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HindustanTimes Sat,25 Oct 2014

US found Indira 'unpredictable'

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, April 08, 2013
First Published: 23:24 IST(8/4/2013) | Last Updated: 19:44 IST(9/4/2013)

It wasn't just Indira Gandhi that the US administration under Richard Nixon disliked.

TN Kaul, a close aide of the then Prime Minister Gandhi, and the man handpicked by her as India's US ambassador in 1973, was described by the American envoy in India as "arrogant," pro-Soviet and as a man not to be trusted, in cables sent to the US State Department, and accessed by transparency watchdog Wikileaks.

"Kaul, like Nehru family, is Kashmiri Brahmin, assured to the point of arrogance by birth," Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the US ambassador to India wrote to the State Department secret service on March 17, 1973.

"His career has been marked by a pro-Soviet bias and concomitant Anti-American words and deeds."

In the cable, Moynihan accepted that he had not met Kaul personally, but had heard enough from other Western diplomats about the PM's aide to conclude that he was "inclined towards slyness, especially in his dealings with westerners."

"This latter quality is not only Kashmiri Brahmanical arrogance, it also reflects Kaul's propensity for misconstruing cleverness for sophistication in diplomatic dealings," Moynihan wrote, before calling Kaul "distasteful and trying." Kaul had already been foreign secretary under Gandhi.

According to Moynihan, one NATO ambassador on hearing about Kaul's appointment to Washington "seized an embassy official by the lapels and suggested that the US could not possibly extend agreement to Kaul."

Moynihan quotes former US ambassador Foy Kohler as a "slick opportunist." In another cable, the former Indian ambassador to the US, GL Mehta indicated that he did not believe Kaul was the right choice for the post of ambassador to the US.

But the cables also point to the recognition among the Americans that Kaul was a direct Indira Gandhi appointee, and was a "sensitive weathervane of Indian foreign policy."

"He will seek to improve relations with the US if that is GOI policy, and will criticize our actions, if so instructed," Moynihan wrote.

"If the wind veers, he shifts with it immediately."

YB Chavan possible counter to Indira Gandhi: US
Yashwantrao Chavan, finance minister under Indira Gandhi was a key politician courted by the Americans as a possible counter to the Prime Minister, who US President Richard Nixon famously abused.

The latest tranche of US diplomatic cables accessed by transparency watchdog Wikileaks, and released publicly today, mention Chavan more often than any other minister in the Gandhi cabinet. At a time when references to Gandhi and close aides like TN Kaul were mostly acerbic, the US embassy lobbied to get Chavan a chance to meet Henry Kissinger, Nixon's secretary of state, a cable written by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the US ambassador to India to the State Department secret service on March 17 suggests.

"You should know that Chavan is one of the few ministers here with a political base of his own, and is considered a potential rival to the Prime Minister," Moynihan wrote.

'Indian begging bowl'
US diplomats believed the first state visit of Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev to India in 1973 might have fetched the "Indian begging bowl" very little but platitudes, according to the latest round of leaked WikiLeaks cables.Soon after the high-profile visit where the two countries signed the friendship treaty, the Embassy analysed the joint statement that emphasised on the two countries trying to stick to their respective positions.

Pointing to news reports about "alleged soviet commitments to supply petroleum, newsprint, metals, it said "unless this is true, the Indian begging bowl will contain very little but platitudes". Many other US cables had gleefully noted how the Indians were repeatedly asking the Soviets for grains, a request that was turned down on several ocassions. 

Don't reduce security for Indian embassy: US envoy to Washington 
In 1973, when India and the US shared a troubled relationship, the American state department was contemplating reducing the security for the Indian embassy in Washington DC.

But US ambassador to India Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a strongly worded letter to his political bosses, cautioning them about the possible repercussions of culling security from the Indian mission.

"India's serious concern with terrorist threats is evidenced by security measures taken to protect ranking officials and installations in India," Moynihan wrote.

"In circumstances, it is our judgment that GOI will not take kindly to withdrawal of protection from Indian embassy in Washington, particularly in light of fact that they are providing extensive protection to our ambassador, deputy chief of mission and embassy."

