The year was 1998 and the date was May 11. Just another day for the entire world but not for India; for on this day the country became Super Power, much to the chagrin of the “so-called” super power nations of the globe. After all it was no mean feat; conducting five nuclear test on two days without giving an inkling to the “eyes in the sky” (spy satellites) of what’s going on in the remote areas of the deserts in Rajasthan; at the site called Pokhran, to be precise.
This independence day as I reminisce about the achievement of my country during that year, one thing which I am sure about is that if India sets its heart to do something , there is no power in the world which is powerful enough to stop it.
I was a young adult at the time when the news of the “tests” made rounds and shortly after those groundbreaking ( literally) tests ; the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced “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.”
Right from conceiving the idea of Operation Shakti to its accomplishment, the way the nuclear tests were conducted successfully, had all the masala mix to make a movie – The main hero (former Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee), was hell bent to strengthen the defence power his country in spite of a previous failed attempt when the details of his plans got leaked to enemy; because of which he had to re-strategize. (In 1995-1996, country had to shelve the idea of nuclear tests as US got the inkling of the tests) Besides, guaranteeing the homeland’s security, the hero also wanted to see that the world should respect India that it deserved and one of the ways to do that was to show its power. The task was difficult, as this time the enemy already knew that the hero had got something up his sleeves (Pokhran was on the radar of US satellites hovering in the sky).
So now along with the Hero, the onus was also on his sidekicks to make the “mission impossible” a possibility. These “sidekicks” were actually the backbone of the whole mission. They were a small team of scientists and senior military officers who ensured that the preparation and the execution of the tests were done in complete secrecy. Wikipedia under the heading “Preparations of the test” mentions how the 58th Engineer Regiment had learned to avoid satellites detection. Work was mostly done at night and the equipment returned to the original spots, lest the satellites detect the unwanted movements:” The whole teams worked in extreme weather conditions- imagine 51 degrees in summers and minus three in winters. The site where the experiments were conducted was infested with snakes and scorpions.
I was reading an interview of one of the then team member in which he told how the team would play cricket outside the site to deceive the spying satellites that no unusual activity was underway in Pokhran to help safeguard the whole mission. They also had to made several innovations, for example the pumped out water from the underground shafts could not be released out onto the sand as it would change its color which would have been picked by the satellites.So they carried the water through pipes which were built under the sand and released them on the sand dunes which would readily absorb the water.
After many such trials and tribulations, the nuclear tests were conducted successfully On May 13th, 1998. Naturally, it dint go well with many foreign countries, including US and China and US even imposed economic sanctions on our Country. But India stood its ground and eventually the sanctions were lifted within five years.
Twenty years have passed since the Pokhran Test but that day when India became nuclear power is still etched in the memories of proud Indians and I sincerely feel that we adults should make it a point to tell our kids and the younger generation about this achievement so they feel proud of grit and determination of our country.
Image courtesy: indiatimes.com