ON March 7, members of the Launch Authorisation Board (LAB) for Agni-II were monitoring the countdown for test-firing of the intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) when the phone rang. It was the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), calling Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to tell him to put the launch on hold.
The DRDO team had completed pre-flight tests; they were just two hours away from pressing the ignition button. But orders were orders. All that Lt. Gen. (retd) Sundaram, head of the LAB and former director of the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), Hyderabad, and the other members could do was gnash their teeth in futile anger.
The test, Dr Kalam was informed, could sour relations with Pakistan at a time when prime minister A.B. Vajpayee had just made his historic bus trip to Lahore. To their chagrin, the DRDO team was instructed to issue a press release saying that the test-firing had been postponed because of a technical snag, though none existed.
Between February 1994 when Agni-I (with a range of 1000...