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Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Tashkent Files: Ripples from A Past to the Present And Beyond

A Prologue

Having viewed five movies over the last two decades, which includes The Tashkent Files (TTF) recently, does not qualify me to be an expert movie critic. When eminent film reviewers (highlighted in A, in the screenshot) give ratings as low as 0.5/5.0, and it is vastly different from the general public feedback where 94% viewers like the film (highlighted in B), then perhaps the experts’ claims need to be challenged. Did our Eminent Movie Critics want to dissuade viewers from going to the movie or was the movie really bad?

This dichotomy is not coincidental or accidental. It is yet another one of the many steps to alter the course and character of Bharat. The death of a Prime Minister on foreign soil with so many inconsistencies is not accidental coincidence either. Like an earlier movie, Chittagong (a film on the real-life story of Master Surya Sen and directed by Bedabrata Paine), TTF gets indifferent reviews AND faces distribution bottlenecks. Subtle suppression takes many forms – throttling finances, blocking resources, ridicule and doctored reviews. When resources and energies are used to suppress a movie around the death of a Prime Minister even after 53 years, questions arise.

Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri takes the plunge to examine the incident in The Tashkent Files. He and the team raise logical questions. TTF exposes the illogical and contrived means to suppress the legitimate need for our people to know: How did Shastri Die? How was he made to sign an Agreement which he was publicly committed against? What role did the Indian Establishment play in all of this?

To understand this, one should see this excellently crafted film. It reveals many layers of masking by an Establishment determined to cover itself against charges of gross incompetence at the very least. I do not wish to unmask TTF story line in greater detail: to do so will be an injustice to a brilliant narrative format, a tight story line, excellent dialogs and an insight into the dealings of an Establishment.


An Old Establishment in India, with origins near Tashkent

The Tashkent Files must be seen not just as a movie about the death of the second Prime Minister of India who has been erased from the public memory. It must also be seen in the context of how an entrenched Establishment works.

Firstly, what does one mean by Establishment? An Establishment is the core which wields real State Power. It influences the formation, processing, execution and interpretation of rules. The Establishment spans the Administration and allied services, parts of the political spectrum, judiciary, academia, media, businesses which thrive on discretionary rules. All people in these sectors are not a part of the Establishment. The Establishment has been given various names: Lutyens Delhi, Delhi Durbar etc. These are colloquial names.

The Establishment has the capability of accomplishing things with a greater degree of certainty irrespective of who is holding the titular reign of governance. The Establishment has real control and real protection of its powers. It has created even more layers of protection to prevent its scrutiny and the ability to impose huge costs on anyone who questions their abuse of powers. And the Establishment becomes more permanent and more secure in every successive iteration.

The Establishment maintains deep asymmetry. It remains opaque, unanswerable and unaccountable to the general public. At the same time, it is receptive to anything that expands the scale and scope of its own powers. In the US, UK, China, France, Japan and other countries, the Establishment was built up organically, aligned with the aspirations, economic and civilizational goals of the peoples they serve.

In India, the Establishment core was not established as a homegrown infrastructure for governance or welfare of the citizens of Bharat. The current Establishment of India owes its genetic code to the time Delhi Durbars were set up during the reign of the Mamluk Dynasty and Delhi Sultanates which had their origins in the Western Turkic region, where Tashkent is located. It was strengthened during the Mughal reign. It interbred with the DNA of colonial structures and laws established under the British Raj. These designed to appropriate wealth, steal know-how, control supply chains, disempower the public and reduce their capacity to resist injustice. After Independence, no effort was made to dismantle and de-weed the Establishment of these influences that were non-aligned to the interests of Bharat.

Setting the 1966 peace talks in Tashkent in cold winter between Bharat and the inheritors of old Arab/Turkic power bases was not accidental. General Ayub Khan, President of Pakistan during the 1966 Tashkent Summit, had perhaps just this much in mind when he gave his opening remarks about Tashkent’s shared linkages from historic times. Not only were the linkages shared, even the Establishments from both countries had the same DNA.

It is this Establishment that forced Lal Bahadur Shastri’s hands to squander away a great military victory. This is the Establishment that provided the means and capacity to open Bharat’s Prime Minister to potential vulnerability. A vulnerability clearly pointed out in TTF based on real evidence that was always downplayed: a thermos flask supplied by a cook who was not PM Shastri’s own cook. This cook belonged to  the then Indian Ambassador to USSR. Incidentally, the latter played a very prominent role in yet another diplomatic disaster: the 1972 Shimla Agreement.

