What is that Indira Gandhi had done to anger US President Richard M Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger? In a private conversation between Nixon and Kissinger in 1971, Nixon called the Indian Prime Minister a b*tch while his assistant nodded in agreement and added that “Indians are b*stards anyway”.
West Pakistan (now Bangladesh) went on fire on the night of March 25, 1971, when the Pakistan army began crackdown on the region, in an effort to douse secession attempts. When Pakistani soldiers landed from Islamabad in Dhaka, they bombed universities, burned residences, and shot down civilians mercilessly.
As atrocities increased, thousands of Bengalis poured into India through the porous borders, leaving their land that was boiling in blood of their countrymen. As East Pakistan burned, India decided to fight Pakistani troops in December 1971, and aided them with troops and arms. While Indian troops took aggressively on their Pakistani counterparts, the two American men seethed in an impotent anger, and called India’s PM Indira Gandhi a “clobbering old witch”.
“She suckered us …this woman suckered us.” Nixon spoke in rage about Gandhi after learning that war had broken out on December 3, 1971. Nixon and his associate were angry that Gandhi had decided to go to war although America advised otherwise. With their raging dislike for Gandhi, USA refused to support Bangladesh even as millions of refugees poured into India.
Nixon was mad, for Indira Gandhi had given him a state visit just a month earlier, and the US President had asked the Indian PM not to get involved in any military action that could put Pakistani President Yahya Khan’s regime in danger. Khan was after all instrumental in negotiating a talk with China on behalf of America after 22 years of diplomatic freeze.
However, the beseeching didn’t cut ice with Mrs Gandhi, and she just remained indifferent to whatever America’s policies were regarding Pakistan. That was what the lady was known for, giving the silent treatment to matters that didn’t appeal to her.
With America’s super power status, Nixon must have thought that the Indian PM, a woman, ought to have “obliged” his demands. Nixon’s frustration at not being able to make Mrs Gandhi back off from war reflected in his telephone conversation with Kissinger.
Even as Kissinger tried to pacify a fuming president by saying he was only following advice to be “gracious” to a visiting dignitary, Nixon agreed at one point with Kissinger that he should have probably “brutalised” her and followed up by threatening: “But let me tell you she is going to pay. She is going to pay.”
But for East Pakistan, it was a story of victory and independence that wouldn’t have been possible without the intervention of one strong lady, Indira Gandhi.