When the Former Indian Ambassador ACN Nambiar Met Nehru In Paris

24 January 2017

ACN Nambiar was a journalist and freedom fighter, and a close associate of Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose. For most of his life, Nambiar lived in Europe. In the early and mid 1920s, he wrote columns for The Hindu—for which he had earlier apprenticed—from Berlin. During his time in Germany, he came in contact with influential leftists such as MN Roy, the founder of the Communist Party of India, and Virendranath Chattopadhyay, commonly referred to as Chatto, an Indian revolutionary and nationalist. While in Europe, Nambiar often hosted Nehru and his daughter Indira, with whom he maintained a close friendship until her death in 1984. In 1942, Bose appointed formed the Free India Centre, a provisional branch of the under the Azad Hind movement, which worked to coordinate support from European leaders for the Indian movement for independence. Bose appointed Nambiar the head of the centre. After Independence, in 1951, Nambiar was appointed the first Indian ambassador to Germany. In 2014, the British government declassified several documents under its 30-year rule—documents from cabinet meetings are moved to the British national archives after 30 years. These documents alleged that, during his time in Europe, Nambiar was a Soviet spy. 

Vappala Balanchandran, a former Indian intelligence officer and former special secretary to the government of India, met Nambiar in 1980. Balachandran was appointed to help the ageing Nambiar on the orders of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi, who was concerned about the well-being of her father’s close friend. Over the next few years, until Nambiar’s death in 1986, Balachandran spent time with Nambiar, caring for him and listening to the account of his life as a freedom fighter. In his book, A Life in Shadow, Balachandran recounts Nambiar’s life, through the latter’s accounts as well as letters and interviews with those who knew him. Balachandran writes, “There is no evidence found anywhere that Nambiar was an active asset for any agency.”

In the following extract from the book, Balachandran recounts Nambiar’s meeting with Nehru, in Paris, in 1938, which offers a glimpse into the relationship the two shared.

Vappala Balachandran is a former intelligence officer, columnist and author who was a special secretary, in the cabinet secretariat of the government of India. He was a member of the committee formed to inquire into the police response during the 26/11 attack in Mumbai. Balachandran has previously published National Security and Intelligence Management: A New Paradigm (2014).

Keywords: Soviet Union Jawahar Lal Nehru spy Indian Independence Subhas Chandra Bose ACN Nambiar Subhash Chandra Bose Berlin