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A Complex Story

K.P. Fabian

By Kalayani Shankar
Macmillan Publishers, Delhi, 2010, pp. 443, Rs. 445.00


At a time when India is seen, rightly or wrongly, as intensely engaged in an effort to get closer and closer to the United States, it is useful to read this book by the wellknown journalist and author Kalyani Shankar. The principal theme is how Indira Gandhi was crafty enough to outwit Richard Nixon, himself a superb practitioner of the wicked art of realpolitik, in the context of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan bringing into being Bangladesh. Those of us who are old enough do have an idea of how Indira Gandhi did it. But Shankar by accessing the declassified US material and using her contacts with some of the major actors, including Henry Kissinger, has given us a reasonably comprehensive account of what happened and why it happened the way it did. Of course, in a more rational world, Shankar would have had access to declassified material in electronic form from Pakistan, China, Soviet Union, and others, not to mention India, and her account would have been even more comprehensive. She did get some access to the Ministry of External Affairs archives in India, but India has yet to formulate a policy on giving such access to declassified material. Nixon was a keen traveller. He visited India as a private citizen in 1964 and 1967. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi agreed to meet him during the second visit. She could scarcely conceal her boredom and after twenty minutes she asked, in Hindi, the Ministry of External Affairs official who accompanied Nixon how much longer the session was going to last. On the other hand, in Pakistan Nixon even as private citizen got the red carpet welcome. As Kissinger put it, And these blunt military chiefs of Pakistan were more congenial to him than the complex and apparently haughty Brahmin leaders of India. Nixon wrote to Heads of State on January 10, 1969, ten days before his inaugural. To Ayub Khan he scribbled a few extra lines saying I shall always be grateful for the courtesies extended to me on my visit to Pakistan. In August 1969 Nixon came to Delhi. Though he was not fully expecting a crowd as large as the one that greeted Eisenhower, the first US president to visit India, Nixon was disappointed that it was just adequate. Neither Nixon nor Gandhi displayed much warmth. Essentially, Nixon was in India on his way to Pakistan where he asked Yahya to contact ...

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