Libmonster ID: IN-1277
Author(s) of the publication: Raj CHENGAPPA

With the explosion (October 16, 1964), China became the first State to violate the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water, * which Jawaharlal Nehru so zealously advocated. Although the event was not entirely unexpected, it caused a "shock wave" that swept across India, and stunned those who determined public opinion. Especially since Nehru's death added to the sense of insecurity and the wounds of a searing defeat in the border war with China had not yet healed. And his successor, the diminutive Lal Bahadur Shastri, initially looked even smaller in the face of the challenges he faced.

Shastri was chosen by the syndicate, a powerful group of Congress leaders led by the crafty Tamil leader K. Kamaraj. They foresaw Nehru's demise after the war with China and were looking for a leader they could control. A year earlier, they had masterfully eliminated the acerbic and strong-willed Morarji Desai, Nehru's most likely successor. By nominating an unassuming and easy-going Shastri, the syndicate hoped to rule the country itself "by proxy." But in the coming months, soft Shastri will surprise them with its independent way of thinking.

Shastri, a follower of Gandhi's views, was initially horrified that India would ever have to develop nuclear weapons. Two weeks before the Chinese explosion, he told a Non-Aligned Movement conference in Cairo: "We in India are committed to using atomic energy only for peaceful purposes; and although we are capable of developing nuclear weapons in a purely technical and scientific sense, our scientists and specialists have been firmly instructed not to conduct any experiments, not to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. there is not a single device that is not required for peaceful purposes."

Shastri and Bhabha didn't get along very well. There could hardly have been two more dissimilar personalities. In contrast to the suave Bhabha, Shastri, who had been brought up in a poor environment, seemed to be a simple worker. Bhabhu, who was used to being "brotherly" with Nehru, was annoyed that he could no longer easily go to the Prime Minister's office and talk to him. Shastri's secretary strongly advised Bhabha to make a formal request for a meeting date if he wanted to speak with the new Prime Minister. Worse for Bhabha, Shastri's suspicious attitude toward nuclear matters often disappointed him.

Eight days after the Chinese explosion, Bhabha, who foresaw the anxiety that the event would cause in the country, again pressed the government to make a decision on India's development of nuclear weapons. On October 24, 1964, he made a famous statement on All India Radio claiming that building a nuclear bomb was not expensive, estimating the cost of a ten-kiloton explosion at 17.5 lakhs ** rupees. He predicted that a stockpile of 50 Indian bombs could cost the country less than Rs 10 crore***.

Bhabha assured listeners that atomic weapons "give a State that has them in an appropriate amount, the potential to deter an attack from a much stronger state." He ended his radio address with a veiled appeal to the UN to work more effectively for general disarmament in order to " create a favorable climate for countries that are capable of developing atomic weapons, but voluntarily refrain from doing so."

Bhabha's radio appearance was also intended to pressure Shastri to completely change Nehru's policy and openly accept the weapons program. Moreover, according to Bhabha, the bomb program will not be as expensive as previously thought. Bhabha also claimed that India is only a year and a half away from building a bomb. Although the ruling Indian national con-

Continuation. For the beginning, see "Asia and Africa Today", 2003, NN 3-5.

* This treaty is also known as the Moscow Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Tests in Three Spheres (originally signed by the USSR, the United States and Great Britain on August 5, 1963), but China did not sign. (Editor's note)

* * 1 lakh =100 thousand.

* * * 1 crore = 10 million.

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gress (Inc.) was in favor of an Indian nuclear bomb, and Shastri was determined to prevent its creation.

At a meeting of the All India Congress Committee * in the first week of November, Shastri even questioned the amount of expenses calculated by Bhabha, saying that they were significantly underestimated. Shastri's own estimate of the cost of a single bomb alone was 20 times greater than Bhabha's calculations. The Shastri Government was facing a severe food crisis in the country, and its arguments against a pernicious arms race were compelling. A week later, Bhabha was forced to clarify that his estimates were based on peaceful nuclear explosions carried out by the United States.

During the parliamentary session in the last week of November 1964, Shastri was heavily attacked by the Jana Sangh and its Vajpayee" star, "and even some members of his INC party, for being soft on nuclear policy. While remaining opposed to the nuclear weapons program, Shastri made two significant concessions. First, he stated: "I can't say that the current policy has taken deep roots... If it is necessary to amend what we are saying today, then we will say-OK, let's move on, and we will do so." Second, a veiled concession was made to Bhabha and his team, who were allowed to develop nuclear devices that would allow India to produce explosions for peaceful purposes, such as building large tunnels or demolishing mountains in economic development projects.

