NEW DELHI: India was forced to drop plans to explode a nuclear bomb for the second time in 20 years in 1994 at the last moment, according to the nuclear scientist in-charge of the aborted atomic test programme.
Nuclear Scientist Krishnan Santhanam told Times Now TV that the plans to explode the bomb at Pokhran was put on "hold" due to apparent US pressure. The Clinton Administration conveyed its "concern" to India after the preparations were detected by US satellites. P V Narasimha Rao was the prime minister at that time.
India first tested a nuclear device in 1974 during the reign of Indira Gandhi. Twenty-four years later in 1998 the second nuclear test was conducted at Pokharan when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister.
Regarding preparations for the test, Santhanam said there were two shafts in Pokhran dug during 1981-82 and they had been sealed because no further work was likely to occur.
These two shafts were reactivated, we had to blow out the concrete lid and then pump out all the water, do all the repair work. Brilliant job was done by the engineer in adverse circumstances, he said.
"Since we had a lull, so to say, after December 1994 we came across abandoned wells in the area, the villagers had left because there was no water, deep enough wells, we could use them without inviting attention of digging a new one which the satellites would pick up. So these three wells in an area called Navtala, where identified, they were repaired, then made suitable to receive the device.," he said.
Santhanam said "We were quite clear that if work is resumed at these sites there is likely to be detection by satellites. We were clear this would be detected and it was detected by the US satellite and they had conveyed their concerns to New Delhi. This was as you approach the end of 1994."
Santhanam said there was another internal development that of parliamentary elections.
"The concern was that if you conduct the test in November-December. It could be construed as a way of influencing the results of the elections by saying that we are a firm government, we know how to attend to our national security needs, but the timing would have invited a lot of criticism. The consensus was that 'let's hold'. After it is over we will revisit the case," he said.
Asked who were involved on the ground before the test was aborted, Santhanam said "It involves the White house; it involves the US embassy in Delhi. It also involves the Indian government and our embassy in Washington. Its a tight dance."
Bhuvnesh Chaturvedi, who was the Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office at the time of the 1994 nuke plan, told Times Now that the government was indeed planning for a nuke test, but cited domestic reasons for its deferment.
"We had the capacity to do it, but we did not do it, because the elections were near. We did not want the successive government to bear the brunt. If the government would have continued in power, we could have done it," Chaturvedi said.
Asked what compelled India to think of testing a nuclear bomb in 1994, Santhanam said " First of all you had the clandestine programme of Pakistan; there was an increasing evidence of collaboration, co-operation, collusion between China and Pakistan, in nuclear weaponry. Specifically the trigger development which technology the Chinese had. Secondly, other international factors came into play. "
He said the matter was analysed by a special group of experts, drawn from various disciplines as to what exactly should be done and the committee submitted its report to the then PM Narasimha Rao. This was the build up, so obviously the direction was step by step be prepared to consider conducting tests and exercising the nuke option, he added.