Indira Gandhi was preparing for her upcoming election campaign when she received this note from Haksar five days into the new year, on 5 January 1971:
P.M. may kindly see the report placed below prepared by the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW). I have long been feeling a sense of uneasiness about the intentions of Pakistan in future. The recent political developments in Pakistan have added to my anxieties. With the overwhelming victory of East Pakistan wing [Sheikh Mujibur Rahman], the solution of internal problems of Pakistan have become infinitely more difficult. Consequently, the temptation to seek solution to these problems by external adventures has become very great. I think that the time has come when our Armed Forces need to make a very realistic assessment both of Pakistan’s capability and our response. I have a feeling that there are many weak spots in our defence capabilities. These need to be remedied without loss of time. I know how busy P.M. is. And yet, I venture to suggest that P.M. should call in all the three Chiefs of Staff , Defence Secretary and the Defence Minister and share with them her anxieties and ask them to urgently prepare their own assessment and make recommendations of what the requirements of each of the Services are so that we can feel a sense of security. I suggest that such a meeting should be held quietly and without any publicity... [italics mine]
Just as Haksar was worrying about Pakistan based on his meetings with Kao, Ritwick Ghatak cropped up again. The eccentric Bengali film-maker had made a film on Lenin but it had run into controversy. On 6 January 1971, a day after sharing his worries about Pakistan with the prime minister, he told her:
In matters of this sort one is apt to be carried away by somewhat exaggerated notions that our society, such as it is, would be seriously deflected from its course of evolution by a film on the life of Lenin as produced by Shri Ritwick Ghatak. Generations of people all over the world have seen far more in inflammatory films by Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Rossellini and others, These films, at any rate, were shown on a mass scale. And nothing very much really happened. Even if the film is certified as it is, hardly any cinema would show it on a commercial basis. I myself saw the film and I cannot say with any sense of realism that Ritwick Ghatak’s film on Lenin will bring the revolution even fraction of a second earlier. However, I am rather more oppressed by the poverty of Shri Ghatak who has staked up a little money with the help of some hapless financier and they are both desperately trying to sell this film to the Soviet Union. It would be great fun exporting Indian Lenin to the Soviet Union! I hope the Soviet society survives the depredations. It is really quite comic that so many hours of official time should have been wasted in considering the solemn question whether the lm should or should not be released. I feel that we can well afford to let the film go giving it a “A” certificate [Adults only]. [italics mine]
After dictating the note Haksar realized that he may have been carried away by his liberalism and suggested to the prime minister that she may agree to having the film certified ‘for adults only’ subject to deletion ‘only of that portion of the commentary on land grab sequence’. The prime minister agreed!
Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw is an authentic Indian hero and he did much to deserve that exalted status. He has bequeathed to us the story that Indira Gandhi and her advisors were keen on an early military operation, and that he put his foot down asking for more time. The documentary evidence does not lend any support to the claims made by Manekshaw. At no time did Indira Gandhi or Haksar betray any impatience for war – not in their public statements or actions and in Haksar’s case not in his internal notings either. And this even though many influential Opposition leaders and public figures like Jayaprakash Narayan were clamouring for it – and so were some strategic experts like K Subrahmanyam, who wrote a detailed paper making the case for an early intervention and had it circulated at the top echelons of the government.
Manekshaw’s view, which has become the stuff of military legend, has been conclusively refuted, on the basis of primary, archival material by Srinath Raghavan and by an eminent diplomat-scholar Chandrashekhar Dasgupta. Raghavan writes:
... Contrary to the assertions of Manekshaw and his military colleagues, the prime minister did not contemplate such an intervention in the early stages of the crisis.
Dasgupta is more cutting. He writes:
One of the most popular anecdotes of the 1971 war is Field Marshal Manekshaw’s tale of how he restrained an impatient Indira Gandhi from ordering an unprepared Indian army to march into East Pakistan in April. The Field Marshal’s prowess as a raconteur fully matched his military skills but exceeded his grasp of the political and diplomatic dimensions of the grand strategy shaped by Indira Gandhi and her advisors. The prime minister had no intention of going to war in April since India’s political aims could not have been achieved at that stage simply through a successful military operation.
