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Kissinger salute to ‘strong’ man in Indira

Washington, Dec. 24: His President had called her an old witch. He himself thought she was a bitch. But that was in 1971.

Five years on, Henry Kissinger was man enough to acknowledge the steel in Indira Gandhi.

Declassified records of a 1976 meeting between the US diplomat and then Afghan head of state Mohammad Daoud reveal that Kissinger told the Asian leader he wished the American establishment had a man who was as “strong” as the Indian Prime Minister.

“Give her my best regards,” he told Daoud when the Afghan Prime Minister said he would meet Indira Gandhi in Colombo. “I wish we had a man as strong as she in our cabinet.”

The comment, made public along with documents pertaining to American diplomacy in South Asia between 1973 and 1976, was an acknowledgement of the strength of the late Indian leader. It also showed it wasn’t only her admirers like Piloo Mody who saw the alpha male in her.

The former MP, founder of the Swatantra Party, is said to have described Indira as the only man in her cabinet.

Another admirer, D.K. Barooah, went beyond gender. He said “Indira is India, India is Indira”.

Kissinger, the US secretary of state during the Republican administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, however, said Indira didn’t have a personality that appealed at “first blush” to Americans.

“Maybe not even at second blush (laughter). There have even been cases of people who have resisted her a third time (laughter),” he added during the August 8 meeting when asked by Daoud to characterise relations between India and the US.

“Our relations with India are friendly and aloof. It’s a fortunate thing the Indians are pacifists; otherwise their neighbours would be worried (laughter).… The first time we were in India, they told me that Kabul belonged to India, too (laughter),” Kissinger, then the high priest of the international strategic community, was recorded as having said according to a White House memo.

“But we have no particular national quarrel with India. We feel that whenever they get into domestic difficulties, they start kicking us around, that is great fun — until we react to it. So we have no particular outstanding quarrel. But you could also not speak of an intimate friendship. And we would not be amused if India started to bring pressure — military pressure — on its neighbours.

“On the other hand, we are encouraging both India and Pakistan to settle their difficulties peacefully. I think some progress has been made,” Kissinger said.

Five years earlier, during the 1971 war with Pakistan, Kissinger had been furious that Indira had won over the Soviets in a defence pact and had called her a “bitch”.

Kissinger, who has since apologised for his unflattering comments, recently said he was now a convert to India’s cause.

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