This decision was quite legitimate, since the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), held in Geneva at the beginning of the same year, discussed the issues of peaceful nuclear explosions. The United States, which has named its SNW project "Plowshare," said such explosions are cost-effective and organized an international symposium on the subject. The Soviet Union also claimed that it used such explosions to carry out work for economic development. Therefore, Shastri's statements were received in India without much surprise or concern. But experts knew that a peaceful nuclear explosion would also demonstrate India's ability to build an atomic bomb.

Shastri's cautious statement in Parliament about the possibility of considering the implementation of a peaceful explosion hardly satisfied Bhabha. With no funds allocated and no time frame set, it could have taken India many years to develop a deterrent capability. Thus, reduce the Chinese nuclear program

* The All India Congress Committee (ACC) is the highest body of the INC, comprising the Party President, State Congress Committee presidents, INC faction leaders in Parliament and legislative assemblies, one - eighth of the State Committee members (on an elective basis), and some other activists. The HCC is responsible for implementing the party's program. It meets at least twice a year or as deemed necessary by the Working Committee of the Congress. (Editor's note)

* * The Jana Sangh or Bharatiya Jana Sangh (Union of the Indian People) is a political party formed in 1951, which was renamed the Bharatiya Janata Party (Party of the Indian People) in 1980. (Editor's note)

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India could only be threatened by the" nuclear umbrella " of another country.

On December 4, during a state visit to London, Shastri, in a conversation with British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, did raise the question of how non-nuclear states, including India, can resist nuclear blackmail. However, Shastri was fiercely attacked by the Indian press for trying to get a "nuclear shield" that could negate the country's non-aligned policy. Shastri was quick to clarify that he was seeking protection for all non-nuclear countries, not just India.

Meanwhile, now that the Indian government seemed to have softened its stance on a nuclear explosion, Bhabha was under pressure to prove India's ability to make a bomb in a year and a half. Even his closest associates were skeptical of Bhabha's claim.

Sethna notes: "We could construct an explosive device. But we could only try to convert it into a transportable bomb that can withstand the overload of an airplane flight."

Ramanna, however, categorically states: "Such a "redo" would be impossible. Bhabha only announced it because he was under pressure at the time. We have made many promises that have not been fulfilled."

Ramanna was starting from what was India's best - kept secret, which was that scientists were facing big problems at Phoenix, a plant for reprocessing spent fuel from the Cyrus reactor and extracting plutonium.

Undoubtedly, the construction of such a plant was a difficult task. In 1958, when India began such construction, only a handful of industrialized countries had plutonium reprocessing technology. Sethna, who led the project, recalls: "It was like a blind man leading a blind man, because our experience was very limited. You might as well ask anyone to describe a heaven or hell they haven't been to. So we used what we engineers call the " challenge factor,"which is taking twice as many precautions."

Given the high radioactivity of plutonium, the entire plant must be surrounded by meter-thick concrete walls, and all work must be carried out using robots and remote cameras. It was necessary to buy a special stainless steel pipeline with a length of almost 20 kilometers abroad to withstand the caustic chemical process of extracting plutonium.

This process, called solvent extraction, is carried out by lowering fuel rods into various chemical reservoirs, in which impurities or waste matter are separated from them, eventually leaving plutonium in the sediment. Sethna recalls: "I was the only one who knew what color it was - purple." A few years earlier, during a trip to France, he had seen it at one of the factories.

Sethna's deputy, N. Srinivasan, who played a key role in the construction of the plant, recalls: "Until the last tank, we didn't know what we were going to do." Western scientists accused India of copying a processing plant in the United States, where several Indian specialists were trained. Srinivasan rejects these unsubstantiated claims. He admits that some of them were trained at the US government facility in Oak Ridge, but only to learn the basics and ensure security. He recalls: "They were very friendly to such training."

Although researchers began recycling a small number of fuel rods in mid-1964,the plant was unstable. Bhabha knew that the launch of the Phoenix would send a strong message to the world, especially China, that India owned weapons-grade plutonium and could make atomic bombs if needed. So even though the processing plant was far from ready, Bhabha was eager to start it up.

On January 22, 1965, four months after the Chinese explosion, Shastri inaugurated the factory in a ceremony attended by many members of the world's press. In his speech, the Prime Minister tried to avoid pompous rhetoric about his role in India's peaceful nuclear program. But he made most nuclear powers pale when he suggested that other countries might use an Indian facility to reprocess plutonium.

