Congress Leader Jairam Ramesh: Indira Gandhi Was The Leader But Sootradhar Of 1971 Was Pn Haksar India News
An unrepentant Marxist who till the end of his life remained one, and the real sootradhar (narrator and stage manager in Sanskrit plays) of the 1971 Indo-Pak war — this is how Congress leader Jairam Ramesh describes PN Haksar, the subject of his upcoming book, Intertwined Lives, to be released next week.
Haksar was arguably the most powerful bureaucrat in the country post-independence, according to Ramesh. His friendship with Indira Gandhi goes back to 1938. He played an important role not only in the years Indira was at her peak, but also in the political and diplomatic policies that her government followed, specifically between 1967 and 1973.
He was an ideological mentor to Indira — she considered Haksar nothing less than family and continued her endorsement of him despite his criticism of her son Sanjay Gandhi's Maruti project, Ramesh said. "Haksar left Indira Gandhi in December 1972 because of his inability to accept the Maruti project. He was violently opposed to the Maruti project. He said India needed public transport, not private cars and even if you build a passenger car, the Prime Minister's son should not be making that car, living in the Prime Minister's house. The thing about him was he spoke truth to power and she took it from him," Ramesh said. Even after he left her, she got him back as the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission.
"The Maruti episode soured the relationship, though she had enormous respect for him and he thought she embodied the secular, democratic values that he associated with Nehru, barring the period between June 1975 and January 1977," Ramesh said.
"Indira Gandhi's troubles started when Haksar left her. Incidentally, in 1973 two of her other closest and intellectual advisers died in a span of five months: Mohan Kumarmangalam died in May 1973 and Pitambar Pant in February 1973. These were three people who could talk to Indira Gandhi without any fear. With their getting out, Sanjay Gandhi became numero uno."
The book is not a judgmental biography but a narrative of who Haksar was and the role he played as Indira’s ideological guru and her moral compass from 1967 to 1973, be it the decision on the nationalisation of banks, splitting of the Congress, abolition of privy purses, Bangladesh, Indo-Soviet Treaty, the Shimla agreement or the green revolution.
Ramesh said Haksar's family was victimised and harassed during Emergency, but he “never interfered or spoke about it".
Haksar's most outstanding contribution was in 1971 when he orchestrated the Mukti Bahini that fought for the liberation of East Pakistan. "Mrs Gandhi was the political leader who deserves all credit for 1971, but the sootradhar was Haksar. That is the only way I can describe him. The political strategy, the military strategy, the diplomatic strategy was all his,” Ramesh said.
Ramesh said it was Haksar who got the CPI close to the Congress in 1967. "He was an unrepentant Marxist and remained one till the day he died. He was the secretary of the Nagpur Communist Party in 1942-43 and the first person he recruited in Nagpur was an 18-year-old AB Bardhan, who then became the general secretary of the communist party in 1996," Ramesh said.
Haksar was the reason for the Marxist slant in some of Indira Gandhi's decisions, Ramesh said. "Nationalisation of coal, general insurance and oil refineries was orchestrated by him, apart from the famous nationalisation of banks.”
"By today's standards, he was anything but market friendly. He was a public sector wallah and you can say that he kept India economically stagnant, but he was the guy who got ONGC to start drilling in Bombay high. He helped IPCL, BHEL, SAIL to start," Ramesh said.
Haksar, Ramesh said, played an important role in the creation of the Department of Agricultural Research where MS Swaminathan was the first secretary. "He was the person who made Manmohan Singh the chief adviser in the Ministry of Finance. He played a big role in building India's scientific temper, strengthening the public sector."
All the magnificent achievements of Indira Gandhi had the imprint of Haksar. One of the most decisive contributions was to get a reluctant Satish Dhawan to be the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation in the January of 1972, after Vikram Sarabhai's death. Dhawan was on a sabbatical in Cal Tech in the US and it was Haksar who got Indira Gandhi to write to Dhawan and he agreed. She worked very closely with him on the space programme," he added.