The death of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw has justifiably drawn tributes from all around for his various qualities and especially for the historic role he played in 1971 war, leading to the birth of Bangladesh. Barack Obama, the democratic candidate for U.S. Presidential candidate (and whom we in third world must give our best wishes and hope for his success) has paid handsome tributes to Field Marshal. Of course, at present, India is one of the countries being wooed by incumbent President and hopeful Presidents of U.S.A. But the situation in 1971 was totally different – it was an era of mutual suspicion.
In 1971, U.S.A. , under the Nixon presidency ,had a hostile attitude towards India. U.S.A. efforts to brow beat Indira Gandhi were unsuccessful. Nixon had even sent seventh fleet across Bay of Bengal to put pressure on her. How disgustingly hostile Nixon has been documented in the Nixon tapes released two years back, which show Nixon and kissinger using the foulest of language for Indira Gandhi, when they failed to dissuade her from giving aid to Freedom fighters in East Pakistan. The tapes, however, do not tell an even more secretive and interesting stand of Indira Gandhi,in resisting Nixon boosted by the confidence she had in the valour and capably of General Manekshaw.
Nixon thought that it was easy to brow-beat India, which was economically weak. But they forgot the history of India’s independence and of Indira Gandhi, being the daughter of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the top-most freedom fighter, and also being so much a favourite of Nehru that even he could not withstand her stubbornness, as is shown when in 1957 and in a planned manner, she had the Communist Party Govt. of Namoodripad dismissed, notwithstanding Nehru’s opposition. It is in this background of personality traits that the following event may be helpful in understanding Nixon-Indira Gandhi confrontation.
As is known, Nixon and Kissinger first visited India in 1971 when conditions in East Bengal were very serious. Millions of people coming over was causing great strain on economy. At that time, Nixon and Kissinger were in Delhi and were invited for break fast by her and I am repeating the story which I have it from absolutely authentic sources that it is true.
It is stated that on the eve of breakfast meeting at her residence with Nixon and Kissinger, Mrs. Gandhi phoned General Manekshaw, the then Commander-in-Chief of the Army. She just told him to come for the breakfast in the morning. She did not disclose as to who her other guests were. She further told General that when he comes for break fast, he should come in uniform. Naturally, General felt surprised and asked whether he had heard rightly because it was naturally a very strange suggestion. Mrs. Gandhi was straight forward and told him yes, she wanted him to come for break fast but in uniform. So, General Manekshaw went and soon, they were joined by Nixon and Kissinger. Mrs. Gandhi was persistent in pleading with Nixon that he should try to restrain Pakistan for what was being done in East Pakistan, because the conditions there were becoming intolerable and it was almost becoming impossible for India to remain silent at the mass migration from East Pakistan, because of the atrocities being committed there. Nixon and Kissinger were prevaricating and would not really give a straight answer. Rather, they tried to underplay the situation. Mrs. Gandhi, however, still insisted, but of no avail.
Nixon, in half annoyance, is said to have told her that USA can do nothing about it. Obviously rattled, Mrs. Gandhi made a last minute appeal to Nixon to do something, otherwise she may have to do something herself ,which she was reluctant to do.
At this, Nixon again expressed his inability to do anything and asked her rather ironically as to what she intended to do. At that time, she stood up and pointing towards General (who was in full military uniform) and told Nixon that if you cannot control the situation then I am going to ask him (meaning the General) to do the same.
There was stunning silence for a minute and the sharp message was conveyed to Nixon in a very stark manner. As a matter of fact, General was himself surprised and suddenly understood the purpose as to why he had been asked to come in uniform rather than in civilian clothes at apparently, a harmless function of break fast. Obviously, Nixon and Kissinger had their egos deflated and were not going to forgive Mrs. Gandhi for such an attitude.
Nixon tapes bring out an aspect of right of information even about the most confidential state secrets being shared with public, the ultimate sovereign in a democracy. But though we pride ourselves rightly as the largest democracy and though government records have opened up somewhat because of Right of Information Act, still, the old mentality of British imperialism to keep state records secret is still continuing. In that connection, the demand by a large number of journalists and researchers a right to read Henderson Brooks report of 1962 war with China is being constantly refused, even when Neville Maxwell made full use of it in his book India’s China War, written decades back.
Unfortunately, in our country, political parties of all hues treat Government information as a special preserve of the elite rulers for the time being
– all this false, secret mania must go, if Government’s claim to be people-oriented is to have any credibility.