Rebuke for Wilson, rapport with De Gaulle

Indira Gandhi used her trip to Washington to send a message to the British prime minister

Before leaving for the United States, Indira Gandhi's mind was concentrated on her mission there. But she also planned to use her journey to deliver some timely and essential messages to others. In a dramatic reversal of the established practice, she decided to steer clear of London on her way to Washington. Her father had always stayed in the British capital for a day or two before leaving for Washington or New York. Lal Bahadur Shastri had been to London only once, and to no other destination west of it.

Indira Gandhi's itinerary, when announced, created a stir, even though her purpose was crystal clear. She wanted to express her and her country's utter displeasure with the then British prime minister Harold Wilson for his temerity to have blamed India, not Pakistan, for starting the 1965 War between the two neighbours. This had excelled his earlier impertinence in refusing to give India a single conventional submarine on loan, even for training.

Of course, there had been a tsunami of anger against the man usually described as "too clever by half" by his own countrymen for his remark about the 1965 War in South Asia. The whole of India resounded with the cry: "We must quit the Commonwealth at once". In Parliament, Shastri had great difficulty in persuading the sponsors of a resolution to the same effect to withdraw it. Most of them belonged to his party. When he suggested that the feelings of the House having been expressed clearly, the matter should be left to the government to decide, because, after all, international organisations could have "some uses", some MPs shouted: "There is nothing common and no wealth".

Indira Gandhi chose to fly to the US via Paris, where she had a busy stopover. Both her sons were in England at that time; she asked them to join her in the French capital. Her objective of rubbing it in to the perfidious Albion was obvious enough. But it took people quite some time to realise that she was also conveying to all concerned that her ambitions for her country were broadly the same as those of Charles de Gaulle's for his.

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