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UPSC Sansad TV: Pokhran II & India’s Rise





On May 11, 1998, five atomic tests propelled India into a group of nations with nuclear capabilities achieving self-reliance in developing nuclear weapons. Twenty-six years ago between 11 and 13 May, India scripted history when it conducted a series of underground nuclear tests with five bombs in Pokhran, Rajasthan. At 3.45 pm on 11 May, the tests were initiated, under the assigned code name Operation Shakti, with the detonation of one fusion and two fission bombs. Called the Shakti series of tests, they came to be popularly known as the Pokhran II tests, as they came after the 1974 single nuclear test, also in Pokhran. Speaking a couple of weeks later in Parliament, Vajpayee declared that, “India is now a Nuclear Weapon State. This is a reality that cannot be denied. It is not a conferment that we seek; nor is it a status for others to grant.”

Timeline of India’s development to a nuclear state:

Efforts towards building a nuclear bomb, infrastructure and research on related technologies were undertaken by India since World War II.

1944: India’s nuclear physicist Homi Bhabha persuaded Congress to harness nuclear    energy.

1945: Tata Institute of Fundamental Research was established.

1950s: Preliminary studies were carried out at BARC on plans to produce Plutonium and other bomb components.

1962: India faced heavy casualties in Sino-India war.

1966: India’s nuclear program was consolidated.

1974: India’s first nuclear test ‘Smiling Buddha’ was conducted.

  • After the wars with its neighbouring nations- China and Pakistan- strengthening national security became essential for the Indian Government.
  • Although the Pokhran II tests made India face obstacles in terms of economic, military and international isolation, it was a timely success that made India breaking the nuclear monopoly of five nations.

How did the world powers respond:

  • The tests shocked the world, particularly because they were done with utmost secrecy and the India-U.S. ties hit rock bottom.
  • For nearly two months, the U.S. refused to have any dialogue with India and implemented the Glenn Amendment for the first time.
  • Newer sanctions were imposed. The US, China, and the UK were critical of India’s nuclear tests, but Russia and France  and even Britain were not in favour of sanctions.

India had to move towards nuclear weapons under the following circumstances:

  • Idea of nuclear weapons was to  neutralise conventional Chinese military superiority .
  • Having them was an enabler and equaliser .It is a weapon not necessarily intended for use, but the threat of whose use could achieve political and military goals.
  • By the late 1990s, India was faced with a situation in which two neighbours with whom it had fought wars, Pakistan and China, already had nuclear weapons, and were working together to build their capabilities and proliferate them in Asia. By conducting the tests, India was able to insulate itself from nuclear threats.
  • Maintain peace and Stability in the region.

India is a responsible power:

  • Indian diplomacy triumphed in turning a grave crisis into an opportunity by securing legitimacy for its nuclear arsenal and removing obstacles in generating nuclear power.
  • Nuclear deals have brought India to the nuclear mainstream and opened up the global nuclear market for development of nuclear power without signing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) or the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
  • India refused to sign the CTBT, but declared a moratorium on testing, agreed to join the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty negotiations without halting fissile material production
  • India reaffirmed minimum deterrent without giving any number of warheads and agreed to strengthen export controls.
  • Additionally, India declared no-first-use and commitment to disarmament:-
    • It would not be the first to use nuclear weapons against other countries. But if nuclear weapons were used against India, it would retaliate, and inflict unacceptable pain on the adversary.
    • This nuclear weapons doctrine has since become the cornerstone of India’s diplomatic, military and political policy in the international arena.
  • Even though India placed its civilian nuclear facilities under perpetual safeguards, its nuclear assets remained fully insulated against external scrutiny and interference. India secured rights to receive uninterrupted nuclear fuel supplies as a trade-off against safeguards.
  • It kept open its right to acquire advanced enrichment and reprocessing technologies, although it would require bilateral negotiations with the U.S. and others.
  • India’s sovereign right to test a nuclear device in the future has remained intact.
  • India is now a member of three out of four multilateral export control regimes MTCR, Wassenaar Arrangement, Australia Group  and is in the reckoning for membership of the NSG.
  • There is no Evidence of India’s involvement in illegal nuclear proliferation. This has earned India Civil nuclear deals with nations like Japan.


  • Pokhran-II gave India the strategic space to manoeuvre at the world stage, and to showcase its international behaviour on the rules-based system  and what followed has given India the right to claim the tag of a responsible power and a valuable asset in times when powers like the US and China are perceived to be not adhering to international commitments.