The man Indira trusted
A biography of the diplomat P.N. Haksar, better known as Indira Gandhi’s friend, philosopher and guide, this book is a singular contribution to understanding contemporary Indian political history.
HIS book is easily one of the best that I have read and reviewed recently. The scintillating style, the Teutonic thoroughness of research, the commendable ability of the author to see and explain the big picture, and his keenness to explain matters keeping in mind young readers who might need to be told of the context in some detail set this book apart.
Let us start with the style. Writing about the diplomats P.N. Haksar and G. Parthasarathi, the author contrasts them: “The two were poles apart in temperament: Haksar was voluble, Parthasarathi was taciturn. Haksar reduced everything to writing, Parthasarathi preferred oral conversations. Haksar appeared wise when he spoke, Parthasarathi appeared sagacious even when he remained silent. Haksar was the quintessential intellectual, preferring a life of books, Parthasarathi had also played Ranji Trophy But both had been rebels in their personal lives when it was not the norm to be so, with Haksar marrying his cousin and Parthasarathi marrying a Parsi. Both had been part of Indira Gandhi’s inner circle with Haksar wielding power and Parthasarathi commanding influence.”
The chapterisation is commendable. The first chapter, titled “The Katni Kashmiri”, narrates Haksar’s lineage, and we learn that one of his forebears from his mother’s side, Intertwined Lives P.N. Haksar and Indira Gandhi Raja Din Nath, played a crucial role in the creation of the kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir. Raja Din Nath was Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Finance Minister and signed the 1846 Treaty of Amritsar that gave birth to the kingdom. On his father’s side, Haksar’s ancestry can be traced to Swaroop Narain Haksar, who was the Dewan of Bundelkhand of the Central India Agency in the mid 19th century.
Haksar started his formal schooling at 13. Until then he was taught Hindi, Urdu and Sanskrit. He graduated from the municipal high school in Karni in what is now Madhya Pradesh in 1929, with distinction in Sanskrit. In 1987, when he went to China to defreeze the bilateral relations, Ambassador C.V. Ranganathan recalls that Haksar recited verses from Kalidasa’s Meghaduta at a dinner. Haksar could recite from Shakespeare, too, with equal ease.
Before every chapter, there is a paragraph telling us what to expect. Although the title is Intertwined Lives, the book is a fairly detailed biography of Haksar. We see him getting “radicalised” while studying at Allahabad University (1929-35) and getting even more “radicalised” in London (1935-42). The third chapter is appropriately titled “Student Molotov”: it was in London that Haksar came under the spell of V.K. Krishna Menon and made friends with Feroze and Indira Gandhi. Haksar embraced Marxism with boundless enthusiasm. On his return from London, where he studied anthropology and law, Haksar spent about a year in Nagpur as a full-time officebearer of the undivided Communist Party of India. He then moved to Allahabad and practised at the Allahabad High Court for four years before joining the newly created Indian Foreign Service in 1947.
When Haksar was Deputy High Commissioner in London (196567), Indira Gandhi, who took over as Prime Miniscricket.
By Jairam RameshSimon & Schuster Pages: 518 Price: Rs.799