Washington, March 27: When India conducted its first nuclear tests on May 18, 1974, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then US ambassador in New Delhi, was asked by President Richard Nixon to meet Indira Gandhi and convey Washington’s severe displeasure.
Indira Gandhi listened to Moynihan in silence, as she often did with visitors. When the official regret was over and done with, Moynihan asked the Prime Minister if he could say something, not as a US diplomat, but as a friend of India. Indira Gandhi nodded.
As Moynihan, who died yesterday at the age of 76, was to recall last year, he told the Prime Minister that “in 20 years time, there would be a Mughal general in command in Islamabad, and he would have nuclear weapons and would demand Kashmir back, perhaps Punjab”.
He was prophetic. In just over three years, there was a general in Islamabad, and a decade thereafter, that general was, indeed, using nuclear blackmail to demand Kashmir from India and to force the secession of Punjab.
Indira Gandhi broke her silence and told Moynihan that “if a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was proposed, which brought everybody in and was not discriminatory, then India would be for it”. The world, it would seem, has not changed in three decades.
Among US envoys sent to New Delhi’s Chanakyapuri, some love India, some hate it. But few are able to leave their tenure entirely behind them. Very often, the stint in New Delhi is cited as one of the centrepieces in their obituary.
Of all the US ambassadors who served in India, Moynihan (1973-75) leaves behind a unique legacy.
His delightfully attractive daughter, Maura, discovered India at the age of 15 when she joined her father at the US embassy residence on Shanti Path. She never tires of telling guests at parties hosted by Indian diplomats here that “I find it very hard to be away from India, but I don’t have an Indian passport, I don’t have Indian citizenship. I would like to have it and if my family and everything was based there, it would be easier to find employment and a permanent stable way to stay in India forever.” As the next best option, she spends most of her time in Nepal.
And Moynihan’s wife, Elizabeth Brennan, an architectural historian, developed a life-long interest in 16th century Mughal architecture in India while she was living in New Delhi.
When India tested nuclear weapons again in 1998, Moynihan was a senator. Few others in this city understood the mind of Raisina Hill as this Democrat who represented New York.
Referring to the US sanctions imposed on India, Moynihan told the Senate: “They are not going to be as intimidated by sanctions as we may suppose. This is the first Hindu government in India in perhaps 800 years. We tend to forget that. When we go to visit India, distinguished persons are taken to view the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort, India Gate. All those are monuments by conquerors — Islamic, then English. It is something we don’t notice. They do. And after 50 years of Indian independence, founded by a secular government which denied all those things, there is now a Hindu government and its sensibilities need to be attended to if only as a matter of common sense.”