Archive for September, 2009

Bang ? or no Bang ?

Posted by prakash on Saturday, 26 September, 2009

On the 11th of May 1998 the whole of India stood by when the then prime minister, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee made this statement:

I have an important announcement to make:

“Today, at 1545 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.”

And the world watched in awe, and wasted no time criticizing the tests, and accusing India of destabilizing the region and starting a new arms race, all the while ignoring the threat India faced on its northern boundaries, with the monstrous communist dragon on the east and the Islamic terror on the west. What followed was scientific and economic sanctions and the nuclear isolation of India.

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However, locally, operation Shakti, as it was code named, quickly became one of the most celebrated scientific achievement, in India. We were by then a self-declared nuclear state.

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And exactly 11 years later, K. Shantanam, former DRDO scientist and one of the key players of the 1998 tests, went public with a statement as strong as the bomb itself.  He shocked the nation by claiming that the yield of the explosions was more like a fizzle than a big-bang. The media was quick to react and the concerned political, defense and the scientific nachos were cornered and are made to answer one question: So, was it a bang or no bang ??

Many, right from the former president of India and the DRDO chief during the 1998 blasts, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, the defense minister, P.Chidambaram, the national security advisor, K. Narayanan, to the prime minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, chipped in to hail the tests as a complete success and as having achieved the “desired” results.

However, the controversy seizes to die down. And the war of words keeps drawing in other scientists and politicians each doubting the others credentials to judge on this matter. Although the time chosen to go public and the real motive behind his revelations remain questionable, what should India do at this juncture, where violations at the border from neighbors who doesn’t seriously believe in dialog, has become the content of daily morning news ?


Well, in my view, despite how dearly we like to play these incidents down and deny like they never happened, the credibility of the Indian scientific achievements is in question? These statements and the following controversy have laid bare India’s minimal deterrence capabilities, and sent wrong signals to the world and especially to its neighbors.

My concerns are two fold:

  • Should we let the world judge and trivialize our Indigenously developed nuclear technology?
  • Should we let our immediate neighbors take advantage of this ambiguity?

The answer to both the questions is a strict “No”.

I am of the opinion, that the government should immediately appoint a high-level commission comprising of nuclear experts and scientists and reevaluate the results of the May’ 1998 tests. If the results were found to be unsatisfactory and in-line to the revelations, India should come clean and plan further tests. A minimal nuclear deterrence is the harsh reality of the modern world, and the Indian government should not falter on its commitment to the people of India, in this regard.

And should the tests be successful as claimed, appropriate action should be taken on the concerned scientists. Regardless of their stature and contribution to the development of the technology, no mercy should be shown.

However, the scientific and political community should follow restraint when it comes to matters of national security. Such issues have to be communicated at the right time through the right channels. And the government should be transparent in its actions and allow the development of science and technology take its natural course.