106. Telegram From the Embassy in India to the Department of State1

2970. Tuesday2 evening at 9 PM I met for one and half hours with PriMin Shastri who was accompanied by L. K. Jha. Mrs. Pandit had warned me earlier in evening that PriMin was deeply and personally offended but I was unprepared for painful and difficult discussion which followed.

I opened exchange by emphasizing President’s, Secretary’s and my own deep regret that visit had not gone through on schedule and by expressing hope that postponement which President had suggested [Page 226] would not create too many difficulties for him. I then filled in silence that followed with description of massive pressures on President generated by Vietnam crisis, adding that charges which would have been leveled at India by Ayub Khan during his Washington visit however unjust would have created difficulties for all of us, especially in light of delicacy of legislative situation, etc.

After further silence Shastri responded with stream of comments which reflected profound sense of personal hurt. These comments included following:

He had been personally embarrassed before his country, his party and world at time when India had been striving diligently to cooperate with us in bringing peace to South Vietnam; if President had wanted to postpone or cancel visit he would have been glad to cooperate and why was he not given opportunity to withdraw his acceptance with dignity. His capacity to influence events for India in Moscow, Algiers and Commonwealth had been greatly diminished, while in India extreme left would accuse him of having been too subservient to US while extreme right would say he had not been subservient enough.

Manner in which invitation had been cancelled indicated deep psychological gap between India and US which he was afraid could never be bridged. He in any case was at loss to know how mutual confidence could be restored. For instance, if US gives India aid under present circumstances it would be said we were attempting to buy her good will and if we refuse her assistance it would be said that [we?] were punishing India for failure to follow American line.

Although PriMin listened politely to my rebuttal in which I touched on our strong support for India’s fight for freedom when he, Gandhi and Nehru were in prison, our encouragement to India in days of her constitution building, our willingness to provide substantial economic aid even through difficult Krishna Menon era without political strings, etc. I can’t say that I accomplished much.

However illogical and unreasonable Shastri’s reactions may appear in Washington it is essential that we understand that we are now dealing with deeply hurt man. Under normal circumstances he is sensitive person, often unsure of himself, but he has been striving for a more affirmative foreign policy role which he had felt, according to Jha, was almost within his grasp.

In India I am afraid we are in for some difficult times and it will be some months before situation is back where it was ten days ago. Best thing we can do is quietly to go about our business and resist temptation publicly to trade criticisms or to create new grounds for debate.

Present situation is most serious I have encountered in my many years in dealing with Indian people and government. However, it is vitally [Page 227] important that we remember that a strong common ground between Indians and ourselves has been built up over years. Although it may be dented and scarred it will not disappear overnight.3

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 7 INDIA. Secret; Priority; Limdis. Repeated to the White House. No time of transmission is on the telegram; it was received at 4:15 a.m.
  2. April 20.
  3. Bowles sent another cable to Washington on April 21, for Rusk and McNamara, in which he stated that he felt the atmosphere in New Delhi could be improved if he were authorized to tell Shastri and Chavan privately that the response to the Indian request for F–5 fighters was favorable, and that an announcement to that effect would be made at a time mutually satisfactory to the two governments. (Telegram 2978 from New Delhi; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, India, Vol. IV, Cables, 12/64–6/65)