Whether out of a sense of humor or some childish symbolism, Bhabha ordered the smokestack of the processing plant to be repainted in a nondescript gray color in bright red. He explained to Ramanna: "It will be a warning to the world that we are ready." However, the "warning" turned out to be nothing more than a red rag, because over the next few years the plant produced very little plutonium. But that, too, remained a closely guarded secret.

Recent reports authorized for publication by the U.S. Government under the Freedom of Information Act show that Bhabha did indeed seek help from his U.S. colleagues in February 1965 to quickly construct a bomb. It is significant that, as reported, he hinted at India's need for some plutonium to conduct an experiment of the same kind as the "Plowshare". The US decided not to help India for several reasons. By that time, a strong pro-nuclear nonproliferation lobby had formed in the United States, which feared that India's help could lead to its proliferation. A proposal to conclude a binding treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) has already been discussed. In addition, any open support for India could be misinterpreted by US allies such as Pakistan.

Meanwhile, in March 1965, when Pakistani President Ayub Khan visited Beijing, there was growing concern in India about the strengthening of Pakistan's friendship with China. Pakistan, on the other hand, was concerned about India's nuclear intentions and sought Chinese help. Outwardly "meek"

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Shastri's nuclear policy was again attacked in Parliament shortly after Pakistan launched an unprovoked incursion into the Kach Rann area. In early April, after failing to secure a "nuclear shield" for India and taking into account Bhabha's information that the United States was not cooperative, Shastri reluctantly authorized the start of preparations for a peaceful nuclear explosion. But on Bhabha's note on the matter, the Prime Minister wrote: "Permission is granted to start theoretical research on explosions for peaceful purposes. No experimental work should be performed without my permission."

Granted permission, albeit with reservations, for what he had been advocating for years, Bhabha moved quickly. On April 5, 1965, he established a small group to work on a project called " Study of Nuclear Explosions for Peaceful Purposes "(IYAVMC). That morning, he summoned Ramanna to the headquarters of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), located in the old yacht Club in Mumbai (Bombay). Ramanna, who was leading a group of physicists, recalls how he came thinking it would be another morning meeting with Bhabha. Instead, he waved the document gleefully, showing him the Shastri resolution. "He was happy that he finally got Shastri's permission," Ra - manna recalls. "That was just the beginning. But it meant that we finally chose our path." Bhabha told Ramanna that he was appointing him chairman of the IYAVMC, but noted that from time to time he would preside over such meetings himself. Bhabha assigned two physicists to help Ramanna. Regarding secrecy, Bhabha gave only one recommendation: "Don't tell Allardyce." Englishman E. K. Allardyce was a trusted employee of Bhabha. But in this case, Bhabha didn't take any chances. He also placed the Ramanna group in a separate building.

At the time, Indian scientists had no doubts about what their country was actually going to do. Shastri and those who were aware of his decision to authorize the IYAVMC project also understood its implications. Ramanna recalls Dharma Veera, Shastri's cabinet secretary, telling him a few months later: "If half a billion people can't make an atomic bomb for themselves, what are they worth?" Bhabha began to attract other scientists to the project as well. In early 1965, Aya, who was then in the radioisotope department, proposed the creation of a factory for the production of polonium, which is used as a fuse in atomic bombs. When Aya did not receive a reply, he assumed that Bhabha had never received the note on the subject, which he had sent through his English superior.

Although Bhabha actually got the note. In the spring of 1965, during a visit to Paris, Bhabha summoned T. S. Murthy, a bright young scientist, to the George V Hotel. Murthi, Aya's understudy who later played an important role in the 1974 bombing, was then doing an internship at the French nuclear laboratories in Saclay. Bhabha told Murthi that Shastri was interested in carrying out a nuclear explosion, and he was looking for a test site. He mentioned the need for-

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the process of isolating polonium and advised Murthi: "Find out everything you can while you're working in these labs." Hoping to sell India nuclear reactors, not to mention other military equipment, the French were obliging, but not inclined to share too much.

India has begun to prepare the diplomatic ground for a nuclear explosion. In May, a month after Shastri gave permission for the IYAVMC, at a meeting of the 114-member UN Disarmament Commission in New York, the Indian representative made some serious suggestions. India wanted the nuclear powers to commit themselves not to launch atomic bomb attacks on countries that do not possess them. She also called on the UN to provide a" security umbrella "for non-nuclear-weapon States and to make "tangible progress" towards disarmament, including the conclusion of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and a "freeze" on the production of nuclear weapons.

