P. N. Haksar, George Kennan of India
V. N. Datta

Haksar Memorial Volumes I and II: Contemplations on the Human Condition and Contributions in Remembrance, A Homaqe to P. N. Haksar
edited by Subrata Banerjee.
The Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development, Chandigarh. Pages 418 and 296. Rs 1,345.

THESE elegantly produced volumes are actually homage to late P. N. Haksar from the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), Chandigarh, with which he was closely associated as Chairman of its Governing Body and Editor of its quarterly journal, Man and Development, till he died in November, 1998. The initiative for bringing out these volumes has come from Mr Rashpal Malhotra, founder-director of CRRID.

The first volume contains Haksar’s 48 articles written on a variety of subjects such as international politics, diplomacy, administration, science, history, etc; and his nine letters addressed to his colleagues, friends and admirers, including the one written to Indira Gandhi. The second volume has articles written as a tribute to Haksar by his associates and the papers presented at the three series of the Haksar Memorial Lectures (2001-2003). The lectures
were organised by CRRID on themes that were of special interest to Haksar.

In his article, PNH: Some Memories (Vol. II), P. K. Unnikrishnan asks perhaps himself: "What was so special about Mr Haksar?" Of course, he held several high positions with distinction, including that of India’s High Commissioner in the UK and Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, but there have been a number of others as well in similar position. Still, Haksar stands a class apart. The proof is hidden in Haksar’s own writings.

Haskar had a disturbing intellect and his mind was a battlefield of ideas, constantly inquiring, probing, and questioning the dictates of conventional wisdom. In the opening chapter of Volume I, in his essay, Is History Bunk, Haksar emphasises the value of history for understanding the complexity of human problems.

He takes Henry Ford to task for condemning history as "bunkum" and does not spare even Winston Churchill, author of several historical works, including his famous History of the Second World War and A History of the English Speaking Peoples, for his lack of historical sense. According to Haksar, Churchill failed to understand the growing aspirations of the Indian people for the freedom of their country and, thus, as Prime Minster of Britain, bungled and complicated issues.

Churchill indeed had an id`E9e fixe about India, which he had been nursing since his service days as a subaltern in the North Western Frontier Province towards the end of the 19th century.

Haksar admires Jawaharlal Nehru for his acute sense of history because he had envisaged history as a progressive development of man through successive stages in time. Regarding history as a combination of "human passions" and "permanent values", Haksar defines it as a "process of interaction between people and the power structure existing at a given time, in a given country, with its cultural and civilizational specifications. Such an interaction is mediated through a variety of institutions.

Haksar warns that if as a result of this interaction, "the overwhelming mass of people finds their passions and values being negated, a process of alienation would gather momentum and the power structure would collapse". This, I think, is Haksar’s excellent formulation of history and also a warning to the political leaders who style themselves as nation-builders, while being completely ignorant of the ground reality.

It is evident that Haksar’s range of reading was wide. Even though his friends estimate his library collection to be of 25,000 books on a variety of themes (from Aristotle and Shakespere to Iqbal to the Bhagavadgita), his mind was active, not accumulative. Endowed with a remarkable assimilative power, he brought his readings to the majestic trial of his judgement and after weighing and considering these in a detached manner, he would form a fiercely independent opinion unclouded by prejudice or passion.

Haksar’s writings show the multiplicity of his interests in natural science, diplomacy, statecraft, warfare, military strategy, philosophy, religion and poetry. His writings echo eloquently the hopes and aspirations, frustrations and thwarted ambitions, and fears and opportunities lost in an age in which he lived.

Haksar’s critics may dismiss him as a left-wing intellectual, a crypto-communist, a fervent Marxist, an armchair hoity-toity bureaucrat, sitting in the corridors of power and puffing on his pipe, wielding power and throwing about his weight in decisive policy-making. A civil servant indeed has his limitations and works within the constraints of a system, which if does not mute him, at least dilutes his voice on controversial issues. However, Haksar had the courage to maintain an autonomy and independence of character and opinions in his official position. With bold and daring ideas, he shook off the settled habits of thought and earned much respect.

Devotion to virtue was more vital to him than materialism and rational thinking. Like Nehru, he firmly believed in strengthening the moral fabric of Indian society, for which he stressed the need for drawing from India’s ancient cultural and spiritual heritage. His conclusion is that nothing in life is better than just being a good man.

In a significant article, 1971: PNH in Bridging the Security Gap, Muyeedul Hasan, who had been a close associate of former Bangladesh Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad, gives an inside account of the signing of the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, in which Haksar played a vital role. The treaty, a tour-de-force, proved a landmark in the independence of Bangladesh. Hasan’s account shows how Haskar with his diplomatic finesse, patience and subtlety saw the signing of the treaty through, despite the Soviet initial reservation.

Haksar coquetted with Marxism, Socialism, Gandhism and with the ancient Indian thought, and made up his own hierarchy of ideas and priorities in his own light. It would be unjust to call him convinced and confirmed Marxist. His mind was a thoroughfare of floating ideas and he clung to what endeared him.

The tension between the demands of professional and personal life and the lonely quest for adventure in the realm of ideas, an intellectual’s dilemma, exasperated him and set limits to his creative journey. However, as Raja Ramanna says in his essay, it is beyond doubt that Haksar remains "one of the most distinguished Indians during the second half of the 20th century". These volumes on him are valuable and authoritative reference works on contemporary India and analyse national and international problems as seen by one of the ablest and the finest sons of India. His place in India’s history is as assured as that of distinguished diplomat George Kennan in American statecraft. Regrettably, the volumes lack a brief life sketch of Haksar.