May 25, 2020
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"The Foreign Office Has Been Proved Stronger Than Pm"

A day after he was named officer on special duty in the prime minister's office by I.K. Gujral, Prof Bhabani Sengupta, 75, writer and foreign policy analyst known for his controversial views, resigned in the wake of an unprecedented uproar in Parliam

"The Foreign Office Has Been Proved Stronger Than Pm"

How do you respond to allegations that you might have been a security risk in the PMO?

News reports that said I was a security risk really surprised me. I didn't realise that I was that kind of a Goliath. The two newspapers that started this were The Indian Express and The Asian Age , and in both cases, coincidentally, the reporters were women. One of them even suggested I was intellectually superior to the PM. Another described me graciously as a scholar and a writer of sorts, and a maverick who could not be trusted with foreign policy secrets.

It also surprised me that a letter I had written to the New York Times in May 1974 could be retrieved in 24 hours and handed over to (former PM) Chandra Shekhar. This suggests intelligence officers were helping him, as there is no other way he could have got this letter in such short a time. Chandra Shekhar, in his wisdom, said the letter was against national policy and that I could not be trusted with sensitive documents. This contention was supported by the BJP's A.B. Vajpayee. Well, I know the prime minister for 20 years, and we are close friends. He knows or should know everything about me, and then offered me the job. I imagine he made the necessary enquiries. It is the prime minister's privilege to appoint anyone he chooses on his personal staff, and this should not have been questioned in Parliament. Rajesh Pilot and several newspapers have emphasised this position.

So why all this hue and cry?

More than the allegations, you must take note of certain situations reported in the two newspapers. Both said foreign department officials were in great consternation over my appointment and that I would put India's foreign policy upside down. Am I that powerful? Or were they afraid of a friend of the PM, who has some expertise working with him, as OSD. Were these people afraid or were they just jealous?

Do you suspect a conspiracy?

In the few days that have passed since the episode, I have come to the conclusion that it was a nexus between some foreign office bureaucrats, some MPs—particularly two former prime ministers, both of whom had a very short life in that high office—and some people in intelligence that brought about this attack on me. It has caused me no damage. On the contrary, it has given me a lot of positive media exposure. My regret is that it has damaged the position of the prime minister, and made him appear weak in the eyes of the people. I am very fond of Mr Gujral and admire his many qualities. The episode has left me sad because it has hurt him. And it has proved that the foreign policy bureaucracy can be stronger than even the PM. I resigned after a day-and-a-half in office because I wanted to defend myself, so that I could put my case to the people.

Some call you the 'father' of the Gujral doctrine.

Somebody in Parliament said that. It is palpably absurd because the Gujral doctrine is the doctrine of Mr I.K. Gujral. I have certainly helped in the theoretical evolution and the practical operation of the doctrine, and I was also the first to use that expression. This episode has proved that some highly-placed entities in the foreign office and in Parliament are against the Gujral doctrine. They could not hit out at the prime minister himself, so they hit me. In the process, they also hit the best foreign policy that India has had since the first few years of Jawaharlal Nehru as prime minister.

What has been your position on India's nuclear policy, then and now....

Gujral knows that I am personally against nuclear weapons. I had even signed a statement with others, urging India to sign the CTBT. Yet when the CTBT was blocked, I had a part to play. I have been a very strong defender of India's stand on the CTBT. People, particularly politicians, have short memories. Vajpayee has apparently forgotten that he had opposed the Pokhran explosion in 1974, and if my memory does not fail me—after all I am 75—so did Chandra Shekhar. Both have now become champions of nuclear weapons for India. They were opposed to the '74 explosion because it took place under Indira Gandhi, my opposition was to the explosion itself. Chandra Shekhar did not read my letter to

NYT carefully, if at all. He was briefed about it by someone. The allegation that I had asked for international condemnation is entirely baseless. On the contrary, I had said punishment would not work in India's case. I had also asked for the revision of the NPT to incorporate some demands of the non-nuclear powers, including India, which felt threatened. I suggested the international community urge India to make a commitment to the Security Council that its nuclear policy would be forever peaceful. My letter to NYT said Mrs Gandhi's solemn declaration after Pokhran that the explosion was for entirely peaceful purposes should not be taken at face value forever, and I felt that the Indian Constitution should be amended committing India to only peaceful use of nuclear power.

What about allegations in Parliament that you are pro-Pakistan, and that you wanted to give away Siachen to the Pakistanis?

I am pro-better ties with Pakistan. Mr Vajpayee probably believes there should be no improvement of ties with Pakistan except under his leadership. I never said anywhere that Siachen should be given away...what I said, speculatively, was that Siachen should be demilitarised, either fully or partially, as a step towards better ties with Pakistan. Did the MPs forget that this has been on the Indo-Pak agenda since the mid-'80s and that in 1988 such a treaty was prepared but unfortunately not signed? Those who contend that we should continue to hold our position on Siachen have never spent time there. We lose hundreds of men there every year due to the weather, and many other are maimed by frostbite. And yet crores of rupees are spent every year for occupying a glacier which even some defence experts say is of very little strategic use to us.

It was also alleged that you are pro-US...

Someone should produce a single article that I have written, and I've written thousands in the last 40 years, in which I have taken a pro-American position. I do want a durable friendship with the US, but not on their terms. It should be built on mutual terms of equality and benefits. During a recent visit to Washington, I told some state department officials and others that strong Indo-US ties can be built only if the US gives India the status of a friend who is consulted regularly on all matters of international peace, development and security.

Finally, what are the three things India must do to improve ties with Pakistan?

One, continue to talk on all issues, including Kashmir. After each meeting, express the view that India has better understood the Pakistani position on issues, including Kashmir.

Two, develop economic, cultural and other ties and be as understanding as possible. And three, get over the psychopathology of regarding Pakistan as the eternal enemy and develop a new mental attitude towards a neighbour with whom we share many things. In any case, there can be no negotiated settlement of the issue without some give from both sides. Those who believe that Pakistan alone should give while India should remain firm with the present position are wrong. One or two voices in Parliament articulated such a stand. They apparently do not know the fundamentals of a negotiated settlement where both sides give something.

If Germany and France, Malaysia and Indonesia, despite having fought many wars and despite traditional ill-feeling against each other can still be friends, why can't India and Pakistan? I would say that if India has to really act like a large power, it must get over the pathology of the Partition.

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