Almost 24 years after Smiling Buddha — the code name for India’s first nuclear tests — the country was ready to test its mettle again. The venue where the nuclear tests were to be carried out remained the same — Pokhran in Rajasthan, about 350 km from New Delhi — as was the secrecy that surrounded the tests. The entire operation was top secret as there was a massive international pressure on the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government not to carry out the tests and the US’ satellites were mapping every move in India. Nonetheless, the tests were carried out successfully in May 1998 and termed a logistical victory.
It is this operation that John Abraham-starrer Parmanu – The Story Of Pokhran attempts to present on the big screen; the film releases on May 25. John Abraham is playing an army officer named Ashwat Rana, in charge of the entire operation. He handpicks his team that includes specialists of different fields. The onus of keeping everything secretive lies with John.
The film is inspired by true events — the subterfuge used by the team to keep the operation top secret. The tests were carried out by the Vajpayee government, and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was the scientific advisor for the project. It was called Operation Shakti and five nuclear explosions took place — three on May 11, 1998 and two on May 13.
As per an article in WION, the entire operation was divided into three phases. The article says, “The thermonuclear device was placed in a shaft code named ‘White House’, which was over 200 m deep, the fission bomb was placed in a 150 m deep shaft code named ‘Taj Mahal’, and the first sub-kiloton device in ‘Kumbhkaran’. The first three devices were placed in their respective shafts on 10 May, and the first device to be placed was the sub-kiloton device in the ‘Kumbhkaran’ shaft, which was sealed by the army engineers by 8:30 pm.”
Indian agencies used many methods to hide their operations from the prying American satellites. Most of the work was carried out during the day time and as desert of Pokhran provided no cover, artificial sand dunes were created to give everything a natural feel.
The bombs were flown to Jaisalmer from Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai. From there, they were taken to Pokhran on trucks. Scientists wore army uniform to stay under the radar. The attempt was to show that the Indian Army was going about its business in the usual manner.
India had shown the willingness to conduct nuclear tests before 1998 as well, but the news travelled to the west faster than their expectations, and the country had to deal with enormous diplomatic pressure resulting in the operations being halted.
An article on The Quint gives the sense of the sensitiveness of Operation Shakti. It reads, “Work was mostly done during the night, and equipment was returned to the original place to give the impression that it was never moved. Bomb shafts were dug under camouflage netting and the dug out sand was shaped like dunes, a natural sand formation in the Thar. Cables for sensors were covered with sand and concealed using native vegetation. Scientists would not depart for Pokhran in groups of two or three. They travelled to destinations other than Pokhran under pseudonyms, and were then transported by the army.”
India joined the Big 5 states after these tests. The country had to face some problems initially, but in due time, everybody accepted that India is no longer a state that will play by the rules set by others.
Directed by Abhishek Sharma, Parmanu – The Story Of Pokhran will hit the screens on May 25, 2018. The film also features Diana Penty in an important role.