The Tragic Fate of Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘Action Plan’

It is highly unfortunate that the twenty-fifth anniversary of the submission of the ‘Action Plan for a Nuclear Weapon Free and Non-Violent World Order’[1] by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi before the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 09 June 1988 during the Third Special Session Devoted to Disarmament has gone unnoticed in India and elsewhere. Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘Action Plan’ had essentially resurrected the long forgotten ‘McCloy-Zorin Accord on General and Complete Disarmament’ [2], which the UNGA had unanimously adopted as resolution No. A/RES/1722(XVI) on 20 December 1961. The ‘Action Plan’ had encapsulated the consistent and persistent positions that India had espoused in the cause of disarmament & world peace before the UN and other international fora ever since 1947. It also represented the views of not only the peace loving people of India and other Third-World nations but also of all people across the world, who were opposed to war and militarism. To understand the significance of the ‘Action Plan’ it is necessary to dwell briefly into the historical circumstances that made it imperative to propose such a plan.

The Hunger for Peace

Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘Action Plan’ marked the zenith of India’s non-aligned foreign policy initiatives. It was not accidental that advancing the cause of peace & disarmament became one of the cornerstones of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which India – along with like-minded nations – had tirelessly strived to build over several decades. It may be recalled that none other than President Dwight Eisenhower has explained concisely as to why the issue of peace & disarmament was critical to social development. Soon after he had first assumed office as the 34th President of the United States, in a speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors on 16 April 1953, which was titled ‘The Chance for Peace’, President Eisenhower had stated that:

“A nation’s hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations…. Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed…. This Government is ready to ask its people to join with all nations in devoting a substantial percentage of the savings achieved by disarmament to a fund for world aid and reconstruction.”

President Eisenhower then went on to add that:

“These proposals spring, without ulterior purpose or political passion, from our calm conviction that the hunger for peace is in the hearts of all peoples…” [3]

The Soviet Union too had moved a resolution in the UNGA for convening an international convention on the reduction of armaments and the prohibition of weapons of mass destruction – a resolution that the UNGA had adopted on 04 November 1954 as A/RES/808(IX). Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders of the newly independent nations, who were intent on upholding the interests of the people of the Third World, were also very well aware that “the hunger for peace is in the hearts of all peoples…” Thus, at the Afro-Asian Conference at Bandung in 1955, a prominent part of the Final Communiqué was devoted to ‘Promotion of World Peace and Co-operation’ and it did especially note as follows:

“The conference declared universal disarmament is an absolute necessity for the preservation of peace and requested the United Nations to continue its efforts and appealed to all concerned speedily to bring about the regulation, limitation, control and reduction of all armed forces and armaments, including the prohibition of the production, experimentation and use of all weapons of mass destruction, and to establish effective international control to this end.” [4]

Non-Aligned Movement

Despite President Eisenhower’s laudable pronouncement of 1953, the Soviet Union’s disarmament proposal of 1954, and the Bandung Conference’s appeal to the United Nations in 1955, there was hardly any progress in the direction of disarmament in the next five years and, instead, by the late 1950s, the Cold War between the USSR and the U.S. was actually hotting up. Instead of remaining mute spectators, the non-aligned nations decided to act. At the initiative of leaders such as Joseph Tito (Yugoslavia), Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Achmed Seokarno (Indonesia), Gamal Nasser (Egypt) and Kwame Nkhrumah (Ghana) a conference of non-aligned nations was organized in Belgrade from 01 to 06 September 1961, which was attended by representatives of 25 nations from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. The Appeal, which the Belgrade Conference had issued on 05 September 1961 signed by each of the Heads of State or Governments of the 25 participating countries [a unique letter of its kind] and addressed to President John Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev, had fervently stated as follows:

“…we take the liberty of urging the Great Powers concerned that negotiations should be resumed and pursued so that the danger of war might be removed from the world and [hu]mankind adopts ways of peace…. We feel convinced that devoted as both of you are to world peace, your efforts through persistent negotiations will lead to a way out of the present impasse and enable the world and humanity to work and live for prosperity and peace.” [5]

