Parmeshwar Narayan Haksar means little or nothing to the present generation. And yet, in the late 1960s and 1970s his was a name to admire, to respect and, for many, to be wary of. Jairam Ramesh, former Union Minister who himself is a scholar of repute, seems to belong to that class of people ( this reviewer included) who continue to admire and respect Haksar – both as powerhouse of knowledge and a great strategist/ administrator. Someone who astutely established the political omnipotence of a weak Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi through populist measure in 1960, and later played a key role during the Bangladesh crisis in 1971 to soon fall out of favour with Mrs. Gandhi over opposing Sanjay Gandhi’s Maruti project. However, when the nation faced crisis of one sort or the other Haksar would often be consulted -even post retirement. ( I got to meet him many a time at his South Delhi residence – early 1990s – when he had lost his central vision but was active otherwise).
In the words of Jairam Ramesh whose recently published book “intertwined lives: P. N. Haksar and Indira Gandhi” has received wide acclaim: “Haksar first had power. He wielded it with light – minded sense of social purpose. He then had influence. He exercised it to advance the national interest. In the final decade of his life, Haksar had voice. He raised it to remind the citizens of this country of their heritage, of the threats that the Indian Republic faced from within and from outside.”
As while a student of Allahabad University and resident of Mayo Hostel, Parmeshwar Narain Haksar had been a frequent visitor to Anand Bhavan. It was here that Haskar got to know Feroze Gandhi who too was a resident of Mayo Hostel. It was a friendship that proved handy in later years of his life.
Following Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru picked him for the Foreign Service. Interestingly, the interview board headed by Sir Girja Shanker Bajpai graded Haksar ‘average’.
Jairam Ramesh’s biography provides a fascinating story about Haksar – who came to be known as Man of All Seasons.
The book is deeply researched – based on authors access to Haksar personal records, file noting, public papers, correspondence and interaction with those who either worked with him or have had known him.
The author provides details of correspondence between PNH then working at the Indian High Commission in London and Indira Gandhi, and it gives reader an idea of the close relationship that existed between the two – even before he joined her secretariat. PNH came to be some sort of local guardian to her sons -Rajiv and Sanjay- in the UK.
“My dear Indu ji: 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 talks of mice and men. But with Sanjay I have not even begun.”
Mrs.Gandhi would often seek the advise of Haksar on matters of national concern even much before she became the Prime Minister: “….. As I see we are at the beginning of a new dark age. The food situation is precarious, industries are closing. There is no direction…”( November 10,1965). Interestingly she would either address him by ‘Dear PN’ or by his pet name, ‘Dear Babuji’.
Jairam sees this close relationship that existed between PNH and Mrs.Gandhi almost like two ”co-conspirators’ sharing intimate secrets. It is a cry from the heart from a person who thinks of the recipient of her letter as someone special and who can be trusted with her innermost thoughts and worries”.
Born in Gujaranwala (Pakistan) in 1913, Haksar studied Sanskrit at home and took an M.Sc and then went on to the London School of Economics. In London, Haksar was greatly influenced by socialism, a philosophy he adhered to in perpetuity.
On returning home he briefly practised law at Allahabad before joining the diplomatic service in 1947. He served as ambassador to Nigeria and Austria, then was appointed principal secretary by a politically weak and inexperienced Mrs.Gandhi in 1967 and remained with her for six years.
The 1967 general election was a very near thing. Indira Gandhi needed help; much more than formal help, she needed someone she could rely upon, in toto, one hundred per cent. Parameswar Haksar, friend of Feroze Gandhi, filled the bill. He was summoned from London and installed as secretary to the prime minister.
Haksar’s kingdom was gifted to his lap. In a couple of years, the office of the prime minister was transformed. Haksar the ideologue and Haksar the tactician planned and plotted to convert his dreams into reality; Indira Gandhi went along.
According to the author “…no resolution on political, economic and foreign policy matters would be passed in any convention or meeting of the Congress party that did not have Haksar’s imprimatur. And, of course, Indira Gandhi’s speeches at these meetings were his handiwork.”
