Britain’s Long War on India
by Bhaskar Menon on 10 Nov 2018 3 Comments

Britain has never forgiven India its independence. Since 1947 it has fought a bitter, relentless, crazy war against the Indian people; British leaders are barely able to contain their ill-feeling even as they profess friendship. (Read Margaret Thatcher’s comments in India, where she was attending Indira Gandhi’s funeral: it’s something evil out of Shakespeare.)


On 12 June 1975, a judge of the Allahabad High Court found Prime Minister Indira Gandhi guilty of several minor counts of using government machinery to help her 1971 election campaign (such infractions as use of an official jeep to get to her rural constituency, and use of electricity from a government office by organisers of a rally). He voided her election to Parliament and banned her from contesting any election for six years. The same day there was a call from Socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan for nationwide street protests to force Mrs. Gandhi from office.


Total Revolution


Over the next few days, with Narayan calling for “sampurna kranti” (total revolution), there were furious and growing demonstrations around Parliament House and Indira Gandhi’s residence in Delhi. The immediacy of the mass protests following the Allahabad court decision indicated planning and considerable expenditure of funds well before June 12. As to the source of the funding, the author was told by Hans Janitschek, former Secretary-General of the London-based Socialist International, that a great deal of money from European socialist parties was sent to India to support Jayaprakash Narayan; he himself had carried two suitcases stuffed with money to India.


On June 25, in the wake of a call by Narayan for the Army and Police to mutiny, Mrs. Gandhi invoked her constitutional powers to assume emergency powers. There was general scorn for her assertion that there was a “foreign hand” behind the blatantly extra-legal effort to force her from office before she could appeal the judgment.


The searing resentment at the excesses perpetrated during the Emergency left her with few defenders, and no one bothered to examine if indeed there had been foreign interference in the events of June 1975; in doing so now we need to consider several contextual factors. Perhaps most importantly, the court action came a year after India’s internationally decried explosion of a “peaceful nuclear device” (May 1974). Major foreign powers disapproved of the Prime Minister and saw her as dangerous.


Replay of Iran Coup


A third factor with some bearing on the chain of events prior to the Emergency is that it was a replay of what happened in Iran when a British-led effort ousted Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1954 and destroyed that country’s homegrown democracy. The same playbook was evident in the post-Cold War “velvet” revolutions in Eastern Europe and former republics of the Soviet Union. In the light of these factors, it appears more than likely that there was indeed a “foreign hand” at work in the events preceding the Emergency.


Mark Bullough


Mark Bullough, a member of the elite Scots Guards unit of the British Army, traditionally the stomping ground for intelligence operatives, came to Mumbai after the 1982 war in the Falklands. Oddly, he came as the Director of a Hong Kong-based investment bank, Jardine Fleming. The assignment makes sense only if we consider that his bank had its roots in Jardine Matheson, one of the most prominent opium traders of the 19th century, with a reputation for being neck-deep in British spooks. During Bullough’s time in Mumbai, followed by stints in Hong Kong and Singapore, the course of political events in India took a deeply negative turn, much of it linked to new flows of funds from abroad to groups either preaching or perpetrating violence in the country.


As the Punjab sank into a low-grade insurrection in the name of an independent Khalistan, there were amorphous reports that anonymous “rich Sikhs” in Britain, Canada and the United States were breaking with the thrifty Indian tradition and sending millions of their hard-earned dollars to fund terrorists in their home state.


Terrorists in the Golden Temple


In June 1984, the Indian Army ousted a band of heavily armed terrorists occupying the Golden Temple in Amritsar. On October 31 the same year, two Sikh members of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s security detail assassinated her. They were standing guard at a gate she had to pass through to get to a BBC television crew set up for an interview. The occasion for the interview was the visit to Delhi of Princess Anne, with whom the Prime Minister was to dine that evening.


The interview was delayed a half-hour at the last minute, just the time needed for one of the two assassins to begin his shift at the spot where the killing occurred. Initially, suspicion fell on one of Mrs. Gandhi’s aides for making the change, but the official inquiry exonerated him. The investigating judge noted the involvement of a foreign intelligence agency without explaining what that meant; whether he had more to say on that point is impossible to say, for a part of the report remains secret; it could be the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). The BBC interviewer waiting for her on that fatal day was actor Peter Ustinov, rumored to have links with British intelligence; his father had definitely worked for MI-5 (the domestic service of SIS).


