118 years of Trust BOOK REVIEW
Sunday, January 10, 1999
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Biography of a poor dalit family
Reviewed by Bhupinder Singh
Words Like Freedom: The Memoirs of an Impoverished Indian Family 1947-1997 by Siddharth Dube. Harper Collins, New Delhi. Pp. 297. Rs 395.

Pen portrait by (not of) a filmi man
Reviewed by Himmat Singh Gill
Raavi Paar and Other Stories by Gulzar. Harper Collins, New Delhi. Pp. 196. Rs 95.

Daughter’s labour of love
Reviewed by Cookie Maini
Difficult Daughters by Manju Kapur Penguin, New Delhi. Pp. 259. Rs 250.

Tibet — confused past, uncertain present, hazy future
Reviewed by Baljit Kang
Tibet, India and China: Critical Choices, Uncertain Future by Rajesh Kadian. Vision Books, New Delhi. Pp. 231. Rs 325.
Tibet: The Issue is Independence edited by Edward Lazar. Full Circle, Delhi. Pp. 92.Rs 125.

A sane voice from the past
Reviewed by Parshotam Mehra
A Life of Our Times by Rajeshwar Dayal. Orient Longman, New Delhi. PPx+637. Rs 495.


50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence
50 years on indian independence

Biography of a poor dalit family
by Bhupinder Singh

Words Like Freedom: The Memoirs of an Impoverished Indian Family 1947-1997 by Siddharth Dube. Harper Collins, New Delhi. Pp. 297. Rs 395.

AFTER the recent CPM congress, in reply to a question as to why the Left had failed to strike roots in Uttar Pradesh, party General Secretary H.S. Surjeet explained the reasons thus: “There has been no social reform movement in the state.” This surely is a case of putting the cart before the horse, since for those on the Left of the political spectrum, reforms are only part of a much more comprehensive radical agenda. The task of the Left is to carry out changes that go beyond reforms and not wait for others to carry out the job. Surjeet’s words raise an existential question for the CPM.

However, even this recognition of the specificity of the state of Uttar Pradesh is a recent phenomenon. For a long time, its endemic poverty was perceived as not very fundamentally different in nature from that prevailing in the rest of the country. It is only very recently that attention has been drawn to the abysmally poor performance of the state in key areas of literacy and health-care and its deep-rooted casteism and traditionalism.

Jean Dreze has termed the state as India’s “burden of inertia”.

The book under review is an attempt by young writer Siddharth Dube to understand the vertical implications of this inertia by relating the broader political economy of the state to the actual life experiences of a marginal family. It recounts the life of three generations of a Dalit family from Pratapgarh district. It interweaves the family’s recollections of their life and the writer’s own scholarly interjections. Surprisingly, the result is a stirring “jugalbandi” and not a cacophony of illiterate voices and noisy economic jargon, which is what it may have become in the hands of a less skilful chronicler.

The central character of the family is Ram Dass (aged about 65) of Baba ka Gaon in Pratapgarh. This district has been in the focus since the publication of Gyan Pandey’s impressive study on the Awadh peasant revolt (published in the first volume of the subaltern studies). Zamindari had existed here in its extreme form. It was buttressed by a rigid caste system in which the untouchables were treated as “neither fully Hindu nor fully human”. The upper caste zamindars, on the other hand, enjoying the patronage of the British colonial state, extracted may types of taxes and dues from the tenants and labourers, who without exception were untouchables or belonged to the intermediate castes.

Says Ram Dass: “(When I was a child) if our family got a letter, we had to go and plead with the Thakur or Brahmin to read it for us. We had to wait till they were free. Or we would work extra hard and finish all their work and then beg them. Even then, they would read it if they felt like it or otherwise they would shout, ‘Get out, go away!’

“The upper castes would treat us untouchables worse than dogs. They would at least accept water served by the middle castes, but from us they would not accept water, nor would they sit with us. If by mistake we touched any of their eating vessels they would throw them away, but if a dog licked the vessels, they would just wash them.”

