15 Years of Pokharan Nuclear Tests: No Lessons Learnt

S. Jain

May 11 and May 13 are celebrated each year in my house. It’s because the former marks my parents’ anniversary and the latter my birthday. Not because on these dates India showed the world that it too had the “shakti” to convert cities into radioactive rubble.

It has been 15 years since India secretly exploded 5 nuclear devices in Pokhran. It was done under the leadership of then Prime Minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee and APJ Abdul Kalam. It was done with such stealth that the government managed to hoodwink even the United States of America and their numerous spy satellites. According to an article, India would calculate the orbits of spy satellites and move equipment when they believed nothing was overhead. In fact, US got to know of the first blast 12 hours after it happed, through the media.

Celebrations erupted all over the country. The general public was ecstatic that we had entered the “elite” group of countries who possess the nuclear warheads. Most men were busy feeling more manly than ever. “We will no longer be thought of as a country of eunuchs!” shrilled Shiv Sena’s Bal Thackrey.

The Bhartiya Janata Party tried to defend its decision, rather ridiculously. “It’s a weapon to preserve peace,” said Vajpayee. Having this weapon will deter others (read: Pakistan) from attacking us so that we don’t use it on them, explained the party. Meanwhile, anti-nuke protestors predicted doomsday.

Both have been proved wrong. We’re alive. We haven’t used the weapon nor has anyone used it on us. But did peace prevail because of the weapon? No. A year later, the Kargil war broke out, killing around 500 people and wounding another 1,500. The bomb did not prevent the war, in fact it instigated it. On May 13, 1998 Pakistan’s Defense Committee called India’s three nuclear tests on Monday “reckless and highly provocative.” Sure enough, Pakistan conducted “six” counter-explosions in Chagai on May 28 and 30.

15 years later, there are no lessons learnt. We still proudly capitlise on nuclear warheads. India has close to 100 nuclear warheads, according to Arms Control Association. But the politicians assure us that we have the no-first use policy. We will only use them if the other nation blows us to smithereens first. This is very comforting; Pakistan between 90-110 warheads and China has total 240 warheads. If a terrorist group lays its hands on nuke weapons first, then glory be!

For the benefit of any ignorant person who doesn’t understand the aftermath of a nuclear war, let me quote from an excellent write-up by Arundhati Roy:

“If there is a nuclear war, our foes will not be China or America or even each other. Our foe will be the earth herself. The very elements – the sky, the air, the land, the wind and water – will all turn against us. Their wrath will be terrible.

Our cities and forests, our fields and villages will burn for days. Rivers will turn to poison. The air will become fire. The wind will spread the flames. When everything there is to burn has burned and the fires die, smoke will rise and shut out the sun. The earth will be enveloped in darkness. There will be no day. Only interminable night. Temperatures will drop to far below freezing and nuclear winter will set in. Water will turn into toxic ice. Radioactive fallout will seep through the earth and contaminate groundwater. Most living things, animal and vegetable, fish and fowl, will die. Only rats and cockroaches will breed and multiply and compete with foraging, relict humans for what little food there is.”

Who knows though, the “enemy” may not even need to use their fancy weapons worth billions of hard-earned money. We might just successfully blow ourselves out first. India has 20 nuclear reactors. An earthquake at Jaitapur or any leakage because of unsafe valves at Koodankulum – who knows which plant might have its own nuke explosion?

15 years of pokharan



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