Thatcher in Delhi


It is worth recalling that earlier in 1984 a Sikh activist had called on a BBC broadcast for Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination. India lodged a formal diplomatic protest but the British government said it could not interfere with the freedom of the Press. Reporters asked Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher about that when she came to Delhi for Mrs. Gandhi’s funeral.


She responded: “Whether or not what he [the Sikh on the BBC] said actually amounted to a possible crime was a matter for the director of public prosecutions and the police, not for a politician. But I believe they looked at it, looked very carefully at what was said, and came to the conclusion that they could not in fact prosecute. You know there are sometimes very difficult cases. But whether they decide to prosecute or not is a matter for them. But they did not and that must have been because there was in their view not a sufficient case to prosecute.”


A reporter asked if there was not a case “for tightening up or altering the law” on “incitement to violence.” She replied, “Incitement to violence – I think the law is fairly clear. Sometimes it is not easy to get the precise evidence but we will have a look at it if need be. … But we must recognize again what is an apparent paradox, that if you are a free country then you are free to say what you think within the law, but a free society offers many more opportunities for doing the wrong thing than of course a tyranny. But then of course, who would wish to live under tyranny?


“And there are occasions when you do have a difficult question to ask. Do you resort to the methods of a tyrannical society in order to preserve freedom? You can see the paradox. Now I believe that we have got just about the right answer in Britain. But we are very well aware of the difficulties of violence and of the difficulties of getting evidence sufficient to enable our police and those who are responsible for indicting these people to bring cases to court.”

For the record, the BBC has never been an exercise in independent journalism; it was from its founding an organ of State propaganda with the World Service funded from the Foreign Office budget. Some prominent BBC “journalists” have a reputation for being spies, a matter of concern to professionals on its staff; see the fascinating blog at


Union Carbide “Accident”


A month after Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination and anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, a set of multiple safety-system failures at Union Carbide’s chemical plant at Bhopal caused the “world’s worst industrial accident.” There was every indication that it was sabotage, but the new Rajiv Gandhi government sagely decided not to publicize that angle for fingers could have pointed to a Sikh employee. Clearly, whoever sabotaged the plant wanted to set off another assault on the community.


Air India Flight 182


A few months later, in June 1985, another atrocity was blamed on “Sikh terrorists,” the blowing up of Air India Flight 182 over British waters as it made its way from Montreal to Delhi, killing all 329 people on board. There are a host of unanswered questions about how a group of amateur terrorists managed to time a bomb to go off just as Flight 182 got into British waters. Or if it was a bomb at all. There has been some speculation that the flight was shot down. Nearly three decades later, Canadian prosecutors were still struggling to prove the heavily circumstantial case.


The Bofors Scandal


In 1986, the Swedish arms manufacturing firm Bofors outbid Britain’s BAE (and several other companies) to provide India with over 400 state of the art 155mm field howitzers; the winning element of the bid was the agreement to transfer production technology, a matter of serious concern to the West at the height of the Cold War. The Prime Ministers of Sweden and India who had pushed the $1.4 billion deal both came to unhappy ends before the guns were delivered: Olof Palme was assassinated in 1986 after the deal was signed, and Rajiv Gandhi was hit with nebulous accusations about kickbacks from Bofors that contributed to his losing the 1989 general elections.


The allegations about corruption in the Bofors deal came from an anonymous source in Sweden and were routed through a stringer of The Hindu in Geneva, Switzerland (where she was newly a mother, living with her Italian husband). She supposedly found “Sting,” her anonymous source, when she called someone in Stockholm about a report on Swedish radio that the government was looking into pay-offs made by Bofors to foreign agents. Over the next two years, “Sting” provided a series of titillating “leaks,” none conclusive, none directly linking the Indian Prime Minister with the alleged bribes.


A British front company, AE Systems, appeared and disappeared in the stories like Alice’s Cheshire Cat; an Italian businessman put in an appearance as a Gandhi family confidante; the names of the multimillionaire Hinduja Brothers of London were regularly invoked, as were bank accounts in Switzerland and Panama.


A “secret diary” supposedly kept by the head of Bofors was “leaked” and its unsubstantiated contents discussed with much zest in the Indian media. Each new “leak” and Rajiv Gandhi’s earnest denials of any knowledge of them sent the Indian media into paroxysms of speculation and hard-eyed punditry about hypocrisy in politics.


