334. Letter From the Ambassador to India (Bowles) to President Johnson1

Dear Mr. President:

It occurred to me that you might like a first-hand report of the impact here in India of your discussions with Mrs. Gandhi. Here in brief is the way the situation has been shaping up:

Mrs. Gandhi and her close associates were enormously pleased with the visit. They returned with glowing accounts of your courtesy and understanding and the warm response of the American press, and people.
As a result the already significant group of U.S. supporters within the Government has been materially strengthened. With the exception of the Communists and Congress Party left-wingers there has also been a very warm response from the press, Parliamentarians and the public in general.

However, the Soviet Union, the Moscow branch of the Communist Party and the fellow travelers in the left wing of the Congress Party, recognizing the enormous political significance of the closer Indo-U.S. relationship, have launched a well organized and, I must admit, rather effective counter attack.

Led by Krishna Menon and K.D. Malavia in Parliament and strongly backed by such Soviet-financed publications as Blitz, Link and the Patriot, this group has been taking shrewd advantage of recent dope stories from Indian correspondents in the United States which have provided the Indian public with a dismally pessimistic view of the economic discussions now under way in Washington. The extreme left has also picked on the Indo-American Foundation as evidence of a new U.S. drive to “take over India” and warned that Mrs. Gandhi and her Government are prepared to sell India out to the United States.

However, Mrs. Gandhi, instead of ducking this political challenge as many feared she might do, has met the left wing attacks head on with a vigorous defense of India’s relationship to the United States. In so doing, she has boldly staked her political future on a closer understanding with the United States and the Western powers and on the increased flow of foreign exchange which India requires to become economically self-sufficient within a ten or twelve year time span.

Mrs. Gandhi, recognizing that she has a hard political fight on her hands, is right now placing her highest priority on strengthening [Page 641] her own position with the Indian people. Thus she is launched on a series of speaking appearances (which include as many as four appearances a day) plus regular radio talks over a nationwide network.

Some observers feel that she is paying too little attention to Parliament and the Congress Party political leadership. However, I believe that she has deliberately chosen to build her strength first of all with the people, so that she may have a solid public base for the political struggle with the leftist groups (supported on some issues by the extreme right) that lies ahead.


If Mrs. Gandhi and her associates stick with their present vigorous economic pragmatism and if, with the help of the World Bank, we are able to provide the support required to insure the necessary increase in India’s economic growth, I believe that the positive economic and political results by the end of this year will be clearly evident.

For instance if the current negotiations with Asoka Mehta are successful and if the foreign exchange needed to increase India’s imports of maintenance items is made available the rise of factory production and employment will be significant. At the same time as you know vigorous steps are being taken to provide more fertilizer, water, improved seeds, etc. With a fair break in the monsoon this is expected to provide a 20% to 25% increase in food grain production in this fiscal year.


If this economic breakthrough does in fact occur it will I believe open the doors to a political revolution in India which may have historic consequences for the entire free world.

Since Independence 19 years ago the old guard who lived and worked under Gandhi and Nehru has dominated the Congress Party. These men for the most part are conservative, unimaginative, uncreative and in many ways doctrinaire.

If Mrs. Gandhi’s effort to create a new economic and political climate succeeds the door will be opened wide to men and women in their 30’s, 40’s and early 50’s who have thus far largely been shut out of active participation in Indian public life.

In response to Mrs. Gandhi’s “new look” and in anticipation of this political awakening younger people are already beginning to speak out with renewed vigor and confidence. Indeed some observers sense a growing feeling in the air which is reminiscent of the early days of the New Deal.

If this political and economic evolution does in fact take shape a new generation of Indians will be taking over following elections next February, a generation which is more pragmatic, flexible, imaginative and increasingly aware of India’s potential role as a stabilizing force in Asia. The Cabinet which Mrs. Gandhi will select next February will reflect this political switch.

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Thus, the decisions which we face in regard to India take on an important new dimension; i.e., it is not simply a matter of assuring a solvent Indian Government but of assuring the political success of the most promising government that India has had since Independence.

However, a note of caution is in order. There are at least three developments which could stand in the way of the development of which we have such high hopes:
A second drought comparable to the one last year. (As last year’s was the worst in 65 years, it is unlikely to repeat itself this year.)
A failure on our part to understand the acute sensitivity of the Indian political situation in an election year. (The pressures we have brought to bear on the Indians up to now have been dramatically effective and we have largely won our objectives. Now as the political temp rises we must be careful not to expose Mrs. Gandhi to the leftist charge that her policies are directed by the U.S. Government in Washington and administered by the U.S. Embassy in Delhi.)
A direct Pak-Chinese attack on India or a major stirring up of the Himalayan border areas through “national liberation” techniques. (This is worrisome but not likely.)

We have come a very long way in our relationship with India since you and I reviewed the situation in your office in May of 1965. At that time I suggested that the U.S. may be forced within the next few years to choose between three possible courses of action in Asia:

We can get out of Asia leaving it to the tender mercies of the Chinese and/or Russians (which would be unthinkable);
We can continue to increase our military inputs in an effort to bolster our severely limited political power base (the Asian nations which are now directly associated with us total no more than 6% or 7% of the Asian people);
We can work tactfully and pragmatically for the development of an indigenous Asian counterweight to China (since India has more than half the non-communist population of Asia it must inevitably play a key role) which we can effectively support with a much smaller investment of American resources. In the last year we have, I believe, made far greater progress towards this third choice than is generally recognized.

The tactics which you chose to clarify the political-economic issues here in India have been dramatically successful. India has responded and accepted in large measure the suggestions and conditions which we have advanced.

Most important of all Mrs. Gandhi has emerged as a politically competent, liberal-minded democratic leader who appears to recognize the communist-left as her primary domestic enemy and who understands the crucial importance of the U.S. in providing the support required to make India economically self-sufficient and politically viable.

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If the situation develops as we hope it may, there is reason to expect that by Christmas a new economic and political dynamism will begin to be evident here in India that will be clearly recognizable at home. If this occurs we will have the beginning of a new power balance in Asia which well be greatly to our advantage and for which you can take great personal credit.2

With my warm regards,


Chet Bowles
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, India, Exchanges with Bowles (cont.). Secret.
  2. Johnson added the following handwritten marginal notation to the letter: “Bill M—Give substance to Phil Potter.” Reference is to Bill Moyers and Phillip Potter, the Washington bureau chief for the Baltimore Sun.