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BRAHMIN AND NON-BRAHMIN: Genealogies of the Tamil Political Present by M.S.S. Pandian. Permanent Black, Ranikhet, 2007.

IN 2016 Tamil Nadu marked the centenary of a key political event in modern Tamil politics, the publication of the Non-Brahmin Manifesto. ‘Event’, as Slavoj Zizek describes it, ‘is something that brings about a change of the very frame through which we perceive the world and engage in it.’1 Preceding the manifesto was another key intellectual event, the publication of Robert Caldwell’s A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages (1856), which explored the linguistic and cultural differences between the speakers of the Dravidian and Indo-Aryan languages. The work of Caldwell was deployed by generations of Tamil non-Brahmin thinkers to establish their differences with and distinctiveness from the national community that the Brahmin elites were articulating in the colonial period. In its salvo against the composition and nature of the Indian nationalists, the manifesto declared, ‘The social reactionary and the impatient political idealist, who seldom has his foot on solid earth, have now taken complete possession of the Congress.’ With the publication of the manifesto and the formation of the Justice Party the next year, the terms Brahmin and non-Brahmin decisively entered the political domain as not merely signs of difference but also of confrontation.

The subsequent year, 2017, was also significant – besides being the centenary of the foundation of the Justice Party, it was also the golden jubilee of the DMK capturing power, following which only Dravidian parties have been elected to rule the state. Incidentally 2017 also marked a decade of the publication of M.S.S. Pandian’s Brahmin and Non-Brahmin (BNB hereon), an intellectual continuation and a critical interrogation of the binaries proposed by the Non-Brahmin Manifesto. If the manifesto altered the language of 20th century Tamil politics, BNB is a formidable academic account of the processes that continue to impact the politics of Tamil Nadu in the 21st century.

While the general academic trend in the study of caste/anti-caste politics is to look at lives at the bottom – the marginal, the subaltern – Pandian inverts this tendency by focusing his academic gaze at the top. Pandian clarifies early on that the Brahmin, more specifically the Tamil Brahmin, is the central figure of this book and that the normalization of the non-Brahmin category ‘simultaneously reconfigured the pre-existing Brahmin identity.’ The book explores the politics of the emergent, and how the non-Brahmin appears on the political scene under conditions created by colonialism, and as a response to Brahmin preponderance in public institutions. ‘Colonialism was a major event that constituted Brahmin and non-Brahmin identities by enabling new forms of "speakability" about caste in a modern "secularized" public sphere.’ This opened up the space for a ‘politics of becoming’ for the non-Brahmin identity.

Indeed, the Brahmin felt an acute loss of power when confronted by the ‘beef-eating Englishman’ who engaged in practices that the Brahmin associated with the lower castes. English educated Brahmins particularly desired to recover a ‘lost authenticity’. The Brahmin sought to pass himself off as perfectly modern, while simultaneously defending his position in the caste hierarchy as a natural order of division of labour. The attempt to construct an essentialized Brahmin authenticity is itself formed within the rules of colonial modernity. Orientalist knowledge also assisted in this project to no mean extent. Max Mueller and H.S. Olcott popularized Brahminic Hinduism as the only authentic Hinduism – more importantly, countering the missionaries in India, they claimed that it was superior to Christianity and European civilization. Pandian notes how the Brahmin elite were eager to use this to their benefit. For instance, certain writings of G. Subramania Iyer, one of the founders of The Hindu and an ardent Congress supporter, which conflated India and Hinduism, could have easily been mistaken for that of latter day Hindutva ideologues like Savarkar or Golwalkar.

