'Rajiv Gandhi was genuinely interested about US military ties'

Washington, Aug 4: Rajiv Gandhi was "genuinely interested" in developing military ties with the US and the former Indian prime minister had shown he could move India's foreign policy in new directions, according to a declassified CIA document.

Gandhi's visits to then Soviet Union, the Middle East, France, and the US from May 1985 - nearly seven months after he was sworn in - "showed he is able to move Indian foreign policy in new directions and to do so in a more pragmatic, less emotionally charged style than his predecessors," the US Directorate of Intelligence said in the document.

A sanitised copy of the classified 11-page report was released by the CIA in December 2016 along with several other documents related to India.

The document said Gandhi "signalled that India was ready to enhance significantly its economic, particularly technological, ties to the United States and Western Europe." 

According to the report dated August 1, 1985, three signals emerged from Gandhi's foreign visits about his "evolving personal and diplomatic style".

"First, his apparent willingness to give a fair hearing to other points of view strongly suggests that he is motivated to try to cut through emotionally charged issues to get to problem-solving. This has, in our view, been played out in his 'step-by-step' approach to improving relations with the US and Pakistan and to resolving the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict in Sri Lanka," it said.

"These relationships also give Gandhi a more strongly held personal stake in making progress in improving relations in South Asia," according to the document. 

A large section of the "second signal" has been redacted.

The declassified document, however, details the third about Gandhi's personal style, which, it said, "comes from his dealings with the international press - a force with which he has become much more familiar as a result of his trips." 

"In a Moscow press conference following his talks with Soviet officials, Rajiv answered leading questions on the US role in Nicaragua and on SDI (Strategic Defence Initiative) in a way that allowed reporters to play up Indo-US differences," it said.

"His performance at a similar event in Washington, however, suggested Gandhi had made some progress in learning to deflect questions designed to trap him and his subsequent press interviews have generally shown a more careful couching of language, particularly in response to questions on US."

According to the report, Gandhi's apparent efforts to improve his performance points to his sensitivity to the importance of projecting a positive image.