Ram Dass’s son today is a primary school teacher, the first Scheduled Caste teacher from his village. His grandson now faces an uncertain future because though he is the first of three Scheduled Caste graduates from his village, he finds that he has to compete in a highly difficult job market. His degree is not of much help in the face of the few jobs that are available.

Over the years casteism has slowly became less oppressive though Ram Dass’s son Shrinath had to sit separately from high caste students in school. “Nowadays , Scheduled Caste children even play with upper caste children,” observes Shrinath.

Ram Dass and his family barely exist, they are an example of a family that has risen from the lowest of the low to a family that is now hovering around the poverty line. Land reforms over the years have enabled the family to own 2.5 acres. It is only because of his son’s government job which pays him Rs 4000 a month that the family of 17 manages to eke out a living, keep hunger at bay and afford two sets of clothes. The next generation faces an uncertain future again. The gains of the seventies have not progressed in a linear manner.

The most prosperous families in the village are, as during Ram Dass’s childhood years, still the 20 Thakur families which most of the village land and orchards. Besides, most of them have a family member employed in the army, police or university. Of the land that has been sold by the Thakurs over the past 50 years, the bulk was bought by the intermediate castes, with only a small area purchased by the Scheduled Castes. The rest of the families in the village have been too impoverished to purchase any land.

The author’s prescription is what may nowadays be termed as Sen-ism (after Amartya Sen): the government should carry out land reforms, promote good health-care, foster social equity and encourage local democracy. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s 1995 act on reservation of the post of village ‘pradhan’ for the intermediate and Scheduled Castes is an example of empowerment of these castes. Hitherto, Baba ka Gaon had the same Thakur “pradhan” between 1952 and 1995.

“The 1995 elections irrevocably changed caste equations in Baba ka Gaon. The village Thakurs threatened to kill the former army sergeant from the Maurya middle caste who, with the backing of the Scheduled Castes, decided to stand for the ‘pradhan’s’ post. They then burnt the crop of a particularly militant Scheduled Caste man. A week before the elections, in mid-afternoon, a group of Thakurs entered the hut of a middle caste family and started thrashing the wife with their staffs while others pinned her down. But for the first time in the history of Baba ka Gaon, the Scheduled Castes, including Prayaga Devi (Ram Dass’s wife), and the middle castes hit back at the Thakurs and chased them away.”

The memoir is a testament against the notion that the illiterate are not capable of participating in electoral politics. The perceptive awareness of Ram Dass and his family members of the reasons for their poverty is amazing.

Besides this, there are two major points that the book establishes.

First, that serious debate in the era of liberalisation is turning towards what Marxists have traditionally termed as the tasks of the bourgeois revolution. The hair-splitting debates that dominated the seventies searching for that elusive algebraic equation of the balance of class forces, which in turn would decide the stage of the revolution, now belong to a bygone age. Similarly the euphoria of the liberalisers in the early nineties is giving way to more introspective studies.

The second is the recognition of near absolute identity of the Dalits as the most oppressed section in the country. Earlier observers, even among the most radical ones, disdained this. Groomed in the modernist, Nehruvian framework in the backdrop of the global appeal of Marxism, the caste factor was pushed under the carpet. It was even seen as an obstacle in establishing class-consciousness. This has now changed, and rightly so. This was evident in another recent and comparable work that comes to mind: “Everyone Loves a Good Drought” by P. Sainath.

Dube’s misgiving that the Congress represented the interests of only the propertied classes both before and after independence betrays a direct influence of the subaltern school of historians and indirectly that of R.P. Dutt. This is not only contestable but is the result of too narrow a perspective that students of peasant studies have usually held. The only other problem that mars the text is the author’s straight-jacket perspective that sometimes reads like the CPM party programme. That towards the end of the book Ram Dass turns out to be a Communist (if not a CPM) sympathiser is perhaps indicative of this bias.Top


Pen portrait by (not of) a filmi man
by Himmat Singh Gill

Raavi Paar and Other Stories by Gulzar. Harper Collins, New Delhi. Pp. 196. Rs 95.

