India conducted its second nuclear test under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government not long after he came to power. It was seen as a massive event keeping in mind that both Pakistan & China were rapidly expanding their nuclear prowess. Along with the ruling government, the scientists & even the Indian Army must be applauded for its stupendous effort in carrying out the test & fooling an agile America.
The Pokhran-II test was named ‘Operation Shakti’. It led to India becoming a full-fledged nuclear state.
India had conducted its first test in 1974 which was named ‘Smiling Buddha’ that led to the formation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to prevent the proliferation of nuclear materials & weapons.
Ever since the US through the CIA has monitored nuclear sites to prevent the development of India’s nuclear programme.
Details of the Operation
Dr.Kalam& Atomic Energy Commissioner Rajagopala Chidambaram were the two leading men of the program. The information about the test was restricted to a few ministers like LK Advani, George Fernandes & Jaswant Singh.
Scientists would never travel together, & used code words to communicate. For example, the shaft that contains the nuclear device was called ‘tajmahal’, ‘white house’ & ‘kumbhakaran’. ‘Sierra’ was the term used for a scientist, ‘charlie’ for the DRDO team, & ‘bravo’ for the BARC team (Bhabha Atomic Research Center).
The CIA had powerful satellites that provided sharp images, but the DRDO was aware that they passed over the same object within a short time frame – from once in a couple of days to once in 2 to 3 weeks. So, scientists worked only when the satellites were away from the range of line of vision of Pokhran.
Indian Army’s Involvement
The Indian Army has a base in Pokhran. It had assigned 58 engineers for work with the scientists.
The Army even conducted dummy mound tests a month before the detonation & studied how the winds shaped the mounds on the dunes.
The engineers & scientists worked only at nights & by morning they’d realign the sand & bushes in the same manner as it was before. Scientists dressed up as army men & were assigned code names – Dr.Kalamwas Major General Prithvi Raj, & R. Chidambaram was Natraj.
Two days before the detonation, the Army launched rockets & the Air Force dropped bombs to deviate the attention of spies.
United States’ Reaction
In reaction, the United States imposed sanctions on India. But it also admitted that the CIA & the government was fooled by India. It admitted that the whole episode was a massive intelligence failure on its part.