Pokhran – India’s Nuclear Story


The story of Nuclear India began in a remote and relatively unknown city of Pokhran, Rajasthan. Located in the Thar Desert region no one could have dreamt how this small town would one day become famous and shake the likes of USA. Very soon this town was to leave behind its lethargy with a big bang. It was soon to be known as the epicenter of Indian Nuclear Tests. Pokhran is India’s nuclear story.


The first steps towards becoming a nuclear efficient country were taken in 1944. This was the time when India started its own nuclear programme. Under the guidance of renowned physicists Homi J. Bhabha and Raja Ramanna, India was able to make giant progress.

It was actually during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971 when the actual need for a nuclear weapon was felt. The need was not there in order to bomb out a nation but for its deterrent value. Then President of the USA, Richard Nixon, had authorized a carrier battle group under the leadership of USS Enterprise to scare India. However, a Soviet Union submarine armed with nuclear missiles trailed the US task force thereby preventing them from taking any action. In this case, the deterrent value was not in the hands of India but in another country’s. To meet any future requirements then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi authorized the “Bhabha Atomic Research Center” to make a nuclear device and get it up-to-mark for testing.

Smiling Buddha

On 18th May 1974, under great secrecy, the first Nuclear Test was conducted by India. It was assigned the code name “Smiling Buddha”. This was because the day marks the birth of Gautama Buddha. The bomb was detonated approximately 40 km away from the town of Pokhran. Only a handful number of people knew about it. However, by the end of the day, the world was aware of the small town of Pokhran where the Buddha Smiled.

International Backlash

India was well aware of the international reaction that was expected post the first nuclear tests. Pakistan canceled its peace talks scheduled for 10 June as it did not consider the tests “Peaceful”. In response to India’s nuclear testing, the Nuclear Suppliers Group or the NSG was founded in 1972. Member nations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the NTP concluded it was necessary to limit the export of nuclear materials, technology and know-how.

What Led To Pokhran – II

Post-1974, Pakistan had actively started purchasing nuclear weapons from China. This was common knowledge. China was not only sharing its technology but also resources with Pakistan. With two nuclear-capable adversaries on either side, India had to make a strong stand. The date for signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or the CTBT was also drawing near. Once it was signed, India would have to close its nuclear option forever. And if it was not signed, India would have to very specifically mention the reason for doing so. Overall, things were coming to the point of culmination which led to the second set of nuclear testing in Pokhran.

Operation Shakti


The word “Shakti” means “Power”. Pokhran II was India’s show of power. It was time to be recognized as a Nuclear Weapons State. At the same time, India’s impeccable non-proliferation record too had to be brought to the forefront. A series of 5 nuclear tests were conducted by India in 1998, codenamed “Operation Shakti-98”. The tests commenced on 11th May and concluded on 13th May 1998. The five nuclear bombs designated Shakti-I through Shakti-V consisted of 1 fusion and 4 fission devices. Again, these tests were conducted under heavy secrecy for obvious reasons.

Operation Shakti was considered to be one of the biggest failures for the CIA. This is mainly because the US intelligence was not able to predict them.

Impact of Pokhran II on Modern India

For the general public, it is a matter of immense pride and honor that India is a nuclear state. Regardless of the entire international backlash, Indians all over the world applauded the government’s unflinching resolve to maintain national security.

Today, India is one of the countries that represent the international nuclear mainstream. We are recognized as a nuclear power to reckon with. However, entry to NSG has still not been granted. Our weapons status is de facto (in fact) and not de jure (by right).

As a result of our nuclear prowess, India has been able to grow more engagement in high-tech sectors of space, defense and atomic energy. We now participate in numerous advanced science projects on an international level. Our expertise and opinions are asked for by the developing nations.

Twenty years post-Pokhran II India has demonstrated its dedication to non-proliferation. Through actions, we have conveyed that we aim to use our nuclear capability for benefit of civilians. India’s “No First Use” policy pertaining o nuclear weapons still stands. However, in the case of a grave threat to national security, nuclear weapons will be used in retaliation to inflict massive damage to the unfriendlies.

My Personal Opinion

India is making progress in leaps and bounds. Being a nuclear power I have high hopes of India using its expertise to the benefit of the general masses. Cheap electricity and a cleaner environment are how I envision India.

Our expansive knowledge bank has given hope to the youth that good jobs can be found within the country. The world recognizes the power of an Indian mind and all thanks to our expanding technical and scientific knowledge. Our professionals and scientists are well respected wherever they go. Their opinion counts and is most sought after.

Not only that, having nuclear weapons will deter other countries from escalating unpleasant military situations. I can now hope for a future where no country, in its right frame of mind, will ever dream of attacking us. In spite of growing tensions with both Pakistan & China, the two have still refrained from an outright war. And all this is thanks to India’s nuclear capabilities.

Unless India stands up to the world,

No one will respect us.

In this world,

Fear has no place,

Only Strength Respects Strength.

  • – A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
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14 Comments on “Pokhran – India’s Nuclear Story”

  1. This was such an interesting article indeed. I think it must be a comfortable feeling to feel safe in your country.

  2. Thank you so much on this article. Since I am a historian, I knew for Smiling Buddha, but not for Shakti. I am glad that India is doing great in its development

  3. I have mixed feelings about nuclear capabilities but appreciate the benefits of using them for cleaner power and energy sources for civilians. I”m sure it could be very helpful for a country as vast as India.

  4. You are right. Nuclear capabilities is a touchy subject but is the reality of life now a days. Only hope India chooses a right path in using it properly. I did watch this movie, but felt a little underwhelmed!

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