Understanding America of the Sixties(Article)

November 14th, 2007 - 8:06 am ICT by admin  
New Delhi, Oct.30 (ANI):At a time when Indo-US relations are going through a churning process, it is good that we have a book that details the relations between the two countries during the years when Lyndon B. Johnson was the President.

The book “India and The United States - Politics of the Sixties” is based on official documents, including reports from the Central Intelligence Agency, and gives the reader an insight into the way in which the US administration worked and how decisions were taken. .

Senior columnist Kalyani Shankar has based her book on the secret and classified documents available now in the Lyndon Johnson Library.

In the fifties and sixties, India wondered why the United States, which was a major supporter of the country’s struggle for independence, changed its attitude and became critical of the policies followed by newly independent India.

President Franklin D Roosvelt was outspoken in his support of Indian independence. He applied pressure on British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to grant independence to India. But once India became independent, the warmth was missing. There was pressure on India to join the US camp against the Soviet Union. When it did not, the attitude towards India became lukewarm.

The non-aligned policy followed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru during the Cold War years and the efforts to establish a socialist pattern by independent India, was not appreciated in the United States. John Foster Dulles, the U.S. Secretary of State in the fifties, termed non-alignment ‘immoral’

India faced an unhelpful United States at the United Nations, particularly on the Kashmir issue. After Pakistan became a member of treaty organizations lined up against the Soviet Union - like the Middle East Treaty Organisation and the South East Asia Treaty Organisation - it received arms from the United States, ostensibly to defend itself against any attack from the Soviet Union.

The attitude towards India worsened after the visit to India of Soviet leaders Bulganin and Krushchev in 1956.The massive crowds that lined the route from Palam Airport to the Rashtrapathi Bhavan and in other cities overwhelmed the Soviet leaders. The Soviet leaders declared during their visit that Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India. India then needed a veto in the Security Council to block any move supported by the United States and Britain to Pakistan’s case at the United Nations.

Truly, as Dennis Kux the noted US diplomat and author wrote, United States and India became “Estranged Democracies”. Adding to the estrangement was the presence in Indian Cabinet of Krishna Menon. Chester Bowles, the US Ambassador to India in the sixties, said: “Jawaharlal clung to Krishna as a French monarch might have clung to his favorite mistress.”

The book points out that even a sympathetic leader like John F. Kennedy could not establish rapport with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. When Communist China attacked India on October 26, 1962, and India asked for US assistance, Kennedy remarked to B.K. Nehru, India’s Ambassador: “Did India ask Russian leader Khrushchev for help? You should ask him, you would know who your real friends are and who are just content to talk. Tell Khrushchev to put up or shut up.”

India received military help from the United States which helped in raising new mountain divisions. United States also helped in providing India the C-130 aircraft, which flew sorties from Delhi to Leh and Chandigarh to Leh.

I had the privilege of traveling by the Charlie giant transporters to cover events in Ladakh. They were flown by US crew, many of whom told me that they were surprised why the fighting was taking place over such barren hills that extended from Punjab to Ladakh. The Charlies had to land in the Leh airfield which had a poor runway located in a bowl.

The Chinese declared a unilateral cease-fire on 28 November 1962. They also withdrew from many of the areas captured by them in the North-East Frontier Agency. But the Aksai Chin area in Ladakh and some areas in NEFA still remain in the possession of China and the border issue is still not resolved.

With the assassination of John Kennedy, his Vice-President Lyndon Johnson became the President. The documents disclose that the United States wished India well, but tried to persuade India to solve the Kashmir problem, and the sympathies lay with its ally, Pakistan.

With the passing away of Nehru in May 1964, the feeling in the United States was that the leadership in the region was being taken over by Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the President of Pakistan.

When Lal Bahadur Shastri took over as Prime Minister, a formal invitation was sent to him to visit the United States. The visit was planned for June 1965, but an invitation was also sent to Field Marshal Ayub Khan.

Because of President Johnson’s preoccupations with Vietnam, the visit was postponed. But the surprising part of it is - which pained Lal Bahadur Shastri - was that India came to know of the postponement through a bulletin from a radio station in Pakistan, announcing that Ayub Khan’s visit was postponed and so was Shastri’s. There was not even the courtesy of a telephone call or a message from President Johnson to Lal Bahadur Shastri.

One can compare this with the recent telephone call made to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was in South Africa, by President George Bush. It is an indication of how much Indo-US relations have traveled during the last four decades.

The book gives a graphic account of the warmth that developed between Indira Gandhi and President Johnson. Initially there was a sense of arrogance towards India in the United States. The note that was put up by the Central Intelligence Agency , prior to the visit of Indira Gandhi to the US said: ” She (Indira Gandhi) knows and we know that without tangible and continuing American interest, the future of the Indian Union, that Union does not have much of a future.”

A note put up on the eve of Indira Gandhi’s visit in March 1966 by the NSC staffer Komer says: “We finally have the Indians where you ‘have wanted them ever since last April - with the slate wiped clean of previous commitments and India coming to us asking for a re relationship on the terms we want.”

The documents reveal how Indira Gandhi was able to establish a rapport with President Johnson, and was able to get the wheat loan.

The documents reveal how closely the United States was monitoring the Indian nuclear development programmes right from the days of Homi Bhabha, the first head of the Atomic Energy Agency.

There was sympathy for India when the first Chinese nuclear test was conducted on 14 October 1964. A number of US officials became interested in providing nuclear technology to India after the Chinese nuclear tests. But the sympathy soon dried up and the US started making efforts to get India sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The book also contains documents pertaining to India-Pakistan relations. The CIA followed the developments commencing from Pakistani intrusions in Kutch, followed by the sending of infiltrators to the Kashmir valley and the actual outbreak of the 22-day war.

Initially, the impression in the United States was that Pakistan was winning the war. Going through the documents one gets the feeling that there was sympathy for Pakistan’s efforts. The poor performance of the Pakistan armoured Corps even though it had modern US Patton tanks had its effect on the US.

The final assessment of the CIA was that “although Rawalpindi succeeded in focusing the attention of the world on the Kashmir problem, the costs were unexpectedly high and the rewards uncertain”

The CIA was clear that in military terms India won the September war with Pakistan.

Going through the documents, one gets an idea of how the US system worked in the sixties. India’s diplomacy those days was also confined to dealing with the State Department.

The situation has changed and both India and the United States are exchanging messages not exclusively confined to diplomatic channels.

The United States today is the lone Super Power, but the system in that country is still the same as it was four decades ago. The ‘Politics of the Sixties’ and the documents provide us valuable insights. One only wishes that we also have access to documents in Delhi.

I. Ramamohan Rao, former Principal Information Officer, Government of India. Email.:raoramamohan@hotmail.com (ANI)

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