Following a media uproar, the Bharatiya Janata Party is moving to quell speculation that it wants to end India's longstanding no-first-use nuclear arms policy.
An election manifesto released on Monday by the leading opposition party promised to "study in detail India's nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it" -- wording that some took to mean that the no-first-use posture, long the pillar of India's nuclear weapons doctrine, could be thrown out. In response to those concerns, senior BJP officials are now suggesting the party has not made a decision on the future of the policy.
BJP member Ravi Shankar Prasad, who manages the party's media strategy, in an interview with the Hindustan Times on Wednesday emphasized the party manifesto is not meant to get into issue details.
In developing its campaign platform, the Bharatiya Janata Party "consulted various experts," Prasad said. "Some of them felt India had not optimally exploited its thorium reserves to boost its civilian nuclear program. But the nuances of all these aspects of nuclear doctrine cannot be discussed in a party's manifesto. The [Indian government] Cabinet Committee on Security has to take a call after considering the facts before it."
The Bharatiya Janata Party accuses the governing Congress Party of not capitalizing on the strategic advancements made by the nation's nuclear program in the 1990s under an earlier BJP-led coalition government. The opposition party promises that if it wins national elections, as is widely expected, one of its top goals will be to reinvigorate both the country's civilian and military atomic programs.
India's nuclear weapons doctrine was developed by the BJP-led government shortly after the country carried out its first nuclear tests in 1998. The doctrine is largely premised on the promise by India that it will never be the first to use nuclear arms, but if attacked with such armaments would respond with "massive retaliation."
Manoj Joshi, a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, in a Wednesday blog post said he found the BJP manifesto to be "quite moderate and clear" and no cause for alarm.
"The BJP's commitment needs to be seen in the context of the failure of the [Congress Party-led coalition] government to update India's nuclear doctrine ... and evolve a strategy which would integrate the country's conventional war-fighting potential with its nuclear weapons capability," he wrote.