GULZAR is a well known name in Bollywood. Be it in writing screen plays and scripts or in directing films like “Aandhi” or the much-acclaimed “Maachis”. But all the time he obviously was a very good story writer too, as readers of his stories rendered for the first time into English would readily acknowledge. Translated from Urdu and Hindi by Masooma Ali and Alok Bhalla, this slim collection of 25 short stories attests to a versatile writer who effortlessly transcends time and space in framing his simple yet magical tales and experiences.

Gulzar has dedicated these stories to Raakhee, the “longest short story of my life”, as he puts it so tellingly. While leaving the end and events to one’s imagination, Gulzar says it all in his own subtle and understated way. In a manner of speaking, this book is quite possibly a story of his own life and inner turbulence.

It would be difficult to categorise any of his stories. At places they are moving, elsewhere ironical or even supernatural and surreal. In “Lekin”, the ghost of Devraj comes back again and again to the Udan railway station in search of his son Shyam who lives, but who the father believes was killed in a rail mishap. But in actual fact, it was really Devraj himself who had been run over by a train years back.

In “Dhuan”, the death of the benevolent and popular Chaudhary Sahab creates a tricky situation for both Muslims and Hindus of the locality. For the chaudhary in his will had wanted to be cremated and not buried. His wife is adamant in having her husband’s last wish fulfilled. There is turmoil and tension within the two communities, one wishing to bury him and the other to cremate the body.

The Hindu pundit agrees to the cremation, but only after chanting “mantras” and applying a “tilak”, for without this, “mukhagni” cannot be administered. Muslims demand burial.

Finally, in a bizarre move, the wife is killed and burnt in a mysterious fire in the chaudhary’s bedroom. The chaudhary is buried at the back of the mosque where a fresh grave has been dug.

Gulzar describes the end in these words: “At night giant flames were leaping out of the Chaudhary’s bedroom and the entire qasbah had got engulfed in smoke. The living were cremated and the dead buried.”

In “Dalia”, a young Rajasthani girl by the same name, is forced by Khuswa, her good for nothing drunk husband, to work as a servant at the “haveli” of the wife of Chhote Maharaj. The maharaj wants to bed Dalia, but she repulses him as long as she can. In the end, a combination of circumstances, poverty and lack of husband’s protection forces Dalia back into the haveli, and all that awaits her there.

The final subjugation of Dalia is described in the words of Neeti Tai, a helper, who two years earlier had suffered the same fate at the hands of Bade Maharaj. “Neeti said in a soft whisper, ‘Come, change your clothes. This time Khuswa is going to be kept in the lock-up for several days. And who knows what happens afterwards. Come, get up and change your choli’.” And in the end, “Dalia looked around with terrified eyes, imprisoned in the belly of the haveli, she could hear someone bellowing close by.” How suggestive and how real!

A very interesting story is “Raavi Paar” or “Across the Raavi River”. The partition of India resulted in horrendous suffering for Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs who crossed over from one side to another, not knowing if they would ever return again to their erstwhile homes. Jam-packed trains carried these uprooted masses from one man-made border to another. Gulzar describes the irony and the tragedy of a certain Darshan Singh, who while in a train from Layalpur to our own Punjab, throws away by mistake his son (in place of the other son who has died on the way) into the Raavi river near Lahore. Someone on the train had advised, “Sardarji, throw the dead child into the Raavi. He will be blessed. Why must you carry him to the other side.”

Let Gulzar describe the end in his own words. “In the darkness, he heard the faint cry of a child. Darshan Singh looked in terror towards his wife. She was clutching the dead child to her chest. Then a storm of voices arose — Wagah, Wagah. Hindustan Zindabad.”