The chapter on ‘Brahmin Hybridity’ further captures how the Brahmin waded through colonial modernity and Brahminic traditions simultaneously. The nationalist Brahmins, in a social-Darwinistic approach, did not just consider themselves as superior to the rest, but also saw themselves as the historical agents who were best equipped to take the reins of the anti-colonial leadership. At perfect ease with the language of the colonizer, the Brahmins also used Orientalist knowledge to further their claims that Sanskrit was the ‘high’ language of India, a pristine being above the lowly languages of the people, including Tamil. Also, claims for proportional representation for non-Brahmins were firmly resisted by Brahmin leaders and their supporters like Annie Besant.

Pandian discusses how the Brahmin was first contested in the sphere of the religious before moving on to the political. The chapter on ‘Speaking the Other/Making the Self’ interrogates how two important thinkers who were forerunners to the Self-Respect Movement, Iyothee Thass and Maraimalai Adigal, challenged the Brahminical in the realm of the spiritual. Thass, a Buddhist intellectual, constructed an elaborate argument for Buddhism’s historical presence and influence in Tamil Nadu. Though his project had few takers in his time even among his own constituency, intellectual interest in his writings has grown in recent years. Adigal, an erudite Saivite scholar with eclectic intellectual tastes, held the Vellalars and their culture as the highest Tamil ideal and also as a challenge to the Brahminical ideal. This, however, faced more perils than possibilities. For instance, even as orthodox Saiva Vellalars were reluctant to support his outreach to the lower castes, Adigal, by stipulating that spirituality was possible only through certain practices of body purity, alienated the vast majority of the lower non-Brahmin castes.

Though both Thass and Adigal were remarkable thinkers for their time, they were nevertheless constrained by the paradoxes of their projects. Both challenged the Brahmin and his spirituality, but could not avoid reproducing the Brahminical ideal in the futures they sought. In a different and critically important reading of Maraimalai Adigal, Ravi Vaitheespara in his Religion, Caste, and Nation in South India2 argues that Adigal articulated his neo-Saivism in secular rather than in spiritual terms, as a modern non-Brahmin Tamil nationalism that was a prelude to the Self-Respect Movement.

According to Pandian, the above two thinkers critiqued the Brahmin ‘primarily in the register of culture’, while the Justice Party relocated him ‘in the domain of the material/political’. If Brahmins referred to Orientalist knowledge to establish their spiritual and political superiority, the Justice Party made apt use of colonial statistics to challenge the over-representation of Brahmins in public institutions and to demand adequate representation for non-Brahmins. Of course, ‘the narrowness of the colonial public sphere’ ensured that only the elite from the non-Brahmins who had access to English education could claim to represent the whole community. Yet, the visible confrontations that Justice Party initiated made Brahmin-non-Brahmin tensions politically obvious, causing many anxieties for the Brahmin nationalists.

With the arrival of an iconoclastic Periyar E.V. Ramasamy on stage, the critique of the Brahmins became ‘transitive’, that is, it ‘produced the Brahmin as a trope for different forms of power anchored in a range of identities such as caste, gender, region, and language’ which led to ‘an alliance of non-Brahmins based on a range of real and perceived injuries’. Keeping reason and rationalism as an ideal, Periyar further criticized Sanskritic religion, culture and traditions for maintaining the social supremacy of the Brahmins. Yet, he was also critical of the ‘elite linguistic purism’ of the Tamil pundits. Periyar’s criticism of Brahminism did not stop at the realm of the political alone; he extended it to the personal as well, radically advocating for women’s liberation.

The most decisive political confrontation took place over the issue of language. Opposing the Brahmin’s belief in the supremacy of Sanskrit and relating this to the Congress’ attempts to impose Hindi in Tamil Nadu, Periyar played a key role in the anti-Hindi agitation without being celebratory about the Tamil language or taking undue pride in its past. In fact, he favoured English as a language better suited for a society guided by scientific and rationalist principles. But it was his protégé, the charismatic C.N. Annadurai, with his flair and passion for the Tamil language, championing a politics of Tamil-Dravidian pride combined with a progressive populism, who brought the DMK into power, heralding the Dravidian era. In a retrospective reading – and at the risk of controversy – one could even say that without the DMK in power, the importance of Periyar and his contributions and the significance of the politics of his Self-Respect Movement would have been suppressed in the state of Tamil Nadu. The genealogy of non-Brahmin politics that Pandian traces out in this critical intervention enables one to better understand and appreciate the Dravidian project and its histories.

