A file photo released by the govt on May 17, 1998 shows the Shakti-3 nuclear site after a nuclear device was detonated underground on May 11.
The Congress-led minority government of Narasimha Rao wanted to conduct nuclear tests in 1996 but had not anticipated it would lose the general election that year, revealed former president APJ Abdul Kalam.
He said that Prime Minister Rao asked him to prep for the tests just two days before the results of the elections came in.
PM Rao had miscalculated only one thing - the 1996 elections results. But after the Congress was defeated, what followed was equally startling. He asked Dr Kalam, his top scientist and then Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, to brief the Prime Minister-designate Atal Behari Vajpayee about the impending test and the nuclear programme.
"The message which we can see is that Nation is bigger than any organisation or political system," Dr Kalam said at a function organised by the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).
Mr Vajpayee's first government would only last for 13 days and the nuclear programme would be pushed to the backburner as India lurched from one political crisis to another and saw two Prime Ministers - Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda and IK Gujral - in as many years. "Of course, after taking over as Prime Minister in 1998, the first task given by Vajpayee to us was to conduct the nuclear test at the earliest," Dr Kalam said. India would evade surveillance satellites and prying eyes to conduct the test on May 11, 1998 at Pokhran Ranges in Northern Rajasthan, about 150 km away from Pakistan.
A series of missiles and rockets were launched and experimental bombs were dropped to "divert the attention of snoopers" before conducting the nuclear tests, Dr Kalam added.
"An important event was to take place the next day. Multiple agencies were in action. The next two nights were dark nights with no moon light. The other side, the world was sleeping. At the Chandipur flight test range, a series of 12 Trishuls were launched. Almost every two hours, one launch.
"At the Island range at stealth launch pad, a simulated Agni launch preparation was going on in high intensity. In Pokhran ranges, away from the action point, a number of rockets, PINAKA type, were put into action. At mid-day and evening, Air Force aircraft was bombarding with runway destruction bombs on experimental runways," he said.(With inputs from PTI)