Boring: Nothing new in Wikileaks cables on Indira Gandhi

As a student of history in the University of Life, I’m always happy when the doors of diplomacy that had earlier been hermetically sealed to the public are prised open to reveal the machinations of the megapowers.

Since much skullduggery is afoot whenever diplomats pore over a map of the world, just knowing what they were up to – even from a distance of many decades – can make for fascinating case studies. If the revelations are lucid enough, they have the capacity to provide the missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of geopolitics that had proved elusive for years – and help us understand why the tectonic plates of history moved in the manner that they did.

But try as I might, I find it difficult to summon up more than a modicum of interest for the so-called Kissinger Cables, or at least those that relate to India that have made it to the public domain so far.

 Boring: Nothing new in Wikileaks cables on Indira Gandhi


These are US diplomatic cables that relate to the era of Henry Kissinger, who served as Secretary of State in the Richard Nixon presidency. The latest tranche of some 1.7 million cables, intelligence reports and congressional correspondence are from the period between 1973 and 1976. That was a time of dizzyingly heady and politically momentous events in India, since it led up to the imposition of the Emergency by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and culminated in the elections that threw out the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty for the first time in independent India. For history buffs, anything that throws any additional light on that period ought to have made for gripping reading.

Yet, it’s difficult to feel the frisson of political charge of those times from the cables that have thus far made it to the public domain. For the most part, the cables chronicle details of private conversations that US diplomats had with diplomats from other countries or with their contacts in the political and social sphere in India who appear to have been extraordinarily garrulous and boastful in their interactions.

And while the US diplomats appear to have been diligent in conveying every morsel of tidbit that they came across, in the way of gossip columnists in newspapers, they fail to flesh out the nuances and bring the dramatis personae to life.

Indira Gandhi, who dominated the political scene during that period, was an eminently colourful personality, with phobias and idiosycracies and peeves that would have made for fascinating exploration. But none of the cables come even comes close to capturing those peculiarities – even in the cause of helping Washington understand her better in order to entice her away from the Soviet camp.

In some cases, the echo chamber around WikiLeaks today has regurgitated bits and bobs that were known even in the mid-1970s, but these have today acquired a faux news value that they don’t entirely deserve. Indicatively, a US diplomatic cable from July 1974 faithfully recalls – in the manner of an efficient stenographer – a statement that Indira Gandhi read in Parliament in which she said she had told Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that India would be ready to share nuclear technology with Pakistan. And that comes back to us today as news, as if a Delphic Oracle had revealed some new truth.

The fact of it is that there are eminently more colourful narratives of the view that Nixon and Kissinger had of Indira Gandhi, whom they found a very tough nut to crack. Of course, those narratives fall outside of the timeframe of the latest Kissinger cables. But even so, it’s passing strange that none of that evocative spirit permeates the latest round of cables.

Indicatively, according to documents that were declassified earlier, in a conversation at the White House in November 1971 – months after Indira Gandhi signed a Friendship Treaty with the Soviet Union and a month before India intervened to liberate the erstwhile East Pakistan (current day Bangladesh) – both Nixon and Kissinger gave expression to their sense of frustration with Indira Gandhi (and with Indians in general).

Indira Gandhi was travelling in the US at that time, and Nixon had received her. Of that meeting, he recalls: “We really slobbered over the old witch.”

To which, Kissinger responded: “The Indians are bastards anyway… They are starting a war there (in erstwhile East Pakistan).”

Indira Gandhi, says Kissinger, “was a bitch, (but) we got what we wanted too. She will not be able to go home and say that the United States didn’t give her a warm reception and therefore in despair she’s got to go to war.”

An earlier conversation at the White House in June 1971 is even more revealing. Nixon and Kissinger discuss the possibility of Indian intervention to liberate East Pakistan – and are frustrated by the thought. It’s also on record that Nixon sought China’s help to fend off India from intervening in East Pakistan to enable Pakistan to prevail. But China, to its eternal honour, declined. And Bangladesh was born.

It’s fair to say that the latest Kissinger cables have nothing quite so juice as that. For sure, there’s some idle chatter about Rajiv Gandhi’s attempts to front for a Swedish aerospace company (which doesn’t quite amount to ‘smoking gun’ evidence) and some inane gossip about Ambika Soni’s home life.

But in all this so far, there hasn’t been anything to rock the world of politics, at home or abroad. So far, it’s been one big yawn, with not a witch, a bitch or a nation of bastards in sight….

Updated Date: Apr 11, 2013 14:46:54 IST