New Delhi: The Indian establishment had prior information that US journalist Seymour Hersh, who alleged that former Prime Minister Morarji Desai was a CIA mole, had actually contacted some Indian officials before making such serious charges in his book.
However, the then Foreign Minister P V Narasimha Rao told Parliament in 1983 that Hersh had never contacted any Indian official before making the serious allegations against Desai in his book 'The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House', according to recently declassified MEA files.
The documents also show that Indian diplomats had even pointed out to Hersh that he had made an error by describing Desai as a member of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's Cabinet in 1971.
In his book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist had alleged that Desai was the "most important" informer of CIA and was paid USD 20,000 yearly by the agency to pass information during the Indo-Pak war in 1971.
"Mr Hersh has, however, been in touch with the embassy since it is a common practice for embassies in the United States to keep in contact with prominent journalists. In such informal contacts, the substance of the said allegations was mentioned to some of our officers who pointed out that during the period (1971), Shri Morarji Desai was not even in the Cabinet," says a note on the controversy in the MEA files.
It was part of a "note for supplementaries" as a homework for a parliamentary discussion on the issue, which was to be held on August 18, 1983. This paragraph is marked "for the FM's information only" which Narasimha Rao reportedly did not reveal to the House. In his 450-page book, Hersh claimed that Desai was a paid informer for CIA and considered by the agency as one of its "most important assets".
Hersh had also mentioned that former CIA officials recall the Indian leader as a "star performer", on whose information the administration of the then US President Richard Nixon relied in justifying its hard lines towards India during the Indo-Pak war in 1971.
Desai, who was 90 years old in 1986, had dismissed the charges calling them a bunch of "scandalous and malicious lies". He had filed a USD 100 million libel suit against the journalist in a US district court in Illinois through his attorney Mahendra Mehta, who himself was convicted of fraud in 1975 and even sent to jail for a year.
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the then CIA director Richard Helms were even testified under oath that Desai had never acted for CIA in any capacity or was paid for anything.
Before Hersh, there had been such allegations too. In 1979, Daniel Moynihan, a former US ambassador to India, had published a book called 'A Dangerous Place', in which he alleged that the US had interfered twice in Indian politics and paid to the Congress party. On an occasion, the money was directly paid to Indira Gandhi, who was then a party official.
Desai lost the case in 1992.     Another book published in 1979 and called 'The Man Who
Kept Secrets' by Thomas Powers had also alleged that a source in Indian Cabinet in 1971 had been leaking information to the US. Such allegations are also made in the memoirs of Nixon and Kissinger.