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On May 18, 1974, the ground shook in the Pokhran desert of Rajasthan, India. A successful nuclear detonation marked India’s entry into the world’s most exclusive club – the nations possessing nuclear weapons. Codenamed “Smiling Buddha” in a deliberate irony, the test was a calculated move by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s government.

Facing declining popularity, Gandhi seized the opportunity to rally the nation. The timing of the test, coinciding with the birthday of Buddha, a symbol of peace, further emphasized India’s stated goal of using nuclear power for peaceful purposes only. However, the international community remained skeptical.

The successful detonation was met with jubilation within India. Project leaders were showered with honors, and celebratory street demonstrations erupted in major cities. The nation basked in a newfound sense of power and self-reliance.

However, the “Smiling Buddha” test triggered a wave of international condemnation. The established nuclear powers – the United States, Soviet Union, Britain, France, and China – expressed concerns about a potential arms race in South Asia. Economic sanctions were imposed on India, further straining relations with the West.

Despite the international backlash, India’s nuclear ambitions were solidified. The Pokhran test became a pivotal moment in the nation’s history, marking its emergence as a major player on the world stage. However, the legacy of “Smiling Buddha” remains a complex one, highlighting the delicate balance between national pride, global security, and the ever-present threat of nuclear proliferation.