Did Rajiv Gandhi sack his minister to please America? CIA releases documents!

This article was first published in The Hindu who got the access to the files declassified by CIA. The documents of the CIA indicate that after the death of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi was very much interested to please USA and more keen on building relations with America. But Indira Gandhi was said to have had close links with Russia than America and she believed that military deals with Russia were more reliable.

But after Rajiv Gandhi took over as the Prime Minister of India, he made massive changes in the diplomatic ties between India and other countries. In this regard, Rajiv Gandhi even went to the extent of sacking his own minister Bali Ram who was then the Foreign Minister in Rajiv Gandhi government. The reason for his removal as mentioned by CIA was Bali Ram had criticized the US of being bully following strikes on Libya in April 1986 when he attended a meeting on Non Aligned Movement (NAM) in Tripoli. It is said that his remarks led to a famous open confrontation at the U.N. with U.S. Ambassador Vernon Walters.

In a memorandum prepared by the Office of Near Eastern and South Asian Analysis (now known as Central and South Asia) for the Department of Defence, the CIA indicated that a series of Cabinet reshuffles that the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi undertook, were aimed at arresting the “drift in foreign and domestic affairs” in India. The declassified files NESA/M/86-20075, dated 22/5/1986 said “His (Mr. Gandhi’s) removal of Foreign Minister (Bali Ram) Bhagat, who criticised U.S. actions against Libya, probably is intended in part to smooth relations with Washington.” 

Although the Congress party had denied the charges and said the removal of Bali Ram was a part of cabinet reshuffle following a turmoil in Congress, the CIA memo said, “Gandhi probably hopes, in our assessment, that Bhagat’s removal will help repair damage, the PM believes has been, done to Indo-U.S. relations by the NAM initiative.”

When a clarification was asked to Ronen Sen, former Ambassador to the U.S., who was a member of the Rajiv Gandhi PMO in 1986, said such memos were often written by “low-level operatives” which didn’t have an understanding of “diplomacy in its full spectrum”. “It is wrong to say that Rajiv was pro-U.S. at any point. He was not pro-U.S. or pro-Soviet. Rajiv Gandhi accepted the reorientation of Indira Gandhi towards the U.S. and carried it forward. Both the PMs were assertive in their choices and there was no question of any interference or influence on their actions,” Reported The Hindu.

The CIA memo also reveals the main intention of Rajiv Gandhi to go soft on US was because he wanted to end border tensions with China and play a more proactive role in Afghanistan as America desired. “Gandhi has avoided the confrontational rhetoric favoured by his mother and adopted a more even-handed approach in foreign relations,” records another memo (NESA-M-85-10077CX) comparing him to Indira Gandhi.

Ronen Sen also said that “Indira Gandhi had started the reorientation because India’s regional order had been disturbed by the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. Indira Gandhi knew that the Afghan situation would get out of hand and that is why broadened her options. She was not a pro-Soviet leader at all.”

But it is quite apparent that Rajiv Gandhi preferred to have close ties with America than Russia which may also be one of the reason why India’s military deals with Russia declined hugely and especially after Bofors scandal. The entire declassified files by the CIA contains around  9,30,000 documents with over 12 million pages which give complete details of Rajiv Gandhi’s moves in the government.

Credits: All documents and information has been compiled by The Hindu


Aishwarya S