The one word that comes to mind each time the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty’s name is taken is betrayal. Betrayal of trust, decency, hope, values, and the ultimate betrayal of the nation itself. And like with most betrayals after Independence, the tone for this betrayal too, was set by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Perhaps the most decisive mandate was given to him on a platter by Gandhi who handed him the Indian Prime Ministership by favouring him over Sardar Patel. And as history is witness, Nehru squandered this massive opportunity to show his gratitude to the people of India who had reposed such overwhelming and innocent faith in him. A small example is sufficient to illustrate this. The staggering accomplishment of Nehru at the end of his rule (and life) happened to be the fact that millions of Indians barely had enough food to eat.
The reason everything that Nehru touched turned to dust stems from a fundamental flaw in his character. It was one of weakness of personality, which kept him insecure at all times, and which drove him to bully those who were powerless to hit back, to sideline through deceit those who were stronger than him, and to support a murderous ideology like Communism, and by extent, to admire tyrants, dictators and mass-murderers of all hues. It was what made him ignore the seemingly-trivial domestic problems; paraphrasing Michael Edwardes who wrote his biography, Nehru was always about enormous projects and grand dreams like achieving world peace while he dismissed the real problem of survival, which had become the immediate need for millions of Indians. It was this flaw that made him tolerant of corruption, which in his eyes was a petty nuisance not important enough to command his attention.
And yet within one generation, this petty nuisance had grown into a gargantuan monster both within the Congress party and the Government, which had by then metamorphosed into a straggling den of corruption of every imaginable sort. Although there is no evidence so far to show that Mrs. Gandhi herself was personally corrupt, the dictum that flowed out from 1 Safdarjung Road was clear: do whatever but make sure I remain in power. However, the seeds of this dictum were sown much earlier.
In a foreword, the ex-British Communist agent Philip Spratt writes in October 1963 that
Ten years ago the Congress Party was by no means socialistic. When the resolution on the socialistic pattern was passed at Avadi, an important Congressman compared it to the Emperor Akbar’s Din Ilahi. Socialism, he said, is Nehru’s personal fad, which will quickly be forgotten when he passes from the scene. It seemed a shrewd judgement at the time, but it overlooked the attraction of socialism for a ruling party of hungry careerists. The experience of socialism in the nine years since than has won many Congressmen over.
We can’t but help admire Spratt’s foresight when we observe the events that unfolded since that Avadi resolution. The Mitrokhin Archives reveal with devastating clarity the extent of the KGB’s infiltration in India. Sitting ministers, MPs, IAS officers, IB officers, bureaucrats in the Defence establishment, the media, the Congress and Communist parties were all on the take. This simply means that Spratt’s hungry careerists were now in positions that had the power to control the nation’s destiny. Spratt’s observation is also in many ways a preface to the “suitcase culture” that was so pervasive in the 1970s.
The 1970s were truly heady times—heady for the Gandhi Dynasty. Indira Gandhi was in an unassailable position thanks to the 1971 war and a series of announcements of socialist ponzi schemes for poverty alleviation. It was the era of the first nuclear test, populist rhetoric, and the rapid rise of her son, Sanjay. India under her had become both a playground and a guinea pig for the Gandhi Dynasty.
Inevitably, this came with a darker side, which needs no repeating. However, what had changed was the direct involvement of members of the Dynasty in corruption. What also stands out apart from corruption is the reckless meddling of family members in Government affairs. The first name that comes to mind is that of Sanjay Gandhi. His numerous and brazen trysts with sleaze are simply too out in the open to ignore. What was less known is that his brother Rajiv, too, was not above using his mother’s position for attaining personal goals. This has now come to light thanks to the latest Wikileaks expose.
And so when Praveen Swami writes a piece that sounds more like an apology for Rajiv Gandhi’s sins, we’re not amused. His apology begins with the title of his piece, which says that there is Smoke but no fire in Wikileaks’ allegations against Rajiv Gandhi. Unless Swami takes us for idiots, Wikileaks has not alleged anything. It has simply exposed the Diplomatic cables verbatim. Swami’s piece also tries to impress us by quoting from the cables but it’s an exercise in deception as we shall see.
The cables were exchanged in the context of a proposal by Indira Gandhi’s Government to buy fighter planes to modernize the Indian Air Force. The key players who wanted a share in this pie were the French with their Dassault Mirage, the British with their Jaguar, and the Swedes with their Viggens.
Let’s look at the same cables that Praveen Swami has quoted, which talk about Rajiv Gandhi’s role in this affair. Two key cables suffice to throw light on Rajiv Gandhi’s role. The rest are mere details, which only bolster the fact that there was immense personal and political meddling in the affair.
Cable of October 1975: (https://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/1975NEWDE14031_b.html)
SWEDISH EMBOFF HAS INFORMED US THAT MAIN INDIAN NEGOTIATOR WITH SWEDES ON VIGGEN AT NEW DELHI END HAS BEEN MRS. GANDHI’S OLER SON, RAJIV GANDHI. LATTER’S ONLY ASSOCIATION WITH AIRCRAFT INDUSTRY (TO OUR KNOWLEDGE) HAS BEEN AS PILOT FOR INDIAN AIRLINES AND THIS IS FIRST TIME WE HAVE HEARD HIS NAME AS ENTREPRENEUR….THE SWEDISH DIPLOMAT SAID THAT SWEDEN’S NEUTRAL POSITION IN WORLD POLI- TICS IS OFFSETTING VIGGEN’S HIGHER COST. HE EXPRESSED IRRITATION AT THE WAY MRS. GANDHI IS PERSONALLY DOMINATING NE- GOTIATIONS, WITHOUT INVOLVEMENT OF INDIAN AIR FORCE OFFICERS.