A body bearing the tell-tale signs of poisoning and a possible unknown post-mortem conducted on foreign soil being hurriedly cremated despite several demands being raised for it. The Establishment’s means of covering its tracks through sanitized enquiry committees is shown. From ad-hominem attacks, doctoring committee structures, creating questionable historical narratives, to the curious case of key witnesses like Shastri’s personal physician, Dr. R.N. Chugh killed in one accident and his personal assistant, Ram Nath losing his memory in another accident at that time are shown accurately and without melodrama in the movie. The Establishment has, for centuries, practiced and perfected the art of Suppressio Veri, Suggestio Falsi (Suppression of Truth is to Suggest Falsehood) to repress challenges. The ratings given by the Critics in the first screen shot is an old Establishment game.

Ten Points in the History of the Establishment in the last 100 years

Though TTF does not cover this, the Establishment in India repeatedly diluted the effect of Bharat’s military victories and subverted its military capacity over time. It is worth noting ten Establishment milestones over the last 100 years that are relevant to the TTF story.  This trajectory shows how an ‘Idea of India’ has hijacked the legitimate aspirations of Bharat. The old maxim “Actions Speak Louder Than Words” is worth bearing in mind now. It is important to examine actions taken and discount all politically correct statements as symbols of a tokenism that serve no other purpose except to lull the general people of Bharat into a false sense of security.

1.) Mahatma Gandhi emerged as a key member of the Independence ‘Establishment’ in 1915. Gandhi involved himself in persuading Indians to sign up for the British Army in World War 1 (WW1). An effusive English language press, part of the British Establishment, built up the legend of a Mahatma. The Mahatma was hailed as a spiritual guru and a keeper of the Nation’s Conscience. MK Gandhi had no compunctions in asking Indians to shed their blood for wars being waged by the British against its enemies during both WW1 and WW2. However, Gandhi’s advice to a question on the use of violence for self-defense was: “Non-violence becomes meaningless, if violence is permitted for self-defence.”

2.) It is interesting to see the views of Sri Aurobindo, one of Bharat’s foremost realized Rishis, on Gandhi. In India’s Rebirth, Sri Aurobindo stated on June 23, 1923: “I believe Gandhi does not know what actually happens to the man’s nature when he takes to Satyagraha or non-violence. He thinks that men get purified by it. But when men suffer, or subject themselves to voluntary suffering, what happens is that their vital being gets strengthened. These movements affect the vital being only and not any other part. Now, when you cannot oppose the force that oppresses, you say that you will suffer. That suffering is vital and it gives strength. When the man who has thus suffered gets power he becomes a worse oppressor….”  This insight of Sri Aurobindo merits contemplation as it has multiple implications.

3.) These words of Sri Aurobindo, made in 1923, were prescient. In 1946, Gandhi showed an oppressive, dictatorial streak when he overruled a 12-0 verdict made by the AICC in 1946 in favor of Sardar Patel against Jawahar Lal Nehru and Acharya Kripalani in the election for the Congress President. The Congress President was to become the first Prime Minister of India when power was to be transferred to Independent Bharat. Gandhi’s betrayal of Bharat was visible to anyone who wished to see the reality of a great spiritual confusion being thrust upon a sacred nation. Democratic norms were cast aside to cater to the whims of a Mahatma. Members of an Establishment protect each other at all times.

4.) Nehru, as PM, dithered in a crucial cabinet meeting when Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession in October 1947. It was Sardar Patel who gave the marching orders to the Indian Army to take charge of Kashmir and drive away the Pakistani intruders. In all his acts, Nehru betrayed Kashmir’s decision to merge with India. He is the first leader in known history to ask an army to stop chasing foreign intruders before they could be driven from our own territory. Nehru compounded this act by using the cover of Gandhi’s spiritually defunct and misleading version of Ahimsa. This was followed by Nehru’s recognition of the invasion of Tibet, then an independent country, by Communist China in 1950. Later, Nehru too an abject stand when China usurped Aksai Chin and northern areas. The problems of Kashmir, the lack of linkages with Central Asia through the loss of PoJK and Gilgit-Baltistan, Tibet led to myriad problems. Pakistan and China became contiguous countries which has created the basis of CPEC and many more threats to Bharat that range from security to access to Central Asia, Energy supplies, links with Afghanistan and even water security. A request by Nepal to merge with the Republic of India was rebuffed by Nehru. It is reasonable to conclude from these actions that the Establishment did not want a larger, powerful Bharat.

