Nixon’s Indira aversion

Richard Nixon (Photo: AFP via Getty Images).
Richard Nixon (Photo: AFP via Getty Images).

By Amit Roy

IT IS for a psychiatrist such as Dr Raj Persaud to analyse whether the late American president Richard Nixon suffered from sexual problems – which US president doesn’t? – but he had particular difficulty in dealing with Indira Gan­dhi, the Indian prime minister who was then one of the few women leaders in the world.

When the Pakistan army invaded East Paki­stan in 1971 and conducted a campaign of geno­cide, the US backed Pakistan against India which was regarded as being too close to the Soviet Union. Bangladesh was born, soaked in blood, after Pakistan was defeated in a brief war with India in December that year.

On November 4, 1971, after Mrs Gandhi had met Nixon, he told his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, how Indian women disgusted him. “To me, they turn me off. How the hell do they turn other people on, Henry? Tell me. They turn me off. They are repulsive and it’s just easy to be tough with them.”

A few days later, on November 12, in the mid­dle of a discussion about India-Pakistan tensions with Kissinger and secretary of state William P Rogers, after the latter suggested reprimanding Mrs Gandhi, the president blurted: “I don’t know how they reproduce!”

In June 1971, Nixon had told HR Haldeman, the White House chief of staff: “Undoubtedly the most unattractive women in the world are the Indian women.”

“Undoubtedly,” he repeated, venomously.

All this was revealed last week in the New York Times in an article by Gary J Bass, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton. “I documented the violent birth of Bangladesh and the disgraceful White House diplomacy around it in my book The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kiss­inger and a Forgotten Genocide published in 2013,” Bass says in the article.

Headed “The Terrible Cost of Presidential Racism”, the article’s standfirst summed up: “Re­cently declassified White House tapes reveal how president Nixon’s racism and misogyny led him to ignore the genocidal violence of the Paki­stani military in what is today Bangladesh.”

Bass writes: “As Americans grapple with prob­lems of racism and power, a newly declassified trove of White House tapes provides startling evidence of the bigotry voiced by president Rich­ard M Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his national security adviser.

“The full content of these tapes reveal how US policy toward South Asia under Mr Nixon was influenced by his hatred of, and sexual repulsion toward, Indians.

“These new tapes are about one of the grim­mest episodes of the Cold War, which brought ruin to Bangladesh in 1971. At that time, India tilted heavily toward the Soviet Union while a military dictatorship in Pakistan backed the United States.

“In March 1971, after Bengali nationalists won a democratic election in Pakistan, the junta be­gan a devastating crackdown on its own Bengali citizens. Mr Nixon and Mr Kissinger staunchly supported the military regime in Pakistan as it killed hundreds of thousands of Bengalis, with 10 million refugees fleeing into neighbouring India. New Delhi secretly trained and armed Bengali guerrillas. The crisis culminated in De­cember 1971 when India defeated Pakistan in a short war that resulted in the creation of an in­dependent Bangladesh.”

Alas, for Nixon, he is the only president in US history who has had to resign to avoid being impeached for ordering the cover up of the bur­glary at the Watergate building in Washington where the rival Democrats had their election campaign headquarters.

He is depicted as the villain in two memorable movies, All the President’s Men (1976), starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as two in­vestigative reporters at the Washington Post, and Steven Spielberg’s The Post (2017).

That film features Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham, the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, the long-time executive editor of the Washington Post.

For all her faults and despite the emergency she declared in 1975, Mrs Gandhi is remem­bered as a heroine in India. Meanwhile, foul-mouthed “Tricky Dicky” has gone down as one of the biggest crooks in American history.