An Interview with Rajiv Gandhi

"Democracy Has Reached Deep into the Average Indian"

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In the year since Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was gunned down in her garden by two Sikh bodyguards, her son and successor Rajiv has demonstrated that he inherited more than just a name from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled India for all but five years since independence in 1947. A former pilot who once shunned politics, the young Gandhi, 41, has displayed a deft touch in guiding both foreign and domestic policy. His most recent triumph came in the troubled state of Punjab, where voters endorsed parties that supported a settlement Gandhi had negotiated with moderate Sikh leaders.

Clad in a white Nehru-style jacket and the flowing trousers that Indians call pyjamas, a confident and congenial Gandhi met for one hour with TIME Diplomatic Correspondent William Stewart and New Delhi Bureau Chief Ross H. Munro. In an oak-paneled office graced by portraits of his grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru and his mother, the Prime Minister discussed Pakistan's nuclear program, relations with the U.S. and his agenda for India's pressing internal problems. Excerpts:

On Pakistan. Two things are worrying us. One is nuclear. The other is chemical. We have information that they are buying gas masks in very large numbers in Europe. And they have also set up a factory in Pakistan, if I'm right, to produce masks. We have no chemical weapons at all, so they cannot expect any (threat) from us.

Now the nuclear side does worry us very much. President Reagan sent (Under Secretary of State) Michael Armacost here to talk to us, but we are not convinced. The U.S. seems to believe that Pakistan has not got the enriched uranium yet. We believe they have. Now if they have got it, then no amount of inspections and checks is going to show up this uranium. This is why we are not buying the mutual inspection deal. What also worries us is that most of their (nuclear) technology comes from the West, from private companies with the incentive to sell and not really paying heed to the law. Many of these parts are small and may not be discovered if somebody carries them out in a suitcase. I would say the West is responsible for not applying its own rules rigidly enough. We believe the bomb the Pakistanis are making--or have made--has been financed not just by Pakistan but by certain Arab countries. The real danger is not just Pakistan having this weapon but of its going to people who will not have the ability to prevent proliferation.

On India's nuclear program. We are not going nuclear. Our old decision not to build a bomb remains. But I am not saying the decision is irrevocable.

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