'Indira Gandhi unpredictable'
Those were the Soviet days. And the US was apprehensive about the anti-American voices that permeated the Indian political life. There many diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks that show how US kept a close tab on these developments and always found then prime minister Indira Gandhi favourably disposed towards the Soviet Union.

One of the cables term Gandhi's response can be "completely unpredictable". The US was worried about the epithets it had received such "fascist, imperialists, "the imperialist power" not wanting "democracy and socialism in India."


'Whipping up crisis atmosphere'


In a cable in 1974, the US mission takes a special note of Gandhi hitting out at the "foreign critics", including the US after the nuclear test in the same year.

"The continuing campaign by J P Narayan in Bihar and the economic situation are getting to her, perhaps she is whipping up a crisis atmosphere to prepare people for tougher economic measures", says a cable. The US and the west had raised strong objections to India going nuclear and a slew of sanctions followed.


Authoritarian drift and democracy card


In one of the cables assessing Gandhi, US finds a "slow authoritarian shift" despite India having "institutional checks". But the cable says that US should work closely with India which remains one of the few functioning democracies in South Asia. "India has so far remained the principal reminder in under-developed Asia that political freedoms can survive if the will exists…. It is in the interests of the US to see democracy flourish in India" And the cable admits there is little that the US can do to affect India's political system.


US looked at Chavan to limit Soviet influence

A cable dated September 16, 1975 has revealed that the US intended to use then Indian foreign minister YB Chavan to limit Soviet influence in India. The US also wanted to use him repair India's external relations that was "upset" in 1971.

At the same time, the US also wanted limit the level of their involvement in India and "above all avoid creating over-expectations regarding the benefits which might accrue from improved relations."

"We recommend that the secretary brief Chavan on our relations with the USSR and China to demonstrate that they support our objective of stability in South Asia. He should brief Chavan on our view of recent events in Bangladesh, pointing out that our only interest is in stability and that our activities are humanitarian.

The Secretary should frankly discuss our relations with Pakistan, explaining that we are engaged in technical discussions of us arms sales of transfers, that these will be carried out in accordance with the policy we announced last winter."


US had 'sources' even in the PM's household


The United States had sources even inside then PM Indira Gandhi's house who provided it with the goings on inside the household, a diplomatic cable dated June 27, 1975 has revealed. The US officials had spoken to many of these sources after declaration of Emergency.

The cable referring to a spate of transfers of senior officials who opposed the declaration of Emergency said: "According to a source in the PM's household entourage, this was the key reason for the sudden transfer of home secretary Mukerjee to civil aviation and tourism at the beginning of this week."

The cable adds: "The names most commonly heard as the key figures behind Mrs Gandhi at this point are her son, Sanjay Gandhi and her secretary, Dhawan. This is confirmed by a source close to the PM's household. Both are non-ideological, extremely authoritarian in their general approach, and focused only on keeping Mrs Gandhi in power."


Indira almost told US envoy off


Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took "mild exception" to US Ambassador to India, Daniel Patrick Moynihan's description of India as a "world power during their first meeting, according to a cable. 

Mrs Gandhi told Moynihan that India did not believe in "power politics", probably mocking at US hegemonic policies. Mrs Gandhi then said that in any case, India "did not have the resources to act as other nations had done in the past".

She also wished Moynihan a "fruitful mission" although "you have not made a good beginning". Clearly, the meeting did not go down will with the prime minister.

The cables pertain to 1973-1976, the years when Henry Kissinger was the US secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford Administrations

The Americans made serious efforts to placate Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and assuage her concerns over military aid to Pakistan, and at one point, promising no new military support.

Describing his first meeting with Indira Gandhi, ambassador Moynihan states in a cable that the US president (Nixon) wanted to explicitly "stress" that America would not "supply lethal arms to any nation of the subcontinent".

The US "hopes to develop a new relationship between our nations on the basis of mutual respect for each other' s interests", he said.

"WE," Moynihan said,"for example very much hope the Shimla accord will move forward." He added: "We have recognized Bangladesh, and are providing a great deal of aid to that nation, and expect it will continue to need such aid for a considerable while."

"In a word, we hope for a normal relationship with India as of one world power to another."

