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Espionage Archives: How India’s Communist parties received funding from the Soviet Union during the Cold War

India became a playground for the espionage agencies of both countries, with the Soviet Union particularly interested in influencing the politics and media of the country.

With the fall of the British Empire, the Republic of India finally received its independence from European tyranny and set foot in the international stadium as a sovereign nation. However, this “sovereignty” was only for namesake, with India’s Grand Old Party allegedly taking funds from the Soviet Union in exchange for heavy influence of the Soviets on India’s foreign policy. At the time of independence, the world was split into two factions, Capitalists and Communists, both being represented by the Americans and Soviets respectively. The espionage agencies of the two countries, CIA and KGB, took it upon themselves to influence other countries and formed blocks according to their ideologies.

India, in particular, was of major interest to both the countries due to its vast population and the political potential it held. The country was assumed to be the only counter to the Chinese in South East Asia, since both the superpowers of that time were wary of Chinese movement and growth. Gradually, India became a playground for the espionage agencies of both countries, with the Soviet Union particularly interested in influencing the politics and media of the country.

While Indira Gandhi and Nehru, much like most of their cabinet ministers, were reportedly taking massive funds from the Soviets as per the Mitrokhin Archives, the two sections of the Communist Party of India- CPI and CPI (M)- gradually became mouthpieces of the Soviet Union in India, and undeniably took funding from the Soviets in the most bizarre ways possible- including through car windows during Delhi traffic! (Ref: Mitrokhin Archives).

In 2011, a declassified CIA document titled ‘The Soviets in India: Moscow’s Major Penetration Program’ opened a can of worms for India’s Communist parties and the Congress, with data of Soviet political interference and transactions being revealed to the public. According to the document, the Indian communist parties received funding through several kickback schemes, business transactions and direct cash payments. Some of the ways by which they received funds were:

Publishing house subsidies- The document reveals that the Communist parties received funding mainly through its publishing houses. Allegedly, the People’s Publishing House (a CPI owned publishing house) received Soviet books and propaganda material at heavily discounted prices (60-65%). Additionally, the publishing houses were also given interest-free loans which were stretched over a very long period. The sale of Soviet given books contributed 3/4th of PPH’s annual sales, that exceeded Rs 1 cr in revenue. Similar arrangements were made for other publishing houses run by CPI.

Advertisement placements- Advertisements were placed on CPI owned newspapers, and a hefty sum was given to the newspaper irrespective of the paper’s viewership. In 1984, the budget was set by Moscow at $60,000 for the same purpose.

Visitor’s expenses- The Soviets often paid for the travel expenses of CPI leaders to the Soviet union. Airline tickets, accomodation, etc were taken care of by the USSR government.

In return for such funding, the Communist parties peddled propaganda for the USSR government through its magazines and newspapers, and acted as agents of the Soviet government. According to Mitrokhin Archives, the Intelligence Bureau of India even intercepted secret communication between Moscow and one of CPI’s offices during the early days of independence. BN Mallik, the then chief of the IB said that the orders from Moscow to CPI consisted of plans to overthrow the elected government of India, which the Soviets considered to be “reactionary” in nature.

The IB had also allegedly penetrated itself into CPI’s Bengal and Madras units, to intercept the information given to the party from Moscow. However, with the KGB gradually growing influence in the government machinery, the espionage agency managed to turn the tables on the IB. In 1984, the CPI aided Moscow’s media infiltration program by gathering Left leaning journalists of the Indian Federation of Working Journalists (IFWJ) and helping the Soviets lobby with them, and offer the journalists financial incentives in exchange of publishing Soviet propaganda.

Similarly, in 1985 the CPI aided Moscow’s nuclear disarmament program by gathering pro-communist scientists and academicians at the Indian Science Conference in Lucknow and passing a resolution in favour of nuclear disarmament. The glorious days of espionage and cold war, though over, have played a major role in shaping our history. Facts that were previously kept away from the public have started to trickle down to the population, making more people aware of the dark history behind major political parties.

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Nivan Sadh
District Executive Committee member- ABVP Colaba (sub-district of Mumbai)

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