India has not only placed the responsibility for such a treaty on the shoulders of the great Powers by proposing such a tough agenda, but also, in the event of non-compliance with its proposals, prepared the ground for national plans for peaceful nuclear explosions to become legitimate. Just as negotiations for the NPT were beginning, Ramanna's group in Trombøy secretly set about its task with great energy. However, for many years the team maintained that it was engaged only in theoretical research. And with good reason: Shastri continued to claim even in Parliament that he had not given any permission for the experiment. In addition, if the truth came to light, India's principled position during the NPT discussions would look hypocritical.

However, the members of the group went beyond the drawing board. In mid-1965, they began searching for a laboratory specializing in conventional explosives. The team sought help from Vaman Dattatreya Patwardhan, then director of the Explosives Research Laboratory in Kirki, near Pune. The team wanted to fine-tune their seismic measuring instruments and establish the laws of large-scale computing to determine the amount of conventional explosives needed to explode. Patwardhan was privy to the experiment.

Using a convoy of army trucks, Patwardhan secretly transported five tons of TNT from the laboratory in Kirki to the site of the explosion in the forests near the city of Ongolu in Andhra Pradesh. Ramanna and team C and B made it to their destination separately. Then they hid in bunkers and carried out the explosion. When they went back, rumors of an explosion spread in the area, but the villagers found an explanation for this that they understood-an earthquake. The C & B team was reportedly not too happy with the results of the experiment, with one participant saying,"We were unpleasantly surprised by how primitive our no knowledge of conventional explosions was."

Meanwhile, a war was brewing. By August 1965, Pakistan had expanded its military operations, sending saboteurs across the border, and even occupied some of the key heights in Kargi le (Jammu and Kashmir). In order to push out the violators and put pressure on Pakistan on other fronts, India had to decide to cross the Line of Control * . Shastri's cabinet members were hesitant because any such action would mean a full-scale war with Pakistan, which they did not want. They were also concerned about the reaction of international opinion portraying India as an aggressor.

Shastri had a reputation for thinking carefully about his decisions, but he could act decisively when needed. Shastri asked the then Cabinet Secretary Dharma Veer, " How much time do you think I have to make a decision?"

When Dharma Veera made it clear that time was short, Shastri told him, " Go ahead. I'll take care of the Cabinet of Ministers."

India launched a decisive offensive, driving the intruders back and immediately occupying part of Pakistani territory. Soon after, the second Indo-Pakistani war broke out. Pakistani armored divisions have made the main attack in Kashmir, threatening even the city of Srinagar. The Indian army responded with deep incursions into Pakistani territory in Punjab province and came within range of Lahore.

At the height of the war, China accused India of border violations in Tibet and warned against expanding the conflict. But India's firmness, combined with pressure from the United States and the Soviet Union, forced China to back down from its ultimatum.

The battle turned out to be incomplete, and India and Pakistan called for a cease-fire in the third week of September. But as Pakistan failed to achieve its goals, the war was widely perceived by Indians as a Shastri victory, which served to boost morale in the country. The Soviet Union offered to act as the host country for negotiations on a peaceful settlement of the (Indo - Pakistani) dispute in Tashkent.

The Chinese threat during the war was an additional reason for rethinking India's policy on the issue of production-non-production of nuclear weapons.

In December 1965, Shastri asked Bhabha to speed up plans for a peaceful nuclear explosion. Sethna said: "During the 1965 war with Pakistan, Shastri gave us permission to do whatever was necessary. Bhabha specifically met with him and told him about research on peaceful nuclear explosions. Shastri said to continue them, but not to conduct the experiment without the permission of the Cabinet of Ministers."

Speaking about the evolution of Shastri's views on nuclear issues, Dharma Veera noted: "In the beginning, Shastri wanted nuclear power to be used only for peaceful scientific purposes. But towards the end of his life, he agreed that we should be

* The line of control separates Indian and Pakistani forces in Kashmir from the first Indo-Pakistani War of 1947-1948 to the present. (Editor's note)

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ready-made. It was the war with Pakistan that convinced him that we are not surrounded by friends and should not be taken by surprise."

Shortly thereafter, however, Shastri died (on January 11, 1966) of a heart attack, just hours after he signed a peace agreement with Pakistan in Tashkent. After his death, Kamaraj, a strong personality in the INC party, saw to it that the inexperienced Indira Gandhi was elected as its leader, fending off Morarji Desai's bid for the post. Everyone, including the syndicate, soon realized that it was a mistake to underestimate her.