Moynihan, a former senator from New York, was US ambassador to India from 1973 to 1975. He believed the US fought in Vietnam to "save India from going communist".


'India not rational on Pak'


The US, in the aftermath of the creation of Bangladesh, was worried over the possibility of Pakistan collapsing and wanted to help it "economically" and "politically", according the Kissinger cables released by Wikileaks.

The cable states Indians could not think "rationally" on Pakistan and although Indian leaders "intellectually" favoured a united Pakistan, emotionally they thought otherwise.

"Everyone should help, but India, which could do the most, was not cooperating. If India was intellectually committed to Pakistan' s unity and Bhutto' s success, why then did it put obstacles in the way? Reason was because Indians could not think rationally on subject of Pakistan," the cable states.


Cable documents India's struggle with food


US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks reveal India's troublesome food security situation during 1970s, a far cry from today's food surplus situation.

India had massive problems with US food aid, including contamination, according to a cable, which captures India's precarious food situation when it had to depend on US wheat imports, under a food programme called PL480.

The presence of "Jimson weed seed" was a particular concern. "Current food situation in India remains serious but no further deterioration apparent in past week. Presence of jimson weed seed in imported grain may delay distribution imported food grains," the cable stated.

There was uproar in Parliament over weed-contaminated wheat and milo grains and also in Maharashtra and Rajasthan, where "most imported milo (were) to be consumed".

Food officials "took calm attitude" toward the problem and assured furious Opposition leaders that milo containing "Jimson seed" would be cleaned on a mass scale before being  released for consumption.

The government was considering a proposal to approach the World Food Programme for food assistance in drought stricken areas, while food inflation was spiraling.

"All India official wholesale foodgrain price index during week ending February 10, 1973, averaged 259, compared to 256 during previous week and corresponding week January. Rising trend in foodgrain prices generally continued throughout February," the cable said.


US officials warned about immigration to Assam


Immigration from Bangladesh to Assam shocked Daniel Patrick Moynihan, US ambassador to India, during a trip to Assam in March 1974, a recently-released confidential Wikileaks diplomatic cable has revealed.

"The overriding problem in Assam perhaps is the rising population pressure. The state has the highest demographic growth rate in India--3.7 percent--reflecting rapid natural growth and continuing immigration from Bangladesh and Nepal. This has caused grave economic and ethic/political problems which can be expected to worsen," Moynihan reported to Washington.

"In rice, the principle crop, Assam is now barely self-sufficient and districts that were, until recently, surplus…More significant perhaps is continuing immigration of Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh," he added.


'Ray's run in with Sanjay forced him out of PMs inner circle'


A cable from then Calcutta sent on July 24, 1975 says that though rumours in the first two weeks of emergency indicated West Bengal CM Siddharth Shankar Ray's moving to the Centre as home or foreign minister, 'a run-in of some sort with Sanjay Gandhi' as the reason for Ray's distancing from PM's inner circle. "There are a lot of nasty stories circulating here about Sanjay."


'Sanjay's attempts to widen influence might fireback'


A cable of December 18, 1975 says that Sanjay Gandhi has been placing his men in positions of power and exerting influence against the Leftist parties and others, which is drawing discontent. "Sanjay has so far proceeded slowly, methodically and successfully. But the chance for him to make mistakes or to build an anti-Sanjay and indirectly an anti-Mrs Gandhi lobby may increase as he attempts to widen his personal influence and activities and operates more publicly."


Sanjay's meet with ambassador


The Cables reveal the keen interest the US officials were showing in the activities of Sanjay Gandhi. A cable sent from New Delhi to the US Department of State on April 28, 1976 on the subject of the law of sea negotiations, mentions the presence of Gandhi's household members - Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi and their wives at a dinner event. "To our knowledge, this is the first social occasion involving foreign ambassadors which Sanjay Gandhi has attended," it says.


Sanjay and Maruti Limited


A cable of December 23, 1976 on Maruti Limited tells that Sanjay Gandhi is the managing director of the company and that he is the second son of PM Gandhi. "He underwent a three year training program as an apprentice in the auto-mobile division of the Rolls Royce Company of England. The board of directors of ML consists of businessmen, all of whom are highly regarded and posses substantial financial means."


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