5.) To compound the problem of Pakistan squatting on a part of J&K, Nehru embarked on another act of deception with the formulation of Article 370 during the framing of the Indian Constitution. Nehru finalized the draft of Article 370 with Sheikh Abdullah without informing Sardar Patel. A disgusted Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the Architect of the Indian Constitution, boycotted the passage of this Article and had this to say: “You wish India should protect your border, she should built roads in your areas, she should supply you food, grains and Kashmir should get equal status as India. But Government of India should have only limited powers and Indian people should have no right in Kashmir. To give consent in your proposal, would be treacherous thing against the interest of India and I, as a Law Minister of India, will never do.” Here again, the reader will see that an Establishment had acted in a manner that usurped official authority in an unaccountable and opaque way. Was there an unspoken agreement between the Establishments of a newly formed Bharat, Pakistan, Kashmir and Britain that colluded to allow this to happen? These are important questions that must now be raised in the public domain and for which answers must be elicited.

6.) The 1965 war was started by Pakistan thinking it would easily win that war as Bharat had low morale after the 1962 aggression by China. It knew that the Shastri, an outsider, did not really belong to the Establishment. The chief instigator of the war in Pakistan was their Foreign Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Zulfikar Bhutto’s father was Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto ( who, in turn, was the son of Ghulam Murtaza Bhutto and a Bar Dancer). Shah Nawaz developed expertise in being a part of the British Establishment and succeeded in the partition of Sindh from Bombay Presidency in 1935. This was a precursor to the joining of Sindh with Pakistan a mere 12 years later. Sir Bhutto was moved to become the Diwan of Junagadh in May 1947 (do note the timing: a few weeks before Partition). On 15th August 1947, Sir Bhutto as Diwan signed a declaration for Junagadh to join Pakistan. This was in violation of the rules for Accession, which stated that territories joining Pakistan must be contiguous with East/West Pakistan.  Sir Bhutto would have succeeded but for the firm role played by Sardar Patel. This point is essential to understand the psyche of the family of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and their deep integration with the Colonial and Pakistani Establishment for a long time.

7.) In 1966, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was belligerent and demanded that Bharat vacate the Haji Pir Pass and withdraw back its Army from other territories. Bhutto also pushed a hardline view that they would not sign any ‘no war’ clause in the Tashkent Agreement draft that Shastri desired. The Indian Establishment caved in to the pressures mounted by Pakistan and the Soviet hosts. Premier Kosygin pressed Lal Bahadur Shastri that peace would be possible if India vacated these areas and Pakistan would agree to signing the clause for peaceful resolution of Kashmir. Shastri agreed based on the advice and pressure of the Indian Establishment. Now the question is: who was in the Indian delegation? In fact, to take a step back, PM Shastri and Defense Minister, Y.B. Chavan were not keen to go for the talks in Tashkent. They were persuaded by “South Block Mandarins”.  Prem Prakash, now Chairman ANI, was then a journalist covering the Tashkent summit. He writes, “The mystery remains because no one has seen till today any archive papers of Indian delegation’s inner talks at Tashkent. Have those documents been destroyed? No one tells. The mystery continues.”

An extensive search across the public domain does not reveal the constitution of the ‘Establishment’ that influenced PM Shastri or provide any access to these archives. A clear military victory was converted into a status quo by botched up negotiations. Yes, one core member of the team was the Indian Ambassador to the then USSR. He made his cook available for PM Shastri on that fateful night. Interestingly, the Ambassador moved to other roles and later on was a part of the team that also participated in the Shimla Agreement between PM Indira Gandhi and then PM of Pakistan: Z A Bhutto. The death of our Prime Minister also deflected away all attention from the details of the Tashkent Agreement and the ineptitude of the Indian Establishment.

8.) The disaster of Tashkent 1966 was followed by virtually an exact repeat in 1972 when ZA Bhutto in the lead role this time. He came with his daughter, Benazir to Shimla to negotiate peace after the Indian Army defeated Pakistan in the 1971 war. The war had led to the birth of Bangladesh. Over 93,000 Pakistan soldiers were in Indian custody. Over 1 million Pakistanis were displaced from their homes in mainland Pakistan as the Indian Army had reached the outskirts of Lahore. The relatives of the PoWs, the public and the million internally displaced Pakistanis were in a state of revolt creating immense domestic pressure on the Pakistani government led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to get its men and restoration of their homes. The Pakistan public had lost complete trust in its Army and Government. They were led to believe that Pakistan was winning the war right until the end. On 17th December, they learned the truth that 93,000 of their soldiers had surrendered and Bangladesh was a new country. The public sentiment was to vacate Pakistan Occupied Kashmir with this shock. This was common knowledge to those tracking Pakistan’s public sentiment in the period from January to June 1972, just after the December 1971 war.

