NOTE: Content in italics within [these types of brackets] have been inserted by the author; amounts in crore/lakh in brackets are inflation-adjusted as of 30 Nov 2020
The KGB was the main security/spy agency of the USSR from 1954 until its break-up in 1991. For much of these 37 years, the KGB was more influential globally than its American counterpart, the CIA.
Vasili Mitrokhin was a senior officer in the KGB from 1948 to 1984. From 1972 to 1984, he supervised the transfer of all of FCD’s archives from the KGB HQ in Central Moscow to Yasenevo. He defected to the UK in 1992. The MI6 helped in extracting his family from Russia, along with 25,000 pages of files hidden under the floors of his house.
Together with eminent British professor Christopher Andrew, historian of the UK’s domestic counterintelligence and security agency MI5, Mitrokhin wrote five books, collectively referred to as the Mitrokhin Archives, which became a global sensation with the disclosure of a priceless treasure trove of the KGB’s secrets since the 1930s.
Chapters 17 and 18 of The Mitrokhin Archive II—The KGB in the World exclusively deal with “The Special Relationship with India”. I present here some excerpts from these sensational chapters, to demonstrate how the Congress and the CPI/CPM, then the main opposition, were under the influence of foreign powers during the Nehru-Indira era.
“The Third World country on which the KGB concentrated most… during [1947-1989] was India… secret correspondence from Moscow to CPI was frequently intercepted by Intelligence Branch (IB) in New Delhi.” [CPM had not split from CPI. Intelligence Branch was later split into the Intelligence Bureau, India’s internal intelligence agency; and RAW, the external intelligence agency].
“Until the early 1950s, every instruction from Moscow expressed the necessity and importance for CPI to overthrow the ‘reactionary’ Nehru government. Neither Nehru nor the IB realized how thoroughly the Indian embassy in Moscow was penetrated by the KGB, using… the honey trap. As KGB operations in India expanded in the 1950s and 1960s, the ‘Centre’ [KGB HQ] discovered… the extent of IB’s penetration of CPI… By the 1960s KGB penetration of the Indian intelligence community and bureaucracy enabled it to turn the tables on the IB. After KGB became the main conduit for both money and secret communications from Moscow, high-level IB penetration of CPI became more difficult. In 1959, CPI General Secretary Ajoy Ghosh agreed with the Delhi residency to found an import-export business for trade with the Soviet bloc… whose profits would be creamed off for [CPI] Party funds. In little more than a decade its profits grew to over three million rupees [>₹13 crore]. Soviet news agency Novosti provided further subsidies by paying CPI’s publishing house 50% above its normal rates.” [(1) A honey trap is where a spy (usually a woman) seduces another country’s spy to blackmail him/her; (2) In communist parties, General Secretary is the highest post, equivalent to President in other parties; (3) A ‘residency’ is a secret office of KGB and its successors, operating within Russian embassies or consulates].
“KGB set out to cultivate left-wing firebrand and Nehru’s close advisor, Krishna Menon, who became Minister of Defence in 1957. In May 1962 the Presidium which under Khrushchev replaced the Politburo authorized the Delhi residency to conduct active-measures ops to strengthen Menon’s position and enhance his popularity, probably in the hope that he would become Nehru’s successor. During Menon’s tenure… India’s main source of arms imports switched from the West to the Soviet Union. The decision in 1962 to purchase Soviet MiG-21’s rather than British Lightnings was chiefly due to Menon.” [(1) The Soviet Presidium was a body of Parliament which served as the collective head of state of USSR from 1938 to 1991, when it was succeeded by the President of Russia; (2) Politburo is the highest policy-making authority in a communist party; (3) Nikita Khrushchev was Premier of the USSR from March 1958 to Oct 1964; (4) Active-measures are acts of political warfare conducted by most spy agencies to influence world events; (5) MiG-21 was the IAF’s principal combat aircraft from 1964 to 2004. Over half of the 840 aircraft built between 1966 and 1984 were lost due to crashes].
“Menon’s career was disrupted by the Chinese invasion in Oct 1962… Nehru dismissed him. The Presidium authorized active measures by the Delhi residency, including secret finance for a newspaper which supported Menon to resuscitate his career… KGB support did little to revive Menon’s fortunes… despite the support of some within the Congress, at least one of whom received substantial KGB funding. Following Menon’s political eclipse, Moscow’s preferred candidate to succeed Nehru after his death was Gulzarilal Nanda. The Delhi residency was ordered to do all it could… but to switch support to Lal Bahadur Shastri… if Nanda’s campaign failed… to prevent right-wing Hindu traditionalist Morarji Desai… from succeeding Nehru. Following Shastri’s sudden death in Jan 1966, the Congress cabal (the ‘Syndicate’) chose Indira Gandhi as successor.”
