Vajpayee played a key role in formation of the next BJP government in the state as Vasundhara Raje was handed over the party reins here with his approval,” he added.

Vajpayee was received at the Khetolai helipad on the way to Pokhran after the tests. He passed through the five gates in Khetolai and reached the testing site, where he had put the Pokhran sand on his forehead. Braving a day temperature of around 47 degrees Celsius, Vajpayee addressed the Army jawans and officers in a moral boosting tone.

Pokhran resident and local BJP leader Jugal Kishore Vyas remembered how Vajpayee had added ‘Jai Vigyan’ to the slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ given by ex-PM late . The residents of Pokhran remember Vajpayee’s words till date.

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