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Sansad TV: Milestones Series- Pokhran 1





May 18, 1974. On this day, the Indian government conducted its first nuclear test in the deserts of Pokhran, Rajasthan making it a peaceful nuclear explosion. ‘Smiling Buddha’ was the assigned code name of India’s first successful nuclear bomb test. With the Smiling Buddha, India became the world’s sixth nuclear power after the United States, Soviet Union, Britain, France and China to successfully test out a nuclear bomb.

Significance of the day:

  • On May 11, 1998, India detonated three nuclear bombs in the Indian Army’s Pokhran Test Range.
  • Dr APJ Abdul Kalam lead the Indian team of scientists to successfully test-fire the Shakti-1 nuclear missile at Rajasthan’s Pokhran test range.
  • Two days later, the country successfully tested two more nuclear weapons as a part of the same Pokhran-II/Operation Shakti initiative. After these tests Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared India a nuclear state, making it the sixth country to join the ‘nuclear club’ of nations.
  • Hansa 3, India’s first indigenous aircraft was first tested on the same day in 1998 in Bangalore.
  • Successful test firing of Trishul, a short range missile made in India, was also done on the same day.

Reasons for India to go for nuclear weapons:

  • There were a few reasons which served as a catalyst in India’s journey of becoming a nuclear armed nation.
  • India occupies a strategic position in South-Asian region with China as its northern neighbour and Pakistan as its western neighbour.
  • Since 1947, India shared a strained relationship with both its neighbours i.e. Pakistan and China.
  • Both Pakistan and China had been involved in number of conventional wars with India.
  • India’s loss to China in a brief Himalayan border war in October 1962, provided the New Delhi government impetus for developing nuclear weapons as a means of deterring potential Chinese aggression.
  • The decades of the 80’s and 90’s meanwhile witnessed the gradual deterioration of our security environment as a result of nuclear and missile proliferation.
  • Further, Pakistan has always indulged in use of sub-conventional warfare techniques like sponsoring insurgency, terrorism etc against India. Also china became a nuclear power in 1964 and it further threatened India.
  • This strained neighbourhood relations including fear of nuclear attack from China ultimately threatened India’s sovereignty and integrity.
  • In this backdrop India went ahead with its nuclear weapons test in order to strengthen its weapons mechanism.
  • The countries we turned to for support and understanding felt unable to extend to us the assurances that we then sought.

India’s nuclear policy is influenced by following factors:

  • Geopolitical Factors: India has strained relationships with both China and Pakistan. Pakistan has always taken advantage of India’s NFU and has threatening of nuclear escalations if India attacks them.
  • Improving its 2nd Strike Capability: 2nd strike is vital for the success of deterrence as this will ensure massive retaliation if its first attack is launched.
  • India has developed Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, Agni-V so that it can hit targets as far as eastern most regions of China.
  • Early warning systems are essential to plan a successful retaliation and India’s PAD, AAD have accounted for this.
  • Further Pakistan’s plan to use tactical nuclear weapon against India was rendered fruitless as India in its policy has stated that a nuclear attack on its soldiers anywhere will also be considered as 1st strike and would call for massive retaliation.
  • NSG Membership: In 2008, India got a waiver from NSG even though it was not a part of NPT signatory due to some reasons.
  • In 2008, India took a written pledge never to conduct a nuclear weapon test physically.
  • USA backed India and pointed out that though India was a non-signatory yet it had followed NPT guidelines strictly.

Timeline of India’s development to a nuclear state:

Efforts towards building a nuclear bomb, infrastructure and research on related technologies were undertaken by India since World War II.

1944: India’s nuclear physicist Homi Bhabha persuaded Congress to harness nuclear    energy.

1945: Tata Institute of Fundamental Research was established.

1950s: Preliminary studies were carried out at BARC on plans to produce Plutonium and other bomb components.

1962: India faced heavy casualties in Sino-India war.

1966: India’s nuclear program was consolidated.

1974: India’s first nuclear test ‘Smiling Buddha’ was conducted.

  • After the wars with its neighbouring nations- China and Pakistan- strengthening national security became essential for the Indian Government.
  • Although the Pokhran II tests made India face obstacles in terms of economic, military and international isolation, it was a timely success that made India breaking the nuclear monopoly of five nations.


  • At present, India’s nuclear policy is well equipped with all tools which are needed to meet India’s aim of using nuclear weapons as a deterrent.
  • Though the present guidelines do not need a change but the same cannot be said for future.
  • Nuclear policy is dynamic in nature and it needs thorough review and revision regularly in order to adapt to changing circumstances.
  • However, in case of India even if changes may be needed in future the basic features of NFU and deterrent must not be messed with as changes to these 2 basic features will have significant consequences for south Asian strategic stability