இந்திரா காந்தி பிரதமராக இருந்த காலக்கட்டங்களில் நடைபெற்ற சம்பவங்களை மத்திய முன்னாள் அமைச்சர் ஜெயராம் ரமேஷ் எழுதித் தொகுத்த இன்டர்வைண்டு லிவ்ஸ் குறித்தான மதிப்புரை ஆங்கில இந்தியா டுடே நாளிதழில் இந்த வாரம் வந்துள்ளது. அதில் குறிப்பிட்டுள்ள பல சம்பவங்கள் கவனத்தை ஈர்க்கின்றன.
அந்த ஆங்கில மதிப்புரை வருமாறு.
Jairam Ramesh’s new book examines the long and complicated relationship between Indira Gandhi and her legendary advisor and longtime Principal Secretary PN Haksar. PNH has now faded from political memory but his exceptional career was marked by extraordinary proximity to and influence on the government mostly Indira herself. He was at the core of her kitchen cabinet and a paid-up member of the so-called Kashmiri Mafia (with DP and PN Dhar) and a fellow traveller of the leftist ginger group within the Congress. While his star was ascendant, Haksar would make a unique and lasting impact on the country and the region. He is regarded as one of the prime architects of the bank nationalisation of 1969 and the sidelining of the finance minister who opposed it, Morarji Desai. He was both a witness and a strategist of the Bangladesh War and played a particularly significant role in orchestrating the historic Shimla Agreement with Pakistan in 1972. From the creation of RAW in 1968 to the nuclear test at Pokhran in 1974 or the annexation of Sikkim in 1975, Haksar’s hand was discretely but forcefully involved in most significant government decisions of the time, guiding or restraining his patron. It was a career built on the fragile plinth of a relationship his friendship and ideological affinities with Indira Gandhi. Inevitably, it would founder on personal and political conflict simply Sanjay Gandhi and the Emergency. Yet a stubborn streak of loyalty endured even this breach. From friendship to disenchantment: a story of two lives and many letters.
Haksar took over as India’s deputy high commissioner in the UK in May 1965. He was back in extremely familiar haunts after ten years. He was to navigate Indo-British relations through a particularly bad patch when Prime Minister Harold Wilson came out openly in support of Pakistan in its conflict with India in 1965. But perhaps, more importantly, the tenure this time brought Indira Gandhi intimately into his life and vice versa. A friendship forged in London between the two of them in the late 1930s would now blossom luxuriously.
Indira Gandhi’s two sons, Rajiv and Sanjay, were both in England.
Rajiv had originally gone to Trinity College in Cambridge University but had later shifted to the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in London. Sanjay was undergoing a four-year apprenticeship at the Rolls Royce factory at Crewe near London. It was on 10 November 1965 that Indira Gandhi wrote the first of her letters to PNH, at least amongst those that have survived and are available in his archives. She was then minister of information and broadcasting and among her main worries were protecting the legacy of her father and the education of her sons, one of whom was 21 and the other 19.
FRIEND & MENTOR
Perhaps you may know that my younger son, Sanjay, is working in Crewe at the Rolls Royce factory. Up to now he has been happy there and reports from the Crewe people were also good. About a week ago, he began writing that he had learnt everything that the factory had to teach and it is now a question of going over the same thing. He did not think that they would allow him to learn anything new. Therefore Sanjay was wondering about not completing the course but leave at the end of the year or so and perhaps come back to India to set up on his own. I am writing this in the greatest confidence since Sanjay did not wish me to mention it to anyone. I have written to Sanjay telling him that I am writing to you. Also that he should come and meet you. He is reluctant to meet new people, but perhaps Rajiv could bring him over. He is a different type from Rajiv, more practical in some ways and yet more shy and diffident in others.
Leaving the factory now would mean that he has no qualifications except that he has practical experience he has gained. I personally feel that this would be a handicap in India, especially as it may not be possible to find a great deal of capital to start him off. I do not know how much you are in touch with these matters but should be most grateful if you could find out without getting Sanjay involved. One reason may be that he feels cut off and lonely in far off Crewe. If so, is there some course which he could take in London where it would be easier for friends to keep an eye on him?
With good wishes and haste
Indira [21 February 1966]
Haksar replied on 21 February 1966. He wrote:
My dear Induji
Please do not worry about the boys. I know the pointlessness of such an exhortation. My main difficulty has been the lack of any sort of relationship with them. I have now established some sort of personal friendship with Rajiv. He now comes and sits and talks of mice and men. But with Sanjay I have not even begun. Urmila and I are planning to visit him soon. I have also written to him. I would want him to feel that we are interested in him as a person and not merely because of our friendship with his parents.
My own first reactions to his wanting to change are adverse. I feel that he must complete the course. I, of course, do not know what led him to Crewe? Was it his own choice? Was he really interested?
