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SurferSpeak | Kissinger, Nixon and India

Often the course of world events is a tale of distrust and bias, says a surfer.

india Updated: Sep 29, 2006 20:34 IST
Vivek Gumaste
Vivek Gumaste

Indecent language appears to be an indispensable part of Henry Kissinger's vocabulary as recently released declassified documents (the statute of limitation is 30 years) indicate. In August 1972, Kissinger called Japanese, "treacherous sons of bitches." He also seemed to relish bad-mouthing India and Indira Gandhi as suggested by the following quotes:

"We really slobbered over the old witch," Nixon told Kissinger a day after the president met (Indira) Gandhi. Kissinger was then the national security adviser.

"The Indians are bastards anyway," Kissinger responded. "They are starting a war there ... While she was a bitch, we got what we wanted too. She will not be able to go home and say that the United States didn't give her a warm reception and therefore in despair she's got to go to war."

When the above excerpts regarding India surfaced last year, Kissinger replied that it must be viewed against the backdrop of the cold war and in face of the Indo-Soviet treaty that had just been penned. While geopolitical concerns and a fear of derailment of its China policy could certainly explain the stance of the Nixon-Kissinger duo and their infamous "tilt", the profanity and intensity of the invective leaves one wondering whether there was an underlying current of personal animosity, national distrust and prejudice as well.

In fact a reading of Kissinger's memoirs titled, "White House Years" reinforces these suspicions.

Kissinger harbours preconceived notions about Hindus and Muslims which he extrapolates to define India and Pakistan. In the opening pages of the chapter titled, The Tilt: The India-Pakistan Crisis of 1971, he writes: Few old neighbours (India and Pakistan) have less in common, despite their centuries of living side by side, than the intricate, complex Hindus and the simpler, more direct Muslims. It is reflected in the contrasts of their architecture. The finely carved Hindu temples have nooks and corners whose seemingly endless detail conveys no single view or meaning. The mosques and forts with which the Moguls have covered the northern third of the subcontinent are vast, elegant, romantic, their resplendent opulence contrasting with the flatness of the simmering countryside, their innumerable fountains expressing a yearning for surcease from a harsh environment and a nostalgia for the less complicated regions that had extruded the invader.

Mark the use of unkind adjectives like "intricate" 'and "complex" (for the Hindu) which are hardly admirable qualities; "simple" and "direct" suggest more amiability. His contrasting portrayal of Hindu and Muslim architecture clearly reveals his preference.

On further reading, one realises that he has no time or admiration for India's moral stance or its long held tradition of ahimsa. He views it merely as a charade or at best an artful ploy to gain political advantage. Even the ethical principles that guided India's famed non-violent freedom struggle fail to impress him: "To be sure, as I have suggested, I did not find in Indian history or in Indian conduct towards its own people or its neighbours a unique moral sensitivity. In my view, India had survived its turbulent history through an unusual subtlety in grasping and then manipulating the psychology of foreigners. The moral pretensions of Indian leaders seemed to me perfectly attuned to exploit the guilt complexes of a liberal, slightly socialist West; they were indispensable weapons for an independence movement that was physically weak and that used the ethical categories of the colonial power to paralyse it. They were invaluable for a new country seeking to vindicate an international role that it could never establish through power alone."

This same line of reasoning underlines his view of India's non-aligned movement:

We took at face value Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's claim to be a neutral moral arbiter of world affairs. We hardly noticed that this was precisely the policy by which a weak nation seeks influence out of proportion to its strength, or that India rarely matched its international pretensions with a willingness to assume risks, except on the subcontinent where it saw itself destined for preeminence.

Kissinger, may have a right to his opinion but he is factually wrong when he claims that "India rarely matched its international pretensions with a willingness to assume risks," or his contention that India is motivated by purely self-interest. India has never shied away from its share of international responsibility and has been a part of UN missions that were in keeping with its moral principles even in countries far removed from its immediate sphere of influence.

Congo, located thousands of miles away, could hardly be of strategic interest to India, but Indian forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Dewan Prem Chand served admirably there in 1962. In addition, in 1951, less than four years after independence, the Indian army contributed personnel to the US lead multinational force in Korea. And more than 7,000 Indian troops took part in the United Nations international commission for Indo-China in 1954. The Indian army has also been involved with UN missions in countries all over the world: Lebanon, Cyprus, West Guinea and Angola to name a few.

Nixon's mental acumen does not match that of his Harvard educated advisor and no studied analysis of India or its people fashions his mind. His demeanour is more a reflection of his own insecurities and stems to some extent from what he perceives as a personal slight. His 1969 trip to India was not a great success. About this visit Kissinger writes: He (Nixon) quickly abandoned his vision of crowds comparable with Eisenhower's in 1956. The reception was restrained; crowds were merely adequate; the discussions were what in communiqué language would be called "constructive" and "businesslike".

There is also another unsubstantiated embarrassing incident that I have heard off, which occurred in Bangalore during Nixon's 1969 visit to India. As Nixon's open cavalcade rolled down MG Road, he accosted a large crowd of people. In true election style, an enthused Nixon shot up from his seat and began making an animated speech until he was politely informed that the crowd represented fans milling out of a nearby soccer event.

Compared to this, Nixon meets with a more preferential treatment in Pakistan:

Pakistan was one of the countries where Nixon had been received with respect when he was out of office; he never forgot this. And the bluff, direct military chiefs of Pakistan were more congenial to him than the complex and apparently haughty Brahmin leaders of India.

Again note Kissinger's unsavoury conception of Indian leaders.

But in all fairness, one must agree that Mrs Gandhi's regal and haughty disposition was a factor that served to further aggravate the interaction. That there was no personal chemistry between them is obvious. Kissinger comments: … Nixon and Mrs.Indira Gandhi, Indian Prime Minister and daughter of Nehru, were not intended by fate to be personally congenial. Her assumption of almost hereditary moral superiority and her moody silences brought out all of Nixon's latent insecurities. Her bearing towards Nixon combined a disdain for a symbol of capitalism, quite fashionable in developing countries with a hint that the obnoxious things that she had heard about the President from her intellectual friends could not all be untrue.

Although we may delude ourselves with the notion that grave matters of international dispute are dissected in an environment of hard realpolitik, we fail to realise how petty human behavior can influence the course of momentous world events as these excerpts suggest.

Vivek Gumaste is our surfer and can be reached

All views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the surfers and do not necessarily represent those of

First Published: Sep 29, 2006 16:18 IST