The Soviet press today hinted broadly at CIA involvement in the assassination of India's prime minister Indira Gandhi.
The press accounts made no direct accusations, but said pointedly that "reactionary forces" were behind the murder in New Delhi.
These references were combined with articles accusing the CIA of arranging other assassinations around the world and together pointed to an attempt by the Soviet propaganda machine to insinuate U.S. complicity in Gandhi's death.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Alan Romberg said the department had protested the Soviet reports, adding: "We strongly resent the Soviet allegations that the United States, and specifically the CIA, were involved in, or inspired, this act of political terrorism."
The most direct connection was drawn in an article in today's Pravda, the Communist Party daily, appearing under the headline "Terrorism -- the Politics of Washington," which repeated charges that "large-scale CIA activities" had supported Sikh separatists in an operation named the "Brahmaputra Project." Indian newspapers have reported that the assassination was carried out by Sikh extremists who have been battling the government in the state of Punjab.
The Soviets have made no accusations in their official statements, although a message from the Soviet leadership to Indian President Zail Singh vaguely condemned the "patrons" of the assassins.
At a press briefing yesterday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman steered clear of the question of responsibility for the murder.
While the official stance has been circumspect, Soviet reporting from India has elaborated on the theme of a foreign-backed conspiracy, described by the news agency Tass as an attempt "to destabilize the situation in India and split the unity of the Indian nation." Tass reported that demonstrations took place today outside U.S. consulates in Calcutta and Madras and noted that in Madras protesters "blamed the Central Intelligence Agency of the U.S.A. and its agents in India for Indira Gandhi's death."
The veiled hints about a foreign conspiracy reflect deep Soviet concerns about India's ability to weather the blow of Gandhi's death.
Under Gandhi, India was one of the Soviet Union's most reliable allies in the noncommunist world. And while the appointment of her son Rajiv as prime minister would seem to ensure continuity of that policy for the near future, diplomats here say the Soviets clearly are worried about the country's stability.