Events Leading to India's Nuclear Tests

In December 1997 India's ruling United Front government, led by Inder Kumar Gujral, lost its majority in parliament and recommended new elections. In elections held in February/March 1998, a political coalition led by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the largest party in parliament winning a total of 270 of 547 seats.  

The BJP has consistently held the position that India requires nuclear weapons to safeguard its national security. Consequently, exercising the nuclear option has been part of the party's agenda for the last four decades. 

Below is a list of important statements and events that chart the countdown to India's second and third round of nuclear tests in 24 years.  
4 December 1997 

Ruling United Front government recommends dissolution of parliament Narayanan and orders fresh elections to elect a new parliament and government. 

16 February 1998 

India goes to the polls. 

4 March 1998 

Last phase of elections over. BJP-led political coalition wins the largest block of parliamentary seats with a total of 270 out of 547 seats. 

16 March 1998 

President K.R. Narayanan invites the BJP to form government in New Delhi. 

18 March 1998 

BJP wins vote of confidence in parliament with 274 votes cast in its favor and 261 votes cast against it. 

BJP adopts "National Agenda for Governance." The BJP promises to establish a National Security Council, undertake India's first strategic defense review, re-evaluate India's nuclear policy, and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons. 

19 March 1998 

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee declares that India will induct nuclear weapons only if necessary. 

21 March 1998 

Defense Minister, George Fernandes, announces at a press conference in New Delhi that the decision to induct nuclear weapons will depend upon a thorough strategic review to be undertaken by India's National Security Council. 

28 March 1998 

Pakistan calls upon the international community to respond strongly to India's plans to rethink its nuclear weapons policy.  

5 April 1998 

India unveils a new supercomputer, Param 10,000, that is able to simulate nuclear test-explosions. 

6 April 1998 

Pakistan test-fires its 1,500km range Ghauri intermediate-range ballistic missile. 

7 April 1998 

India responds to Pakistan's test-firing of its 1,500km Ghauri intermediate-range ballistic missile by declaring that it will take resolute steps to meet threats to its national security. 

21 April 1998 

India's army chief of staff, General Ved Malik, openly demands a nuclear and missile deterrent for India. 

23 April 1998 

Defense Minister George Fernandes revives the Defense Minister's Committee to directly involve the armed services chiefs of staff in the national security decision making process. Scientific advisor to defense minister, A.P.J. Kalam, makes a presentation before the committee. The committee discusses India's threat perceptions and possible future course of action. 

24 April 1998 

N.N. Jha, convenor of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the BJP, declares at a public meeting in Colombo that India's National Security Council might examine the option to induct nuclear weapons into the armed forces on the basis of laboratory testing. He adds that the principle of "non-first-use will condition" India's move to develop an atomic arsenal.  

25 April 1998 

Pakistan warns the international community that India is softening international opinion before openly deploying nuclear weapons. 

4 May 1998 

Defense Minister George Fernandes declares that China is India's "potential threat number one." He says that if the defense review leads the government to believe that India should exercise its nuclear option, then India will do so. 

5 May 1998 

India expands its Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The new members are: Dr. Raja Ramanna, former AEC chairman, Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary to the prime minister, Prabhat Kumar, cabinet secretary, and Professor S.R. Jashim, member of the Planning Commission. 

11 May 1998 

India conducts three nuclear explosions at its Pokhran nuclear test-site. These include a fission-device, a low-yield device, and a thermonuclear device. Prime minister Vajpayee declares that the yields from the explosions are "in line with expected values." India stops short of declaring itself a nuclear weapons state. 

13 May 1998 

India conducts tests of two sub-kiloton nuclear devices at Pokhran. 

May 15 1998 

India Today reports that prime minister Vajpayee announced that India has a "big bomb." This is widely interpreted to mean that India has formally declared itself to a nuclear weapon state. The government accuses India Today of misquoting the prime minister, and says that he really said that India has the "capacity to make a big bomb."