When Gandhi was sworn in for the first of her four terms as Prime Minister of India on January 25, 1966, her opponents called her a "stupid doll." At that time, she was only 48 years old. She also faltered when speaking in Parliament and seemed shy to the Prime Minister, which raised doubts about her ability to lead India in extremely difficult times.

The war with Pakistan, and before that with China, emptied India's coffers. The year Indira Gandhi took office, the country was gripped by a major famine. In exchange for wheat supplies from the United States and under pressure from the World Bank, it was forced to devalue the rupee by 35.5 percent in June 1966, with disastrous consequences.

In the meantime, she had to deal with the thorny issue of forming a separate Punjabi-speaking state at the request of Sikhs. At first, she wasn't interested in building atomic bombs, of course. Khaksar, her secretary for many tumultuous years, recalls: "In the beginning, Mrs. Gandhi was mainly concerned with consolidating her own power, as well as ending the syndicate's dominance in Congress." On the economic front, it has focused its efforts on a "green revolution" that would ensure India's self-sufficiency in food grain production.

There was another reason why bombs weren't her top priority. The day after Indira Gandhi was sworn in, Bhabha was killed in a plane crash over the Swiss Alps. His successor, Vikram Sarabhai, considered nuclear weapons a curse for the country's economy. Sarabhai initially had no particular desire to take office, because, according to him, it is difficult to replace Bhabha. After all, it is not only about taking his place, but also about "adopting his way of thinking."

The versatile Sarabhai and Bhabha shared a common interest in cosmic ray physics. Sarabhai was a student of Sir C. V. Ramann at the Indian Institute of Sciences when Bhabha was a lecturer in the same faculty. From then on, they treated each other, in the words of Sarabhai's wife Mrinalini, "like a disciple and a teacher." Mrinalini was then living in Bangalore and was already a well-known dancer. Sarabhai regularly attended performances with her participation. She joked that she had captivated him because she was the only girl who played tennis in shorts at the time.

Bhabha was also fond of the dancer and once even painted her portrait. But Mrinalini was fascinated by Sarabhai because he had "an extraordinary mind" and "was strikingly open, direct, like a child, and attractive." They were married in 1942. After they left Bangalore, Sarabhai managed to create a" family empire " in the chemical industry, while opening advanced research centers. Despite being the" father " of the space program as head of the CAE, Sarabhai was opposed to Bhabha's grandiose plans.

Sarabhai sharply disagreed with Bhabha on the issue of creating an Indian atomic bomb. When he assumed the position of Chairman of the CAE in May 1966, five months after Bhabha's death, he immediately set about dismantling India's nascent bomb development program. Ramanna recalls, " Sarabhai believed that atomic bombs were useless as weapons. Just "paper tigers". In his new position, the first thing he did was close the IYAVMC."

Morarji Desai was delighted with Sarabhai. Years later, as Prime Minister, he told Ramanna, " Sarabhai was a sensible guy. This crazy Bhabha wanted to blow up the whole world."

Indira Gandhi initially agreed with Sarabhai's approach to atomic weapons, and in May 1966 declared in the lower house of Parliament: "I myself do not understand how one or two atomic bombs will help us."

At his first press conference, Sarabhai said that the bomb program "requires the full mobilization of national resources on a colossal scale," for which India is not ready. When someone pointed out Bhabha's modest spending estimates, Sarabhai quipped: "You can ask me what the price of two meters of cloth is, but two meters cannot be produced unless you have a loom or a weaving factory."

The Government's nuclear policy was under pressure from three large groups of the public.

The first of them united pacifists who shared the views of Gandhi and Nehru. They believed that it was morally wrong for India, the guardian of the conscience of the world, to create such weapons. The babu group, which consisted mainly of bureaucrats, diplomats, and economists, argued that an expensive nuclear program was not appropriate for a country that still had to ask the world for economic aid. Finally, a third group of "hawks" - a handful of political, technical, and scientific strategists-believed that as long as the country did not pursue the hard line of building an atomic bomb, the Western Powers, with the support of the Soviet Union, would thwart India's nuclear ambitions by forcing it to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). They won a major battle when Shastri gave permission for research on peaceful nuclear explosions.

* Babu - Bengali for "master", an address to a learned, educated person. (Editor's note)

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But the arrival of Sarabhai and Indira Gandhi reversed the process that had begun.

As a result of the parliamentary elections held in the spring of 1967, Indira Gandhi's position was further weakened. The INC lost 83 seats, and now had a majority of only 25 seats in the lower house of Parliament. Indira Gandhi was sworn in for a second term as Prime Minister on March 12, 1967. By then, the NPT negotiations had reached a turning point, and India was cornered. The pigeons in India have made a last-ditch attempt to provide India with a "nuclear shield" from a foreign power.

