Indira Gandhi, 1971
Indira Gandhi, 1971 | Fox Photos/Getty Images
Text Size:

A. Parthasarathi’s book claims Indira Gandhi received a secret telegram from then Soviet President Brezhnev who pledged military support if she decided to ‘re-take’ PoK.

New Delhi: A new book by Ashok Parthasarathi, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s science adviser, claims that she was seriously considering using the momentum of India’s 1971 victory to recapture Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the Northern Areas of Gilgit, Skardu and Baltistan.

Parthasarathi says that Gandhi received a secret telegram from Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev on 16 December, 1971 congratulating her for the victory of the Indian armed forces in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. The telegram also urged her to take the crucial decision about what to do with West Pakistan, and apparently pledged the unconditional support of the Soviet forces — no matter what she decided to do.

“She didn’t tell anyone about the message,” Parthasarathi told ThePrint. “She gave it to me one month later.”

Starting a new war

The Pakistani forces surrendered at 5 pm on 16 December, immediately after which Gandhi called a meeting with the inner cabinet. It was apparently attended by defence minister Jagjivan Ram, external affairs minister Swaran Singh, finance minister Y.B. Chavan and then chief of army staff Sam Maneskhaw, among others. Parthasarathi and his father, renowned diplomat on whom the book is based, G. Parthasarathi, were also present.

Gandhi opened the meeting by asking Sam Manekshaw how long it would take to reach Peshawar, to which he replied three days. He admitted being prepared for the question. Gandhi then asked for everyone’s opinion.

“Everyone said go to Peshawar,” Parthasarathi said. “The only person who said no was P.N. Haksar.”

Haksar was Gandhi’s principal secretary, and a close adviser. He counselled against going to war with West Pakistan, and said that anarchy would ensue if they did. India would also be answerable to international scrutiny, and subject to scrutiny when the people in Pakistan protested, which he said was an eventuality.

At this point, Parthasarathi says that Jagjivan Ram clarified what they meant. He said that the Indian Army should “correct the losses of 1948”, and “re-take” Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the northern areas.

On the way back to Gandhi’s residence from the meeting, Parthasarathi says he tried to persuade her to take the “historic step” of re-taking these territories. “Mrs. Gandhi looked at me and said that when prime ministers and presidents have to take such decisions, they have to make them alone,” he said.

The final decision

As history tells us, Gandhi chose not to go to war with West Pakistan. This decision was announced to her inner cabinet via All India Radio, which announced a ceasefire at 8 pm, bringing a close to the India-Pakistan war.

“I don’t know why she didn’t. If I was in her place, I wouldn’t have waited,” said Parthasarathi. “We lost an irretrievable opportunity to change Asia.”

“She also had the ace of trumps in her hand – Brezhnev’s letter,” he said.

Parthasarathi says he still cannot understand why Gandhi chose to do what she did, calling it an enigma. “I asked my dad why she didn’t — and he said that in history there are many instances where logic cannot be applied. This was one of them,” he said.

Parthasarathi’s book on his father, commonly known as GP, is an account of his experiences as a diplomat, journalist, and educationist during India’s formative years as a nascent democracy.

The book, G.P.: 1912-1995, will be launched Saturday by noted historian Romila Thapar, former union minister Natwar Singh and senior journalist N. Ram, among others.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

1 Comment Share Your Views

1 COMMENT

  1. Title of article is misleading for reasons best known to ThePrint.. it should be “Indira lost chance to recapture POK”…

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here