Rear view: Tours and treaties

Indira Gandhi used both to bolster India’s position ahead of the Bangladesh war.

Looking at yesterday to explain today, tomorrow Looking at yesterday to explain today, tomorrow
Written by Inder Malhotra | Updated: April 14, 2014 8:37 am

IT was with remarkable speed that the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation was negotiated in Moscow by D.P. Dhar and signed in New Delhi on August 9 by Foreign Minister Swaran Singh and his Soviet opposite number, Andrei Gromyko. Only three weeks had elapsed since the announcement of the world-shaking change in the Sino-US relationship.

What facilitated this was that a Soviet draft of such a treaty already existed, having been brought to Delhi two years earlier by the Soviet defence minister, Marshal Andrei Grechko. Discussions on it, however, had been desultory for two reasons.

First, Indira Gandhi was in no particular hurry to enter into a treaty relationship with either of the two superpowers. Second, some clauses in Moscow’s draft were not to her liking. For its part, the USSR was somewhat peeved that there had hardly been any progress on its proposal. All this was suddenly overtaken by the tectonic change in the world’s power equations resulting from the America-China embrace.

Consequently, the Soviets readily dropped from their draft the standard clause on defence cooperation that finds a place in all their treaties with friendly countries. Instead, Article 9 of the Indo-Soviet Treaty provides that in the event of the security of either party being threatened, the two sides would “immediately engage in consultations”. Moreover, making a solitary exception in the format of similar treaties, the Soviet Union recorded its endorsement of India’s non-aligned status.

This robbed the vociferous noise by the US, Pakistan, their several allies and Gandhi’s inveterate critics at home that India had “abandoned non-alignment and joined the Soviet camp” of any credibility. She pressed this advantage by declaring that she would sign “exactly the same treaty with whichever country wanted it”. In any case, when the crunch finally came and the Soviet Union delivered on every word of the treaty, with only one minor caveat, the critics had nowhere to hide.

Several other developments in August — ranging from Pakistan’s leader General Yahya Khan’s brusque rejection of UN Secretary General U. Thant’s legitimate concern about Sheikh Mujib’s trial to the US undersecretary of state’s suggestion to foreign secretary T.N. Kaul that India should “control guerrilla activity” on its side of the border and let UN personnel “handle refugee aid” — were disconcerting.

Gandhi realised, therefore, the urgent need to educate the world opinion on Pakistan’s genocide in Bangladesh and the problems it was creating for India. She had been writing to world leaders on this subject for some time, especially drawing their attention to the secret trial of Mujib in a Pakistani jail, requesting them to see to it that no harm came to Bangladesh’s leader at the hands of Pakistan’s army. But now the time had come for face to face meetings with the movers and shakers of the world.

She first went to Moscow, where the Indian position was fully understood. The …continued »

First Published on: April 14, 2014 12:06 amSingle Page Format
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