In April 1967, Indira Gandhi instructed the Secretary to the Prime Minister, L. K. Jha and Sarabhai, to study how non-nuclear States like India could protect themselves from nuclear threats. The idea was to encourage the nuclear Powers, especially the USSR and the United States, to jointly declare that if a nuclear Power threatens a non-nuclear-weapon State, they will immediately come to the aid of such a State. India believed that such guarantees would be a sufficient deterrent against China.

Jha met with senior officials in the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom. Sarabhai attended some of these meetings with him. But their proposals failed because the Soviet Union did not want to sign any joint declaration with the United States, with which it was waging a proxy war in Vietnam. And Washington refused to put its own population at risk of a nuclear attack while defending another country.

India was also dismayed by the fact that both the United States and the Soviet Union joined forces to deter other States from developing atomic weapons by stipulating that they themselves had no obligation to do so. What was dangerous for India was that they no longer agreed to recognize peaceful nuclear explosions as legal for non-nuclear-weapon States.

The rejection by the two superpowers coincided with the departure of L. K. Jha as Indira Gandhi's secretary. In his place, she appointed the gifted Parmeshwar Narain Haxar. A staunch left-leaning liberal, Khaksar was considered a "shrewd and visionary" politician.

When Khaksar took over as Indira Gandhi's secretary in September 1967, she treated him respectfully, according to one of her aides, like an "older brother." Khaksar soon became her most important adviser, helping her operate in a difficult political environment. Khaksar soon made the Prime Minister's office the most powerful bureaucracy in the country. His arrival radically changed Indira Gandhi's view on the nuclear issue.

In the past, Haksar had been constantly dealing with her father, Nehru. He was greatly influenced by the study on the harmful effects of nuclear weapons that Nehru commissioned in the early 1950s, as well as the Prime Minister's unwavering, passionate desire to convince the world of the need for disarmament. Khaksar noted that " until his last breath, Nehru hoped for a miracle, that common sense would prevail to some extent."

However, Khaksar pointed out, "no one listened to him." Intercontinental ballistic missiles were constructed that, in the event of a nuclear attack, could reach any part of the world in a matter of minutes. An all-out arms race broke out between the United States and the Soviet Union, in which both countries developed more and more new doctrines: "massive retaliatory strike", "flexible response" and, finally, nuclear deterrence"* .

Khaksar was also greatly influenced by Homi Bhabha, "a realist who believed that once we mastered technology, we would have to finish the job." This meant the creation of an atomic bomb.

Haksar first saw Bhabha as he was entering a meeting with Nehru at his office in the South Block building. He wrote: "I was immediately struck by a characteristic feature of Homi Bhabha: his eyes were fixed somewhere far beyond the horizon. It was the look of a visionary man." Later, when he got to know Bhabka better, he remarked, " I was struck by his passionate desire to serve the cause of our fatherland. Bhabha was very proud to be an Indian."

However, the greatest influence on Khaksar was Indira Gandhi, and he, in turn, during Gandhi's tenure as Prime Minister from 1967 to 1977-on her. Then they fell out over Indira Gandhi's obsession with grooming her son Sanjay to succeed her, turning a blind eye to his misdeeds. Khaksar rarely spoke publicly about Indira Gandhi, saying only that "she was a very good listener. And she could act decisively."

Only Khaksar could speak knowledgeably about Indira Gandhi's decision to go nuclear. He has always kept silent about this topic, but shortly before his death, he told something in an interview with the author of these lines. Even then, he was unwell, and his eyesight was getting worse. But his mind was as sharp as a razor.

Khaksar said that when he took office, he initially spent long hours with Gandhi, informing her on a wide range of issues. At the time, she was busy consolidating her influence in Congress and trying to secure a firm foothold. He was contemptuous of Morarji Desai, who served as deputy Prime Minister in Indira Gandhi's cabinet: "He couldn't run a country where politics comes first."

At one of these briefings, Khaksar and Indira Gandhi had a long discussion that apparently changed her views on the nuclear issue. Khaksar expressed his conviction that it is time for India to abandon its "pseudo - Gandhian approach" if the country wants to play a significant role in the international arena. He asked her, " If we continue to believe in Gandhi's philosophy, why do we need an army? Let's abolish the armed forces... Vspom-

* The doctrine of " nuclear deterrence "was formulated in the United States. Many doctrines and concepts have been developed based on it, including massive retaliation and flexible response.

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remember how, under pressure from the United States, you were forced to devalue the rupee, which had serious consequences for the economy."

