Despite the brave denials, the sullen nervousness of CPI leaders on television screens through Sunday betrayed their instincts about the ‘The Mitrokhin Archive II’. The book makes fairly well-documented allegations that, from the ’50s to the ’80s, left-leaning Congressmen and members of the CPI were paid stipends and electorally funded by the KGB. Indian diplomats in Moscow were subjected to honey traps, the book says, sections of the intelligentsia and media were on Soviet secret service retainers.
There are two ways in which to react to the book. First is the route the Congress has taken — dismiss the statements as “vague” and cite the party’s history of patriotism. There is more realistic approach. During the Cold War, it was clear that an influential section of the political and foreign policy establishment was Left-aligned. It saw India as a Soviet fellow traveller. This led India into a quixotic and self-defeating non-alignment that, ultimately, it had to abandon. As the book says, NAM was “regarded as an important vehicle for KGB active measures”.
The key issue raised by ‘The Mitrokhin Archive II’ is that India’s Kremlin tilt was not merely the product of principled minds, but also of compromised souls. It is an open secret in the Indian Foreign Service as to which officers, posted in Moscow in the ’50s, came back as lifelong votaries of Indo-Soviet friendship, which CPI intellectuals travelled to Black Sea resorts for annual holidays, which party newspapers carried special Soviet advertorials and which individuals made their fortunes from the sham rupee-rouble trade. It is time to face up to this shameful aspect of India’s past. When apartheid ended in South Africa, that country set up a Truth Commission to bring a sad chapter to closure. India’s KGB connections deserve nothing less. This is not a le Carre novel; it’s a matter of India’s honour.