In NUCLEAR INDIA – Episode I you saw: Following Chinese Nuke test, India sought help from superpowers. However, US tricked and  abjured to support India further raising geopolitical tensions in the region.

How’d India tackle forthcoming troubles to maintain stability and power balance? Read on to find out.

PM Indira Gandhi visiting Pokharan

While touring the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) on 7 September 1972, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave verbal authorization to the scientists there to manufacture the nuclear device they had designed and also prepare it for a test . Following this, the field work of engineering to implement the paper design kicked off. Work also began on locating, surveying, and preparing a suitable test site. Throughout the development of this device, formally dubbed the “Peaceful Nuclear Explosive” or PNE, very few records of any kind were kept, either on the development process or the decision-making involved in its development and testing. This was quite advertent to help preserve secrecy, but it resulted in the events being documented almost entirely by oral reports several years later.

PROJECT HEAD Raja Ramanna

The leader of the team developing the device was Raja Ramanna, director of BARC. Ramanna worked closely with Dr. Basanti Dulal Nag Chaudhuri, Director of the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and science advisor to the minister of defence in order to coordinate the work of explosive system development. P.K. Iyengar, as Ramanna’s second in command, played a lead role in directing the development effort while R. Chidambaram lead the nuclear system design effort. Dr. Nagapattinam Sambasiva Venkatesan directed the DRDO Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL) in Chandigarh which developed and manufactured the high explosive implosion system.

In keeping with the great covertness involved in India’s efforts to develop and test its first nuclear explosive device, the project employed no more than 75 scientists and engineers working on it in the period from 1967 to 1974. Outside of those actually working on the project, only three other people in India knew of it – Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, her trusted advisor and former principal secretary P.N. Haksar, and her principal secretary D.P. Dhar. None of the government ministers, including the Defense Minister, were apprised. The then defence minister, Jagjivan Ram is said to be informed only after the detonation of the device hit a home run. 

It was May 18 in the year 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 (MEA designation: Pokhran-I) 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.

Budhha Smiles on occasion BUDDH POORNIMA

The explosion was of 10 to 15 kilotons magnitude. It signified a technological breakthrough in the country’s atomic development programme. There was a tremendous upheaval of earth, sand and stones at the site of the explosion. Bearing testimony to the same, the crater had a radius of 200 meters and there was no cracking or fissuring of the earth’s surface. The explosion somewhat changed the landscape of the site and produced an artificial hill—a new beautiful site which appeared in the skyline from nowhere. According to the first official report on the findings of the test (released on March 25, 1975), the hill shot up from the earth like a piston with a speed of 108-km. per hour eventually reaching a dome shape 170-metre in diameter and 34 meters in height. It was a fission device and there had been no release of radioactivity in the atmosphere.

The official announcement made by the Indian Atomic Energy Commission merely stated that the nuclear explosion was conducted using an implosion device at a depth of over 100 meters. It was stated to be of the same force as the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S.A. in 1945 on two cities of Japan, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, during World War II. India has apparently developed a technology which is more sophisticated than was used for that bomb—the first ever to be used in a war.

International reactions

Pakistan

Pakistan did not view the test as a “peaceful nuclear explosion“, and cancelled talks scheduled for 10 June on atonement. Pakistan’s then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto vowed in June 1974 that he would never succumb to “nuclear blackmail” or accept “Indian hegemony or domination over the subcontinent”. The chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, Munir Ahmed Khan, said that the test would push  Pakistan to test its own nuclear bomb, which was carried out later with the aid of China.

Canada and United States

In the aftermath of the atomic explosion, Canada promptly cut off nuclear exports to India after the accusations of international community that the CIRUS (Canada India Research Utility Service) reactor, for which it provided technical expertise, was used in making core of the plutonium fission device . The test also triggered the formation of the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), a multinational body whose objective is to further limit the export of nuclear technology and equipment to avoid their potential misuse for weapon purposes. The NSG decided in 1992 to require full-scope IAEA safeguards for any new nuclear export deals, which effectively ruled out nuclear exports to India. However in 2008 it lifted this restriction on nuclear trade with India as part of the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement. India’s 1974 test changed how the world dealt with nuclear materials and led to much stricter procedures and safeguards. In addition to drum-tight oversight by Congress, the “London Club” was created to implement guidelines for nuclear exports and nuclear-related exports. The U.S. also initiated the landmark 1978 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, which renegotiated the U.S.’s bilateral agreements with nations concerning nuclear exports.

Domestic reaction

HOMI SETHNA

Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had already gained much popularity and publicity after her successful military campaign against Pakistan in the 1971 war. The test caused an immediate revival of Indira Gandhi’s popularity, which had flagged considerably from its high after the 1971 war. The overall fame and image of the Congress Party was enhanced and the Congress Party was well received in the Indian Parliament. In 1975, Homi Sethna, a chemical engineer and the chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission (AECI), Raja Ramanna of BARC, and Basanti Nagchaudhuri of DRDO, all were honoured with Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award while five other project members received the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award.

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