“Moscow’s strategy for the 1967 Indian elections was… encouraging CPI and the breakaway CPM to join in a left-wing alliance to oppose Mrs Gandhi and the Congress government. As well as subsidizing CPI and some other left-wing groups during the campaign, the KGB also funded campaigns of several within Congress. After the elections… the KGB claimed it was able to influence 30-40% of the new parliament.
The conflict with Morarji Desai obliged Indira to accept him as Deputy PM. By 1968 Desai and Kamraj, head of the Syndicate, were agreed on the need to replace Mrs Gandhi. Congress was moving inexorably towards a split. [In] 1969 there were major policy reorientations in Moscow and Delhi. Mrs Gandhi set out to secure left-wing support against the Syndicate. In July 1969 she nationalized 14 banks. Desai was sacked as Finance Minister and resigned as Deputy PM. Encouraged by Moscow, CPI swung support to Gandhi. By infiltrating the left-wing Congress Forum for Socialist Action [CFSA], CPI set out to gain a position of influence. In November the Syndicate… dismissed her from the party, which split into two: Congress (O), which followed the Syndicate line, and Congress (R), which supported Mrs Gandhi.”
“The Syndicate hinted that Mrs Gandhi intended to ‘sell’ India to the Soviet Union and used her principal secretary, PN Haksar, as a direct link with Moscow and the Soviet embassy [in Delhi]. From 1967 to 1973 Haksar was Mrs Gandhi’s most trusted advisor. He set out to turn a civil service which… was politically neutral into an ideologically ‘committed bureaucracy’. His was the hand that guided Mrs Gandhi through her turn to the left, the nationalization of the banks and split in the Congress. Haksar was behind the transfer of control of the intelligence community to the PM’s Secretariat… The power centre in the world’s largest democracy was turning into a durbar.
At the Feb 1971 elections Mrs Gandhi won a landslide victory. Congress (R) had two-thirds majority. CFSA had the support of ~100 MPs in parliament. Mrs Gandhi made its most vocal spokesman, former Communist Mohan Kumaramangalam, Minister of Mines; he nationalized the coal industry. His thesis was… since the CPI could not win power by itself, as many of its members and sympathizers as possible should join Congress… and compel the Congress to implement socialist policies.”
“A leading CFSA figure was recruited in 1971… paid ~100,000 rupees [~₹40 lakh] a year for important political intelligence and acting as an agent recruiter [to recruit Indian politicians and government officers as KGB agents]. In the early 1970s, KGB presence in India became one of the largest in the world. Gandhi placed no limit on the number of Soviet diplomats and trade officials, allowing KGB and GRU as many cover positions as they wished. Oleg Kalugin, head of FCD’s Directorate K (Counter-Intelligence) in 1973, remembers India as a model of KGB infiltration: ‘We had scores of sources throughout Indian government—in intelligence, counterintelligence, Defence and Foreign Ministries, and police’.” [(1) GRU was the foreign military intelligence agency of the USSR and now of Russia; (2) Most spies operate in foreign countries under ‘cover positions’ of an officer inside diplomatic or trade missions].
“In 1978 Directorate K was running over thirty agents—ten of whom were Indian intelligence officers. Andropov turned down an offer from an Indian minister to provide information in return for $50,000[~₹96 lakh] on the grounds that KGB was already well supplied with material from the Indian Foreign and Defence Ministries: ‘It seemed the entire country was for sale; KGB and CIA had deeply penetrated the Indian government’.” [Yuri Andropov was KGB Chairman from 1967 to 1982 and de facto head of the USSR’s government from Nov 1982 to Feb 1984].
“The KGB was more successful than the CIA, partly because of its skill in exploiting the corruption which became endemic under Indira Gandhi’s regime… Suitcases full of banknotes were… routinely taken to the PM’s house. The PM is unlikely to have paid close attention to the dubious origins of… the funds that went into Congress’s coffers. That was left largely to her principal fundraiser, Lalit Narayan Mishra, who also accepted Soviet money. At least once a secret gift of 2 million rupees [~₹7.4 crore] from the Politburo to Congress (R) was personally delivered after midnight. Another million rupees were given to a newspaper which supported Mrs Gandhi. Though there were complaints from the CPI leadership at the use of Soviet funds to support Mrs Gandhi and Congress (R), covert [secret] funding for the CPI was unaffected. By 1972 [CPI’s] import-export business had contributed over 10 million rupees [~₹37 crore] to Party funds.”
“Other secret subsidies, totalling at least 1.5 million rupees, had gone to state Communist parties, individuals and media associated with CPI. The funds sent from Moscow to [CPI] via the KGB were larger. In the first six months of 1975 they amounted >2.5 million rupees [₹6.4 crore]. Further substantial sums went to the Communist-led All-India Congress of Trade Unions.”