Rajiv is a fine boy. He is, however, still groping, not quite certain what he would really like to do. He appears to be endowed with more than ordinary artistic sensibility. He reacts to colour and design and shapes and forms. He was planning to go home during Easter Vacations. I suppose he must have written to you about it….
As later events were to reveal, Haksar did open a line of communication with Sanjay Gandhi and told him in no uncertain terms that he should complete the Rolls Royce course and not leave at the end of two years as the young man seemed determined to do. The advice of the mother’s friend was to rankle and was the first of the negatives against Haksar in Sanjay Gandhi’s book. More negatives would accumulate very soon.
As India headed to the polls in February 1967, Indira Gandhi resumed her epistolary relationship with Haksar. In the midst of her election campaign in very early February 1967, perhaps the 4th or 5th, Indira Gandhi wrote to him making him a tentative offer:
I am scribbling this whilst on tour in Rae Bareili. I have been wanting to write to you for some time to thank you for your letter and also to ask you if you would be willing to come to Delhi. The last part is of course premature, I do not yet know my own future let alone the sort of set up which will emerge after the elections. But I thought I should warn you of my thinking
Haksar sent her a three-page reply on 10 February 1967 which is worth quoting at some length since it reveals much of him and has some contemporary resonance as well, particularly his reference to the cow and its dung:
My dear Induji:
I am most grateful to you that in the midst of it all you should have found time to write You have been good enough and considerate in asking me if I would be willing to come to Delhi. Yes, of course.
I have just about four more years to go in the Service. I reach the age of superannuation on 4.9.1971. And if I am granted the leave preparatory to retirement, my last working day would be 3.3.1971. If during this short segment of time, I could be of any use to you I would regard such a possibility as an appropriate end to my working life.
The election results will soon be out One has to show accommodation too for those one may not quite approve of. But if the Congress wishes to produce bread for the people, gradually adopt the tractor as its symbol rather than the Cow or the Bullock and do all this while preserving our national dignity and without sacrificing our liberty there is no other choice except one. Otherwise the cow and its dung will overwhelm us…
This was vintage Haksarfree, frank and fearless, ruthlessly honest with his views and opinions. He was being offered a prime position and he was already telling the person making the offer when exactly his last day at work would be. The style of this letter would be the style of his notes to the prime minister over the course of the next five-and-a-half years, and even thereafter.
12 June 1975 was a horrible day for Indira Gandhi and Haksar. It was not only the day that Justice [Jagmohanlal] Sinha’s verdict came but the morning had begun with the death of D.P. Dhar in New Delhi at the age of 57. Pant had gone at 52 and Mohan Kumaramangalam had died at 55, both in 1973 and within three months of each other. Haksar’s immediate left circle in government seemed to have been jinxed. The Emergency was declared, on 26 June 1975, and civil liberties began to get curtailed drastically. Much has been written about it and I will not add to the literature. What is of direct relevance to this book is what happened less than a month later, on 15 July 1975 to be precise. This was the day when Haksar’s 82-year-old uncle Inderbhai, who had been his benefactor since the 1930s, was arrested most decidedly on the orders of Sanjay Gandhi. A decade of pique at Haksar’s well-meaning advice given in London to continue studying, five years of fury at Haksar’s well-intentioned advice given to his mother to get him to abandon his car project and five months of anger at Haksar’s testimony that had got his mother into serious legal trouble finally must have given Sanjay Gandhi enough cause for hitting at Haksar where it hurt most. Urmila Haksar was to later write a book describing what Haksar and his family had to go through for over two years. It makes for sordid reading even 40 years after the episode. Pandit Brothers had started in Chandni Chowk in New Delhi in 1927 and had later opened a showroom in Connaught Place in New Delhi. Initially it was a dealer for products made by Bombay Dyeing, an old and well-known Bombay-based textile company. Later Pandit Brothers had diversified into home furnishings and other such material; 80 per cent of Pandit Brothers was owned by Haksar’s uncle, 10 per cent by Haksar’s sister and 10 per cent by his wife.
Days after his family members were arrested by the government, Haksar shared the podium with Indira.
