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India sheltered Dalai Lama for nuclear technology — Corson

WASHINGTON, AUG 10: India's decision to give political asylum to Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama in 1958-59 was in return for US assi...

Written by Press Trust Of India |
August 11, 1999

WASHINGTON, AUG 10: India’s decision to give political asylum to Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama in 1958-59 was in return for US assistance to its nuclear weapons programme, Major William Corson, intelligence aide to then US President Dwight David Eisenhower has revealed.

Corson said the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru reportedly told two senior aides of Eisenhower that “if India was to accept the Dalai Lama, the US would have to help New Delhi develop nuclear weapons.”

Eisenhower, in a bid to thwart the Chinese plot to “kill or capture” Dalai Lama during a “final pacification” in Tibet in 1959, believed that India could be persuaded to grant political asylum to the Tibetan leader, Corson said.

“But he (Eisenhower) knew he would have to offer some very strong incentives. Nehru was a notorious hard bargainer, and the favour Eisenhower was asking carried great risks to India,” the former intelligence aide said at a conference on nuclear weapons in Asia on Monday.

According to Corson, Nehru said a mere security assurance from Washington was not enough and India required it own nuclear guarantee against China.

Corson said, then “the US had already arranged for India to receive a nuclear reactor under the atoms for peace programme. Canadian contractors were building the reactor, and the US had supplied the heavy water needed to operate it. This reactor, called Cirus (Canada India Research United States), would create the weapons-grade plutonium new Delhi needed for its first test.

In his account of the “US-India deal” 40 years back for providing asylum to Dalai Lama, Corson said “though the US had helped provide the nuclear reactor, Eisenhower was not willing to make a direct transfer of nuclear weapons technology to India.”

Instead, US offered Nehru a compromise, Corson said, through which “the US would accept 400 Indian students into American graduate programmes in the nuclear sciences. The course of the negotiations left no doubt that Nehru would assign the American-trained scientists to produce nuclear weapons.”

India tested its first nuclear device in May 1974, less than 16 years after Nehru and America signed “the deal”.

Enumerating the difficulties he faced to arrange for the movement of Dalai Lama, Corson said, “the problems were considerable. I had to arrange the movement of the Dalai Lama’s 84-person retinue over some of the most difficult terrain on earth. They would require food, shelter, fresh horses, and, most importantly, diversions to throw Chinese pursuers off track. The deniability requirement ruled out American troops.”

Corson said he needed men who were absolutely reliable, who knew how to fight and move in the mountains and would not be recognized as American agents.

“The perfect candidates resided just over the high pass from Tibet — Nepalese veterans of the British Gurkha infantry…Using limited aviation support from Tibet, and moving supplies through an import-export house created for the purpose in Sri Lanka, I readied the escape route during the Himalayan winter of 1958-59,” Corson narrated his experience, which he said he could never prove if challenged as no records exists of this “top secret.”

He said “during the night of March 17, 1959, the Dalai Lama and his retinue slipped out of the summer palace and rendezvoused with their guides. The party moved by night, navigating with the help of a Hudson bomber. The Dalai Lama crossed the Indian border on March 31, 1959…”

However, Deputy Chief of mission at the Indian embassy T P Sreenivasan dismissed Corson’s account as a “fairy tale”.

He argued that “the decision to grant asylum to the Dalai Lama was an entirely Indian decision, and it was taken not on political grounds but on humanitarian grounds and for reasons of our respect for the Dalai Lama.

“You must be aware that India has not permitted the Dalai Lama to engage in political activities in India. He is there as the respected spiritual leader of Tibet, and Tibetans who came with him are also respected guests in India. Beyond that, we are not involved in political deals with any country, including China or the United States as far as the Dalai Lama’s presence in India is concerned,” Sreenivasan said.

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