When Stalin’s daughter defected from India!
In his memoir, ex-US envoy Celeste talks about many such interesting facts
Former American ambassador to India Richard Celeste has come out with his memoir in which he shares many interesting facts including the sensational defection of Joseph Stalin’s daughter Svetlana from India on a US visa.
Celeste, who served as ambassador from 1997 to 2001 when Bill Clinton was president, first came to India in the 1960s as an assistant to the then envoy here Chester Bowles.
In“Life in American Politics & Diplomatic Years in India: An Unvarnished Account”, Celeste shares “as honestly as I can the influences that led me to devote my life to public service — both in and beyond the political arena”.
He says he has tried to “illuminate some of the dark corners of political life” in his book, published by HarAnand Publications.
On a March night in 1967, Celeste was suddenly called to the American embassy. On reaching there, he came to know that a woman Svetlana Alliluyeva was at the embassy with a pair of suitcases asking for asylum. She had presented a Russian passport and claimed to be Stalin’s daughter. “It didn’t take much imagination to suspect the Russians were up to something,” the author says.
“There were regular efforts to recruit young American officers by Soviet intelligence. The Stalin daughter ploy might be another effort to embarrass us,” he claims.
“Her story was hard to believe. Not only did this woman say she was Stalin’s daughter, she claimed to be the commonlaw wife of an older Indian gentleman who worked at the Foreign Language Press in Moscow’
“Her husband had died the previous November. She had promised to bring his ashes from Moscow to immerse them in the Ganges. Six months had passed. She had stayed in India after scattering the ashes. She now wanted asylum,” Celeste writes.
According to him, all were worried that at “any moment that she might cry rape or that the Soviet Embassy would allege we had kidnapped her. We would be ordered to produce her and she would confirm whatever wild accusations had been made by the Soviets”.
After talking to her at the consular office here, the Americans were left with three options — inform the Indian government and make a formal request for its help in facilitating her departure, turn her away or give a visa to the US but buy her a ticket only half way, Celeste recalls. So it was decided to “give her the visa and let her know she has got to get on the plane on her own”. Soon a cable message was sent to Washington around 2030 hours.
There was a Quantas flight to Rome that would leave at one in the morning. Thus Svetlana reached Rome from where she travelled to Geneva later.
“An already delicate situation became more delicate the next day,” the book says.
Celeste claims that later it was found out that the “Soviets had decided that Svetlana’s departure was an Indian, not an American, problem”.
“The Indians had simply not taken proper care of this very important visitor. The Soviets went very hard at the Indira Gandhi government. After a couple of weeks LK Jha, the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister at the time, was sent by Indira Gandhi to meet Svetlana in Switzerland, where she’d moved,” he writes.
“Jha tried to talk her into returning to Moscow saying that her defection was harming relations between two countries she loved and because her children wanted her back in Russia. But she refused,” the book says.
Eventually Svetlana left SwitzerlandandcametotheUS.“The brouhaha in Delhi subsided.”