In sum, the Press ruined the young Prime Minister’s reputation as the Mr. Clean of Indian politics. Investigations by several independent bodies appointed by different governments since then have failed to find an iota of evidence that the allegations were true. India finally got the Bofors guns but the company itself went bankrupt and ended up as part of BAE Systems.


Rajiv Gandhi Assassination


Preceding the 1991 general elections there was a new barrage of “leaks” about the “Bofors scandal” (as it had come to be called, despite lack of any real evidence of crime), but had little public impact. Weeks before a projected easy election victory Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber, whose handlers took the unusual step of sending along a photographer to record the identity of the perpetrator. The bomb blew the unfortunate man to bits but his camera and film survived unscathed.


In January 2010, the “Bofors scam” was once again in the headlines because an Income Tax Appellate court ruled that the estate of one of the supposed beneficiaries was liable for a sum it took to be commission paid by the Swedish company. Journalists publicising the case were not exercised by how a judge could determine 25 years after the undocumented payout that the money was from Bofors.


Fighting Economic Reforms


The Congress Party won the 1991 general elections and instituted the economic reforms forestalled by the Bhopal disaster and “Bofors scandal.” In 1992, a reporter in Bombay was tipped off about a stock market swindle: a broker, Harshad Mehta, was reported to have used misappropriated funds from several Indian and four major foreign banks to perpetrate a series of massive market manipulations. He generated an enormous flow of funds just as “rich Hindus abroad” were supposedly sending their hard-earned money to Hindutva extremists, making possible the organisation of the Babri Masjid demolition and the rise of the BJP to power in Delhi.


Mehta’s stock frauds, the demolition of the mosque, communal riots in several cities, and the 1993 terrorist bombing of the Bombay Stock Exchange, all projected a deeply negative image of India globally – just as the government was trying to open up the country to foreign investment. It is interesting to note that National & Grindlays (now Standard Chartered) refused to take legal action on its reported loss of $130 million to Mehta.


Mark Bullough’s Afterlife


Elements of the narrative above can certainly be described as a “conspiracy theory;” however, the inclination to dismiss the overall analysis on that count is likely to be significantly reduced if we consider Mark Bullough’s career after his decade in Bombay, Hong Kong and Singapore.


He surfaced in Iraq following the 2003 United States-led invasion. He was a partner in Aegis Defense Services, a London-based outfit set up by an old friend and fellow Scots Guards alumnus, Tim Spicer, who had come to international attention earlier for breaking a UN arms embargo on Sierra Leone with the help of a contact in the British Foreign Office.


In Iraq, Bullough and Spicer called up a thinly veiled network of British Intelligence operatives to implement a $293 million contract and create what was then the largest private army in the world. In August 2010, the Basler Zeitung reported that Aegis Defense Services had moved its operating base to Basle, Switzerland under a new holding company. It reported that in addition to Tim Spicer and Mark Bullough, the partners of the new company included Dominic Armstrong (a deputy to Bullough at Jardine Fleming), former British Chief of Army Staff Peter Inge, former British head of UN Mission in southern Sudan James Ellery, and John Birch, a retired British diplomat.


Peter Bleach and Ananda Marg


Those inclined to disbelieve that Britain could be officially involved in crimes against the Indian State will have difficulty explaining how, in 1994, a British national, Peter Bleach, came to be parachuting crates of AK-47s, rocket launchers and ammunition for use by the Ananda Marg, a violent Hindu cult in West Bengal.


The police caught him when the aircraft landed at Calcutta’s Dum Dum airport to refuel. During his trial in Calcutta on a charge of waging war against the Indian State, his lawyers argued that MI-6 had organized the flight and that Bleach was only a contract employee; they produced the tape recording of a phone conversation during which the defendant received instructions from a person they attested was an official of the agency.


Bleach was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2000, but was released in 2004 after persistent representations by the British government culminating in a private chat between Tony Blair and Deputy Prime Minister Advani on the eve of the 2004 Indian general election; what was said in that conversation needs further investigation.


Lesson for Indians


The lesson for Indians from this long tale of woe is that Britain cannot be trusted. It is deeply committed to subvert India, and it has a long record of colluding with Pakistan and China to do so. Any Indian who thinks Britain is a friend of India is a fool or much worse.


The views expressed by the author are personal


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