The epilogue of BNB records the success of the Non-Brahmin Movement in curtailing Brahmin over-representation in the political sphere and also the manner in which political vocabulary changed over time. Where the Brahmin once flaunted his uniqueness and superiority, he now has to make an effort to prove that he is one among all, at least in politics. Pandian addresses the ‘emergent Dalit critiques of non-Brahmin identity’. It should have been anticipated that such critiques would emerge given the tensions within the non-Brahmin project and the incidents of anti-Dalit violence in the state. Pandian, who records Dalit perspectives on what passes off as mainstream non-Brahminism in the conclusion of this book, would in 2013 write about Arunthathiyar criticisms of mainstream Dalit politics in Tamil Nadu that largely privileged the Paraiyars and the Pallars. Of late, these criticisms have become more vocal and an assertive group of Arunthathiyar leaders and intellectuals are making their presence felt. A decade after the publication of BNB, Dalit criticism of non-Brahmin politics is quite mainstream, almost to the point of being repetitive, and it is the Arunthathiyar critique of mainstream Dalitism that is the emergent. The futures of the politics of becoming, indeed, belong to the unknown.

Karthick Ram Manoharan

Assistant Professor of Political Science Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta

 

Footnotes:

1. S. Zizek, Event. Penguin Books, London, 2014, p. 10.

2. Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2015.

 

MY JOURNEY FROM MARXISM-LENINISM TO NEHRUVIAN SOCIALISM: Some Memoirs and Reflections on Inclusive Growth by C.H. Hanumantha Rao. Academic Foundation, New Delhi, 2018.

THE book is an unconventional memoir of an extraordinary individual hailing from a rural area of a princely state in Deccan India. A political activist at the age of 15, C.H. Hanumantha Rao was kept in Jalna concentration camp till the time he was 20 years old. In the interregnum, rusticated at the instance of the Hyderabad government, he took the Higher Secondary Examination of Aligarh Muslim University with Urdu as the medium of instruction. While studying economics at Nizam College and Osmania University, he continued with political activism as an insider in the Communist Party of India, involved in both covert and overt activities. Later in life, transforming into a professional economist, he went on to head the Institute of Economic Growth in New Delhi, and serve as a Member of the Planning Commission, the Finance Commission and on the Board of the Reserve Bank of India. He obviously has a lot to tell us, but true to his nature he is economical and purposeful in his memoirs.

The book is an unusual assembly of essays, notes and speeches, a miscellany that informs on many issues, answers some questions, provides insights into select concerns, and makes some general observations. The entire focus of the book is on the beliefs that he held closest to his heart, namely, democracy, secularism and, above all, inclusive growth. The book provides us a tantalizing glimpse of the evolving debates in the political economy of India since Independence and engaging vignettes of ideological battles and political developments, in particular within the left movements and in the formulation of development policy.

The book is divided into four parts of which the first section is easily the most fascinating and touching. It captures multiple transitions – from princely states to a modern democracy, from feudalism to a less unfair society, from a belief in Marxism to a more pragmatic socialism, and a movement from the inward looking ‘license-permit raj’ to a reforming economy in which P.V. Narasimha Rao, hailing from the same district in Telangana as the author, played a historic role.

