It was in the mid 1970s that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi first used the expression ‘foreign hand’, pointing to the America’s CIA as one of the plotters against her government.
Back in the seventies, people paid little heed to Indira Gandhi’s allegations. Her political opponents and the media said she was being paranoid, or she was using the ‘foreign hand’ angle to divert attention from her government which was involved in corruption.
Due to India’s fence-sitting attitude during the Cold War, neither the Americans nor the Russians trusted India. To remain abreast in intelligence, the CIA and the KGB started recruiting Indians in key positions: political leadership, military and intelligence for they knew not which way India would swing.
In 1971, KGB spies observed that a CIA agent, working as a Third Secretary at the US embassy in New Delhi, was carrying out his activities very openly, exposing the CIA’s contacts. Within a year KGB compiled a massive dossier of the agents’s contacts with the aim of exposing him as a double agent. But before KGB could do such a thing, the CIA retracted its spy back to the US.
Not to be outdone, Oleg Kalugin, the KGB’s station chief in New Delhi, sent the dossier to the media. It created a big uproar in India, and Indira Gandhi incensed with America’s double game, lashed out at the CIA. This was just the beginning of Indira Gandhi, referring to the ‘foreign hand’.
To a great extent, KGB got what it desired: doubt and paranoia in the PM’s mind on issues related to the US. In an attempt to show to the US that she was in the know, Mrs Indira Gandhi went about public rallies, announcing the CIA’s plan to destabilize India.
America didn’t sit long with the allegations. The US ambassador in New Delhi, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, initiated a probe that led to the unearthing of two sensitive cases during Jawaharlal Nehru’s reign: the CIA had aided the Communists’ opponents in Kerala and West Bengal. The funds were channelized through the Congress when Nehru was the PM.
This incident was made public by Vasili Mitrokhin, a senior KGB archival officer, who had defected to Britain in 1992. Intelligence agencies, such as CIA and MI5 have attested the authenticity of the reports. The Soviet Union shifted its focus to Third World countries; especially India, because they believed that’s how would win the Cold War by proxy.
KGB chief Kalugin wrote how the agency had planted spies in intelligence, counter-intelligence, defense ministry and foreign ministry. Kalugin had mentioned in his book Spymaster: “The entire country was seemingly for sale, and the KGB and the CIA had deeply penetrated the Indian government.
The popular story that still evokes gasps of disbelief is that in the seventies, a senior Indian minister offered to sell information to Russia for a price of $50,000. But the KGB decided not to entertain the minister, for Russia had access to all the sensitive documents from the foreign and defense ministries.
As long as there are embassies and consulates, there will be peddler of intelligence. India, being one of the largest nations, teeming with people, naturally attracts spies of all sizes.