Cable of February 1976 (https://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/1976NEWDE01909_b.html)
THE SWEDES HERE HAVE ALSO MADE IT QUITE CLEAR THEY UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY INFLUENCES IN THE FINAL DECISION IN THE FIGHTER SWEEPSTAKES. OUR COLLEAGUE DESCRIBES RANJIV GANDHI IN FLATTERING TERMS, AND CONTENDS HIS TECHNICAL EXPERTISE IS OF A HIGH LEVEL. THIS MAY OR MAY NOT BE. OFFHAND WE WOULD HAVE THOUGHT A TRANSPORT PILOT NOT THE BEST EXPERT TO RELY UPON IN EVALUATING A FIGHTER PLANE, BUT THEN WE ARE SPEAKING OF A TRANSPORT PILOT WHO HAS ANOTHER AND PERHAPS MORE RELEVANT QUALIFICATION.
But how does this translate in Praveen Swami’s world? Let’s hear it in his own words.
From the totality of the cables, it is clear the British assessment that the IAF was calling the shots was in fact the correct one.
From the totality of the cables, it is indeed clear that it was Mrs. Gandhi who called the shots, not the IAF. As Prime Minister she definitely had the authority to take the final call even if it meant she had to overrule the IAF, even if it meant that her decision was based on a whim. The October 1975 cable that Swami himself quotes nails his lie. The cable clearly mentions how the Swedish diplomat “EXPRESSED IRRITATION AT THE WAY MRS. GANDHI IS PERSONALLY DOMINATING NE-GOTIATIONS, WITHOUT INVOLVEMENT OF INDIAN AIR FORCE OFFICERS. (underlining added).”
This isn’t the only lie that Swami utters. In a bid to exonerate Rajiv Gandhi, he also conceals the aforementioned political backdrop of the 1970s where the unlimited license to indulge in corruption was issued directly from 1 Safdarjung Road, and where Sanjay Gandhi had himself looted the Indian taxpayers on a massive scale and had made Rajiv’s wife, Sonia the Managing Director of Maruti. It is true Rajiv resented this but did nothing about it. What does that say about his sense of values?
Perhaps Praveen Swami needs to be reminded that there is such a thing as connecting the dots. We turn to the Mitrokhin Archives again. It sets out in explicit detail how India was a model for KGB infiltration into non-Communist nations, and how a separate Department (Department Seventeen) was set up within the KGB dedicated to accelerate infiltration efforts in India. And in a clincher of sorts, here is a sort of an epitaph on the torrid decay of the Indian Government and politics in that era:
It seemed like the entire country was for sale; the KGB — and the CIA — had deeply penetrated the Indian Government. After a while neither side entrusted sensitive information to the Indians, realising that their enemy would know all about it the next day.’
Sure, Rajiv Gandhi might not have personally profited from the deal. But some crucial questions remain unasked: what position or qualification did Rajiv Gandhi possess to go around talking to foreign embassies about an arms deal? What law or clause in the Constitution entitled him to be privy to such sensitive information? And what does the Swedish diplomat’s contemptuous but accurate observation that Rajiv Gandhi, a transport pilot might not be the “BEST EXPERT TO RELY UPON IN EVALUATING A FIGHTER PLANE, BUT THEN WE ARE SPEAKING OF A TRANSPORT PILOT WHO HAS ANOTHER AND PERHAPS MORE RELEVANT QUALIFICATION (underlining added)” tell us about how foreign nations viewed us? Why does Praveen Swami feel compelled to defend such a man instead of feeling deeply ashamed as an Indian citizen, to read such a disdainful observation about the son of the Indian Prime Minister? Equally, what does that tell us about how well foreign diplomats had understood the psychology of Indira Gandhi? What does that tell us about how she didn’t think it was inappropriate to allow her family members to have a say in official matters?
In the end, the reason the Swedes didn’t get the deal had nothing to do with Rajiv Gandhi being a middleman. The US put enormous pressure on Sweden to block the sale of Viggens to India on the grounds that the aircraft contained components and technology native to the US. This was just the smokescreen. The real was that the US back then had an embargo against selling arms to India.
Besides, as events unfolded after Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister, it was crystal clear that he had graduated from being a wannabe middleman to being right at the heart of a tainted arms deal. Again with the Swedes. This should surely count for some sort of a perverse divine justice. Or that he was not above allowing his Office to be used for profiteering. Tavleen Singh’s explosive Durbar has numerous accounts to offer in this area.
Praveen Swami is just an illustration, a specimen of the same malaise that has characterized India since Independence—that of putting individuals over the nation. Instead of being appalled, why does it so hurt the likes of Praveen Swami to hear that Rajiv Gandhi had indeed acted as a middleman in a deal he had no business knowing about in the first place? Why haven’t enough number of even well-meaning people critically scrutinized second-rate Prime Ministers who were eulogized and their sins shielded by third-rate people in the media, academia and elsewhere? What kind of a person, whom mere foreign diplomats manipulate with ease, becomes the Prime Minister of India and stays there for prolonged periods of time? What kind of a person who allows foreign intelligence agents to infiltrate every sphere of the Government on a massive scale becomes Prime Minister and is allowed to stay there? And what does it say of the intellectuals and the media who willingly close their eyes towards, if not actively abet this treasonous activity?
And why hasn’t this Dynasty been dislodged yet?