Dasgupta’s meticulous marshalling of archival evidence points unambiguously to just one conclusion: that, more than anyone else, it was Haksar who masterminded what Dasgupta calls ‘the framework of a grand strategy integrating the military, diplomatic and domestic actions required to speed up the liberation of Bangladesh’.
Haksar and Manekshaw enjoyed each other’s company. On 22 March 1971, Manekshaw sent a note to Haksar marking it to him as PN Haksar, Esq ICS. Two days later drawing a circle around ICS, Haksar sent a ‘Strictly Personal’ chit to the general:
Change and adaptation are Darwinian imperatives. And so Dinosaurs became Lizards and survived. Perhaps Esquires could be Shris. Also I am not ICS, only poor IFS.
Please return this with your comments.
The next day, Manekshaw responded:
Sorry to have branded you with the stigma of the ICS on the strength of which you may claim your pension in sterling or at Rs 18 per pound sterling in Indian currency!!!
Shri PN Haksar sounds wonderful but “Shri” (which is Indian) doesn’t somehow go with “Secretary to Prime Minister” (which is so English). Likewise “Jurnail Manekshaw – Senpatti” would cause few comments, but “Jurnail Manekshaw-Chief of Army Staff” would sound odd. You agree? No –
That was the last bit of light-hearted banter between them for a long time for that very night the army crackdown in Dacca and other places in East Pakistan began.
On 17 September 1997, Haksar wrote to Bakul Patel, the widow of his friend Rajni Patel, whom he had first met in 1937 in London. The letter seems to repudiate whatever Haksar had done for half a century:
I wouldn’t have inflicted this letter on you but for the way you have described me as Indira Gandhi’s ‘conscience keeper’. If you would turn to Oxford Dictionary to find out the meaning of the word ‘conscience’, you will find the following:
“the moral sense of right and wrong, especially as felt by a person and affecting his behaviour”.
I could not become a ‘keeper’ of something which did not exist. If I were to briefly describe my own career in Foreign Service it could only be described as an errand boy during the Nehru years who graduated to become a valet. And as the saying goes: “no man is hero to his valet”. A valet’s perception of his master is quite different from those who come and visit the master and dine and wine with him. [italics mine]
A week later, after this uncharacteristic indictment of Indira Gandhi he would write to her biographer Katherine Frank:
I wonder how far you have proceeded with the writing of your story. Knowing a little bit about your sense and sensibility, I am sure that your book will be a fitting memorial to the life and work of Indira Gandhi.
On 2 April 1998, seven months before he passed away he again wrote to Frank:
I have read with admiration the way you are tracing the footsteps of Indira. Yes, I was in London from 1935 to 1942. Feroze was there too.
His very last letter to Frank was on 10 June 1998:
As I was contemplating my life and my time, as well your total involvement with Indira Gandhi’s life and work, it occurred to me that you might consider meeting someone in the Rolls Royce factory where Sanjay spent a few years as an Apprentice. You may find out from them what they thought of him when he was working there. After all, the story of Indira Gandhi is not the story of a character in fiction. She was a daughter; she was a wife; she was a mother; she was also the Prime Minister and possessed not only a body but also a soul. [italics mine]
The letter to Bakul Patel therefore cannot be seen in isolation. True, in itself it is a harsh judgment of Indira Gandhi by Haksar. But his letters to Frank at about the same time are of a different nature and in Frank’s biography of Indira Gandhi which came out in 2000, Haksar is on record both praising and criticizing the prime minister he worked for. He was not niggardly in praise and was not unsparing in criticism of Indira Gandhi. I would put down Haksar’s letter to Bakul Patel to one of those moments especially in old age when you begin to think that your life has had no meaning. Stephen Greenblatt has pithily described this condition as ‘late-life melancholy’.
Excerpted with permission from Intertwined Lives: PN Haksar and Indira Gandhi, Jairam Ramesh, Simon & Schuster India.