Nuclear Diplomacy and Disarmament

50 year of Pokhran-I: Why India conducted its first Nuclear Tests?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NSG group and NPT

Mains level: Why did India choose to conduct nuclear tests?

Why in the News?

In the year 2024, India’s Pokhran-I have completed 50 years of its tests. The present variation in adopting Nuclear policies (especially Russia and China) around the world, reminds us of the historic Pokhran tests of 1974 by the Indian Government that were held amid secrecy.


  • Post-World War II, new global alliances and alignments emerged amidst the Cold War between the US and USSR.
  • The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) signed in 1968, aimed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. It defined nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear states, but India objected to its discriminatory nature towards non-nuclear states.
  • India refused to sign the NPT due to its failure to address India’s concerns about the discriminatory nature of the treaty, particularly regarding non-nuclear states’ obligations.

Why did India choose to conduct Nuclear Tests? 

  • India viewed the NPT as discriminatory towards non-nuclear states like itself, leading to its decision to conduct nuclear tests independently.
  • Indian scientists, notably Homi J Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai, laid the groundwork for nuclear energy in India. The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was established in 1954.
  • Changes in leadership post-1960s, coupled with conflicts with China and Pakistan, influenced India’s decision to pursue nuclear capabilities. China’s nuclear tests in 1964 also played a role.

How did Pokhran-I happen?

  • In Secrecy and Uncertainty: India conducted the nuclear test at Pokhran in 1974 without prior announcement, even amidst internal uncertainty among key decision-makers.
    • Operation Smiling Buddha (MEA designation: Pokhran-I) was the code name of India’s first successful nuclear weapon test on 18 May 1974.
    • The test demonstrated India’s nuclear capabilities and its ability to defend itself, though India chose not to weaponize immediately. The choice of Buddha Jayanti for the test date carried symbolic significance.
  • By Autonomous Approval: Despite opposition from some advisers, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave the go-ahead for the test, signaling India’s resolve. 

What was the impact of the Pokhran-I Test?

  • Global Criticism: India faced criticism and sanctions from various countries, including the US, following the tests. The US enacted the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act in 1978, halting nuclear assistance to India.
    • Despite international criticism, India asserted itself as a nuclear-capable nation, paving the way for future developments like Pokhran-II in 1998.
  • Diplomatic Goals: India sought acceptance as a responsible nuclear power and aimed to join international groups like the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), facing resistance from some countries, notably China.
    • India’s nuclear tests marked a significant milestone in its defense and foreign policy, shaping its stance on nuclear issues and its position in global nuclear politics.

Way forward for being in the NSG group:

Engage in Diplomatic Outreach:

  • Strengthen bilateral relations with NSG member countries.
  • Engage in diplomatic dialogue to address concerns and build consensus on India’s membership.

Demonstrate Commitment to Nonproliferation:

  • Continue adhering to nonproliferation norms and standards.
  • Showcase India’s responsible nuclear behaviour and track record in nuclear security.

Mains PYQ

Q With growing energy needs should India keep on expanding its nuclear energy programme? Discuss the facts and fears associated with nuclear energy. (250 Words, 15 Marks) (UPSC IAS/2018)

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