Hanumantha Rao was underground as a communist, witness to the animated inner-party debates on different lines of thinking. Of great interest for many would be the first-hand account of these debates that ultimately led to subsequent splits in the undivided party. It also provides a glimpse of the role of the Soviet Union in the major setbacks to the left movement, in particular the party line on the Quit India Movement of 1942 and the characterization of independence in 1947 as a sham, a position revised subsequently after the failed agrarian revolt in Telangana and the call for an insurrection against the bourgeois Congress regime. A telling sentence about the state of affairs is: ‘I am not aware that the party ever saw that Stalinist "excesses" reflected basically a systemic and ideological failure and not purely an individual failure. In fact, such targeting of the individual wholly for "excesses" is itself not quite Marxian because Marxism gave pride of place to history and circumstances in explaining the events.’ (p. 41)

Professor Rao moved from a belief in communism towards acceptance of Nehru’s approach to development based on a mixed economy, obviously while at the Delhi School of Economics, an intellectual position that he has held on to since the time he gave up participation in communist politics. His participation in economic reforms was active, but like many others of his generation, he found it difficult to discard his love for the Nehruvian model of development for India. See, for instance:

‘Of late, there has been a growing concern, worldwide, about the rising inequalities in income and wealth, global financial and economic crisis and global warming because of unsustainable use of natural resources. These are attributable to excessive reliance on the market forces. These concerns have served to emphasize the need for increasing role of the state and social action towards mitigating such imbalances and crises. They thus point to the continued relevance of Nehruvian vision in the post-Nehru India. For, the core of this vision is equitable development through appropriate state intervention in a mixed economy within a secular and democratic polity.’ (p. 89)

The value of the book would have been significantly enhanced had Professor Rao elaborated on why the Nehruvian vision is still relevant since I too share this view. That Nehru’s vision of a mixed economy was pro-state but not anti-market is seldom appreciated. The nationalization of banks in 1969 marked the beginning of an anti-private sector view of the mixed economy which was followed by several other policies of unidirectional expansion of state power. Similarly, the emphasis on inward looking economic policies too was essentially a post-1967 phenomenon. Intellectual inputs and assistance from multiple sources, be it the Ford or Rockefeller Foundations or even the Chicago economist, Milton Freedman, were welcomed by Nehru despite their clear anti-left orientation reflective of the greater insecurity of the political leadership of the time. The invocation of a ‘foreign hand’ in our failures thus is a post-Nehru phenomenon. In the Nehruvian vision, the state led markets in modernization and technology, and foreign inputs were welcome. Sadly, Nehru’s socialism has been equated with dominance of the state and public enterprises over markets and private enterprise. Finally, Nehru had genuine respect for federalism and chief ministers. (For a sample, see Letters for a Nation from Jawaharlal Nehru to his Chief Ministers 1947-63, edited by Madhav Khosla, Penguin Allen Lane, 2014.)

The subjects covered in his letters include War and Peace, India and the World, The Citizen and the Nation, Institutions of Democracy, National Planning and Development. For Nehru, India is a nation with both Union and states as integral constituents, sharing a role in all policies. Sample this sentence in his letter to chief ministers dated 4 August 1960. ‘The old idea that profit-making is a private concern and not a public concern has to be discarded completely. Our public enterprises have to be run with the greatest efficiency and the greatest profit.’ (p. 196)

Nehru believed in a dynamic mixed economy and that is exactly what we need today. Technological developments and institutional dynamics compel us to review and rebalance the relative roles of state and market. Perhaps, it is time we take the Nehruvian vision beyond the binaries of the state and market to designing appropriate state-market interactions.

Professor Rao has been cognizant of deviations from Nehru’s vision in Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, but perhaps not adequately. Indira Gandhi, for instance, dramatically deviated from Nehruvian socialism by relentless pursuing an expansion of the state and ‘seeking a committed bureaucracy’. Rajiv Gandhi’s initiative on Panchayati Raj is lauded by the author, but in my view inappropriately. Panchayati Raj is a state subject and Rajiv Gandhi as the leader of the Congress Party could have first implemented Panchayati Raj that he advocated in Congress ruled states. That was not done. Instead he chose to initiate an amendment to the Constitution. Hence the feeling that the real intent was to weaken the role of the state.