To confirm his words, Khaksar quoted Indira Gandhi an excerpt from the book "On the Sidelines of History" by the historian L. V. Namier: "Weighty! argumentation largely depends on who it is used by: the arguments of the strong are weighty and "convincing", the arguments of the weak, even if irrefutable, are called verbal tricks, cause irritation." And added: "If India does not become strong and powerful, it is likely that its concerns will be dismissed as verbal tricks."

Indira Gandhi replied: "You're right. If you want to be considered these days, you have to be strong."

Then her view of India's readiness for defense and nuclear weapons began to change, especially after Sarabhai and Jha failed to get the two superpowers to guarantee India's nuclear security. The tightening of positions on the NPT by both the United States and the Soviet Union meant that India might have to abandon signing the treaty altogether.

It became clear that India would have to build its own nuclear arsenal. However, the country could not openly launch this program due to the precarious economic situation and India's dependence on foreign aid. In addition, there was another big problem - the lack of plutonium for creating atomic weapons.

This fundamental factor was overlooked by most researchers who tried to understand why India had to postpone its nuclear test until 1974. Despite the fact that the plutonium reprocessing plant was supposedly already operational for two years by 1967, its output was only a drop in the bucket. The promised eight to ten kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium a year, enough to produce an atomic bomb like the one dropped on Nagasaki, turned out to be a mirage, as the plant was working intermittently.

Ramanna hinted at the problem of plutonium shortages, saying that Bhabha's promise to build a bomb within a year and a half was impossible to fulfill. But during the critical period of 1967 - 1972, Ramanna remained silent. Sarabhai's antipathy to nuclear weapons and political hesitation over the nuclear program provided a convenient excuse for explaining the delay in the nuclear explosion. But that was only part of the truth.

The shortage of weapons-grade plutonium has played a key role in determining the pace of India's nuclear program. This was the main reason that India did not conduct a series of tests in 1974 or a little later.

Ramanna acknowledged that "there could not have been a series of explosions in 1974 that would have required a large amount of plutonium."

Even in mid-1967, when Indira Gandhi began to revise her approach to the atomic weapons program, the main stages of this program were determined by the presence of plutonium. So at first it made sense to focus on the theoretical aspects of atomic bomb design and computer simulations. And the direct production of atomic bomb components began only when a sufficient amount of plutonium was accumulated.

Shortly after Khaksar's arrival, in the fall of 1967, Indira Gandhi allowed the Bhabha Center for Atomic Research (CAIB) to resume theoretical research on the physics of the atomic explosion.

Indira Gandhi was almost ready to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty altogether in Geneva. The first-class Indian negotiator V. C. Trivedi, during the discussion of the treaty, came up with such an expression as "nuclear apartheid" to define the position of nuclear powers, and sought an even tougher approach to this document.

There were many obstacles to overcome. Even Indira Gandhi's own Cabinet was pressured, and leading Foreign Ministry officials called for the signing of the NPT. Indira Gandhi's deputy in the government, Morarji Desai, morally believed that India should promote general disarmament and avoid developing atomic weapons.

In early May 1968, before the Cabinet made a formal decision not to join the treaty, Indira Gandhi asked G. Parthasarathi, her trusted adviser and then Permanent Representative to the United Nations, to change Morarji Desai's mind. After spending about an hour with him, Parthasarathi informed Indira Gandhi that the Deputy Prime Minister would not object.

Desai also prepared himself thoroughly for the job. That morning, he summoned one of the Deputy Ministers in charge of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, S. K. Singh. Desai learned from his son Kanti Bhai, who was a close friend of Singh, that Singh had prepared serious objections to the Foreign Ministry's line on signing the NPT, which was followed by First Deputy Foreign Minister Rajeshwar Dayal. When Singh met Desai at his house, Desai was spinning on a hand-held spinning wheel. In his usual gruff way, Desai said to Singh,"Tell me about the debate over the atomic bomb."

Singh explained to Desai that the NPT essentially gives nuclear Powers the legal right to produce and possess nuclear weapons, while ensuring that other countries are not allowed to do so. They are also reluctant to give any security guarantees to non-nuclear-weapon States or to commit themselves to strictly defined deadlines for the implementation of a disarmament programme. * Desai said cryptically: "It's not fair. Immediately bring the note you have prepared." Singh rushed to his office and delivered the document. That evening, at a Cabinet meeting, Desai read out passages from

* The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons has provided security guarantees by nuclear Powers to non-nuclear-weapon States in the event of the possible use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against them. (Editor's note)

page 58

Singh's notes outlined why he believes India should not sign the treaty.

