The Mitrokhin masala

IN Media Practice | 22/09/2005

The Mitrokhin masala



Anyone who was part of the Bahadurshah Zafar Marg crowd at the time covered by the Mitrokhin papers knew where the KGB funds went.



Dasu Krishnamoorty


The Mitrokhin disclosures that shook the front pages of the country’s newspapers barely moved the editors. Maybe, as the Tribune said about "The Mitrokhin Archive II: The KGB and the World", there was no need to get excited about it. The Pioneer found them mildly shocking. Yet both of them found the Anglo-Soviet document interesting enough for editorial comment. However, the Indian Express brought to the revelations the concern they deserved. Those newspapers that found the book’s contents less intoxicating argued that everything about the book, the characters and the story itself, too dead and gone for revival. But several journalists, who were in the prime of their career at the time of these events, are still with us. Before we know what is on their minds, we cannot pass over press patriarch Kuldip Nayar’s response. He told the Timesonline, "I can’t talk of the media being on the take but it was well known then that suitcases of money used to change hands." Coy, is he?

The Mitrokhin papers relate to a time when if Kuldip Nayar and G.K.Reddy did not know it meant that nobody else in India knew. As the chief of the Express News Service around that time, Nayar was India’s daily chronicler. It was at that time all Indian newspapers published a story that named five Indian journalists who were connected to a CIA pipeline. KGB and the CIA are the bigger players in Indian politics and media. There were (perhaps are) smaller fish snooping in the troubled waters of Indian public affairs. I have no idea if they had outfits similar to KGB and CIA, but it is a fact that leading NAM countries of the African continent and Latin America kept some Indian journalists happy. Some politicians devoted their parliamentary career to do PR work for developing countries. But the most open and yet innocuous conduits for foreign funds were outfits such as Indo-this and Indo-that friendship societies. InDIVidual journalists representing news agencies of the third world also rose above poverty levels. Once money other than the salaries the media paid was acceptable to journalists, it hardly mattered whether it was foreign or desi.


 Anyone who was part of the Bahadurshah Zafar Marg crowd at the time covered by the  Mitrokhin papers knew where the KGB funds went. As a person who has worked with Patriot for 15 years, I cannot pretend ignorance of the good relations between that newspaper and the Soviet lobby. Soviet funds went to newspapers owned by the CPI or friendly to the CPI, publishing houses, export-import firms, friendship societies, all-India women’s organizations, writers and artists groups, inDIVidual journalists etc. KGB funds also took care of lobbying in India for smaller NAM countries. With the collapse of the Soviet state, they are all orphaned today. But inDIVidual journalists in the capital have made enough, not just for a rainy day but enough to take care of a tsunami. Mention should be made of North Korea and Libyan embassies which published pages after pages of advertisements in the Indian media and paid several times more than the regular ad tariff. The Soviets used their rupee-rouble arrangement for good purpose in Indian media and politics.


Every word of what Shekhar Gupta wrote about the homage Indian politics paid to Sovietism is not only correct but true. The silence of other editors can be traced to their fear that any criticism of the Congress and the Left at the time of Bihar election may translate into gains for the NDA parties. Nothing can be more shortsighted than this withdrawal. The Express edit says, "It is an open secret in the Indian Foreign Service as to which officers posted in Moscow in the 50s, came back as life-long votaries of Indo-Soviet friendship, which CPI intellectuals traveled to Black Sea resorts for annual holidays, which party newspapers carried special Soviet advertorials and which inDIViduals made their fortunes from the sham rupee-rouble trade."


The Tribune editorial opens with a warning, "And when what is purveyed is stolen material from the archives of an intelligence agency, the task becomes even more difficult. This cautionary note has to be borne in mind while picking up The Mitrokhin Archive, Volume II: The KGB and the World." The Congress party has to be grateful to the Tribune for unearthing this escape route. Party spokesmen said the same thing. Nobody has already come to a conclusion about the veracity of the contents of the two volumes of Mitrokhin. But to assume that some people can do no wrong, as the Tribune does, is the end of imagination. If things of the past are irrelevant, all history becomes irrelevant. Most of the biographies of great men are all outcome of posthumous inquiry. What is needed is to explore the truth or otherwise of the Mitrokhin findings. That may absolve innocent persons. The Pioneer concentrated all its fire on the left parties and left the Congress unscathed, which is more than a bit strange.


There is one element of self-delusion in the media evaluation of the book by Prof Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin. That is, the belief that with the disappearance of the Soviet state there are no other agents that could corrupt the media and politics. Jyoti Basu deftly revived the CIA ghost with the help of Patrick Moynihan.  This is what the Guardian (1 Nov, ’84) said: "In 1959, she (Indira Gandhi) was elected party president with Nehru`s tacit support. It was in this post that she first demonstrated her more ruthless political skills, plotting the overthrow of a democratically elected Communist government in Kerala state and, according to revelations by Mr Patrick Daniel Moynihan, accepting CIA funds to do so." The CIA is in reality not a ghost. It is very much throbbing with life. Its networking is too subtle to be detected. As the Telegraph says, "What comes across is that the KGB was mind-numbingly bureaucratic. It also does not seem to have been very good at its work. It is hard to compare it with the CIA, which must have been equally active in India, because Andrew’s concern in this book is only with Soviet intelligence-gathering."


The Telegraph calls for some care in absorbing the contents of the book. "The Indian chapters and footnotes require careful reading because many of Andrew’s comments, conclusions and factual accounts are based not on Mitrokhin’s archives but Indian press reports and what the author has gleaned from books such as biographies of Mrs Gandhi by Inder Malhotra and Katherine Frank. For example, Andrew writes: "Suitcases full of bank notes were said to be routinely taken to the Prime Minister’s house. Former Syndicate member S.K. Patil is reported to have said that Mrs Gandhi did not even return the suitcases." Was this a KGB disclosure? This turns out to have been taken from page 143 of Malhotra’s book on Mrs Gandhi."


The CIA has hired journalists throughout the world through front organizations. It works through professors in the campuses, through scores of NGOs, through inDIVidual journalists, through respectable press organizations etc. Some of the prestigious journalism scholarships are funded by the CIA through various foundations. The KGB never could beat the CIA/American state of the art infiltration of not just politics and media but the academia. They operate through foundations and NGOs.


Wasn’t it an open secret that the Americans spent their PL 480 funds to influence the outcome of elections in India? As someone said, the whole Mitrokhin spin might be the work of CIA. However, to pretend that the Americans did not match Soviet effort to find friends in media, politics and campuses is to underrate the genius of Uncle Sam. Even if the book is fiction, it cannot deny that the good old Congress party is the fountain and founder of every kind of questionable politics in the country and to single out Indira Gandhi is to take away the credit from her rivals and critics.





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