The Conference outlined the contours of a desirable agreement on general and complete disarmament, which formed a major component of the Belgrade Declaration that was issued on 06 September 1961. It stated as follows:

“…disarmament is an imperative need and most urgent task of [hu]mankind. A radical solution of this problem, which has become an urgent necessity in the present state of armaments, in the unanimous view of participating countries, can be achieved only by means of a general, complete and strictly internationally controlled disarmament. The Heads of State or Government point out that general and complete disarmament should include the elimination of armed forces, armaments, foreign bases, manufacture of arms as well as elimination of institutions and installations for military training, except for purposes of internal security; and the total prohibition of production, possession and utilization of nuclear, and thermo-nuclear arms, bacteriological and chemical weapons as well as the elimination of equipment and installations for the delivery and placement and operational use of weapons of mass destruction on national territories….

“The participants in the Conference urge the Great Powers to sign without further delay a treaty for general and complete disarmament in order to save [hu]mankind from the scourge of war and to release energy and resources now being spent on armaments to be used for the peaceful economic and social development of all [hu]mankind.” [6]

McCloy-Zorin Accord

The Belgrade Declaration had an immediate and dramatic impact. In response to the Appeal from the non-aligned nations, the U.S and the USSR signed the Joint Agreement on the Principles of General and Complete Disarmament on 20 September 1961, which they had been reportedly negotiating for about five months, and submitted it to the United Nations. Since John McCloy (Chairperson, General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament, U.S. Government) and Valerian Zorin (Deputy Foreign Minister, USSR) were the principal negotiators who drafted the agreement before signing it under pressure from the non-aligned nations, the agreement came to be known as the McCloy-Zorin Accord on General and Compete Disarmament. Moreover, the Belgrade Declaration’s forthright position on disarmament was incorporated into the McCloy-Zorin Accord almost in toto. President Kennedy’s address to the UNGA on 25 September 1961 also reflected the sentiments of the non-aligned nations in this regard. He said:

 “Mankind must put an end to war–or war will put an end to mankind.… Let us call a truce to terror. Let us invoke the blessings of peace. And as we build an international capacity to keep peace, let us join in dismantling the national capacity to wage war…. It is in this spirit that the recent Belgrade Conference–recognizing that this is no longer a Soviet problem or an American problem, but a human problem–endorsed a program of “general, complete and strictly an internationally controlled disarmament.” [7]

It was under these circumstances that the UNGA had unanimously adopted the McCloy-Zorin Accord on 20 December 1961. On the next day, the UNGA constituted an Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament (ENCD), which included eight representatives of non-aligned nations including India, for framing concrete proposals for realizing the goal of disarmament. The task of concluding a comprehensive test ban treaty was the first item on ENCD’s agenda.

The biggest opposition to disarmament obviously came from the armaments lobby, which was especially powerful in the U.S.  According to an article that was published in the ‘Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ (February 1983, p.35): “The anti-disarmament pressures on the President that summer were enormous. They were primarily economic and, derivatively, political.” Quoting from a book by Arthur Dean (a member of John McCloy’s negotiating team) titled “Test Ban and Disarmament: The Path of Negotiation” (1966), the author of the article, Marcus Raskin (who was a member of the U.S. delegation to an 18-nation disarmament conference in Geneva in 1962), further added:

“…protests came from politically powerful representatives of the states with defense industries, especially California and Texas, who feared any disarmament measures might have a deleterious effect on the economies of their states.”


The observations of Marcus Raskin as well as Arthur Dean were ominous considering the tragic fate that soon befell President Kennedy. The warning sounded by President Eisenhower, which no other U.S. president has ever admitted to, also turned out to be prophetic. In his farewell address to the U.S. citizens on 17 January 1961, President Eisenhower had expressed his grave apprehensions about the undue influence that the armament industry was wielding over the U.S. society. He said:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted…” [8]

Just three months after the U.S., USSR and Britain signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) on 05 August 1963 – instead of a comprehensive treaty, Present Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas (Texas) on 22 November 1963. The peace-loving people across the world had hailed the PTBT as a major breakthrough in the path towards disarmament (although in reality it was nothing of that sort and had only served as a cover for fueling a mindless arms race.) The anti-disarmament lobby in the U.S. could not even tolerate a meaningless PTBT and, thus, when it was placed before the U.S. Senate for ratification on 24 September 1963, about 20 per cent of the senators had opposed it.

The Cover-up

The first official enquiry into President Kennedy’s assassination was conducted by the Warren Commission, which was appointed on 29 November 1963. The Commission’s Report, which was submitted on 24 September 1964, concluded that the assassin who killed Kennedy had acted alone and that “The Commission has found no evidence that either Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby was part of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign, to assassinate President Kennedy.” [9]

However, there was widespread criticism against the conclusions of the Warren Commission Report and suspicions of a cover-up were so strong that a fresh official enquiry had to be instituted 13 years after President Kennedy was killed. The U.S. House of Representatives established the ‘House Select Committee on Assassinations’ in September 1976 and it submitted its report on 29 March 1979. The Committee’s findings, which are highly revealing, were as follows:

* “The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee is unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.”

* “The Warren Commission failed to investigate adequately the possibility of a conspiracy to assassinate the President….” [10]

Irrespective of whether or not there was a conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy, the fact remains that soon after Kennedy was removed from the scene, the entire disarmament process that had been set in motion in the U.S. at his initiative suffered a serious setback and the McCloy-Zorin Accord was literally thrown into the dustbin.  In the Soviet Union too, with the replacement of Nikita Khrushchev as Premier in 1964, the McCloy-Zorin Accord, which resonated with the various proposals that the USSR had placed before the UN on numerous occasions, was sidelined completely for unknown reasons. The very concept of general and complete disarmament was soon replaced with the introduction in 1968 of the so-called Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which was totally a discriminatory and bogus treaty [11] that was designed solely to serve the interests of the nuclear weapon states.  It was supplemented by the so-called Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (NWFZ) treaties, which were again mostly meaningless initiatives that were intended to mislead peace-loving people across the world. [12]


For the next two decades, the world witnessed a feverish nuclear arms race and numerous military interventions including the long-drawn out Vietnam War, which necessitated the convening of the First Special Session of the UN General Assembly devoted to Disarmament in 1978 followed by the Second Special Session in 1982. With the U.S. – USSR rivalry reaching its peak in the 1980s, the series of Six-Nation Peace Initiatives[13] between May 1984 and January 1988 followed by Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘Action Plan’ of 1988 were significant steps that were intended to quell tensions and for guiding the world towards a demilitarized future. However, no progress was ever made in this direction because Rajiv Gandhi was out of office from 1989 and a little later, in 1991, he was brutally assassinated.

What has been most shocking is that, after the gruesome assassination of Rajiv Gandhi on 21 May 1991, instead of the Government of India making every attempt to carry forward his disarmament initiatives, there has been a decisive shift in India’s foreign policy for the worse. Slowly but surely there was a concerted attempt within a section of the Indian establishment to downplay the significance of NAM, to renege from upholding the cause of Third-World nations, and to covertly support the aggressive policies of the United States and of Israel. This dramatic shift in India’s foreign policy was marked by the sudden decision of the Government of India to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel within a few months of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and by allowing Israel to open its embassy in Delhi in January 1992. Since then the so-called “strategic” co-operation with Israel has progressed at a rapid pace.

A study, which was carried out from the perspective of the Israeli establishment, provides deep insight into the extent and ramification of this newfound relationship with India. It has described the relationship as “convergence of strategic interests of the two countries”.[14] The author of that study is Itzhak Gerberg, who was none other than the first Consul and Chargé d’affaires at the Israeli Embassy in India from July 1992 to November 1992.

Sideling of NAM

In a subsequent study, Gerberg noted that, “A major change, directly affecting India’s attitude to Israel, occurred in India’s foreign policy in 1991.” He went on to add “…India, driven by necessity, abandoned the philosophical premises that had guided its diplomacy for forty years.”[15] According to Gerberg, the change in India’s foreign policy led to:  “Abandonment of India’s forty-year love affair with the Third World, symbolized by its obsession with Non-Alignment and its leadership in that movement…. The national self-interest became the driving force behind Indian diplomacy.” [16]

Gerberg also propounded the view that various international developments beginning with the collapse of the Soviet Union eroded the very concept of NAM and made it internationally irrelevant. This exerted a direct influence on the change of the Indian attitude to Israel in 1992.”[17] He also disclosed that, “Since 1947, Washington had been nudging India to modify its foreign policy towards Israel” [18] The fundamental basis of the Israeli-India relationship, in Genberg’s view, was as follows:

“For Israel, arms exports have been an essential and integral part of its security sector since they lower the cost of production, offset the cost of research and development, reduce Israel’s balance deficit, and provide employment. The Israeli defence industries cannot depend on the home market alone and about three-quarters of its production has to be exported. India presents an attractive and challenging opportunity as a market for Israel’s defence industry.” [19]

Gerberg makes no bones of the fact that: “…India has gradually emerged as Israel’s most important arms market.”[20] Therefore, presumably vis-à-vis India, Israel would adopt any and all such strategies to safeguard the best interests of its armaments industry! Gerberg also noted that, “After September 11 there was a growing understanding in India, and also in Israel, that Indo-American-Israeli cooperation was likely to yield considerable benefits for all three parties.… During the tenures of the NDA* governments some forces in India supported the idea of formulating a tripartite axis between the USA, India and Israel as three democracies sharing a common vision; nothing came of this.” [21]

[*National Democratic Alliance led by the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)]

It is, indeed, a great relief that “nothing came of this” and, hopefully, nothing will come of it in future either! Gerberg’s description of the manner in which NAM’s position has been eroding over the past couple of decades is also very revealing. According to him:

“From the 1990s the NAM’s influence on Indian diplomacy steadily eroded as India sought to reconstruct its foreign policy to meet the requirements of the post-Cold War world…. The BJP did not refer to Non-Alignment as a major principle in India’s foreign policy. In fact, the BJP governments marginalized the concept of Non-Alignment and had fewer illusions about the relevance of past Indian foreign policy and old commitments to the notion of non-alignment as well as to the movement itself.” [22]

Not only the BJP-led governments but also the Indian National Congress-led governments from 1991 onward have done all they could to marginalize the concept of Non-Alignment. The ease with which the U.S. and Israeli Governments have succeeded in influencing the foreign policy of India is truly amazing. The Indian Government seems to have had little difficulty in sideling NAM and jettisoning its leading role in championing the cause of global disarmament and peace. Apart from paying occasional lip-service to Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘Action Plan’, successive governments in India from 1991 onward have done practically nothing to generate global support for executing the ‘Action Plan’. Regrettably, Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘Action Plan’ has met the same fate, which the McCloy-Zorin Accord had met after the assassination of President Kennedy.

Another Conspiracy?

While there is irrefutable evidence that LTTE cadres had carried out the suicide attack to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi, as to who all had possibly aided and abetted the LTTE in plotting the attack has not been unraveled as yet. In short, the question as to whether or not there was a conspiracy behind the killing of Rajiv Gandhi is yet to be answered. This despite the fact that the Justice M.C. Jain Commission of Inquiry, which the Government of India had set up on 23 August 1991, was enjoined to inquire “whether one person or persons or agencies were responsible for conceiving, preparing and planning the assassination and whether there was any conspiracy in this behalf and, if so, all its ramifications.” [23] Nevertheless, the Jain Commission, in the Final Report that it submitted on 07 March 1998 did not rule out the possibility of a larger conspiracy behind Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and had noted as follows:

“…the question requires examination in the background of the likelihood of CIA-MOSSAD links with the LTTE, the track record of CIA, Shri Rajiv Gandhi’s views on re-fuelling and on regional security system, his utterances against the policy and programmes pursued by the U.S., contrary to India’s national interests, and the strong probability of Shri Rajiv Gandhi coming to power and the emergence of India as the Third World leader and leader of NAM movement.” [24]

Because of these remarks of the Jain Commission, the Government of India was forced to set up a Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA) in 1998 as a unit of India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) [25] to investigate the conspiracy angle in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. However, the fact that the MDMA could not submit any report even after 15 years of investigations speaks volumes about the lackadaisical manner in which the MDMA is conducting the probe. Conversely, it could be concluded that the MDMA has been unable so far to refute the possibility of a conspiracy to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi. Although those at the helm of affairs in India have remained unconcerned about exposing the conspiracy behind the assassination of India’s former prime minister, every effort should still be made to prevail upon the powers that be to save the fate of the ‘Action Plan’ that Rajiv Gandhi had proposed due to the intrinsic value of that ‘Action Plan’. Hopefully, there are enough concerned people in India and elsewhere, who would come forward to do the needful in this regard!

First Concrete Steps

Among the first concrete steps that require urgent attention for paving the way towards the goal of disarmament and peace are as follows:

* An undertaking by all Nuclear Weapon States never to use nuclear weapons against Non-Nuclear Weapon States (i.e., biding negative security guarantee);

* De-alerting of deployed nuclear weapons by Nuclear Weapon States (to reduce chances of use of nuclear weapons through miscalculation or accident);

* An undertaking by all Nuclear Weapon States not to be the first to use nuclear weapons against each other (No-First-Use Pledge);

* Conclusion of an international convention to outlaw the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons pending their elimination (Nuclear Weapons Convention)

If adequate pressure could be brought to bear on the governments of member-nations of NAM – especially India – and other like-minded nations to initiate action along these lines, the ripple effect those steps would have on subsequent ones would be very significant. Nothing prevents the Government of India from taking the requisite initiative in holding the long-delayed international Nuclear Weapons Convention; if it fails to take necessary initiative in this regard, its commitment to the spirit of Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘Action Plan’ would remain suspect.

N.D. Jayaprakash is Joint Secretary, Delhi Science Forum. He can be reached at:


[1] See:, pp.186-191

[2] See:


[4] See:

[5] See: [Last eight pages]

[6] See:

[7] See: The speech was elaborated by the U.S. Department of State and published under the title “Freedom from War: the United States Program for General and Complete Disarmament in a Peaceful World”, September 1961. See:


[9] See: Para 9, Conclusions (of the Warren Commission Report) at:

[10] See: Para 3 & para 8b, Findings of the Select Committee on Assassinations, at:]

[11]  For more details see article titled “NPT as a Roadblock to Disarmament” at

[12] The only meaningful NWFZ treaties are the Antarctic Treaty System, which entered into force on 23.06.1961, and the Outer Space Treaty, which entered into force on 10.10.1967.

[13] By Sweden, India, Mexico, Tanzania, Greece and Argentina

[14] Itzhak Gerberg, ‘The Changing Nature of Israeli-Indian Relations: 1948-2005’, March 2008, p.iii,   at

[15] Itzhak Gerberg, ‘India–Israel Relations: Strategic Interests, Politics and Diplomatic Pragmatism’, Israel National Defense College, IDF, February 2010, p.15, at:

[16] Ibid

[17] Ibid, pp.21-22

[18] Ibid, p.24

[19] Ibid, p.54

[20] Ibid, p.55

[21] Ibid, p.61

[22] Ibid, p.67

[23] See:

[24] Page 169, Vol.III, Justice Jain Commission’s Report. Source:

[25] [2005]


N.D. Jayaprakash is Joint Secretary, Delhi Science Forum and Co-Convenor, Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (Coalition for supporting the Cause of the Bhopal Gas Victims).