Last year when he found himself in the news again for a crucial incident that occurred in his life in 1987, former foreign secretary A P Venkateswaran, ever the gentleman, refused to go back in time and dwell on his sacking as foreign secretary by Rajiv Gandhi.
“I believe that grave digging is not at all a pleasant task,’’ he said when his 1987 sacking through a press conference by Rajiv Gandhi was compared last year with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s tearing up of an ordinance cleared by the UPA cabinet at a press conference in New Delhi.
The 85-year-old former foreign secretary who carried himself with great dignity died at a private hospital in Bangalore on Tuesday and was cremated in the city on Wednesday.
Despite an illustrious career spanning 35 years in the diplomatic service, Venkateswaran’s career was highlighted by his ignominious exit as foreign secretary in January 1987 when Rajiv Gandhi snubbed his foreign secretary for making contradictory statements on a proposed visit to Pakistan.
“You will be talking to a new foreign secretary soon,” Rajiv Gandhi told a Pakistani journalist who raised the question of contradictory statements coming from the Prime Minister and his foreign secretary at a press conference where A P Venkateswaran was also present.
Following the snub at the press conference Venkateswaran quit the Indian Foreign Service. “My resigning was a spontaneous action since I have always believed that life without honour is no living at all. I felt that the statement (by Rajiv Gandhi) was an arrogant attempt to try and humiliate, when all the facts were on my side like his impending visit to Pakistan for a SAARC summit,’’ Venkateswaran said last year when he was dragged into the limelight again.
Venkateswaran was considered among India’s best foreign officials while in service. In a letter he wrote to the diplomatic corps when he took over as foreign secretary to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on April 30, 1986 stated that it was necessary for the country to perceive the work of the IFS as being invaluable. “We might flatter ourselves that we are doing something extremely valuable for the country, but unless it is also perceived as such by our countrymen, they might well conclude our contribution is not worthwhile…” he said.
Last September when asked to draw comparisons between his own situation and the one involving Rahul Gandhi, Venkateswaran only commented to say that ‘history repeats itself first as a tragedy and then as a farce.’
After his exit from the IFS, Venkateswaran, who hailed from a Palakkad Iyer family, had settled down in Bangalore and set up the Asia Centre, a think-tank on Asian affairs comprising former diplomats and academics.