For all his power and influence over former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, her closest aide P N Haksar was reduced to a voice and had no role to play during the Emergency in 1975 or Operation Blue Star in 1984.
Rajya Sabha MP and author of six acclaimed books, Jairam Ramesh, has recounted the story of PN Haksar, “a remarkable man who worked for a remarkable woman”, in his new book – Intertwined Lives: PN Haksar and Indira Gandhi – that was released by Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh at the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), Chandigarh, on Friday. Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, Rashpal Malhotra, executive vice-chairman, CRRID, and Prof RP Bambah were also present.
“Those in power must have people around them who speak truth to power. Indira Gandhi gave Haksar the freedom to tell the truth to her,” said Ramesh, who has based the first full-length biography of Haksar on never-before-seen photographs and extensive archives of official papers, memos, notes and letters. He described Haksar as Gandhi’s “alter ego” during her period of glory. Haksar, he added, was arguably India’s most influential and powerful civil servant.
Dismissing such a relationship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right-hand man Amit Shah, Ramesh further stated, “Mr Modi can never have a Haksar. For that, he’ll have to listen to criticism on his various policies such as demonetisation; and anyone who does that would be unfavourable.” He added that Gandhi and Haksar’s relationship was more than just a professional relationship. They were friends first, having stayed together with Feroze Gandhi in London in 1938 and then Gandhi brought him to her Secretariat to bring professional competence.
While Ramesh described Haksar as the ideological beacon and moral compass, they drifted apart in the 70s due to Sanjay Gandhi. “They did not agree over Sanjay’s Maruti project. Haksar believed India did not need a passenger car, but stronger public transport and two-wheelers. He also felt that the PM’s son could not stay in her house and run this project,” added Ramesh.
Before 1973, Haksar wielded power to an extent where he played a pivotal role in the nationalisation of banks, abolition of privy purses and princely privileges, the Indo-Soviet Treaty, the creation of Bangladesh, rapprochement with Sheikh Abdullah, the Shimla and New Delhi agreements with Pakistan, the emergence of the country as an agricultural, space and nuclear power and, later, the integration of Sikkim with India.
Later, he was not powerful but continued to remain influential and a voice that was heard and respected. “Haksar was fully opposed to the Emergency, his house was raided and his wife was almost arrested. He was the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission back then. In a note from the time, he has written, ‘I kept looking at the Prime Minister, but she avoided my gaze’,” said Ramesh.
During the Khalistan Movement in Punjab in 1984, Haksar had advised Gandhi to “solve the problem through political process”. He wrote her a long note on the issue, but was unaware of Gandhi’s military plans on the Golden Temple.
The Captain, however, recounted some anecdotes of the fiercely “socialist” man, saying, “Indira Gandhi had a knack for choosing the right advisers, be it V P Dhar or Haksar. They weren’t very many in number, but they were people of great eminence.”
Calling Ramesh Sahib-e-Kalam (master of the pen), Badal said what intrigued him most about Haksar was that he was never attached to his native place, Kashmir, or his birthplace, Punjab.