By Shyam Khosla
That Russian money was flowing into India for quite some time and influencing Indian politics and policies are well known facts of life. After the split in the Congress in 1969, Mrs Indira Gandhi leaned heavily on the leftists for support and virtually took the country into the Soviet camp. Her non-alignment was more anti-American than neutrality between the two camps. Those who grew up in the 60s and 70s would remember that supporting America on any issue was considered a sin and being pro-USSR a sign of ?patriotism?. Although there were reports in circulation about the role of Russian money, specifics were unknown. Publication of excerpts by a British daily from a just released book-The Mitrokhin Archive second volume-has brought out murky details of the former Soviet secret service'soperations in India. The sensational revelations in the book have created a political turmoil in India. The book alleges that Russia routinely bribed the CPI and Congress leaders, including several Ministers in the Indira Gandhi government. The late L.N. Mishra, the railway minister who was very close to Mrs Gandhi, is alleged to be the conduit through which money was passed on to other Congress politicians. Of course, these allegations have been hotly denied.
What is acutely embarrassing for the Congress party is that Mrs Indira Gandhi'sname has been dragged into the murky affair. It is hard to believe that a leader of Mrs Gandhi'sstature would accept money from a spy agency. However, it is possible that certain senior leaders of the party might have accepted Russian money in her name for party funds. After all, she needed money for running the party and fighting elections after splitting the Congress in 1969 particularly because influential sections of the capitalist class were siding with the Congress (O). The Congress party has dismissed the allegations as absurd and decided not to fall into the trap by talking about an enquiry. Its stand is that the allegations are ?highly tendentious and mischievous? and are based on media reports. The party would wait for the book to be released in India and then respond to its contents. This approach is unlikely to go down well with the masses. Only a thorough enquiry into the charges will satisfy the nation.
The CPI and the CPM are on the defensive. Their response is that the allegations contained in the book are not official and that a senior KGB functionary who defected from his country can'tbe depended upon to tell the truth. He may be playing the capitalist countries? game to malign the revolutionary movement, so runs their argument. As if to debunk this theory, an innovative journalist has brought out the private diaries of a former Russian Ambassador to India I.A. Benediktov to show how top Communist leaders including Bhupesh Gupta, Ajoy Ghose and EMS Namboodripad were part of the KGB funding network. Benediktov'sdiaries show how shamelessly Communist leaders sought financial assistance from Russia to fight 1962 elections. Not only that, the diaries reveal how the top Communist leaders were more loyal to China than their motherland. Namboodripad expressed his party'sgratitude to Moscow for the Pravda editorial on October 25 in which the Soviet Union reversed its position on the Sino-Indian border dispute and took a pro-China line. The veteran Communist leader told the then Ambassador that the pro-China line would help the CPI to get out of the extremely difficult position it found itself in and requested Benediktov to convey to Moscow his and Bhupesh Gupta'sgratitude for the change in stance. So much for CPM'spatriotism!
Veteran CPM leader Jyoti Basu'sresponse must have come as a rude shock to both the CPI and the Congress. The outspoken Marxist said he was not sure whether the KGB had paid money to the Congress and the CPI that were friendly with now defunct USSR but insisted that the Americans had funded Indira Gandhi and the Congress to checkmate the growth of Communist movement in India. It is a bit amusing that a top Marxist leader is unwilling to debunk the book that has made serious allegations against the leaders of the undivided CPI. The West Bengal unit of the CPM, on the other hand, is up in arms against the ?slanderous? charges in the book and has threatened to drag to the courts the book-Prof. Christopher Andrew of Cambridge- and its publishers as also on the Indian newspaper that carried the excerpts to start with. More amusingly, the CPM leaders want the book to be banned in India. A demand that has not found favour with the I&B Minister, Jaipal Reddy.
The revelations in the book are damming for the media as well. It says that 11 newspapers and weeklies were on the payroll of the KGB. It is a serious matter for those who value freedom of the Press. INS and the Editors Guild of India and other media outfits will do well to go deep into the matter to unearth the truth and expose those who took foreign money. Media will lose its credibility if it doesn'ttake up the matter in right earnest to expose the guilty.