Former US president Richard Nixon’s disparaging remarks on Indians, revealed in newly declassified White House tapes, reflect his “vulgarity” and “racism” as well as his anti-India stance driven by his preference for Pakistan, say former Indian diplomats.
While former foreign minister Natwar Singh labelled the 37th president of the United States a third-rate human being, former diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyar termed him uncivilised and former Indian ambassador to the US Meera Shankar recalled his animus with Indira Gandhi. They also spoke of Nixon being outwitted and out-maneuvered by Gandhi.
The newly declassified trove of tapes provides startling evidence of the bigotry voiced by Nixon, who was president from 1969 to 1974, and his national security advisory Henry Kissinger, Princeton professor Gary Bass has revealed in The New York Times. Asked about Nixon’s remarks, Natwar Singh said Nixon’s language reflected “his vulgarity and racism”. “Richard Nixon was a third-rate human being and his entire record shows that and also the manner in which he was dismissed,” Singh told PTI, referring to the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation.
Nixon had a genuine preference for Pakistan vis-a-vis India and he knew about the genocide that was going on in Bangladesh but turned his eyes the other way. In this, his accomplice was Kissinger, Singh said. “Kissinger, 20 years later at least had the decency to apologise, but Nixon went to his grave and never apologised,” said Singh, who has been a decorated diplomat and India’s envoy to several countries.
Singh also hailed then prime minister Indira Gandhi for “completely out-maneuvering” the Americans. Aiyar, a former Union minister and IFS officer who has handled sensitive assignments, also slammed Nixon, describing him as “very vulgar” and “completely uncivilised”.
“The Nixon tapes have long ago revealed that Nixon was a very vulgar, completely uncivilised and perhaps typical white American male of his generation. The revelations made by Gary Bass only confirm that,” Aiyar told PTI. “It is perhaps Indira Gandhi’s greatest achievement that she completely outwitted and put to shame this horrible man who was perhaps the only president to be driven out of office for his misdemeanours,” said Aiyar, who had just come back from a posting in Hanoi in the early 1970s to when the remarks date back to.
According to Aiyar, Nixon was infuriated with Indira Gandhi because she did not behave like other world leaders when the “American boss wags his finger at them”. “She just went away disgusted and did her thing…she put them in their place and that is why they hated her,” he said of the 1971 Bangladesh War episode.
In his opinion piece titled The Terrible Cost of Presidential Racism, Bass writes that the full content of the tapes reveal how U.S. policy toward South Asia under Mr. Nixon was influenced by his hatred of, and sexual repulsion toward, Indians. In the stunning” conversation that takes place at the Oval Office in June 1971 between Nixon, Kissinger and his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman the then president asserts in a “venomous tone” that Indian women are “undoubtedly, the most unattractive women in the world”, Bass says. Nixon also calls Indians “most sexless”, “nothing” and “pathetic”, according to the tapes.
Asked whether the remarks were the outcome of personal behaviour or a product of the Cold War era, Shankar said, “I think it would be a combination of personal animus and perceived complications for the US policy.” “He did not get on with Indira Gandhi for whatever reasons, they did not hit it off, and subsequently there was the whole issue of the opening up to China with Kissinger using Pakistan as the intermediary to pave the way for his confidential diplomacy,” she told PTI . Both these issues informed Nixon and Kissinger’s behaviour towards India, she said, adding that the cold war coloured the US’ perception of India.
G Parthasarathy, who has been India’s envoy in several countries, said the remarkscould be attributed to a “mixture of circumstances”. “Firstly was his own character. He was given to being foul mouthed. Secondly, the dislike for India was very clear and he was planning was a sort of Pakistan, China and the US getting together and that was what we saw in the Bangladesh conflict.” “Therefore, if you look back on the vehemence and venom with which he had spoken, all credit to Mrs Gandhi that she completely out-maneuvered him,” he said.
Former foreign secretary Salman Haider, however, said the revelations were “very unfortunate” as ties between India and the US have developed in a very satisfactory way and the relations have taken the turn for the best. On November 4, 1971, during a private break from a contentious White House summit with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, a rare woman leader at the time, the president harangued Mr. Kissinger about his sexual disgust at Indians, Bass, author of The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide, writes.
Referring to Indians, Nixon says to Kissinger, “To me, they turn me off. How the hell do they turn other people on, Henry? Tell me.” According to Bass, while Kissinger’s response is inaudible in the tapes, it did not discourage the president from his theme. In November 1971, in the middle of a discussion about India-Pakistan tensions with Kissinger and Secretary of State William Rogers, after Rogers mentioned reprimanding Gandhi, the president blurted, “I don’t know how they reproduce!” While Nixon and Kissinger had some reasons to favour Pakistan, an American ally which was secretly helping to bring about their historic opening to China, their biases and emotions contributed to their excessive support for Pakistan’s murderous dictatorship throughout its atrocities, Bass says.