On the morning of May 18, 1974, in the Pokharan desert in Rajasthan, India conducted its first atomic bomb test, defining it as a peaceful nuclear explosion. This was the moment India became the world’s sixth nuclear power after the US, Soviet Union, Britain, France, and China.
Unfortunately, the USA did not appreciate India’s arrival into the nuclear club angrily declaring that India’s test would grievously ruin the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 and trigger an arms race in the sub-continent.
The operation ‘Pokhran-I’ was initiated by the code name ‘Smiling Buddha’ and was carried out under the supervision of several key Indian Army generals.
In an angry rebuttal, the USA stopped aid to India and imposed numerous sanctions. India faced a food shortage of 8 million tonne and prices were up by 25 percent which in turn affect the working class.
However, the need for “Smiling Buddha” was felt imperative as after winning the war against Pakistan in 1971, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi felt it necessary to create India into a nuclear power. It was also notable that India has powerful neighbors around her who could at any time turn into enemies.
On 7 September 1972, she gave verbal authorization to Indian scientists to manufacture nuclear device and prepare it for a test.
Till that time, only the permanent members of the United Nations possessed nuclear weapons which were the United States, France, China (the Republic of China), Russia (Soviet Union) and the United Kingdom.
Under the directions of Indian Gandhi, the preparations for making India a nuclear power began. The practical work of engineering the paper design for the operation ‘Smiling Buddha’ commenced. Works for locating, surveying, and preparing a suitable test site also started. The data of the operation was kept in secret confidence due to global pressure by permanent members of the United Nations against any country practicing nuclear tests.
The government of India employed about 75 civilian scientists for the project. Indian scientists like Raja Ramanna, Basanti Dulal Nagchaudhuri and Dr. Nagapattinam Sambasiva Venkatesan played a key part for completing the operation. The DRDO Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL) in Chandigarh developed and manufactured the high explosive implosion system, which was tested on May 18, 1974, thereby making India the sixth nation in the world to become a Nuclear power.
This is a day that Indians must not forget because it strengthened the position of India in the world and also enabled enhanced protection from outside attacks.