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Pokhran II row: Sethna slams Kalam, Iyengar says tests were done in haste

Tuesday, 1 September 2009 - 7:30pm IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: PTI

Homi Sethna, the man behind India's first nuclear test, said the former president was not qualified to rubbish former DRDO scientist K Santhanam's claim that tests were not successful.

Homi Sethna, the guiding force behind India's first nuclear test in 1974, today waded
into the 1998 Pokhran row after he slammed former president APJ Abdul Kalam suggesting he was no qualified authority to rubbish former DRDO scientist K Santhanam's claim that the explosion was not a complete success.

Simultaneously, another former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), PK Iyengar, alleged that the 1998 tests were carried out in haste at the bidding of the government. The BJP-led NDA government headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee had just assumed office when India conducted the tests.

The comments by Sethna, who was AEC chairman in 1974 and is now in his eighties, came notwithstanding prime minister Manmohan Singh and "missile man" Kalam's attempts at setting the controversy over the 1998 nuclear tests to rest.

Kalam, who was Santhanam's boss as DRDO head  in 1998, said the only thermonuclear device (hydrogen bomb) tested had produced the "desired yield".

"What did he [Kalam] know about extracting, making explosive grade? He didn't know a thing. By being a president he appeared to wear the stature. He relied on atomic energy to
gain additional stature," Sethna said about Kalam while talking to CNN-IBN.

"I don't like politicians to interfere, especially lay politicians to interfere anymore. I firmly believe that they should stay out. When we did the test... the first test there was no politician. It was a raw one. We were lucky that the whole thing collapsed," said Sethna, who in his days in the atomic establishment had the reputation of being a blunt, plainspeaking organisational leader.

Kalam, who mentored India's nuclear programme, defended India's nuclear deterrence capability after Santhanam, who coordinated the Pokhran II tests, had claimed that the only thermonuclear device tested was a "fizzle".

Iyengar, who was among the three top atomic scientists who oversaw the 1974 tests, has already shared Santhanam's assessment of Pokhran II and questioned official claims of its success.

Iyengar suggested that in March 1998, two months before Pokhran II, India's intelligence must have found out that the Pakistanis were about to test and that they were serious. "Therfore, they [the new government in India] asked these people[scientists] to hurry up, do as fast as possible in all this extra pressure to be one up politically because BJP had just come to power," he said.

"If Pakistan fired an explosion before India what [would] a common man in India would have thought?" he added.

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