These are stories of common people, buffeted by fate and human miscalculation, riding out their daily storms, in a very common way. And that is exactly what makes this collection by a very uncommon writer, so eminently readable.Top


Daughter’s labour of love
by Cookie Maini

Difficult Daughters by Manju Kapur Penguin, New Delhi. Pp. 259. Rs 250.

Parents of we Punjabis who were born after partition pepper our daily life with Lahore memorabilia — sepia-tinted photographs, anecdotes and frequent bouts of nostalgia. This has became such an inseparable part of our psyche, that without having lived through that era, we could resurrect it all — the halcyon days and their anguished, heart-wrenching emotions when they migrated leaving their utopia behind

Here is another in that genre. Manju Kapur, who was so moved by the love story of her parents set in that era that she restored it bit by bit, before letting it sink into memory. She pieced together the story through sepia photographs, talks with relatives, her own fragmented memory, and rounded up with a journey to the locales of her mother’s place to write "Difficult Daughters". It is her quest for her own identity through reliving her mother;s past. She slips into her mother's past, as she goes back to Amritsar and Lahore, where her mother spent the days of her courtship. Lahore evoked intense emotions as it always does in all Lahorias.

"It is clean, leafy, cool and beautiful. The institutions I visit are massive, ornate, touched by Gothic, and I am in love with everything between the sky and the grass from my very first hour there. As for the people, I have never seen so many good-looking ones together. I look at them possessively, a Punjabi Hindu hunger in my eyes — a hunger about a region I'd hardly thought about — until I thumbed through the pages of people's memories, and saw my questions as a bookmark in their lives."

The book offers an interesting insight into a pre-partition, middle class Punjabi family, their trials and travails, as one of their many daughters dares to defy convention and falls in love with a much-married man. Manju Kapur has done thorough research on oral as well as social history, though the saga is personality based (as the sepia photographs on the cover and back reflect), yet imaginatively, interspersed with the milieu of pre-partition Punjab, the nationalism struggle and the dawn of freedom.

The story begins with Ida's intense desire to align herself with her mother's past, as she journeys backwards in time after her mother's funeral. She then relives through the pages of her book the intense battles of her mother as a daughter, rebelling against her convention-bound family and seeking fulfilment of her passionate love affair.

The theme of the book is the struggle of a woman against tradition, which continues even today. Those who swim with the tide are comfortable, those who dare to strike against convention have a painful strife in hand. But it is the latter who form the core of such books and not the former, who comfortably go unsung.

Virmati is a daughter born into a huge household where women are supposed to marry, breed and cater to the food-fixated Punjabi patriarchs. The description of a typical Punjabi household is perfect; even today certain families live the same way. She has managed to capture the flavour of Punjabi life by using the typical terms "bhraji", "pehnji", "acchar muraba" etc.

The author goes forwards and backwards, as she transcends the time barrier; she begins with the present, she traces her mother’s story, punctuated with events of her grandmother's life to provide contrast. Of course, the core of the book remains Virmati's (her mother's) conflicts in a politically surcharged and convention-ridden society. She concludes with the emergence of Virmati's daughter Ida. Her mother fought to give legitimacy to her love through marriage inspite of family opposition.

Ida succeeds in breaking out of an unsuccessful marriage and staying single, a phenomenon unheard of in her grandmother Kasturi's time.

The focus of the writer is on the world of women but she also points out that men too were in traditional fetters. Like the Oxford educated Professor, bound in a loveless marriage to an uneducated woman.

The author's style is absorbing: she has an eye for detail, particularly, the all too familiar life style of Punjab.

Through the book, the social and political milieu of the period emerges very powerful as it naturally blends with the emotional fabric. Strangely, there is a paucity of social history in English of this period in contrast to the abundance of political history.

