Snubbed by Indira, Nixon never forgave India

Last Updated 21 October 2013, 09:39 IST

Former US President Richard Nixon was baffled and annoyed by Americans' sympathies for India, which he described as a "physiological disorder", says a new book based on declassified documents.

He scorned a "phobia" among some Americans that "everything India does is good, and everything Pakistan does is bad", and once told the military leader of Pakistan (Yahya Khan), "There is a psychosis in this country about India," writes Princeton University professor Gary J Bass in "The Blood Telegram: India's Secret War in East Pakistan."

The book, published by Random House India, is a riveting history of the Pakistani army's crackdown on the then East Pakistan (today's independent Bangladesh), killing thousands of people and sending ten million refugees fleeing into India.

It describes how Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger supported Pakistan's military dictatorship. According to Bass, "The Americans who most liked India tended to be the ones that Nixon could not stand. India was widely seen as a State Department favourite, irritating the president."

"I don't like the Indians," the author quotes Nixon as saying at the height of the Bengali crisis.

Bass says beyond his prejudices, he had reason piled upon reason for this "distaste" for India and Indians.

"The most basic was the Cold War: presidents of the US since Harry Truman had been frustrated by India's policy of nonalignment, which Nixon, much like his predecessors, viewed as Nehruvian posturing. India was on suspiciously good terms with the Soviet Union," the book says.

Another reason was realpolitik. "Some Americans romanticised India's democracy but not Nixon. He was unimpressed with the world's largest republic, believing to the end of his days that the US should base its foreign policy on what a country did outside its borders, not on whether it treated its people decently at home," the author says.

He described Americans' popular sympathies for India as a "psychological disorder", he says.

On top of that, Bass says, there was a mutual loathing between Nixon and Indira Gandhi. He had not cared for Jawaharal Nehru, either, but she had an extraordinary ability to get under his skin.

"Back in 1967, while Nixon was out of power and planning his way back, he had met again with Gandhi on a visit to Delhi. But when he called on her at her house, she had seemed conspicuously bored, despite the short duration of their talk.

"After about 20 minutes of strained chat, she asked one of her aides, in Hindi, how much longer this was going to take. Nixon had not gotten the precise meaning, but he sure caught the tone," he says. 

And finally, Bass says, there was friendship between Nixon and Khan.

'Over and over, he privately spoke of Yahya with an uncharacteristic blend of admiration and affection."

Drawing on recently declassified documents, unheard White House tapes, and meticulous investigative reporting, Bass gives an unprecedented chronicle of the break-up of Pakistan, and India's role in it.

Nixon and Kissinger, unswayed by detailed warnings of genocide from American diplomats witnessing the bloodshed, stood behind Pakistan's military rulers. Driven not just by Cold War realpolitik but by a bitter personal dislike of India and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Nixon and Kissinger helped the Pakistani government even as it careened toward a devastating war against India, the writer says.

They silenced American officials who dared to speak up, secretly encouraged China to mass troops on the Indian border, and illegally supplied weapons to the Pakistani military - an overlooked scandal that presages Watergate, he says.

The name of the book comes from a telegram of dissent sent by Archer Blood, who was the Consul General of the US mission in Dhaka in 1971. The telegram was signed by most of the US consulate staff and other American officials in Dhaka at that time, against Washington's policy towards Bangladesh. 
(Published 21 October 2013, 09:09 IST)

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