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.

FrontLine - - BOOKS IN REVIEW - BY K.P. FABIAN

T

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

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