Indira Gandhi and 5 lesser known Wikileaks cables: Of Nuclear technology, corruption and foreign relations

As a Prime Minister of India, her accomplishments and failures are quite well known. However, there are certain aspects of her regime that have not garnered much attention. There are some other startling revelations that were made in Wikileaks cables.

On the 31st of October, 34 years ago, the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by members of her own security. As a Prime Minister of India, her accomplishments and failures are quite well known. However, there are certain aspects of her regime that have not garnered much attention. There are some other startling revelations that were made in Wikileaks cables.

Indira Gandhi’s willingness to share India’s nuclear technology with Pakistan

In 2013 it was revealed that Indira Gandhi was willing to share India’s nuclear technology with Pakistan after its first nuclear test in 1974. The US embassy quoted her as saying, “I have explained in my letter to Prime Minister Bhutto the peaceful nature and the economic purposes of this experiment and have also stated that India is willing to share her nuclear technology with Pakistan in the same way she is willing to share it with other countries, provided proper conditions for understanding and trust are created. I once again repeat this assurance.”

There also appears to a genuine desire to assuage Pakistan’s concern regarding India’s nuclear tests. One cable mentions that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wrote to her Pakistani counterpart that India’s nuclear tests did not constitute any threat to Pakistan. However, it also mentions that as far the author of the cable is concerned, they can confirm that the letter only stressed that scientific experiments by India should not be allowed to become a controversy.

The desire for peace after the war of 1971

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In another letter to her Pakistani counterpart, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi elaborated on India’s opposition to the US resuming its arms supplies to Pakistan. “We have regretted this decision because it threatens to increase tensions in our region,” she wrote. The letter also reveals that after India’s war with Pakistan in 1971, Indira Gandhi did seek to establish peace between the two countries. Imploring the Pakistani administration to desist from creating an arms race in the region and maintain an environment that could felicitate cooperation, she insisted that both sides must be more cautious about their public posturing.

She wrote, “We feel strongly that both our countries must desist from propaganda against each other. Nothing can be more damaging to the prospects of cooperation and the fulfilment of agreements already reached than the resumption of hostile public postures. From our side, I can assure you we will do nothing to encourage suspicion and hostility towards Pakistan and I hope your government will also exercise similar restraints.”

A Mole in Indira’s inner circle

In 2013, it was by WikiLeaks cables that the USA had a mole inside Indira’s inner circle who is constantly referred to as a “household” source. In a US Embassy cable that claimed Sanjay Gandhi and her secretary R.K. Dhawan was the figured behind the imposition of emergency, it is said, “This is confirmed by a source close to the PM’s household. Both are non-ideological, extremely authoritarian in their general approach, and focused only on keeping Mrs Gandhi in power.”

A year later, a WikiLeaks cable showed that Rajiv Gandhi’s close friend Subramanian Swamy was passing some information. The cable says, “Subramanian Swamy suggested to department officer ten days ago that he heard Mrs Gandhi was prompted to set the March election date because she wanted to square things away in view of her failing health.”

Washington’s unease with Indira Gandhi’s rhetoric

There was also a concern in Washington regarding what they perceived as India’s duplicity. A cable talks about the India government under Indira Gandhi being very vocal in public in its criticism of the US military presence at Vietnam but mentions Hurbert Humphrey, the then Vice President and Democratic Party nominee for US Presidential Elections 1968, claiming that Indira Gandhi had told him in private that “It was absolutely essential that we (American Forces) were there”.

The said cable also reveals that the Americans believed the Indian government looked up to the United States to keep China under check. The cable also indicates that the Indians recognized the Chinese threat much earlier than the Americans. The cable further states, “India, it is sometimes hinted, protests against the US presence at Diego Garcia for form’s sake and to please its Parliament and that in reality, the Indians are glad that the US is there to check the growing Soviet power in the region.”

Another cable reveals that foreign powers were concerned about Indira’s Gandhi rhetoric that foreign powers were meddling with internal affairs of the country. Their “concern” and “dismay” was conveyed to the Government of India through Ambassador Saxbe and that they were evidently “disturbed”. Ambassador Saxbe can be seen saying in a separate cable, “In the best light, Mrs Gandhi’s elections could be seen as pre-election rhetoric; they could also be seen as justification for not holding elections.”

The Massive Corruption

Most startling revelations that were made by WikiLeaks on Indira Gandhi, however, as we have reported earlier, were the instances of the massive corruption in the Indira Gandhi government. The now unclassified cables reveal that there was bribery involved as well as deliberate tweaking of tenders so that the contract was always awarded to a preordained bidder. It was also observed that punishment for bribery was “rare” but if there was a politician from the opposition camp involved in bribery, then there was strict punishment.


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