Mrs.Gandhi’s stray thoughts on socialism proved a master stroke; bank nationalization and the suspension of the princes’ privy purses swung the pendulum of mass support. The cycle of good monsoons and the effects of the high-ssyielding varieties of seeds did not harm either. The Garibi Hatao election added a piping victory. Haksar saw to it that his friend from younger days, radicals of many hues, contested the elections and won: many from amongst this crowd were appointed ministers. They knew only too well who the most powerful man in the country was at the particular moment. Quite a few junior ministers would actually rise in their seats if Haksar would happen to enter the room.
As we all know D.P.Dhar too played a key role in the events of 1971, first from Moscow where he was serving as our Ambassador and later from New Delhi. He had unparallel access to the Soviet leadership and, of course, to Indira Gandhi and Haksar as well. He had great influence on how Soviet thinking on Bangladesh evolved from one of extreme caution in early 1971 to one of full support to India’s position by the middle of the year. However, ‘DP’, as he was popularly called, was desperate to leave Moscow and be in the thick of action in Delhi.
D.P.Dhar wrote to Haskar on 12 May,1971 on his discussions with Soviet leaders and ended that letter thus: “.Finally where do you intend to place me? If I have to be in the Prime Minister’s outfit, I shall have to synchronize exit (from Moscow) with yours.”
Soon after, D.P.Dhar was made Chairman of the Policy Planning Committee of the Ministry of External Affairs and principal liaison man for the Bangladesh government.
It was Haksar who was, from beginning to end, the planner and architect of the Bangladesh campaign. Each manoeuvre bore the stamp of Haksar’s ‘intellectual sharpness — and his flair for rendering the hitherto unimaginable into a commonplace phenomenon’.
Haksar put up this note to PM on 27 June,1972: “The terrible legacy of the past has to be got over. And this can be got over if we are able today to enunciate the broad features of our future relationship in which the strongest element should be our firm resolves not to use force in settling our differences either as they exit, or might arise in future. Such a declaration accompanied by some concrete steps towards implementation of this resolve would put us on new road to life of peace, amity and good neighborliness. PM might then ask President Bhutto: how do we set about it.”
The Simla accord was both hailed and criticized. According to Jairam Ramesh “conceivably Indiara Gandhi and Haksar did not want Pakistan to leave an embittered foe hell-bent on taking revenge…”
Unfortunately, Pakistan continues to take revenge in the name of annexing Kashmir.
The secret deal that led to the Simla Accord after Pakistan was defeated and with over 90,000 prisoners of war in Indian hands remains a mystery. When all negotiations between the two antagonists had broken down Gandhi and Bhutto decided to make one last attempt to break the impasse by meeting without aides. It is widely believed that only Haksar knew what transpired between the two that eventually led to the Shima Accord which also agreed to resolve the Kashmir dispute bilaterally. But Haksar kept his counsel, revealing nothing despite severe provocation in recent years.
The author provides no fresh insight with regard to how and what finally led to the signing of the agreement despite talks having failed initially.
Did both Mrs.Gandhi and Haksar yield to Soviet pressure who wanted that Bhutto should not leave Simla empty-handed. Or was it what few scholars have written a case of purely academic approach to a complex political/military problem with Haksar invoking the Treaty of Versailles to our long-term determent?
The role that Haksar played both in shaping and strengthening the space and nuclear programmes and also in providing direction to institutes of excellence such as ISI and few others is well documented by the author.
It was past high noon though — Indira Gandhi, the empress of India, had no further need of a P N Haksar in tow. Haksar was soon eased out of his office and shifted to the Planning Commission. Gandhi’s courtiers had also found a new mentor – her younger son Sanjay, a university dropout who believed in Fascism and mob rule as a means of political expression.
Notwithstanding that Haksar was a man of truly outstanding abilities, creative vision and genuine human concerns, the author lends himself to exaggerating the honoured’s merits and achievements of Haksar. The author does not dwell too much on Haksar’s strong and controversial views about the role of bureaucracy and how judiciary should conduct itself.
However, where the author shines is in allowing his protagonist to speak to readers directly. The author exercises restrain and allows the story be told in the words of Haksar.
The book is published by Simon & Schuster, 2018
The inside cover of the book carries Sudhir Dar’s cartoon appropriately captioned ‘Kashmiris must have a say: Abdullah,’ and the cartoonist wondering weren’t Indira Gandhi, T.N.Kaul, D.P.Dhar, P.N.Haksar & P.N.Dhar representing Kashmiris???
(The author a noted media professional/educator)