3:45PM, May 11, 12 years ago

Thanks to this tweet from our very own S Sudhir Kumar, I realized that today is the day world came to know that India is a nuclear power.

Codenamed Operation Shakti, Phokhran II was a huge success. Though some eminent people claimed different in recent times, all doubts were refuted with evidence of success. The world was shocked that India could plan tests of this magnificence with a great level of secrecy. The success of Pokhran II was due to meticulous planning, excellent leadership and perfect diplomacy from Indian administration. It was as if some one was guiding administration just like Shivaji Maharaj guided Maratha empire.

Wikipedia records thus: (all emphasis mine)

After the detection of the test preparations by American satellites in 1995, it was decided that preparations for the May 1998 tests should be undertaken under a cloud of secrecy so that foreign powers could not detect the preparations and try to pressure the government. Extensive measures were taken in order to deceive intelligence agencies around the world. The decision to test was not disclosed even to senior cabinet ministers. The preparations were managed by a closed group of scientists, military officers and politicians.

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister, and Dr. R. Chidambaram, the head of the Department of Atomic Energy, were the chief coordinators for the operation. They were assisted by the 58th Regiment of the Army Engineering Corps in preparing the test site. Scientists from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) were involved in assembling the weapons, moving them to Pokhran, placing them into shafts in the ground and laying a network of sensors to gather data during the explosions.

The Regiment 58 Engineers had learned much since the aborted 1995 test preparations about avoiding detection by American satellites. Much work was done at night, and heavy equipment was always returned to the same parking spot at dawn so that satellite image analysts would conclude that the equipment was never moved. Piles of dug-out sand were shaped to mimic the wind shaped dune forms in the desert area. The shafts were dug under camouflage netting. When cables for sensors were laid they were carefully covered with sand, and native vegetation was replaced to conceal the digging.

The scientists involved in the operation took care to ensure that even their close friends and colleagues would not detect the work being undertaken at Pokhran. All scientists involved in the operation did not depart for Pokhran simultaneously, but left in groups of two or three. One group would use the pretext of attending a seminar or a conference, and would tell their wives that they could not be contacted while they were away. Tickets were bought for a destination other than Pokhran (or cities nearby) under pseudonyms, and after arriving at their destination, the group would secretly leave for the military base in Jaisalmer from where they would be taken by the army to Pokhran. After finishing their work the group would return, retracing their path. Then another group would leave for the range employing similar means to do their work. In this way, information about the test was kept tightly under wraps. All technical staff at the range wore military fatigues, so that in satellite images they would appear to be military personnel maintaining the test range.

On the diplomatic front, India adopted a policy of ambiguity about deciding to go nuclear. Statements by Indian politicians and diplomats gave an impression to the world that India was not yet decided about its nuclear status. Deliberate steps were taken to ensure that the world community would not take the BJP’s campaign promises seriously. In separate meetings with American officials, then Foreign secretary K.Raghunath and Defence Minister George Fernandes stated that India had not yet decided about going nuclear and they also conveyed to the officials that the National Security Council would be meeting soon to discuss the matter and decide about the nuclear option. The council was to meet on the 26th of May. Both the Indian officials had categorically told the Americans that “there would be no surprise testings”. All this led the Americans and the world community to believe that India was not going to pursue the nuclear option in the near future. They did not take the BJP’s campaign promises seriously and hence did not expect an Indian nuclear test so soon.

When an efficient, strong, confident, motivated and dedicated leadership backs the government machinery, the personnel make the success of the project their own responsibility. No body would need to motivate them, especially for projects of national significance. India dared the world and accepted the economic sanctions. The world nations revoked the sanctions in time by own will. The government didnt whimper when sanctions were declared. They showed stubbornness and powered the economy with excellent projects like the Golden Quadrilateral etc.

When the then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee ji declared the test results to the world, I asked my father “what is the big deal about this project?”. My father explained the stance of the world nations on India’s proliferation. Then he showed me an article in the Organizer. He said “that the USA is alarmed that they couldnt even detect the plan for a nuke test itself shows how efficiently the project was conducted. Apparently, Bill Clinton is very unhappy that his machinery failed big time!” That was the point I realized why Pokhran II assumes so much significance.

Unfortunately, after Pokhran II, NDA couldnt make it back to Delhi. I seriously doubt if UPA can conduct another Pokhran. Given the kind of efficiency UPA showed in its stint so far, we can only pray that they do not decide to take up another Pokhran, and thereby save the country from another huge embarrassment.

If at all another nuke test happens in future, it would be in Narendra Modi’s leadership only. No other leader in this nation currently has the guts to take up a project which requires excellent planning, superb diplomatic skills and scrupulous attention to detail!

Shakti was shown 12 years ago to the world. Thanks to an able and stable leadership. We can only pray God that those days come back.

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