Revealing this at a function in New Delhi to felicitate him on his 75th birthday, the former convenor of the National Security Advisory Board, K Subrahmanyam, who was at the time chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, said there was a 3-2 division in the Cabinet committee on political affairs with Mr Desai and Mr Vajpayee out-voted by defence minister Jagjivan Ram, finance minister H M Patel and agriculture minister Charan Singh.
The Janata Party government had discontinued the nuclear programme started by the Congress government. In 1979 the governments premier external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) had reported that Pakistan was using uranium to make nuclear bombs.
A Cabinet note had been prepared by Mr Subrahmanyam recommending that India resume its nuclear programme.
Senior officials of the government were afraid to take the note to the Cabinet due to Mr Desais known opposition to the nuclear programme. When the Cabinet finally discussed the note Mr Vajpayee went along with Mr Desai in opposing the resumption of the nuclear programme. It was the Ram-Patel-Singh trio that prevailed.
Senior strategic analysts told FE that while this revelation may embarrass Mr Vajpayee, it would also portray him in a favourable light, as a man of peace. When Mr Vajpayee finally took the decision to declare India as a nuclear weapons power in 1998 he was dubbed a nuclear hawk by his critics. Even the Congress Party had been critical of the tests in 1998. India was forced to retain its nuclear option because of Pakistans programme that was launched by the late Z A Bhutto in 1972, two years before Indias first test of 1974, with Chinese help.
Mr Subrahmanyam was felicitated by distinguished members of the Capitals strategic policy community. Former minister of state for defence Arun Singh released a book of essays in his honour edited by Commodore C Uday Bhaskar, deputy director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses.