India's Prime minister, Indira Gandhi, is outspoken in her criticism of American policy toward South Asia and the Third World. These are excerpts from an interview conducted in New Delhi last summer by Mary C. Carras, who teaches political science at Rutgers University and is the author of "Indira Gandhi in the Crucible of Leadership."

Q: Some American officials maintain that India is not central to the American national interest because it can neither help nor hurt the United States, either militarily or economically. What, if anything, is wrong with this kind of logic?

A: Surely, the point is, what is American interest? It seems to me that by ignoring regional realities, that interest cannot be served.

Q: What are the regional realities?

A: The situation as it exists in the region. If you take their previous assessment for handling the region, have they achieved what they wanted to or the opposite? Can an unstable India help American strategy? Can a country like Pakistan exist or survive if the rest of the subcontinent is unstable? There are so many questions, it is not just one. Americans, instead of providing the world with the leadership which is in their power to give, get involved in the short-term, which simply cannot give the results that are wanted. Even now, the manner in which they are wanting to strengthen Pakistan -- what is it going to achieve? I think the greatest danger is not to us but to Pakistan itself.

Q: How?

A: Well, how was it in Iran? Pakistan is trying to be a nonaligned country. Now it is getting drawn into a particular situation which can only increase the dangers to it, internally as well as externally.

Q: Comparing the American "tilt" to Pakistan in 1971 during the Bangladesh war with today's tilt, how do you assess the relative magnitude of impact on India of these two American actions?

A: Today the world is much closer to a war than ever before. The armaments industry is becoming very dominant. All kinds of countries now are acquiring major arsenals, and as a high-ranking Western leader told me, nobody wants war but we think that the world may well suddenly find itself at war one day. So on that point of view, today's "tilt" is more dangerous than it was before.

Q: For the world?

A: And for us, because now many of these conflicts are very close to our borders.

Q: You have said that you fully respect Pakistan's right to purchase American arms for self-defense but object to the context of the arms deal. What exactly do you mean by the "context?"

A: There are two aspects to it. One is that it is bringing Pakistan into what Pakistan says is not an alliance of any kind, but your administration has said that it is in continuation of a particular understanding. So this is the context which we are worried about. But, secondly, what they are purchasing is far beyond their needs, and it is posing a major problem for us.

Q: How can another country really gauge what their needs are?

A: Of course, it will have to be gauged in the world situation; I mean the size of the country and all kinds of things come into it.

Q: But this is a very subjective judgment. Every country makes its decisions on what it perceives to be the threats ...

2 A:10 Now, do you seriously think that no matter how many arms Pakistan has, it is going to have a conflict with the Soviet Union?

Q: No, I do not, personally ...

2 A:10 Therefore, what can be their motivation? Firstly, it attracts danger. If the Soviet Union thinks that Pakistan is absolutely in the American camp, it certainly, I think, increases the danger to Pakistan.

Q: The Americans say that by having this presence there, a militarily strong Pakistan ...

2 A:10 Can you be militarily strong if you don't have a base to sustain that strength, when there is nothing to uphold it, domestically?

Q: Well, this is surely not the way in which the Americans see it. A: No, I know. What I am saying is that they are not learning from the lessons of their own history, from their own experience rather.

Q: But there is also a danger that the Soviet Union might encourage the Baluchis of Pakistan ...

2 A:10 Frankly, if Pakistan is going to go into the American camp, the Soviet Union might think of anything. They say they will not, and I believe they will not, but you are practically inviting them. When the Western presence increased in the Indian Ocean -- and of course there was this sort of encirclement of the Soviet Union, that is, there is Iran, Pakistan and China -- I knew the Soviet Union would react. Of course, one didn't know how they would react, but it was obvious that in their situation, perhaps anybody would react.

Q: What exactly is the Indian stake in the Indian Ocean?

A: The stake is that we don't want war, that is all. It is just as simple as that. We don't want it anywhere, but least of all in our neighborhood.

Q: What sort of scenario could arise where there would be an actual war in the event of a confrontation between the Soviet fleet and the American fleet?

A: Do you think that it will be confined to the fleet? It can't possibly. What will happen to Europe?

Q: If one accepts the validity of the argument that vital American strategic interests are involved that demand a military buildup in the Indian Ocean, how can India expect the U.S. to unilaterally withdraw from the area?

A: As I said, it is an attitude of mind, saying that the world is ours, which obviously we cannot accept on behalf of anybody. The world belongs to all of us, and I don't think any country has a right to say that we are going to destroy you because it is in our interest.

Q: Every country has to defend what it considers to be its national interests, as you would, let us say, with regard to Pakistan and ...

2 A:10 I don't accept any of these arguments, because, as I said, there are such double standards. You think it is all right to interfere in El Salvador, but it is not all right for the Soviets to interfere in Afghanistan. What is the difference? How many regimes have been destabilized by one or another of the Western countries? Democratically elected people removed, others put in. I mean, we can't take an isolated view. And frankly, this is why people don't like Mrs. Gandhi, because I am against that interference.

Q: Do you see a strengthening or a diminution of American power in the world in general and the Third World in particular?

A: This depends entirely on the United States. I see here a country which has power, resources and tremendous talent. It is in a unique position to give real leadership to the world, and it would not then be threatened by anybody because everybody would be with them. Now they are throwing away this unique position for something which they think is their immediate strategic interest. And this has created an internal situation within America also.

Q: What do you mean by internal situation?

A: I mean there are all kinds of dissident groups and then the alienation of the young people, growth of drugs -- I think this is very much responsible for it. It is not a social problem entirely. It is this -- that they feel they are taught certain values but their country is not upholding those values. A lot of young people have said this. And if America would give a lead in this, which it is capable of giving, you know your own strength would be immensely increased.

Q: But the economic interests of the U.S. are so far flung and perhaps there is some desperation that these will be affected.

A: But they wouldn't be if they took a different type of stand. that is what I am trying to get across.