In brief, Professor Rao has been more loyal to Nehru’s vision than others who feature prominently in his book. A look at the titles of chapters in part one will suffice to confirm his bias. Nehruvian Socialism (ch 2); The Leadership of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi (ch 3); Continued Relevance of Nehruvian Model (ch 4); and Post Nehru Era (ch 5). His commitment to inclusive growth, however, exceeds his loyalty to a Nehruvian vision, if we go by the titles, particularly in part two of the book. Marginalised Groups (ch 2); Indian Children (ch 3); Young Lives (ch 4); Sustainable Development (ch 5); Labour and Employment (ch 6); Labour Markets in India (ch 7); Issues related to Adivasis (ch 8); Livelihoods of Adivasis (ch 9); Poverty as an Element (ch 10); State-level Planning (ch 11); A Key to Educational Reform (ch 12).

His abiding interest in agriculture is all too evident in the final section (II-B). In each of the comments and papers, his faith in empirical evidence based research is amply evident.

Of interest for many, particularly among Telugu speaking people, would be the section titled ‘From Vishal Andhra to Telangana’, discussing the transition from fighting for a united Telugu state in the early 1950s to demanding separation of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh by 1969. For me, having been closely involved in these events in my own life and career, I have a different understanding of the transition than Professor Rao. The movement for a united Telugu province was essentially led by the Communists who were dominant in Telangana and wanted to capture power in a united Andhra Pradesh. At that time, Hanumantha Rao was heavily influenced by Communism. Over the period, as economic well-being and socio-cultural identities became more important, he developed a greater sensitivity to developmental issues. He moved from giving primacy to ideology to pragmatism, and his changed stand reflects this. Nevertheless, I greatly admire the timely advice given by Professor Hanumantha Rao as far back as July 1969.

‘Those who decry the idea of a separate Telangana in the name of national integration ignore that this agitation is motivated by the desire to ensure an equitable share in the fruits of socioeconomic growth. Thus, for the first time in the recent period, one finds rational economic considerations dominating over those of language, religion and caste. Therefore, the sooner our leaders grasp the nature of emerging forces, the better it would be for the balanced growth of the country on secular and democratic lines.’ (p. 140) I wish that both the Telugu people and the Government of India had taken his advice and bifurcated the state then itself to avoid the subsequent bitterness and hardship.

The third section comprises a collection of essays on inclusive growth, a much traversed subject to which Professor Rao himself has contributed significantly. Though more informative than analytical, that should not dilute the enormous contribution to the debates and policies espoused by Professor Rao. The fourth section again is a compilation of comments on some books and papers, which help the reader get a better grasp of his thinking on some individuals and subjects.

This book is unique in style and substance of narrating Indian social and economic history by an insider from Bharat as distinct from India. It should be of interest to the general reader and also to students and scholars of sociology, political science, economics and public policy.

Y.V. Reddy

Former Governor, Reserve Bank of India

 

INTERTWINED LIVES: P.N. Haksar and Indira Gandhi by Jairam Ramesh. Simon & Schuster India, Delhi, 2018.

P.N. Haksar (1913-1998) was for a brief period in the late 1960s and early 1970s arguably the most powerful person in India. That power emanated from the position he held: principal secretary to the prime minister, Indira Gandhi. But that designation does not even begin to describe the power and influence that he enjoyed and exercised. He was, during the period he held office, Indira Gandhi’s friend, philosopher and guide. Jairam Ramesh’s book, heavily based as it is on the papers that Haksar left behind, makes this abundantly clear. Between 1969 and 1973, the high noon of Indira Gandhi’s political career, there was hardly any decision that she took which did not have Haksar’s guiding hand behind it. On many critical matters it was actually Haksar who made the policy; Gandhi was the political and public face of that policy. The lives of these two individuals were thus ‘intertwined’. But there were large parts of the lives and careers of both individuals when their lives did not overlap – in fact they were estranged. To this extent, the title of Ramesh’s book appears a trifle exaggerated and misleading.

