A file photo of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao at an AICC session. (Photo:AFP)
New Delhi: Rajiv Gandhi allegedly showed the door to a minister to improve Indo-US ties, according to a series of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that were made available online recently.
According to a report in The Hindu, the memorandum referred to the major Cabinet reshuffle that Gandhi had ordered in May 1986, alleging that Gandhi’s move was to curb the ‘drift in foreign and domestic affairs’ in India. It was Rajiv’s second such reshuffle in 16 months.
"His (Gandhi’s) removal of Foreign Minister Bali Ram Bhagat, who criticised US actions against Libya, probably is intended in part to smooth relations with Washington," said the memo NESA/M/86-20075, dated May 22, 1986. The memo was referring to Tripoli incident in April 1986, where Bhagat had called the US a bully for its strikes on Libya.
Only one minister, B.R.Bhagat was dropped in the reshuffle, a mere five months after he had assumed the role. Most of the ministers were just shifted to other portfolios.
However, many believed that the move had more to do with the internal tussle that was happening in the Congress at that time, than Bhagat’s comments. Pranab Mukherjee had been expelled from Congress for a few days for anti-party activities just before the reshuffle.
There was also a side that believed that the decision stemmed from a need for a more technologically and economically savvy candidate, with Bhagat being more old-school.
Former Ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen was reported to have dismissed the memo, saying that it was often drafted by lower level executives who did not have a holistic view of the issue. Sen who was also part of Rajiv’s prime minster office in 1986, has said that Rajiv was never ‘pro-US.’
According to the CIA reports, while the memos also framed Indira Gandhi as a close aide of USSR, Rajiv was perceived as an US ally for his desire of stronger technological ties with the US.
The late prime minister was also allegedly in the good books of the US for his ‘willingness to play a more active role in Afghanistan’ and wanting to calm border tensions with China.
This too, according to Sen, was not entirely correct, said The Hindu report. Sen has been reported to have said that Indira had started the ‘reorientation’ efforts with US with her 1982 trip to meet then US President Reagan.
These memos were part of the 9,30,000 documents made available online by the CIA after a legal clash with the Freedom of Information activists. Earlier, declassified documents were accessible only in person at the US National Archives Records Administration (NARA).