“India under Indira was also probably the arena for more KGB active measures than anywhere else in the world… by 1973 it had ten Indian newspapers on its payroll as well as a press agency under its ‘control’. KGB claimed planting 3,789 articles in Indian newspapers in 1972, 2,760 in 1973, 4,486 in 1974 and 5,510 in 1975. KGB was confident of its ability to organize mass demonstrations in Delhi and other major cities. In 1969 Andropov informed the Politburo, ‘KGB residency in India has the opportunity to organize a protest demonstration of up to 20,000 Muslims in front of the US embassy. I request consideration.’ Brezhnev wrote ‘Agreed’.” [Leonid Brezhnev was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union—and therefore the USSR’s de facto Premier—from Oct 1964 to Nov 1982].
“In April 1971, two months after Mrs Gandhi’s landslide election victory, the Politburo approved… a secret fund of 2.5 million convertible rubles [~₹76 crore] for active-measures operations. In an interview after retirement, Shebarsin spoke about disinformation—’forging documents, creating sensations for the press’. Among the KGB’s most successful active measures were those which claimed to expose CIA plots. The ‘Centre’ was probably right to claim the credit for persuading Indira that [CIA] was plotting her overthrow.” [Leonid Shebarshin was head of Line PR, the political intelligence department at the Delhi residency. He was promoted to main resident—KGB chief in New Delhi—in 1975 and became FCD head in Moscow in 1988].
“Irritated by speeches by Gandhi… of CIA subversion, US Ambassador Moynihan ordered an investigation which uncovered two occasions during her father’s [tenure] when CIA secretly provided funds to help Communists’ opponents in state elections, in Kerala and West Bengal. As per Moynihan, ‘Both times the money was given to Congress which asked for it. Once it was given to Mrs Gandhi herself’. By the summer of 1975 her suspicions of a vast conspiracy by her opponents, aided and abetted by CIA, had… grown to ‘paranoia’. Her mood was further darkened by a decision of the Allahabad HC… invalidating her election as MP for irregularities in the 1971 elections. A fortnight later she [declared] a state of emergency.” [Shebarshin claimed his agents persuaded Gandhi to declare the emergency]. “During 1975 total 10.6 million rubles [~₹280 crore] was spent on active measures to strengthen support for Mrs Gandhi and undermine her political opponents.”
“On 18 Jan 1977 Mrs Gandhi announced elections would be held in March. Delhi residency mounted a major operation… nine Congress (R) candidates were KGB agents. Files identify 21 non-Communist politicians (four ministers) whose election campaigns were subsidized by KGB. Pressure was put on the CPI leadership [by KGB] to ensure its support for Mrs Gandhi. CPI’s Rajeshwar Rao and NK Krishna were summoned to the Soviet embassy to receive a message from the CPSU [Communist Party of Soviet Union] Central Committee. Files report [them] as saying they greatly appreciated the advice of Soviet colleagues and were steadfast in their support for Mrs Gandhi. [They got] unusually high… Soviet subsidies: >3 million rupees [>₹6.7 crore] in the first 2 months of 1977. The result of the 1977 elections caused shock and consternation in the ‘Centre’ and the Delhi residency. [They] could not provide a credible explanation for [KGB’s] failure to comprehend the collapse of support for Mrs Gandhi in the Hindi belt, where it won only two seats, and its reduction to a regional party of South India.” [(1) The CPSU Central Committee was the highest decision-making body of the USSR; (2) A Janata Party-led coalition government was formed with anti-Soviet Morarji Desai as PM. KGB’s activities in India reduced thereafter].
“A directive instructed the Delhi residency to ‘influence Gandhi to renew the Indian National Congress on a democratic [left-wing] basis’. In order not to offend the Janata government, the Soviet embassy was wary of maintaining official contact with her. Instead, the residency established covert contact through an officer operating as a Trud correspondent, though there is no evidence she realized he was from KGB. The residency set up an active-measures fund to buy influence within the Committee for Democratic Action founded by Mrs Gandhi and her supporters in May 1977. Though there is no evidence Mrs Gandhi knew, the fund had 275,000 convertible rubles [~₹7 crore]. On New Year’s Day 1978 Mrs Gandhi instigated a second split in the Congress. She and her followers, the majority of the party, reconstituted themselves as Congress (I)—I for Indira. Janata’s fragile unity, which [was] possible only by common hostility to Indira Gandhi, failed to survive the experience of government. At the general election in January 1980 Congress (I) won 351 of the 542 seats. Mrs Gandhi’s relations with Moscow in the early 1980s never quite recaptured the warmth of her previous term in office.”
Perhaps we will find out after many years that, just like the USSR through KGB influenced us then, Pakistan through ISI, and China through MSS has probably been influencing several political parties and the Leftist/liberal ‘ecosystem’ since 1984.
DISCLAIMER: This article reflects author’s view point. Goa Chronicle may or may not subscribe to views of the author