Indian successfully carried out three underground nuclear tests in Pokharan, Rajasthan with a ‘fission device, a low yield device and a thermonuclear device’ on Monday, May 11, 1998. The fact that it was carried out on ‘Buddha Purnima’-the day of Gautam Budh, the apostle of peace, attained nirvana should not be seen as a contradiction in terms of the technological nature of this development. Again, two days later on May 13, two additional tests were conducted on the Pokharan sand, which completed the planned series of underground tests.
This successful underground testing of three nuclear devices is the culmination of the giant strides made by the country in the field of nuclear technology during the past 50 years. India recognized the potential of atomic energy quite early in 1948 and the Atomic Energy Commission AEC was set of to look into the activities of the country and the executive agency for implementing the atomic energy programme, the Department of Atomic Energy was set up in August 1954. Later the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), named after Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha, was set up at Trombay in Mumbai, which is considered to be the core of India’s nuclear programme started in 1957.It is the largest scientific establishment for nuclear research in the country.
India had exploded its first nuclear device in Pokharan on may 18, 1974 when its primary aim was just to see, whether it could do it. Till now, India’s nuclear weapon capability had slowed to a crawl. After the 1976 test and Indira Gandhi’s defeat in the 1977 election. Meanwhile, the new Prime Minister Morarji Desai wasn’t too keen in this direction. Meanwhile, atomic energy scientists had started working on an improved version of the nuclear device used in the first test and also were ready with a booted fission device. In fact, the real problem was not that India could not make bombs. It was how to build them to a size that fitted into an aircraft bomb pod and also to incorporate safety mechanisms to ensure that they do not go off accidentally. The 1974 device was so heavy that only a transport aircraft could deliver it.
Finally, India’s two giant scientific establishments, the Atomic Energy Department and the Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO) began to synergies their strength. By 1989, India has refined its ability to drop nuclear bombs using combat aircraft. By the time the 1995 tests started, the DRDO and the atomic energy team had made major changes in the bomb. The weight was reduced considerably and the yield was increased. Elaborate safety packages for delivery had been taken care of .Missiles were also developed as delivery vehicles.
The Western countries fears were confirmed. India had reached a high place on the nuclear field. Thus, when news of the impending 1995 tests leaked out, the then Prime Minister. Mr. Narasimha Rao called it off but left instructions to be prepared to carry out the tests at a months’ notice. Both Mr. H. D. Deve Gowda and Mr. I. K. Gujral the prime Ministers after Mr. Rao also did not alter this state of readiness. The new Prime Minister Mr. A.B. Vajpayee, however, gave the scientists the green signal on April 10 and within hours the scientist and engineers headed for Pokharan and blasted their device successfully on May 11, 1998.
Now, as India has become the 6th world power in nuclear field, the western countries are expressing their distress and dismay over it. Though over and again it is stressed that India is committed for peace and these blasts are not aimed at anyone, the western world in a simulated display of anger and disenchantment, are withdrawing their representatives and threatening by sanctions. In fact, the U.S.A., among the major power has been most vocal in its condemnation. The U.S.A., sanctions require a cutoff of the U.S.A., financial assistance to India except humanitarian and food aid, an end to the export of certain defense and high technology material, termination of military aid, a half of U.S.A., credit and credit guarantees except for the purchase of food and automatic American opposition to international financial institutions loans to India. The U.S.A., Government also would not vote for any international Monetary Fund money for India, which hasn’t been relying on IMF.
Of the other countries, Japan also has been deeply distressed, but its sadness is understandable. As a victim of the world’s first nuclear attack, it undoubtedly lives through those traumatic events of more than half a century ago whenever; the awesome powers of the atom are released. On the other hand, France has remained somewhat silent because it probably has a greater understanding of India’s specific requirements in a hostile neighborhood. Therefore, it has been less enthusiastic about imposing sanctions. Russians too have conveyed their displeasure but are not too critical of India.
But even while expressing unhappiness, all these countries must have noted the compulsion which made India take this decisive step. India’s need to acquire a nuclear capability has to be understood in the context of the threat it has been facing for many years from Pakistan which has made no secret of its desire to take Kashmir away from India and indirectly from China which has been consistent in its help for Pakistan. The Americans also provided unstinted help to Pakistan through conventional arms. Thus it goes without saying that the central point of both the American and Chinese attitude was to build up Pakistan as a counter to India whose democracy was an embarrassment to China whose independent spirit was an irritation to U.S.A. from the nonaligned movement. So it was evidently a situation which India could not accept while Pakistan continued to indulge in terrorism and the border problem with China remained unresolved.
Now, after the U.S. economic sanctions against India, the Indian Government should work out a contingency plan to sustain the flow of foreign funds into the country which is essential for preventing any run of the rupee. However, the other three major powers, Russia, Britain and France are opposed to the imposition of economic sanction and this offers a big opportunity to the Indian policy makers to woo the companies of these countries for investment in the infrastructure sectors, in case the U.S. investments slow down. Also India has to make its foreign direct investment policy more transparent and friendly to give signal investors that the country is firmly on the road to economic liberalization despite the U.S. sanctions.
Yet, it is going to be a long time before India could get the world to think its way. As Bernard Shaw once said, there are two tragedies in the life, one is to lose your heart’s desire, and the other is to gain it. In the new found confidence that nuclear tests have given India, the people must realize that it’s just a beginning of the long and tiresome task of fighting for its place on this planet.