New Delhi —the Soviet Union continues to be India’s main weapons supplier, but there has been growing competition from western manufacturers for the sale of such items as France’s Jaguar jet fighter and Britain’s Harrier jump jet.

Indian intelligence officials today were reported to be examining the records of all government tenders for defense contracts issued during the period the espionage network was believed to have operated.

While Indian government officials repeatedly have said that the breakthrough in uncovering the espionage ring came during a general review of security operation following the Oct. 31 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, a different version has been circulating in the Indian press and among western diplomats here.

According to that version, counterespionage agents began looking into possible security lapses in the prime minister’s office and the Defense Ministry after U.S. newspapers, including The Washington Post, reported in early October that India had contingency plans for a preemptive strike against the Pakistani nuclear installation at Kahuta.

A copy of the purported contingency plan, which was leaked in Washington after being outlined to a congressional committee by U.S. intelligence officials, was said to have been stolen from the prime minister’s office in September. When it surfaced in Washington, according to the version circulating here, Indian intelligence officials were alerted to security lapses in the prime minister’s office and uncovered the spy ring.

So far, no senior Indian government official has been implicated in the scandal, although one of Gandhi’s most senior aides, principal secretary P. C. Alexander, resigned in a face-saving gesture because of embarrassment over security lapses in his office. Government sources said Alexander is likely to be recalled to another senior post when the controversy subsides.

Official sources said they doubted that the spy network reached above the middle management level of government ministries, although they said they expected more than 300 secret documents seized, totaling thousands of pages, have been analyzed.

Some Indian officials maintained that the disclosure of a pervasive breakdown of procedures for handling secret documents and a laxity in even the most sensitive offices of the government has been more important than any compromising of national security by the leaks.

In India’s huge bureaucracy, low level civil servants routinely come into contact with top secret documents, and it is not uncommon for a relatively lowly deputy of a minister of state to have a personal assistant whose own personal secretary is authorized to copy and maintain vital state secrets.

Article extracted from this publication >> February 1, 1985