In an era of post-truth and scepticism about information, especially on social media, I have been taken aback to realise how many people believe the Bill Gates microchip conspiracy theory. Fanned by people who oppose vaccinations, the theory maintains that the coronavirus pandemic is part of a plan to implant trackable microchips in humans and that the Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is behind it.

The claim was widespread enough for the BBC to do an article to debunk it. It quoted the “the head of the Russian Communist party”, who, without mentioning Gates, said that globalists supported “a covert mass chip implantation which they may in time resort to under the pretext of a mandatory vaccination against coronavirus”.

The BBC failed to ask the Russian Communist Party head on what basis he had made his outlandish claims. After all, the Cold War has not quite ended and Russian claims can be dismissed just as easily as the claims made by Soviet Union in the Cold War era.

In his book in 1995, Vasili Mitrokhin, the Soviet spy who defected to Britain with volumes of secrets, said that the greatest successes of the Soviet Union’s measures in India was the impact of bogus conspiracies attributed to the Central Intelligence Agency planted by the KGB.

Among them was a story about the United States being responsible for the Aids virus. It was first published in the Patriot, a leftist daily, in early 1980s and then spread around the world.

“India under Indira Gandhi was also probably the arena for more KGB-active measures than anywhere else in the world,” Mitrokhin said.

But not all such conspiracy stories could be dismissed so easily. There were other stories that proved to be true and terrifying. Listening recently to videos of the controversial Indian-American figure Shiva Ayyadurai pushing the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus was being spread by America’s deep state, I remember the day I heard of a strange experiment with mosquitoes being carried out by the Americans in India.

I did not know how to contact him. But to my utter amazement I suddenly received an email from him, more than 40 years since we had met. Raghavan had written to congratulate me on an article I had written. He was now over 90. On impulse I asked him whether my memory of the story about yellow fever was true. He replied promptly.

Fact or fiction?

I was sitting in my father’s study sometime in 1974. My father, a bureaucrat, was secretary to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the time. The study was air-conditioned and lined with books. It was in this room that I heard many stories of covert operations. That day, a young journalist came by and told my father of a strange experiment with mosquitoes being conducted right near Palam airport, as Delhi airport was then called.

The man said it was an experiment on yellow fever. “But we don’t have yellow fever in India,” my father had exclaimed. The journalist said that this was exactly his point. He claimed it was a part of a biological warfare experiment. We all sat in shocked silence.

The journalist’s name is Chakravarti Raghavan and he went on to become the head of the Press Trust of India.

During the Emergency, he opposed the measures taken by Indira Gandhi and he left India. A Google search showed that he had been living in Geneva since 1978 and was editor emeritus of the South-North Development Monitor, covering trade, finance and development issues.

Raghavan had a solid reputation. Journalist Chitra Subramaniam described him in these words: “Chakravarti Raghavan is to trade and development issues what Amitabh Bachchan is to world of Indian cinema – god.”

Journalist Chakravarti Raghavan now lives in Switzerland.

“We did some extensive investigations – the PTI Science Correspondent KS Jayaraman and I – and did an expose of several foreign-funded ‘research’ activities in India, most US-funded...and with some military significance, including biological warfare,” Raghavan wrote. “We were denounced in Parliament by Health Minister Karan Singh, but inquiries by two Public Accounts Committees, vindicated us. I am attaching a summary of their findings.”

Raghavan said that he and his colleague started digging into the story when my father was working at the Prime Minister’s Office and Ashok Parthasarathy was the scientific advisor. He said that my father asked the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing and Military Intelligence to meet with him and Jayaraman.

By the time Raghavan wrote the story, my father was out of the Prime Minister’s Office, at the Planning Commission. “...Sanjay [Gandhi] and Gang were in control, with the US and its CIA local boss Kreisberg close to Sanjay,” Raghanan wrote. “We stuck to our guns; and though Indira was angry with me, she still did act, and ultimately the projects were wound up.”

Raghavan said that he was now too old to keep at the story. “Jayaraman was planning to put some of the past material together and get it all published,” he said. “But he himself, after some heart problems, has had to go slow.”

He also gave me contact details of the persons concerned; perhaps thinking I would follow up the story. But I am not so young either and no longer an aspiring journalist. Despite this, I felt we, as a country needed to be reminded of it. But I needed to confirm the story from another reliable source.

Digging around

A Google search revealed that the New Scientist of October 9, 1975, carried a news report with a headline: Germ War allegations force WHO out of Indian mosquito project. The report said, “The PAC [Public Accounts Committee] report declares that the Genetic Control of Mosquitoes Research Unit [GCMRU] project ‘has been ill conceived and is of no utility whatsoever to India. It does, however, have a vital and direct bearing on biological warfare or is likely that the ultimate and only beneficiary of the GLMO experiment is the US machine.”

And then, quite by accident, I discovered a slim volume, Raising Hackles, edited by Dinesh C Sharma published in April 2020. The book celebrates Jayaraman as a pioneering science journalist rather than documenting his actual investigation. But it is a valuable contribution nonetheless.

The Public Accounts Committee report from 1975 is too long to reproduce but the first section in the summary brings out the extent of the involvement of scientists and scientific institutions involved in this diabolical project:

“7.1.1. The examination by the Committee of some of the research projects in the country conducted in collaboration with foreign organisations raise a number of interesting questions.

The Committee find that the Genetic Control of Mosquitoes Unit Project, the bird migration and arbovirus studies at the Bombay Natural History Society, the Ultra Low Volume Spray experiments for Urban malaria control at Jodhpur, the Pantnagar Microbial Pesticides Project and some of the research projects undertaken in West Bengal and Nargwal in collaboration with the John Hopkins University establish beyond doubt a definite pattern.

This is that agencies of foreign governments, in some cases explicitly military agencies of those governments (as in the case of the collaboration between the Bombay Natural History Society and the Migratory Animal Pathological Survey – MAPS – of the United States Armed Forces Institute of Pathology have been conducting basic research through Indian scientists and Indian scientific organisations.

Even in cases where such research is carried out in collaboration with philanthropic civilian organisations from abroad, the Committee find that some of these ‘civilian’ organisations also have active liaison and communication at several levels with military agencies. No doubt, some of these research programmes have been shown as “developmental” or “basic research”.

These projects, however, have been closely concerned with the collection of vital viral, epidemiological or ecological data, which are well capable of being used against the security of the country and that of our neighbouring countries.

The utility of some of these projects to India, especially the Genetic Control of Mosquitoes Unit project, seems to be only doubtful or potential, whereas the primary data obtained from these projects are likely to be of vital importance to foreign governments interested in developing techniques of chemical, biological, bacteriological, herbicdal and anti-subversive warfare.”

There is a paragraph on the experiment being carried out in Delhi:

“7.1.20. The selection of Delhi for field studies on Culex Fatigans is also shrouded in mystery. The Committee finds from the comments of the then Director, National Institute of Communicable Diseases, furnished in 1968, on the WHO proposal of the GCMU project that the Director had observed that ‘the criteria for the selection of Delhi area are not known’.”

Reading about the coronavirus conspiracy theories reminded me of the mosquito experiment. At this time, those who believe in conspiracy theories turn to quacks and others become gullible victims of conmen offering ancient cures.

Many scientists and scientific institutions are compromised by politics of profits. We must continuously expose these vested interests without giving up on the gains of modern science and what it has to offer by way of cures and containment of coronavirus – and indeed many other diseases.

It is a battle between politics for profits and politics for the people; not a battle between science and religion.