HAKSAR FILES. WHAT ABOUT OTH­ERS?

Sunday Express - - OPINION - T J S GEORGE

His­tory lies hid­den in govern­ment files. Hid­den be­cause, while mod­ern democ­ra­cies de­clas­sify records af­ter a rea­son­ably brief pe­riod of time, In­dia sits on them, some­times for­ever. Oc­ca­sion­ally a gold mine of files falls into the hands of a cre­ative mind and we see a glit­ter­ing uni­verse of in­for­ma­tion open­ing up in front of us. That is what has hap­pened in In­ter­twined Lives: P N Haksar and Indira Gandhi. It must be au­thor Jairam Ramesh’s con­nec­tions in Delhi as a mem­ber of that rare species, the think­ing politi­cian, that led him to the gold mine of un­pub­lished manuscripts, of­fi­cial memos, let­ters, notes and other archival ma­te­rial re­lated to P N Haksar. Let prov­i­dence be praised.

Don’t be put off by the dull and un­invit­ing cover of this big book be­cause, in­side, ev­ery page bris­tles with valu­able his­tor­i­cal in­for­ma­tion. It’s like Haksar has col­lab­o­rated with Ramesh to pub­lish this vi­tal book. Al­though his name ap­pears as the au­thor of the book, Ramesh has cho­sen for the most part to stay in the back­ground, like the di­rec­tor of a play, in­vis­i­ble. At best he can be called the ed­i­tor of the ma­te­rial in his hands.

Why has the other col­lab­o­ra­tor re- mained rel­a­tively un­known all these years de­spite be­ing, as these pages re­veal, one of the shapers of In­dia in the class of Jawa­har­lal Nehru? (An obit­u­ary writer called him the “last of the Nehru­vians”.) Be­cause he was a civil ser­vant? Be­cause, as he once said, “I lack the strong ego to fol­low the foot­steps of my very dear friend B K Nehru” and write an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy?

Haksar’s con­tri­bu­tions out­weigh those of his very dear friends. Indira Gandhi picked him, an old fam­ily friend, soon af­ter she be­came prime min­is­ter in 1967, and he stayed with her till 1973. Those were tu­mul­tuous years with Haksar’s im­print on them. His memo on the Congress Party en­abled Indira to as­sume supremacy over her ri­vals with the fa­mous Congress split of 1969. It was Haksar, once a Com­mu­nist and al­ways a so­cial­ist, who mas­ter­minded such pol­icy de­ci­sions as the abo­li­tion of privy purses, the na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of banks, of coal, of oil re­finer­ies and of gen­eral in­sur­ance. He also played a cen­tral role in the de­vel­op­ment of re­la­tions with Iran, Bangladesh and China.

It is clear that Indira Gandhi’s best years were the years when she trusted Haksar and im­ple­mented his ideas. De­bates will con­tinue on the so­cial­ism of the pub­lic sec­tor pol­icy she fol­lowed, but no one can deny that those years moulded In­dia and gave it a mind­set that sur­vives to this day.

The main rea­son, per­haps, was that he was not al­ways act­ing as a Marx­ist or a so­cial­ist. He was a uni­ver­sal­ist, speak­ing English, Hindi, Urdu and Per­sian and a bit of Ben­gali, French and Ger­man as well. He was a scholar and con­nois­seur of art. He was ready to put hu­man val­ues above ide­olo­gies. When was ini­tially banned from screen­ing abroad be­cause it showed up In­dian poverty, Haksar com­plained to Nehru and lib­er­ated Satya­jit Ray. Ritwik Ghatak was cho­sen for Padma Shri in 1970, but the home min­istry wanted to can­cel it af­ter the ir­re­press­ible Ghatak made some nasty re­marks about Ma­hatma Gandhi. Haksar wrote in the file: “Hu­man his­tory is full of ex­am­ples of artists of ge­nius liv­ing in des­ti­tu­tion and penury be­cause they can­not com­pro­mise their art with the vul­gar­ity of pub­lic taste... Shri Ghatak al­ter­nates be­tween mo­ments of san­ity and long pe­ri­ods of in­san­ity... Can any­one say that Shri Ghatak’s words have di­min­ished in any way the stature of the per­son against who he used such atro­cious lan­guage?... If a man says some­thing which he knoweth not, God for­give him, but man, his crea­ture, can­not.”

Haksar also played a for­ma­tive role in sci­ence and re­search by putting men like Satish Dhawan, Homi Sethna and M S Swami­nathan in lead­er­ship po­si­tions. He him­self be­came, af­ter he left Indira, Deputy Chair­man of the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion and the first Chan­cel­lor of the Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity. Splen­did in­sti­tu­tion-build­ing by a splen­did vi­sion­ary who laid some of In­dia’s foun­da­tion stones.

He died a dis­il­lu­sioned man. That phase be­gan when he showed the courage to ad­vise Indira against her prof­li­gate son San­jay. Indira turned out to be all mother while Haksar was all com­mon­sense, all pa­triot. Indira paid for her mis­take. His­tory ap­plauded Haksar. The thought lingers: If these files have thrown so much light on so many big is­sues, what about the files by/on other prime min­is­te­rial al­ter egos—M O Mathai, Kanti De­sai, R K Dhawan, Ot­tavio Qu­at­troc­chi, god­man Chan­draswami, Bra­jesh Mishra? Gold mines wait­ing for the at­ten­tion of think­ing politi­cians.

Haksar also played a for­ma­tive role in sci­ence and re­search by putting men like Satish Dhawan, Homi Sethna and M S Swami­nathan in lead­er­ship po­si­tions. He him­self be­came, af­ter he left Indira, Deputy Chair­man of the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion and the first Chan­cel­lor of the Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity. Splen­did in­sti­tu­tion-build­ing by a splen­did vi­sion­ary who laid some of In­dia’s foun­da­tion stones.

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