On the morning of 15 July 1975, Haksar’s uncle and 78-year-old brother-in-law had been arrested on the grounds that Pandit Brothers had been indulging in malpractices. D.P. Singh, a Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar and an intimate part of Haksar’s circle, met Indira Gandhi at around 10.35 am. She initially told him that the arrests must have had happened due to some valid reason. After a few minutes of Singh’s entreaties, she spoke to the lieutenant governor of Delhi, Kishan Chand, and assured Singh that the prosecution would not oppose bail in this case. After considerable tension and drama both in the police station and in the court, by 4.30 pm the two elderly gentlemen were released on provisional bail for 24 hours. All through the day, Haksar sat in the Planning Commission office refusing to intervene in any way, leaving the entire matter in D.P. Singh’s hands. The next morning, the newspaper headlines had news of the arrest for gross violation of price tagging system on the items in their shop. However, D.P. Singh went to court and succeeded in getting the provisional bail extended indefinitely. That same evening Urmila Haksar wrote: My husband came back from office looking tense and angry. He dropped down in a chair. There was a Cabinet meeting. I am coming from there straight. I was sitting just opposite Mrs. Gandhi and all through the meeting I was staring at her. She would not meet my eyes and kept her gaze averted.
Haksar wrote to the prime minister on 9 July 1982, and it is obvious that she had completely ignored him while planning for this important visit:
You would be going to Washington. I do not know what we are seeking to achieve by the visit. And I am wondering if any specific area of possible agreements between ourselves and the US have been delineated. Reagan is beleaguered and besieged. And in November, he faces a mid-term election. How will he fare? Shouldnt one have waited and watched?
As far as I can see, the timing of the visit is not propitious. To get something out of the United States, we also have to give. I do not see what the United States can give which would be meaningful to us. And what could we possibly concede? Of course, it is always possible to have conversations seeking to understand how Reagan’s mind works, assuming, of course, Reagan has a mind
Be that as it may, Reagan is for the time being the President of the United States. Therefore, one has to deal with him
A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS
Haksar had a vast circle of official and non-official contacts in many countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh. He would keep getting information from them which he would pass on to his friend R.N. Kao. Sometimes he would approach the prime minister herself, as he did on 15 January 1983:
I enclose a note on the situation in Pakistan. I have, of course, no means of ascertaining the accuracy of the analysis made. However, I have met during the last few years a variety of Pakistanis, both officials and private individual, who left me with an impression that today’s Pakistan is, more than ever, a witch’s cauldron. It can boil over and not just simmer
The more I contemplate the political situation in our sub-continent, the more I am driven to the conclusion that we need to actively promote contacts, links, conversations etc. between serious-minded Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in order to work towards the concept of durable peace in the sub-continent which, in effect amounts to working for a de facto confederation of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh
I had taken the liberty of suggesting, several months ago, the need for a reassembly of all those Congressmen who had gathered together in 1969. When Antony [A.K.] joined the Congress in Kerala, it could have been made an occasion for launching the process in a dramatic sort of way. If atomic fission produces energy, atomic fusion produces even greater energy.
I know that anything that I say has long been treated as suspect. And yet I must persist.
The last two lines of this letter were quite a pathetic cry of helplessness from her one-time alter ego and mentor.
Indira Gandhi’s reply of 2 February 1983 did not help matters much.
It was curt and impersonal
She chose to remain quiet on the suggestion for a call from her to reunite all Congressmen who had left the party because of the Emergency and because of Sanjay Gandhi.
In July 1992, India was rocked by a huge stock market scandal and Harshad Mehta had become a household word. There was a furore in Parliament, and a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) had been set up a few months later to investigate the gigantic fraud that had taken place in which banks were hopelessly involved. This was to lead to an unusual admission from one of the key architects of bank nationalisation in July 1969. Haksar wrote to Dr Manmohan Singh on 23 December 1993:
How I wish I had been called as one of the witnesses to the JPC. I would have been then able to tell them the tragic history of the way nationalised banks were operated. Two of the most ugly expressions were the extravaganzas of loan melas and almost criminal way in which the cultural value that one should pay one’s debts was subverted. The underlying idea that the nationalisation of banks to a finely tuned credit planning was frustrated. Also, the RBI was always treated as an attached and subordinate office by our politicians. Most of the RBI Governors of the past did, of course, nothing and were quite content to enjoy the sinecure. The only person who wanted to do something was Jagannathan. But neither the Prime Minister nor the Finance Minister paid any attention. Then during the Emergency a man who knew nothing about banking was transferred from LIC and made the Governor and Deputy Governor in charge of banking was chosen [He] was a very subservient type officer of Indian Revenue Service. If I recall correctly his name was Luthra and a man of great integrity like Hazari was replaced. However, it is too much to expect that our politicians as a class possess either a feeling for history or a sense of history. They do not even ask the basic question of historiography, namely, how and why things have happened as they did. Anyway, I do hope that this country would continue to have the advantage of your leadership.
Twenty-four years after orchestrating bank nationalisation virtually overnight and in the greatest of secrecy, was Haksar having second thoughts? I don’t believe so. His regret was not with nationalisation per se but with how the political class had hijacked it and subverted in many ways the original intent behind the radical move. But surely Haksar could have anticipated this? Did he really think there would be no political interference? Yes, as long as he was around he kept the politicians at bay.