London, Sept. 17: A Cambridge professor claimed today in an exclusive interview with The Telegraph that the KGB established a huge operation in India under Indira Gandhi.
But Christopher Andrew, professor of contemporary history, admitted that the Soviet intelligence-gathering machine may have convinced itself it had far greater influence on Indian politics than it exercised in reality.
Andrew has written a book based on six large containers of documents smuggled out of the Soviet Union by senior KGB official Vasili Mitrokhin who defected to the west in 1992 at 70 and lived with his family in Britain until his death last year.
The book, co-authored by Andrew with the KGB defector, is called The Mitrokhin Archive Volume II ' this is a sequel to the first part ' and is published tomorrow by Penguin/Allen Lane in the UK. The Indian edition is expected to be published in a fortnight by Penguin India.
The names of alleged KGB informers in India as well as 10 Indian newspapers which were said to be in the pay of the Russians have been removed for legal reasons, said Andrew. Where references are made, the authors use the code names given by the KGB.
“There is no other way to write contemporary history,” Andrew said.
The first extracts from the book, serialised today in The Times, give the impression that under Mrs Gandhi, India became almost a client state of the Soviet Union, with its foreign policy heavily influenced by the KGB.
The publishers say that the extracts “reveal that India in the 1970s was one of the countries most successfully penetrated by Soviet intelligence”.
They add: “Revelations from the KGB documents brought to the west by Vasili Mitrokhin show Soviet intelligence set out to exploit the corruption that became endemic under Indira Gandhi’s regime.
“Despite her own frugal lifestyle, suitcases full of bank notes were said to be routinely taken to the Prime Minister's house to finance her wing of the Congress Party. The Prime Minister was unaware that some of the suitcases, which replenished Congress’s coffers, came from Moscow via the KGB.
“Her principal fundraiser, Lalit Narayan Mishra, knew, however, that he was accepting Soviet money.”
They go on to claim: “In 1972, the KGB claimed to have planted over 3,500 articles in Indian newspapers. Yet despite spending 10.6 million roubles (more than '10 million at old exchange rates) to influence operations to support Mrs Gandhi and undermine her opponents, Moscow did not foresee the sudden end of emergency rule.”
| Vyacheslav Trubnikov, who was one of the KGB heads of political intelligence in Delhi, went on to head Russian foreign intelligence, became a confidant of President Putin and was appointed ambassador to India last year
Assessing the book, The Times reports: “A huge cache of KGB records smuggled out of Moscow after the fall of communism reveal that in the 1970s India was one of the countries most successfully penetrated by Soviet intelligence.”
However, even The Times is forced to admit that the KGB may have wasted its money by acknowledging: “Christopher Andrew, the Cambridge historian who co-operated with Mitrokhin after his defection to Britain, says in his account of this huge operation that the KGB fatally overestimated its own influence. It also failed to anticipate the backlash against Mrs Gandhi after her imposition' of emergency.”
It is not entirely clear why the KGB felt it had to invest so much energy on winning over India when American hostility to Mrs Gandhi and Washington’s decision to back General Yahya Khan over the Bangladesh war had done the trick for Moscow.
Andrew accepted that perhaps Indian newspapers and journalists were writing anti-US articles which they would have written anyway. But the KGB convinced itself it was responsible for those articles.
When it came to intelligence-gathering, even in countries which could be considered friends, the KGB went in for an overkill, said Andrew. “The KGB felt it could win friends and influence people in the Third World in a way the Americans couldn’t.”
One area where the KGB may have influenced Mrs Gandhi is perhaps in convincing her she was in danger of being assassinated by a “foreign hand”, according to Andrew, who has not been to India and may not appreciate the clich' status of the term, “foreign hand”.
The extract is headed, “Indira’s India and the KGB”.
In it he says that when Mrs Gandhi went to Moscow in 1953, the KGB “surrounded her with handsome, attentive male admirers”. Two years later, when she accompanied her father on another trip, “Khrushchev presented her with a mink coat which became one of the favourite items in her wardrobe”.
He also states: “In August (1971) she signed a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Co-operation with the Soviet Union. Both countries immediately issued a joint communiqu' calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam.
“India was able to rely on Soviet arms supplies and diplomatic support in the conflict against Pakistan which was already in the offing. Despite diplomatic support from both the United States and China, Pakistan suffered a crushing defeat in the 14-day war with India.”
Andrew was unapologetic about what readers might consider the lack of context. “The role of the CIA is known in Third World countries, but not so much is known about the KGB. This corrects the balance a little.”