This is an adulatory book about Haksar. There are some words of criticism, but these are rare. Ramesh thinks that Haksar was an admirable individual – outstanding bureaucrat, a man of integrity, loyal to his friends and endowed with a sharp and piercing mind; Haksar was also a scholar. These facets made for a remarkable individual. The perennial temptation of the biographer is the one of remaining too close to his subject. This is especially true when the biographer is stricken by admiration. In Ramesh’s case, the problem is aggravated because he is overwhelmingly dependent on the archives Haksar left behind. Ramesh thus treads on a razor’s edge. Haksar’s prism has refracted the light to Ramesh’s lenses.

Towards the very end of his book, Ramesh confesses that he has attempted to tell a story. This then is not an analytical biography. In that sense it is an opportunity missed. Ramesh could have a taken a little more time and made this book into an analytical biography by providing more of a contextual framework to the lives of the two individuals. To take just one example to illustrate the point. The Emergency dramatically affected the lives of both Haksar and Indira Gandhi and radically transformed the nature of their relationship from one of closeness to one of estrangement. Yet, Ramesh makes no attempt to provide an analysis of what made the Emergency necessary. It would appear from Ramesh’s ‘story’ that the Emergency was the result of the Allahabad High Court judgment that overturned Indira Gandhi’s 1971 election. That, even Ramesh will admit, is too simplistic a picture. Yet, without the Emergency can one even begin to understand Haksar, Indira Gandhi, their relationship and its eventual outcome?

The Emergency was most notoriously associated with the atrocities of Sanjay Gandhi and the suppression of all democratic rights. But there were some features of it that had a longer lineage. From 1970 onwards, there was a pronounced tendency to concentrate all decision making in the prime minister’s office. This, in practice, meant in the hands of Indira Gandhi and Haksar. Thus began the process of eroding the cabinet form of government. The latter was a legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru who was much-admired by Haksar. As Ramesh documents in detail, a decision as important as bank nationalization was prepared and carried out in secret out of Haksar’s office. The Emergency was the terrible culmination of this kind of undemocratic decision making. That Haksar was against the Emergency – perhaps because his family was a victim of it – is neither here nor there. He was fully implicated in the process that made the prime minister and her office all-powerful, a crucial feature of the Emergency. Nemesis caught up with Haksar in the figure of Sanjay Gandhi.

In the context of the Allahabad High Court judgment, Ramesh’s narrative makes it clear that Haksar committed perjury in court in the matter of Yashpal Kapoor’s resignation from the PMO. Why did he do that – if indeed he was a man of integrity who respected democratic practices and institutions? Ramesh’s answer is that he did it out of loyalty. However, the possibility of another answer is also there in the narrative – Haksar had goofed up on Kapoor’s resignation. He had accepted the resignation verbally but had not proceeded to formalize it. And had subsequently tried to cover up his negligence by attempting to backdate the letter. There are a number of issues involved here apart from the all-important one concerning Haksar’s integrity. (Of which more later.)

Why did Haksar handle the resignation the way he did which bordered on incompetence? There seems to be only one possible answer: Haksar had become smug with power, never expecting that his authority would ever be challenged. When it was, he lied. Haksar loved and enjoyed the power he had. He could never reconcile himself with a situation where in fact he had lost the power to influence decisions and events. This explains why even when he was far away from the corridors of power, he kept bombarding successive prime ministers and important bureaucrats with missives, notes et al. As Ramesh says, Haksar was ‘at it again’. A cynical reader of the book would say Ramesh’s much-adored PNH was a bit of a busybody.

