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11 May in Indian History: National Technology Day

“It was a very important decision on the part of the Indian Government to go for test explosion of nuclear devices on May 11, 1998,”

~ Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Pokhran Nuclear Tests.

The ‘decision’ of the Indian Government to conduct nuclear tests was important for many reasons. These reasons included the urgency of finding new and sustainable energy and power resources, increasing the defense of the country (especially since Pakistan at that time was showing evidence of funding its advanced nuclear projects), and making India a “respected country on the world stage”. About increasing our country’s border defenses, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee summed up, “There is no compromise on national security; all options including the nuclear options will be exercised to protect security and sovereignty.”

11 May 1998, is known as the National Technology Day. India conducted the test explosion of nuclear devices on this day, called the Pokhran II Nuclear Tests. Also, the same day the Trishul missile was test fired successfully, and the Hansa-3, the first nationally built aircraft was test flown.

Brief History regarding Nuclear Tests in India

Nuclear projects in India began as early as 1944, when Homi Bhabha brought forth the importance of nuclear energy in front of the Indian Congress. Studies begun in the 1950s, but nothing major happened for the next decade. It was after India realized that its neighbour, China was conducting nuclear tests, in early 1960s, that the government took the matter seriously. It was under Vikram Sarabhai’s leadership, that the nuclear programme got fresh interest and was revived.

Nuclear Scientist, Raja Ramanna is credited to have steered the still-nascent Indian nuclear programme into expanding its horizons into weapon development. The first test was conducted in May 1974, under the prime ministership of Indira Gandhi. The test had a code name, Smiling Buddha, and it was conducted in an army base at Pokhran in Rajasthan. The test was just the beginning of the development of several new innovations in nuclear technology. It is remembered as the Pokhran I Nuclear Tests.

The next decade was pervaded with various political issues, which somewhat paused the nuclear research. The programme gained impetus only after Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam, became the Director of India’s Missile Programme in the late 1980s. Despite several international criticisms and pressure from the first world countries (especially US), it was Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao and later Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who encouraged the research and development of nuclear technology.

The five tests conducted on 11th and 13th May 1998 were code named Operation Shakti (English:Power). There were in total five controlled nuclear detonations, of which one was a fusion bomb and the other four were fission.

Reactions after the Pokhran II Nuclear Tests

After the Pokhran II nuclear tests ended on 13th May 1998, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared India to be “a nuclear weapons state.” He also added, that even though we have the “capacity” to build a “big bomb”, it “will never be weapons of aggression.” This move and announcement of India was not received well internationally, especially since many countries of the world had passed a resolution to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, 1968) and ban nuclear testing (Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, 1996). Although, India did not sign the treaties, along with countries like Pakistan.

The nuclear tests in 1998, prompted several reactions from different countries. China reacted with statements showing “concern” over the “peace and stability of South Asia”. Pakistan was clearly livid over the whole situation. Along with a “vehement” statement issued by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan retaliated by conducting similar tests by the end of May, same year. Evidently, this action augmented tensions already prevailing between the neighbours. Apart from the adjoining countries, many of the economically stronger nations, like US and Japan, issued sanctions against India (and Pakistan), which included banning international loans and grants. The United Nations also demanded that India (and Pakistan) stop any further tests using nuclear technology, in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1172.

Regardless of the international reactions to the nuclear tests of May 1998, the general public of India was happy and lauded the government’s undeterred stand regarding national security. This brought major profits in the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE).

Significance of the National Technology Day

11 May 1998 is known for several other technological events, in addition to the much talked about Pokhran Nuclear Tests. On the same day, two other events occurred that sealed the future of India’s defense systems. First, Trishul missile test firing was conducted successfully, and second, Hansa-3, the first nationally built aircraft was test flown. These successful tests collectively prompted the then Prime Minister to declare the day as National Technology Day. According to a press release by the Government of India, 11th May would be commemorated and “celebrated as a symbol of quest for scientific inquiry, technological creativity and translation of that quest in the integration of Science, Society and Industry.”

Every year, on 11 May, “technological innovations and their successful commercialisation” is honoured. In this regard, companies supporting new innovations in technology, and making viable and sale-able products are recognised and awarded.

Also on this day:

1857 – Indian sepoys seized control of Delhi from the British officers during the First War of Independence

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