As a result, India officially announced that it refuses to join the NPT. This is not to say that the decision of India caused a big resonance in Geneva. The five nuclear Powers themselves were divided during a vote on the NPT at the UN General Assembly in June 1968. France and China, highly suspicious of the treaty, did not sign it until 1992.

However, a month before India refused to participate in the treaty, Indira Gandhi told the lower house of Parliament on April 24, 1968: "We think that nuclear weapons will not replace military preparations, including conventional weapons... The choice before us involves not only solving the issue of producing several atomic bombs, but also entering the arms race with the most sophisticated nuclear warheads and effective missile delivery systems. I don't think that such a course strengthens national security. On the contrary, it may well endanger our internal security by placing a heavy economic burden on the country in addition to the current defense spending."

There is no reason to believe that she wasn't sincere. In the end, the community of scientists working in the field of atomic energy split due to the feud between Sarabhai and Sethna. Sarabhai's antipathy to nuclear weapons was clearly the reason for the long-term conservation of the nuclear program. And Indira Gandhi was still taking her first steps as Prime Minister.

This supported the official version that Indian plans for nuclear weapons were frozen until the end of the Bangladesh War of Independence in December 1971, and that Indira Gandhi activated them after the United States threatened India during the war by sending the aircraft carrier Enter Price equipped with atomic weapons to its shores, and intelligence reported on Pakistan's decision to build an atomic bomb in the spring of 1972.

But the truth was completely different.


Everyone who has worked at Trombay remembers a defining moment in India's nuclear history in their own way.

It was September 7, 1972, when the monsoon was waning in Mumbai. Indira Gandhi arrived by plane to deliver a speech at a gala meeting at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). The ceremony was attended by Sethna, who became head of the Atomic Energy Commission after Sarabhai's death (on December 30, 1971). He also served as Chairman of the IIT.

After a sumptuous lunch in Mumbai, at the Taj Mahal Hotel, where you can see the magnificent "Gate of India", Indira Gandhi went to Trombay by helicopter. For security reasons, another helicopter was flying nearby, and Sethna and his wife were on board. Their helicopter landed first, and at first the people in Trombay mistook Sethna's wife for Indira Gandhi and decorated her with a garland of flowers.

After honoring Indira Gandhi herself, she was quickly shown around the complex, including the Cyrus reactor, which produced weapons-grade plutonium. The Prime Minister was unperturbed as usual, so Sethna wasn't too worried. At the end of the tour, Sethna invited Indira Gandhi to his office to demonstrate the main attraction. He pulled out a wooden model of the nuclear device they'd designed from a drawer in his desk. An unforgettable dialogue followed.

According to Ramanna, Indira Gandhi exclaimed, " Oh! That's how small it is!"

Then Sethna asked her, " Madam, is it necessary to conduct an experiment or not?"

Sethna claims that Indira Gandhi responded: "Prepare everything you need. I'll let you know what to do next." According to Ramanna, "she didn't say yes or no, but for us it meant approval. I just had to let her know when everything was ready."

Sethna said that prior to this incident, he had met Indira Gandhi in New Delhi in early 1972, just after he assumed the position of Chairman of the CAE. When he brought up the subject of an experimental nuclear explosion, she was still hesitant. Sethna recalls Indira Gandhi saying, " We should think about it, provided we don't get into too much trouble. We need to assess the economic costs."

She was concerned about the economic pressure that other countries might exert on India. Sethna recalls that after Indira Gandhi's visit, he "told the guys in Trombey to complete their preparations." I said: "Let's do an experiment. And we will show the world that India can handle it, it is not a backward country."

Everyone in Trombay assumed that Indira Gandhi had decided to carry out an explosion during the visit. This is convenient for confirming the version that the American aircraft carrier Enter-price was the decisive factor. As well as Bhabha's statements that CAI will need a year and a half to prepare for a nuclear explosion.

The truth, however, is that between 1967 and 1972, India made significant strides towards building an atomic bomb. But I had to save face. That is why India has consistently maintained in the country's parliament and in international forums that it is not working on the production of nuclear weapons. It would be strange, to say the least, if the Prime Minister were found to be lying. Therefore, all orders during that period had to be verbal and circumspect, so that the Prime Minister could plead ignorance in the event of a sudden leak of information. If we take into account the extreme complexity of the task and its importance for the "highest interests of the nation", then such tricks may be justified. India's success in developing the atomic bomb remained the country's biggest secret.

(To be continued)


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