Jaya Jaitly responds to WikiLeaks cable on George Fernandes

Published - April 12, 2013 01:50 am IST

The recent revelations made by WikiLeaks concerns the Kissinger Cables and the “intelligence” provided to him as Secretary of State from outposts all over the world. The Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi would have been of great interest to the U.S. as the self-appointed head of democracy-loving nations. The report, fed by a local official of the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, in 1976, is full of half-baked speculation, misperceptions and a considerable amount of hearsay. It says >George Fernandes asked to meet CIA officials in the U.S. Embassy through an intermediary in the French Embassy. It is this person’s version and impression that the U.S. official conveys to his bosses. Rather like the game of Chinese whispers it is very likely to be a Frenchman’s impression of a supposed conversation with George Fernandes conveyed to an American who passes his own version to the State Department would be mutilated and off track.

All those who know George Fernandes intimately during the days of the Emergency and for the past almost 25 years (excluding the years of his illness) and have heard his detailed stories of the days of struggle against the Emergency know who worked and helped. The CIA was nowhere in the picture. In fact, he often joked about how Indira Gandhi loved to call him an agent of the CIA and other bodies while it was she who was reported to have had links with them and the KGB, according to published writings of prominent people in the U.S. and Russia. George Fernandes always sought out socialists and trade union bodies all over the world, both during the famous Railway Strike and the Emergency. If it had not been for European socialist leaders like Willy Brandt and Olaf Palme pressurising Indira Gandhi to keep him safe, he could have been shot dead between the time of his arrest and jail.

He always made it clear in his dynamite plans that his socialist comrades would blow up small railway culverts and the like, and never ever believed in taking human lives. It was merely a show of defiance and fight back on behalf of the Indian people with no destruction of buildings or harm to people. To say that George Fernandes is “anti-American” would be totally incorrect. He is a proud nationalist, patriot and democratic socialist who wanted to strengthen the manufacturing capabilities of India. He fought unbridled capitalism and the domination of multinationals. He fought against IMF and World Bank dictates but had firm friends in the U.S. who were true democrats and socialists. He had no special fascination for the country, nor was he its ideological opponent. He admired its commitment to democracy and the transparency and accountability of its politics, including its effect on Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. However, he would never have approached the CIA as he hated the secretive, ruthless and oppressive nature of intelligence agencies, including the ones in his own country.

Had he been anti-American, he would have not allowed his wife and young child to be in the U.S. during the days of the Emergency. His more recent antagonism was against the indignity of being searched by security staff while on an official visit as Defence Minister of India, which he saw as an insult to an important representative of India. His wife held a U.S. green card and stayed in the U.S. for months every year over the past decades. WikiLeaks does not create its material. It is for political historians to piece together whatever information is in the public domain and analyse it for accuracy, context and meaning.

(Jaya Jaitly is the former president of the Samata Party.)

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