The other point is significant. It is possible that Sanjay Gandhi’s wrath turned to Haksar not just because the latter had opposed the Maruti project and because ideologically the two of them were poles apart, but because he realized that Haksar, through his handling of the Kapoor resignation, had let his mother down and thus jeopardized her position. He then decided to hit back and settle his long-standing scores. Ramesh’s documentation also makes clear that Indira Gandhi, in retrospect, had come to realize that Haksar was not as reliable as she once thought him to be. In September 1975, at the height of the Emergency, she met the Congress leader from J&K, Tirath Ram Amla (his daughter was married to D.P. Dhar’s son), who suggested that Haksar should be brought back to the government to reduce the rigours of the Emergency and, subsequently, to do away with it altogether. According to B.N. Tandon (as Ramesh quotes him), ‘The PM reacted adversely. She criticized Haksar and said that he made no effort to understand other people’s point of view. He was too rigid in his likes and dislikes. He would not be suitable for this task.’ This reveals just how far Indira Gandhi had moved away from Haksar and that she was not all that appreciative of his abilities. Perhaps she also felt let down. The accusation, ‘he made no effort to understand other people’s point of view’ would suggest that Indira Gandhi also thought that Haksar was too arrogant about the power he enjoyed.

What is telling is that even before the promulgation of the Emergency when Haksar, his term as a bureaucrat over, informed Gandhi of his decision to step down from office, she wrote him a letter expressing her deep gratitude but made absolutely no attempt to persuade him to stay on. The intertwining begins to unravel from here. The onset of the Emergency witnessed the attack and humiliation of Haksar’s uncle and close family members. On the day the raid on Pandit Brothers was carried out both Indira Gandhi and Haksar were present at the same meeting and, according to the latter, he stared at her but she did not look him in the eye. Haksar nevertheless continued to serve Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. In stoic fashion he bore the humiliation of his family members, including the possible arrest of his wife. ‘I am above all this’, seems to have been his motto. On her return to power, occasionally Indira Gandhi would make informal use of him – at times on special missions – and he went on them, not unwillingly. But whenever he wrote to her – in Ramesh’s words ‘his Dear Induji letters’ – the reply was formal, matter of fact and often curt. It was always Dear Mr Haksar. On one occasion, at least, she did not hesitate to malign him publicly and, according to Haksar, falsely. So what does this tell us about Haksar, the human being? Ramesh would say loyal to a fault. Others less starry-eyed than him would say ‘craven’. He conveyed the impression of being the ousted wazir who remained loyal to the monarch.

I have left hanging the point about Haksar’s integrity. That he committed perjury is established. Ramesh also puts it on record that Haksar retained with him copies of numerous ‘secret’ and ‘top secret’ documents and classified correspondence. What integrity prompted this bureaucrat to so grossly violate the Official Secrets Act and the basic protocols that govern a bureaucrat’s career? Again, the arrogance of power? Haksar was a bureaucrat and Ramesh makes him out to be the bureaucrat par excellence. Yet, he wrote Indira Gandhi’s political and party speeches, drafted Congress party resolutions and initiated and masterminded innumerable critical political decisions affecting internal and foreign policy. Is this a sign of a bureaucrat with rectitude? Haksar was a political bureaucrat, howsoever oxymoronic that term might be. More than that he was blind to the dangers of power, especially absolute power, which both he and Indira Gandhi exercised, fortunately for India, briefly.

Haksar believed that he was shaping the destiny of India through Indira Gandhi. The latter, because she was ruthless and relentless in the pursuit of power, used Haksar and his talents. Haksar did eventually come to the realization that he had been used, but nevertheless continued to be of use to her. Possibly he believed, mistakenly, that he had a duty to shape India’s future. To this end he used his power when he had it, occasionally without scruples. Even when he had no power, he felt he was entitled to exert influence. Alas, it all ended, as it was fated to, in a whimper. The P.N. Haksar that emerges from Ramesh’s story and contrary to his intentions turns out to be a somewhat pathetic figure, as much a sinner as he was sinned against.

Rudrangshu Mukherjee

Chancellor and Professor of History, Ashoka University, Sonepat

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