The book must be read by the Lahore-fixated for a return journey to an era, which will fade away as the pre-partition generation, a primary source of oral history, gradually dwindles. The recent spurt of books, some of which offer an interesting blend of fact and fiction, would add to the genre of social history.Top


Tibet — confused past, uncertain present, hazy future
by Baljit Kang

Tibet, India and China: Critical Choices, Uncertain Future by Rajesh Kadian. Vision Books, New Delhi. Pp. 231. Rs 325.

Tibet: The Issue is Independence edited by Edward Lazar. Full Circle, Delhi. Pp. 92.Rs 125.

THE Tibetan question has attracted increasing attention in recent years not so much out of concern for Tibet or Tibetans as for its usefulness in cornering an emergent post-cold war China. This usually unstated truth has tended to colour most discourse and western writing on Tibet, in which the hapless region is seen as either another geo-strategic pawn in the policy of containment of competitors to white Anglo-Saxon domination or an unreal Shangri La raped by the Han and since lost to posterity.

Thus Rajesh Kadian, an Indian medical specialist (resident in the USA) by profession and a military historian of South Asia by choice, provides a refreshing third point of view in his book.

Not that he breaks entirely new ground. For despite independent field research, specially on the Indian standpoint, the book is based largely on published material. What makes it different is its unusual perspective on the evolution of the Tibetan situation up to the present day and its melding of India’s role in and continuing centrality to any future solution.

Indian teachers introduced Buddhism to Tibet and played a role in its emergence as the state religion and key influence of Tibetan life. Other foreigners, this time Tibet’s powerful northern neighbours, the Mongols, pushed theocracy to centre-stage in the nation’s power structure by first anointing a leader of the Gelug sect of Buddhism, Sonam Gyatso, as the Dalai Lama and their “priest” in the late 16th century. They in turn were to be his “patron”. This process was carried to its logical conclusion less than a century later when in 1642, the Qosot Mongol leader, Gushri Khan, defeated the secular Tsangpa Kings of the rival Sakya sect of Buddhism and placed the temporal authority in the hands of the fifth Dalai Lama. Both interventions were at the behest of the Tibetans themselves.

It laid the foundation for continued Mongol intervention and for other regional power-players, wary of the Mongols, to push their own agenda on the roof of the world. Thus to oust the Mongols, the Manchu Qing dynasty who by now ruled China, invaded Tibet in 1720 and again in 1728, the first two invasions by a mainly Chinese force. To weaken the religious Mongol-Tibetan bond the Manchu transferred the patron-priest relation to the imperial court in Peking and, as patron, posted two Ambans (observers) along with a military detachment in Lhasa. It became the basis for China’s future claim as the suzerain of Tibet.

The author brings out clearly how the Tibetan government’s ambivalence contributed to strengthening this “constitutional fiction” even after the Ambans were ousted from Lhasa in 1911 by contrasting Tibet’s case with that of Outer Mongolia and Nepal. Mongolia, though it had its revolution ten years later in 1921, adopted a Soviet-style constitution, expelled foreigners, Tibetan monks and Chinese traders alike, fanned the embers of Mongol nationalism and even shifted into the Soviet orbit to shake off China’s shackles. By the thirties it was already a nation state. Little Nepal won recognition for its independence by similar international persistence and substantive aid to the British war effort in World War I.

Though Tibet’s other neighbour, British India, had as far back as 1914 given de facto recognition to Tibet in implementing the Indo-Tibetan border treaty of 1913 despite China’s refusal to initial it and in signing the subsequent Tibetan Trade Regulation Act directly with Lhasa, it still persisted with the fiction of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet. The inheritor of the British mantle, newly independent India, would pay the price for this when China first occupied Tibet and then demanded return of territories signed away in the 1913 border treaty, among them Tawang and Chumbi valley. Despite the 1962 Indo-China war, the border issue remains unresolved.

Meanwhile in Lhasa itself, the man responsible for Tibet’s independence, the 13th Dalai Lama, had died in 1933, giving the Chinese an opportunity to return, this time as a condolence party. The isolationist sentiment in his wake broke the momentum of the drive for independence. Tibet refused to participate in World War II and allowed American requests for passage of men and munition through its territory only reluctantly.

