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Hotline hardwired into India-US relationship

india Updated: Jan 26, 2015 03:07 IST
Yashwant Raj


When a hotline between the PMO and White House announced on Sunday goes operational, what will the first message exchanged say?

Would it be something on the lines of “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back 1234567890” — the telegram sent by Washington to open its hotline to Moscow in 1963? The reply in Russian, according to the New York Times, was completely “unintelligible” to American operators.

“We will establish hotlines between myself and Barack (Obama) and our national security advisers,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a joint press conference with the US President in New Delhi.

“We have decided to give this critical partnership a new thrust and sustained attention. For this, we have agreed that India and the US must have regular summits at greater frequency.”

India has several functioning hotlines currently, including one with Pakistan that was used extensively during the Kargil war and another with China.

The US and China have made several attempts to establish a hotline, the last announcement coming in 2013, but it wasn’t clear if they had one that was operational now.

The US’ first hotline was with the then Soviet Union and came a year after the Cuban missile crisis, when the two countries came to the brink of a nuclear conflict. Washington took nearly 12 hours to receive and decode a message from Moscow. By the time it was done, a fresh message had landed.

The hotline — then a telegraph machine and not the red phone of Hollywood thrillers — has undergone many technological upgrades since to make communication realtime. However, in a joke he exchanged with his Russian counterpart in 2010, Obama wondered if Twitter had made the red phone redundant.