The Nation Declassified reveals the secret history of how India’s Prime Ministers, their closest advisers, diplomats, intelligence agencies and military led the nation through the transformation of world order in the cold war era. Uncovering thousands of pages of top secret declassified documentation from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of External Affairs, the Department of Atomic Energy, the Atomic Energy Commission, the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Cabinet Secretariat R&AW Reports, supplemented with extensive interviews, the book provides a glimpse of the functioning of the Indian state in protecting its interests during the Cold War.

President Kennedy, US and Kashmir

TT Krishnamachari, Minister in the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet met with President Kennedy after 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. TTK conveyed to JFK that India cannot take ad-hoc decision on Kashmir as this would not be acceptable to the Indian people. TTK also states that in talks with Ayub prior to the 1962 conflict, in course of the third round “we were prepared to alter the international boundary”. (Tape, 1963) He added that “personally, I am prepared to go even further”. (Tape, 1963)

In 1964, Ambassador Chester Bowles XE "Chester Bowles" met TN Kaul in Moscow XE "Moscow" and spoke of his visit to Kashmir and placed a “proposal” to the Indian Envoy on Kashmir presumably, as a result of the US Envoy’s discussion with Sheikh Abdullah. According to Bowles, Sheikh Abdullah’s participation in elections of 1965 XE "1965" on basis of Kashmir’s accession to India could be secured if India provided special status to the Valley. TN Kaul did not comment or respond to the proposal. (MEA, India-Pakistan-USA Relations, 1963.)

Nehru-Ayub Khan Talks

PM Nehru wrote in a “Note” from Cabinet Secretariat dated 21 October 1960 when President Ayub told him that he “wanted to talk to me about Kashmir”. (Krishnamachari.) Both heads of state agreed to speak privately while the advisors were asked to wait outside. Ayub put to Nehru the question of reaching a settlement between him and Nehru while both were still holding their positions because “a settlement might become much more difficult later on”. (Krishnamachari.)

Nehru stressed on a realistic approach. He put forward his approach as “accepting the position as it was” with partial adjustments. Ayub “went on repeating” that the cease fire was an “ad-hoc” position brought on by military conflict. (Krishnamachari.) In regard to Kashmir, the MEA XE "MEA" “Kashmir Unit” has a copy of a draft agreement of some sort based on distribution of areas with territory above Chenab and Chandar-Bhaga excluding Kashmir Valley to be with Pakistan XE "Pakistan" ; Kashmir Valley including Kargil as semi-independent areas with Joint administration by India XE "India" and Pakistan for five years; at the end of five years there may be no plebiscite if there is mutual consent between India and Pakistan. It is unclear as to what the source point of this draft is.

Chinese Air Threat after 1962

The report by Mountbatten gives a stark picture of overwhelming Chinese offensive capability in softening India before any negotiations. The talks between Prime Minister and Mountbatten in 1963 reveal that there was an assessment that Chinese MIG-19s could air raid on an “axis nearer to Delhi with a view to causing uneasiness in the capital and bringing pressure on the Government to negotiate on Chinese terms”. (Krishnamachari, Subject File 27, 1963.)

In such an “axis attack” the Chinese would use as many as 180 jet bombers XE "bombers" , 50 light bombers, 60 piston light with a total of 150 sorties a day. Jet light bombers could undertake tactical attack NEFA XE "NEFA" and Ladakh-Kashmir XE "Kashmir" -Jammu areas while “by day launch strategic jet light bombers against cities in Northern India including Calcutta XE "Calcutta" ”. (Krishnamachari, Subject File 27, 1963.)

Emergency and Cold War

Both US and USSR extended support and understanding to Indira Gandhi during the Emergency period. USSR did so because their leadership had developed a sort of personal bond with her and her advisers as well as her direction of policy whereas US could do very little and also India did not quite interest them in this decade of détente as much as it had during 1962-63 when cold war was still in the phase of direct confrontation between the two superpowers.

In talks with Kissinger XE "Kissinger" , the “Emergency” was explained by Indian officials as aimed at extra constitutional challenge “by a motley group of reactionary elements belonging to extreme left and right including communal and sectarian elements”. (MEA, FM-US visit, 1976.) State Department XE "State Department" Officials even acknowledged that economic growth had been good even after announcement of Emergency.