Thus when the war ended and Mao’s Communists seized control over all of China in 1948, Tibet had no friends to turn to, specially once India recognised China’s claim over it. China invaded Tibet on October 7, 1950, and, virtually unopposed, entered Lhasa. In March, 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India and even the fiction of Tibetan autonomy under China was dispensed with. At a time when the rest of the world was shaking off its colonial yoke, theocratic Tibet was colonised by Communist (atheistic) China.

A third of the book is taken up with subsequent events — the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile and its feeble attempts to focus on the Tibetan question against the background of an India which frowns on his political role and a world largely indifferent to it. And China’s solution — appearing to offer negotiations with the Tibetan government-in-exile while neglecting and not actively “integrating” Tibetans into the mainstream coupled with a systematic transfer of Han settlers to the Tibetan plateau to a point where the question itself disappear, as it already has in inner Mongolia.

It is hard not to agree with the author’s pessimistic conclusion that given the almost complete absence of outside pressure, the direction of Chinese policy in Tibet is unlikely to alter in the foreseeable future and that the only country which can play any meaningful role is India, not least because it is home to the Tibetan exile population. But he does not see this happening because of the lacklustre political leadership of both countries and India’s compulsions in Kashmir, which China has exploited in the past and will continue to exploit.


“Tibet: The Issue is Independence” is a compendium of articles by eight Tibetan exiles reflecting on Tibet and the initiatives of the Tibetan government-in-exile to arrive at a modus vivendi with China. It discusses these one-sided initiatives, including the dilution of the demand for independence to one of autonomy within China, and their failure to evoke any response given the Chinese refusal to negotiate on any issue other than the terms for the Dalai Lama’s (Beijing’s major international embarrassment) return to Tibet.

Having had a taste of both life in Tibet as well as in exile, the writers provide a candid appraisal of China’s colonial intentions in Tibet and their government’s ineffectual parleys, even its sidling up to the indifferent Chinese, the bane of previous Tibetan Governments.

The writers are specially critical of the Dalai Lama’s brother, Gyalo Thondup, who, to quote Jamyang Norbu, “affects a somewhat olympian attitude in matters of statecraft, coolly making statements absolutely contrary to (the) Tibetan government policies.”

“GT once lectured to me, in his slightly Chinese accented English, about how he had reproached Chinese leaders in Beijing for their heavy-handed tactics in Tibet. I would once have been flattered by such sharing of confidences ….. But by then I had read of Chamberlain being ‘firm’ with Hitler while Goring and Ribbentrop were laughing in the ante-room.”

They also air dissent in the exile community against Dharamsala’s initiatives and the government’s vocal disapproval of any line it does not expressly approve of, including the Tibetan Youth Congress’s calls for independence. The writers also present a brutally frank picture of why they insist on complete independence from the Han, even though they realise that this is a distant dream. Lhabsang Tsering, a former president of the TYC, presents the exiles aspect on this when he says, “the rich and the powerful have long since secured for themselves and their children the citizenship of other countries while they continue to call on the ordinary people to remain true to the cause. And what cause? The cause of statelessness? Or independence is a goal worthy of any sacrifice. … However, I cannot expect people to make similar sacrifices for a lesser goal. I, for one, cannot struggle to be in association with China.”

Tashi Topgye Jamyangling, a Tibetan exile and an embittered former government official, presents another: “The whole world knows that there is no ‘common ground’ between the Tibetans and the Chinese… Every unilaterally created or fantasised ‘common ground’ proposed by the Tibetan leadership at the expense of our people was flatly rejected by the Chinese.”

“Can we regain our country’s independence by shouting slogans and uttering empty words?, some of our bureaucrats have asked before. My answer is that we shall never be any closer to getting what we need by not doing anything about it!”Top


A sane voice from the past
by Parshotam Mehra

A Life of Our Times by Rajeshwar Dayal. Orient Longman, New Delhi. PPx+637. Rs 495.

