Nixon, Indira and India: Politics and Beyond, Kalyani Shankar, Macmillan Publishers India Ltd, Pp 443 (HB), Rs. 445 (HB)
IN a sequel to her first book India and the United States: Politics of the Sixties, which discussed the relations of President Lyndon Johnson with India, the present book Nixon, Indira and India: Politics and Beyond focuses on American President, Richard Nixon’s presidency and relations with India, particularly with Indira Gandhi whose 25th death anniversary was just completed last year. To authenticate the study, the author has appended documents which were obtained from the United States National Archives in Maryland and the National Security Archives of the George Washington University. It includes the correspondence and top secret memos exchanged by the White House State Department and the US Embassy in New Delhi; CIA documents; national security papers and transcripts of the telephone conversations made by the National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger with President Richard Nixon.
The documents reveal that unlike Johnson, Nixon showed a tilt towards Pakistan and was keen to normalise relations with China. India and Indira Gandhi proved a hurdle to his China initiative. What is more, the relationship between Richard Nixon and Indira Gandhi was marked by animosity as amply demonstrated in the documents appended. In 1971, Indo-US relations were at a ‘curious phase’. On the one hand, the United States considered India a great power and wanted good relations but on the other, it indulged in a deliberate campaign to undermine this relationship. This was the period when the civil war in East Pakistan had reached its height, with India supporting the Bangladeshis. In September, when Ambassador LK Jha asked Henry Kissinger “what interest the United States had in keeping East Bengal a part of Pakistan,” Kissinger replied, “Our aim is to head of not secession but a war that could turn into an international conflict.” In October, once again Kissinger warned Jha that the United States would cut off economic aid if India started a war.
The author reveals that when Indira Gandhi visited the United States, her tour began badly when in Richard Nixon’s welcome speech on the White House lawns, he offered sympathy for flood victims of Bihar, but made no mention of East Bengal refugees and their sufferings. Indira Gandhi in her response chided the President for ignoring a man-made tragedy of vast proportions. “The Chief Executive returned the Prime Minister’s slight the next day by keeping her waiting forty-five minutes for a White House meeting,” says Dennis Kux, in his book Estranged Democracies.
Describing the bad chemistry between Nixon and Smt Gandhi, the author quotes from Kissinger’s memoirs The White House Years, to say that Smt Gandhi began in a condescending manner expressing admiration for Nixon’s handling of Vietnam and China initiative in a manner of a professor praising a slightly awkward student. “Her praise lost some of its lustre when she smugly expressed that with China, Nixon had accomplished what India had recommended for the past decade. Nixon reacted with glassy eyed politeness which told those who knew him that his resentments were being kept in check only by his reluctance to engage in face to face disagreement.” Giving an insight about the mood in the Oval office, Kissinger said that the Nixon-Gandhi conversation turned into a “classic dialogue of the deaf” with the two leaders failing to hear each other, “not because they had not understood each other, but because they understood each other only too well.” During that visit to United States on November 5, Henry Kissinger revealed the angst and anger of Nixon on Smt Gandhi’s visit. Nixon used what Kissinger called as ‘unprintable’ vocabulary when referring to her as “a bitch and a witch”.
This book is really worth reading to find out how Nixon and Kissinger showed churlish behaviour towards Smt Indira Gandhi.
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