On the day of Buddha Poornima, May 11, 1998, India astonished the world by conducting three nuclear weapon tests in Pokhran, Rajasthan, hardly 350 miles from its capital. Plutonium, thermonuclear device, and a tactical weapon – All three devices triggered by one pull. A day later, on May 13, 1998, another two weapons were tested successfully.
The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee proudly declared India as a nuclear weapon state. However, the Pokhran II nuclear tests infuriated the world. India’s declaration of itself as a nuclear weapon state was perceived by the Western powers as an effort to arise as a major power. Their failure in not being able to detect the Indian planning for the nuclear tests was a big setback especially to the US intelligence community.
They could put international pressure on India in 1974 when India technically became the world’s sixth nuclear power but not now and this reflected poorly on the prowess of the US and its ability to monitor global actions to reserve its position as the global hegemon.
Next, The American policy makers went advising India stating that there is no link between possession of nuclear weapons and the status of superpower. US President Clinton even said that, “With India’s democratic traditions, the nuclear path is not a way to “greatness.” Madeleine Albright, the Secretary of State too went on record by saying, “nuclear weapons will not help a country “to enhance its national strength and status.”
James Rubin, even suspected India of duplicity during high level meetings between India and the US on their nuclear goals. The US imposed harsh sanctions on India by withholding $142 million aid. Joining them were the Japanese by suspending the annual grant of $26 million. The Japanese Prime Minister marked the Indian tests as “extremely deplorable” and the Chinese accused India of trying to obtain hegemony in South Asia.
Australia and New Zealand recalled their Ambassadors. Germany too froze all development help but allowed funds to the ongoing existing projects. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook even went on to specify that how India had done no good to enhance its security by the Pokhran II tests.
While, the world especially the big powers fumed in anger over the nuclear tests, India muscled its way into the superpower club, indulging in the realpolitik. India showed the world that it isn’t a banana republic that could be moulded anyhow to suit the International needs as the major powers believed it to be. How can a country of 1 billion forgo their nuclear option and left to the mercy of others especially when surrounded by nuclear weapon states?
And this was well stated by our Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he said, ‘
It is not a conferment we seek, nor is it a status for others to grant. It is an endowment to the nation by the scientists and engineers and is the country’s due, the right of one-sixth of humankind.’
It was indeed a proud moment for all of us Indians as India established its presence on the world nuclear map and showed the big powers especially within the continent that we cannot be taken for a ride. Besides, roughly a decade after US President Bill Clinton imposed harsh sanctions on India for Pokhran II, another US President, George Bush offered us a nuclear deal that led to the signing of the Civil Nuclear Cooperation pact aka the Indo-US Nuclear deal.