Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with former US President Richard Nixon (File photo)
WASHINGTON: "Undoubtedly the most unattractive women in the world are the Indian women," they are "pathetic," they "turn me off," Indians are "repulsive."
These are just some of the sexist, racist, bigoted tropes essayed by former American President
during the nadir of US-India ties in 1970-1971, according to new archival material unearthed by Princeton academic Gary Bass.
Bass, whose 2013 book "The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide," chronicled the disastrous US policy during the 1971 India-Pakistan war and revealed Nixon calling then Indian Prime Minister a 'b***h' and more broadly referring to Indians as 'b****rds,' accessed new material after 'considerable wrangling' following a legal request for a mandatory declassification review with the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
What he heard in the new tapes was 'stunning' he says in an NYT OpEd- a conversation between Nixon, his then national security advisor Henry Kissinger and White House chief of staff HR Haldeman, in the Oval Office in June 1971: "Undoubtedly the most unattractive women in the world are the Indian women," Nixon says, repeating “Undoubtedly,” in a venomous tone. He continues, "The most sexless, nothing, these people. I mean, people say, what about the Black Africans? Well, you can see something, the vitality there, I mean they have a little animal-like charm, but God, those Indians, ack, pathetic. Uch."
On another occasion on Nov 4, 1971, during a private break from a contentious White House summit with Indira Gandhi of India, Nixon makes disparaging remarks about Indians’ sexuality to Kissinger. "To me, they turn me off. How the hell do they turn other people on, Henry? Tell me." Kissinger’s response is inaudible as Nixon continues, "They turn me off. They are repulsive and it’s just easy to be tough with them."
A few days later, on Nov 12, 1971, in the middle of a discussion about India-Pakistan tensions with Kissinger and secretary of state William Rogers, after Rogers mentions reprimanding India Gandhi, Nixon says, "I don’t know how they reproduce!" The full content of these tapes reveal how US policy toward South Asia under Nixon was influenced by his hatred of, and sexual repulsion toward Indians, Bass notes.
Bass says while Kissinger has portrayed himself as above the racism of the Nixon White House, the tapes show him joining in the bigotry, though the tapes cannot determine whether he shared the president’s prejudices or was just pandering to him. He blames Indians for causing the refugee flow, apparently by their covert sponsorship of the Bengali insurgency and condemns Indians as a whole, his voice oozing with contempt, "They are a scav***ing people."
Although Kissinger has since recanted and apologized for calling Indians and Indira Gandhi names, and became a great votary of US-India ties in the aftermath of the 1998 nuclear tests- in a 2005 interview with this correspondent, he apologized for his words and recalled going to Indira Gandhi’s memorial after her assassination to place a wreath- the scars remain. "These emotional displays of prejudice help to explain a foreign policy debacle. Nixon and Kissinger’s policies toward South Asia in 1971 were not just a moral disaster but a strategic fiasco on their own Cold War terms," Bass notes.
While Nixon and Kissinger had some reasons to favor 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, he writes.
Bass also suggests there may be more such material since there are bleeps still remaining on a couple of the reviewed tapes, some of which he is appealing. "For decades, Nixon and Kissinger have portrayed themselves as brilliant practitioners of realpolitik, running a foreign policy that dispassionately served the interests of the United States. But these declassified White House tapes confirm a starkly different picture: racism and misogyny at the highest levels, covered up for decades under ludicrous claims of national security. A fair historical assessment of Nixon and Kissinger must include the full truth, unbleeped," he concludes.