Records of discussions tell us of a meeting between DP Dhar XE "DP Dhar" and Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko XE "Gromyko" at Moscow XE "Moscow" on 10 February 1975. (MEA, Indo Soviet Relations, 1975.) DP Dhar XE "Dhar" explained internal politics in India XE "India" wherein “neo-fascist and reactionary groups” were taking political advantage of the economic situation. All right wing strands had joined the Jayaprakash Narayan movement. He said that the PM was confident about the elections which were to be held in a year’s time.

Discussions between Kewal Singh XE "Kewal Singh" and Firyubin on November 25 touched upon the domestic situation in India on the declaration of Emergency, XE "Emergency" which included detaining of “some leaders indulging in anti-patriotic activities”. (MEA, Indo-Soviet Consultation, 1975.) According to the brief, the Soviets were given the explanation that Emergency had “reinvigorated national discipline, enthusiasm and devotion to duty”. (MEA, 1975.) It had also discredited and exposed the “extreme right and extreme left”.

The Foreign Secretary stated that the Emergency had prevented a situation such as that in Bangladesh XE "Bangladesh" from coming about in India. The Government had used Emergency measures to consolidate and strengthen the socialist policies within the 20-point economic agenda. Kewal Singh described the Emergency as “a very courageous decision by the Prime Minister XE "Prime Minister" ”. (MEA, 1975.)

Firyubin conveyed “whole-hearted support” to the Indian Government and “the real meaning of democracy means that government should work for the interest of the people…that kind of democracy was real democracy”. Firyubin also added that “we highly appreciate her courage”. (MEA, Indo-Soviet Consultation, 1975.) In the garb of democracy, leaders were engaging in undemocratic activities and undermining democracy and “the (Emergency) measures taken by your Prime Minister are a bright chapter in the history XE "history" of India”. (MEA, Indo-Soviet Consultation.) He described the Jana Sangh as a fascist group.

PM Morarji Desai’s visit to the Soviet Union

In his meeting with LI Brezhnev XE "Brezhnev" at the Kremlin on June 12, 1979, Morarji Desai began with China XE "China" , and criticised Nehru XE "Nehru" as having “made a mistake of recognising in 1950 Chinese suzerainty over Tibet”. (Record of Discussions, 1979.) Brezhnev thought that India XE "India" must be prepared defensively as “there may be an unpleasant surprise in store”. (Record of Discussions, 1979.)

Brezhnev conveyed to Desai that he had discussed India’s defence requirements XE "defense requirements" with Ustinov XE "Ustinov" (Soviet Minister of Defence) and recommended that 2 billion rouble worth of equipment be transferred to India. Desai brought up the issue of Pakistan XE "Pakistan" “trying to make nuclear XE "nuclear" weapons and carry out nuclear explosions” and he had raised this matter with the Pakistan President, who for his part denied any such plan. (Record of Discussions, 1979.)

At this point, Samoteikin spoke of the USSR XE "USSR" having “unconfirmed reports that they (Pakistan) are trying to build a uranium XE "uranium" enrichment XE "enrichment" plant but we have no report to say that they are attempting to have any bomb XE "bomb" ”. (Record of Discussions, 1979.) In response to the Indian PM’s talking about troubles in Iran XE "Iran" and fanatical elements in Pakistan and Afghanistan XE "Afghanistan" , Brezhnev said “the devil alone knows”. (Record of Discussions, 1979.)

The same day Desai held talks with Prime Minister XE "Prime Minister" AN Kosygin XE "Kosygin" at the Hall of Receptions. Desai placed the request for 200 tons of heavy water XE "heavy water" for RAPP XE "RAPP" . Kosygin replied that “I can immediately say yes….we will satisfy your request.” (Record of Discussions, 1979.) Kosygin remarked that these 200 tons requirement were in addition to the 205 tons already supplied to India XE "India" by the Soviet Union XE "Soviet Union" . Kosygin said that Soviet Union could supply 80 tons in 1980 and 50-60 tons every year thereafter. He informed Desai that he had accepted the Indian request for Soviet assistance in uranium XE "uranium" exploration, and a Soviet team was had already been selected for visiting India. Mention was also made of the Soviet rocket that had been used to launch Indian satellite XE "satellite" in June 1979.


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Excerpted with permission from The Nation Classified: India and the Cold War, Vivek Prahladan Har-Anand Publishers.

Vivek Prahladan is Visiting Researcher, Keio University, Japan.