IN the opening decades of independent India’s initial forays into the international arena among a small but illustrious band of civil servants, who rose to eminence as diplomats, a few names stand out. Among others Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai, KPS Menon and, at a farther remove, Rajeshwar Dayal. They manned the foreign office and many a troubled spot around the globe and, in the bargain, brought no small credit to themselves and the country.

KPS’s autobiography, “Many Words; An Autiobiography” is a classic; RD’s “Life”, under review, holds out the promise to recount events “as objectively and dispassionately as possible”. And he does.

Winning his spurs as second-in-command at our embassy in Moscow, Dayal was to play an important role as the country’s permanent representative at the UN, made a successful High Commissioner in Pakistan during the Ayub era and was in the forefront as a trouble-shooter in Congo. The latter saw the shameless liquidation of its Prime Minister and accounted for the till-date mysterious death of the then UN Secretary-General.

There were other assignments — in Tito’s Yugoslavia at the time of the birth of NAM; in Lebanon when the Arab-Israeli conflict seemed to carry all before it. And last though by no means the least, at the time of the emergence of Southern Rhodesia as Zimbabwe.

The last leg of a long and by no means undistinguished career was a brief stint as Foreign Secretary. All told, a rich and varied experience.

With its two somewhat long and heavy chapters, “The Congo Cauldron” and “The Clock and Dagger Diplomacy”, Congo constitutes what may be called the tour de force of Dayal’s stupendous book which runs into nearly 650-odd pages. The Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold, had specifically requested New Delhi that Dayal’s services be loaned for a crucial assignment: to save Congo and forestall a war.

In essence, the UN, literally for the first time, was mounting a massive international military operation, not for waging war but for peace keeping.

Inasmuch as the big powers, then embroiled in the worst phase of the cold war, were at daggers drawn with each other, the UN relied almost exclusively on the middle and smaller powers. On African countries and neutral states like Sweden and Ireland and, above all, India which, to its abiding credit, gave him unstinted and consistent support.

Happily for New Delhi, its role as a bulwark of the UN peacekeeping operations won plaudits. And largely because of the singular dedication to duty of the Indian contingent and the integrity and honesty of purpose revealed by the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative, Rajeshwar Dayal. Congo’s tragedy was the handiwork of the CIA which, it would appear, had been entrusted with the task of eliminating Patrice Lumumba. His sterling qualities of leadership, his eloquence, patriotic fervour and fierce independence proved to be his undoing.

Grossly misinformed, Washington dubbed him a commie — “a very dangerous man” and “a threat to world peace”. What it wanted was a ringing protege, a Mobutu who would be amenable to its influence and solicitous of its interests.

The truth was that the real conflict in Africa in general, and the Congo in particular, was not between capitalism and communism but between nationalism and tribalism. A truism which the West long failed to grasp. In fact the ideology of the newly-independent African states was neither Soviet communism nor yet western democracy. It was plain survival; nothing more, nothing less.

The Congo apart, Dayal had an important role to play in smoothing relations with President Ayub’s Pakistan almost immediately after the general had staged a coup against Iskander Mirza and his much-discredited ramshackle parliamentary government (1958). Some of the major irritants in the Indo-Pak relations in the first decade after independence were distribution of the waters of the Indus basin, demarcation of the land boundary considering that the Radcliffe Line was hastily drawn and ill-defined with no pretence at observing any geographical contours or landmarks. And the endless squabbles over evacuee property.

The long and short of the protracted negotiations on the Indus waters was the Canal Waters’ Treaty (1960) which has todate stood the test of war (1965, 1971) and peace.

The exchange of some enclaves and rationalising the land boundary along the Punjab-Sind border was another major achievement; the solitary left-over being the Sind-Kutch border.

