New Delhi: After India’s first nuclear test carried out on May 18, 1974 in Rajasthan’s Pokhran, no nuclear tests took place till 1998 when the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the scientific adviser to the Defence Minister Dr Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam decided that it was time for the country to announce its nuclear status with a huge bang.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was keen on going ahead with the nuclear test after he formed the government for the first time in 1996 but looking at the political turbulence, he called it off. Two years later, when he back to power he gave a green signal to the nuclear test and it was conducted successfully.
The brain behind the multiple nuclear tests carried at the Pokhran test range was of Kalam. After specialising in Aeronautical Engineering from Madras Institute of Technology, Kalam joined the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). He was also the Scientific Adviser to Defence Minister and Secretary, Department of Defence Research & Development from July 1992 to December 1999.
During this period, the former president led the weaponisation of strategic missile systems and the Pokhran-II nuclear tests in collaboration with Department of Atomic Energy, which made India a nuclear weapon state.
Kalam, who had supervised the Pokhran-II explosions as the chief of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, camping in the Thar desert for over a fortnight, had said the testing was a “defining moment” in the country’s history, next only to adopting the path of economic liberalisation in 1991.
On May 11, 2015 the ‘Missile Man of India’ had tweeted, “Today, I remember the hot day of 1998 at Pokhran: 53C. When most of the world was sleeping; India’s nuclear era emerged.”
Pokhran-II was the series of five nuclear bomb test explosions. It consisted of five detonations, of which the first was a fusion bomb and the remaining four were fission bombs.
Another core member of the team that carried out five tests and then chairman of Atomic Energy Commission R Chidambaram reminisced, saying, “We recall the pleasure and excitement of May 11, 1998. It was just a coincidence that this day too, was Buddha Purnima (just like the day on first test at Pokhran in 1974).”
The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre had presented Kalam with a memento of a banyan tree bonsai which had a statue of a smiling Buddha under it. “The Buddha has smiled” was the code used by scientists in 1974 to declare that the nuclear test has been successful.
India was able to deceive spy satellites of the United States and other countries while carrying out the test. The Pokhran site was under surveillance as Vajpayee had actually given the authorisation to undertake the test in 1996.
In ‘Weapons of Peace: The Secret Story of India’s Quest to be a Nuclear Power’ by Raj Chengappa, Editorial Director (publishing) of India Today Group, said, “The 58 Engineers were specially chosen for the crucial task of maintaining the shafts in which India’s nuclear devices would be tested. They were told to take all measures to ensure total secrecy. So effective were the regiment’s tactics that when India carried out five nuclear tests in May 1998, it went down as one of the CIA’s biggest intelligence failures, according to IBNLIVE.com