It is against this background that the Indian Establishment and PM Indira Gandhi negotiated one of the flimsiest agreements ever possible. Arguments and Op-Editorials were put forth in the Indian press by certain quarters that imposing a harsh Agreement will kill democracy in Pakistan! Yet another opinion argued that the treaty of Versailles after WW1 led to WW2 – the implication being that soft terms would be beneficial. The Establishment never answered how Bhutto, who had subverted democracy in the December 1970 elections that led to the birth of Bangladesh can now be expected to usher democracy! Nor did anyone care to recall Bhutto’s hawkish stand in 1966. Of course, certain members of the 1972 Indian delegation were common to the team that worked in the 1966 negotiations in Tashkent. However, no one has really cared to examine their dubious role in the abject failure of these eminencies. So, while the Indian media gushed about Bhutto’s charms, Benazir’s looks and her dresses and the cuisine that was being served in the Shimla Summit, India squandered yet another military victory and the Indian Establishment failed Bharat abjectly. Bangladesh was also antagonized as India refused to press for genocide and war crimes justice for the murder and rape of minorities and others in Bangladesh. From all these actions, it is reasonable to assume that the Establishment was clearly working towards a definitive direction.

9.) PM Indira Gandhi derived political mileage for the military victory of the Indian Army in 1971. However, her acts following this and the 1972 debacle of Shimla Agreement, were in collusion with the Establishment. They denied pensions and created hurdles for the chief architect of the 1971 war, Field Marshal Maneckshaw, who received his back pension/pay of Rs. 1.16 Crores as Field Marshal only in 2007 from President Abdul Kalam. To heap further misery, India did not even ask for its own 58 PoWs in Pakistani custody while agreeing to hand over 93,000 Pakistani PoWs. Moreover, by 1973, the Armed Forces pensions were reduced by 20-40% while the Civil Administration (aka the Establishment) had an increase of 20% in their pensions. The One Rank One Pension (OROP) was denied to the Indian Army and it took the Narendra Modi government to rectify this in 2016. After the 1971 war, successive pay commissions and Administrative revamps successively diluted the relative rankings of the Defense personnel in terms of their parity with the IAS structure. And, defense procurement and preparedness began to suffer under increased control of the Establishment along with great opacity and unexplainable delays.

10.) Finally, it is important to note that the Nehru Gandhi family dynasty has been, for generations, visiting the grave of Babar, the first of the Mughal Rulers. Babar’s general, Mir Baki, led a brutal assault on the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir, its razing and is the root of the current discord that exists in public space as the ‘Babri Masjid’ dispute. Jawahar Lal Nehru visited Babar’s grave in 1958, Indira Gandhi in 1968 and again in 1976 – this time with Rajiv and grandson Rahul Gandhi. And in 2005, Rahul Gandhi visited the site again with PM Man Mohan Singh, just after UPA regained power and Rahul became a first time MP from Amethi. What compels these repeated, multi-generational visits to an invader’s grave? Is there a context to the apathy shown by the Establishment towards the Ram Janma Bhoomi dispute?

These ten points trace a path from the mid 1910s to the mid-2010s of an Establishment that must be overhauled and aligned to Bharat’s core interests. PM Narendra Modi made a clear case for  Bharat in an Election rally on April 21st  2019, that the Bharat has not negotiated well after its military victories.

The story of The Tashkent Files is a reminder from the past of 1965 and 1966 that links us from a remote past to the present era. It will do justice to the great victories of 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999. And it leads us to a new brave era of imposing costs against a proxy war of a thousand cuts unleashed by an economically and spiritually bankrupt usurper of the sacred lands of the Indus Valley Civilization and a destroyer of its ethos.


The article has been republished at 1 PM on 24 April, 2019 to improve readability.

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Prashant Singh
Prashant Singh
Prashant Singh is a private citizen and an independent observer of current business, social and global developments. Twitter ID: ps_009


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