On 11th May 1998, India successfully detonated three nuclear devices named Shakti-I, Shakti-II, Shakti-III .at Indian army’s Pokhran test range. On 13th May this was followed up with two other devices named Shakti-IV and Shakti-V. With these tests, India became the sixth nation to declare nuclear weapons capability after the USA, Russia, UK, France, and China. Shortly after the tests then Prime Minister of India late Shri Atal Bihari Bajpayee did a short press conference at his house in New Delhi.

Today, at 15:45 hours, India conducted three underground nuclear tests in the Pokhran range. The tests conducted today were with a fission device, a low yield device, and a thermonuclear device. The measured yields are in line with expected values. Measurements have also confirmed that there was no release of radioactivity into the atmosphere. These were contained explosions like the experiment conducted in May 1974. I warmly congratulate the scientists and engineers who have carried out these successful tests.”

The five devices comprised of the following: on 11th May Shakti-I (56 Kt thermonuclear device), Shakti-II (15 Kt), Shakti-III (0.3 Kt); and on 13th May Shakti-IV and Shakti-V(Interestingly a 0.2 Kt Thorium based U233 experimental device). The presence of the sixth device was rumored but never acknowledged publicly possibly due to the satisfactory outcome of the previous tests.


 Shakti-I test site on May 11, 1998 | Credit : Indian Ministry of Defence

Expectedly there was widespread condemnation of the tests led by Western countries. Canada, the supplier of India’s first nuclear reactor operated by BARC was one of the first of the bloc. Japan also strongly criticized and even put new loans to India on hold. Usual noises from the Chinese and Pakistani side were expected and ignored as soon as they were heard. However, the actual pressure came from the land of freedom and democracy, the United States of America.

How dare these Indians…

“The United States of America is the country that did the most nuclear test even more than Russia (then the Soviet Union), UK and China combined. Clinton administration went berserk and was particularly vocal about the incident when they heard the news on Television instead of secret memos. President Clinton did press conferences specifically to indict India. “

“India conducted a series of nuclear explosive tests reminding us that technology is not always a force of good. India’s action threatens the stability of Asia and challenges the firm international consensus to stop all nuclear tests.”

He even went on to praise China’s effort to stop the spreading of weapons of mass destruction and its collective leadership in Asia. Yes, the same China which did a 3 Kt nuclear test barely ten months ago.

Was it because their billion dollars funded mighty intelligence agencies failed to detect the test or was it to divert public attention from the Clinton–Lewinsky scandal? We may never know what riled Americans so much.

We also do not know what happened to the “Do not let India become Nuclear weapon state” division within their Intelligence network. All of them must have got fired!

The USA would have never cared if India were a country of their choice but how dare this third world country tested nuclear bombs especially when they were caught red-handed just a few years back and were dictated not to test further. How dare they defy us? Right!?

The Clinton administration levied sanctions on India, strong-armed India’s Allies, allegedly leaked Indian Prime Minister’s letter to the press which rattled China even more and whatnot. There was lot of Geo-political pressure on India, but she was ready for consequences.

The situation, started to change after Clinton was gone. India and USA resumed joint military exercises, Signed the historic civil nuclear agreement in 2008, bilateral trade went up. A lot has changed since.

It should be also noted that the UK, France, and Russia didn’t condemn India on this occasion.

Customary reaction from the forever confused followers of Chairman Mao

Indian communists were quick to point out that the test was done to serve the ego of Hindu Nationalists (Now please do not get confused between western and Indian versions of Nationalism) and the bomb is a Hindu bomb.

If this sounds bizarre then read this, during the 1962 war, a section of Indian Communists supported China. Yes, born in India, carried Indian Passport but supported the invading army. Would you believe that?

Public reaction

Indian public was jubilant, Share prices went up in the Bombay stock exchange, streets were filled with people dancing, throwing Rong (Gulal or colored Powder) at each other, firecrackers were burning as if Diwali had come all of sudden.

I remember my dad returning home in the afternoon with a bag of Hilsa in one hand and a bhar (Pot) of Rosogolla (Google it please), and a Bartaman Patrika on the other. I still remember him saying to my mom;

“What late Smt Gandhi Ji started, Atal Ji finished. Now we are a Nuclear weapons state and in future countries would not take us for granted.”

Please note here: Difference between Operation Smiling Buddha and Operation Shakti was Smiling Buddha was a peaceful Nuclear explosion or PNE, outcomes had civilian applications but whereas Operation Shakti was done as part of the nuclear weaponization process.

In 1964 after China’s nuclear test, then Bharatiya Jan sangha MP Atal Bihari Bajpayee said “The answer to an atom bomb is an atom bomb, nothing else”.

Milestone since the test:

  • 11th May has been declared as National technology day to celebrate India’s technological prowess.
  • January 2003: India established its strategic force command or SFC.
  • On 4th October 2008: 123 agreement or Indo-US nuclear deal was signed between India and the USA.
  • On 4th November 2018 ballistic missile submarine INS Arihant(SSBN 80) completed its first deterrence patrol which marked the completion of India’s nuclear triad.
  • On 10 December 2018, a seventh test launch of indigenously developed Agni-V was successfully conducted and with this test, India joined the elite club of countries that possess the nuclear-capable ICBM.

    Image Courtesy: PIXABAY


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