Little is known about Soviet Union’s conspiracy to topple the Morarji Desai government.
In recent months, protests against the Narendra Modi government by some organizations and so-called leaders, instead of the Opposition have led to allegations that foreign forces are working behind the scenes to weaken and destabilize the democratically elected government. Many journalists and friends disagree. They have to be reminded of the confirmation of similar allegations and incidents when Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai, Rajiv Gandhi were Prime Ministers. Pandit Nehru was so badly deceived by China when he was PM. The Chinese invasion not only weakened the Nehru government, but shook the entire country. Before the Emergency, Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, Congress general secretary, used to make clear statements to us journalists at the Congress office on Rajendra Prasad Road on the activities being carried out by the CIA against India. Even then, some Opposition leaders used to describe such allegations as exaggeration. But those allegations were confirmed by the brutal murders when Khalistanis got shelter in America and when Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were assassinated.
Let’s accept that both the forces that talk of democracy and the expansionist authoritarians try to topple democratically elected governments. There have been allegations of direct and indirect interference by China and Russia in the elections of not only America but India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. KGB’s spying activities in Britain are a proven fact. The latest evidence is from Afghanistan, where China overthrew the government by using the Taliban and Pakistan.
Recently, a book “A Rude Life” by senior editor Vir Sanghvi has been published. We have been to the same publishing institute and have been in touch with leaders of different parties and diplomats from abroad. The book is written by Vir Sanghvi in the style of an autobiography and gives information about important political facts, which many will not know. His interviews have been aired on many TV and YouTube channels over the last few weeks. But I was surprised that no one discussed the efforts of foreign powers against Prime Ministers, including Indira, Morarji, Rajiv, or even the influence on the media. Little is known about Russia’s (then the Soviet Union) conspiracy to topple the Morarji Desai government of the Janata Party, which was formed with a vast majority, especially after the Emergency. People only know about the ideological fights of the Janata Party or the ambitions of Charan Singh. After that there were many governments for years that had good relations with Russia or even with China and today they are still in the Opposition. Doesn’t it seem strange that many leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, kept on accusing the Indian government and the Army of ceding territory to the Chinese along the LAC in Ladakh? If China had occupied several thousands of square kilometres of area, would it have been hidden in this era of satellites? This means that even if it is unintentional, the conspiracies of foreign powers help weaken India’s power and image.
First, the story of the Morarji Desai: Vir has written in his book that Desai hated the communists and used to show his bitterness to the Russians, too. Desai himself also once told this editor that before the Russian leader Kosygin came to India, he had expelled from the country a diplomat from the Russian embassy after his arrest on authentic grounds of espionage. Once this information leaked to the press Kosygin said that it was an attempt to humiliate him and sabotage relations. Desai told him bluntly: “In your country, you control the press, but here the press is free. I do not control it.” Certainly, during the Nehru-Indira governments, there were deep ties and treaties with the Soviet Union. Therefore, the Russians were furious with Morarji Desai. Desai, after being removed from power, gave some such confidential documents to select journalists so that the charges of Russian conspiracy could be confirmed. The document also contains a letter from Nani Palkhivala, the then ambassador of India to the US and a well-known lawyer, in which he had sent information received from US intelligence agency that Soviet leaders and agencies were making preparations to remove Morarji Desai by using all their contacts and resources. This information turned out to be true within a few months.
There is an interesting anecdote in Vir’s book about foreign influence not only in governments but also in the media. According to Vir, Philip Knightley of London’s Sunday Times had revealed the secret that one of India’s magazines, Imprint, was once operated by the CIA. Philip was given this information by Harry Rossitzke, a former CIA operative. Vir was shocked to hear this as he was later the editor of this magazine. When he sought to know about this from the owner of the magazine, he got the reply that the publication had been bought from Birlaji. When Birlaji was asked, he replied that there was no recollection of selling such a publication.
Some journalists like me know that even later, in Rajiv Gandhi’s government, the Government of India had found evidence that the CIA had contacted some journalists and used some journalists from their Indian contacts and also got foreign printing machines to a publishing institute. On getting all the evidence, a prominent journalist was also detained and because of the serious nature of the matter, he was given asylum by the US. Some ministers of the Rajiv Gandhi government had to resign as the controversy escalated in this espionage scandal. Among these ministers was also a former editor. But eventually, the matter got buried.
So even today, it is not surprising if some journalists, politicians or alleged social workers face similar accusations. Yes, it is expected that any government should take action if there is enough evidence. As far as power is concerned, leaders close to Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi or officers of the intelligence services would have known that foreign powers were active in arms deals to remove them. Would such forces not be active today? Wouldn’t the agencies of China and Pakistan be making efforts to undermine the government, Army and the entire Indian system? In such conspiracies, many times, those targeted will not even know how dangerous the game they are involved in is.
Alok Mehta is Editorial Director of ITV Network (India News and Aaj Samaj).