On the issue of evacuee property, after a great deal of debate and disputation the pragmatic solution was to let each side hold what it had and compensate its respective claimants as best as it could. In brief, left to itself, the dispute gradually sorted itself out and has not been heard of since.

Much of the credit for these accords goes to the excellent personal rapport which the Indian envoy was able to establish with the Pakistani President. Dayal found Ayub to be “frank, open-minded and cooperative”. And “straight forward and quick” in grasping the essentials of a problem.

Congo and Pakistan apart, Dayal had a role in handling other important issues. And his portraits of men and affairs make for interesting reading. Marshal Tito’s “powerful personality and political creed” cobbled the new Yugoslavia into a modicum of unity. A patchwork quilt of disparate elements which, sadly, has now fallen apart.

There is a lot on Krishna Menon which reminds one strongly of what another distinguished civil servant, B. K. Nehru, in his “Nice Guys Finish Second” has to say of our former Raksha Mantri. Dayal found his manner of functioning “rather secretive — almost conspiratorial”. His propensity for cronyism among the permanent staff at the UN — and later in the Ministry of Defence — tended to undermine discipline and loyalty.

This was not to gainsay that he was very agile and inventive in devising intricate formulate for intractable problems. His cleverness and subtlety not withstanding. Menon “lacked finesse” and showed poor judgement: his needling of Americans was “petulant” and “open denigration” of Vijayalakshmi Pandit’s leadership of the UN “damaging” to the country’s best interest.

His animus towards Pakistan blinded him: in September, 1962, he was looking in the opposite direction when the Chinese struck!

The author recalls how earlier in August, 1962, during a brief stop-over in New Delhi on his way from Dacca to Karachi (Menon hauled him before a meeting of the army top brass “to furnish a first-hand account” of the vast preparations Pakistan was making to launch a strike. “Taken aback,” Dayal confessed, he was “not aware of any such plan”.

Answering the oft-repeated question of the secret of Menon’s hold over Nehru, Dayal expatiates on his broad vision and knowledge of international affairs. And the ability to talk on matters about which Nehru’s homespun party colleagues had little knowledge or interest.

The author had the opportunity to serve three Prime Ministres, Nehru, Shastri and Indira Gandhi and gives vivid impressions of his dealings with them. Nehru was a patrician who wielded power and authority as to the manner born. He was even to the Mahatma, no unquestioning disciple. And never hesitated to differ until he was persuaded to the contrary. He functioned openly and transparently, without a shadow of underhand dealing; worked through responsible officials and would never bypass them much less deal surreptitiously with subordinates.

When he took over as Prime Minister, Shastri possessed a single tin trunk for his entire wardrobe! Though small and frail in body, he was, as President Ayub discovered, no pushover. And while conciliatory, he could be very firm.

While Nehru used to take his own decisions and prepare his own speeches, Shastri began to involve his office more closely in assisting him. In the event, a sizeable Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) came into being. Under his successors it became bloated and has, over the years, emerged as a great power centre.

Under Indira Gandhi, officials became aware that “to get on, they must get along”. In the event, the democratic concept of an impartial and a-political bureaucracy went by the board. And by a process of osmosis, the most venal and incompetent rose to the top with the politician-bureaucrat nexus becoming an established fact. Criminality has now joined in this unholy alliance.

The “indignity and gracelessness” of his own exit from a long and distinguished career was at once sad and tragic. In an off-hand manner Indira Gandhi offered him an assignment — “like throwing a scrap at an abject supplicant” — in Pakistan. Which he declined. It was, he confesses, a “rather ungracious leave-taking” from the Prime Minister.

Before he moved to greener pastures in the foreign service, Dayal had a brief stint as Home Secretary in UP and recalls with some nostalgia the thoroughly relaxed manner in which decisions were taken under the Raj, even on the gravest of issues. Each one was encouraged to speak out his mind with utmost candour. Team spirit was encouraged and virtuoso performances “severely frowned upon.”Top

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