Reformist revisited
Humra Quraishi

Dr Prem Chowdhry is a well-known author and social scientist. She has edited a recently published book on her father, Hardwari Lalís writings, Understanding Politics And Society Ė Hardwari Lal (Manak publications). Excerpts from an interview:

Why did you decide to put together this volume now, almost 13 years after the passing away of your father, Hardwari Lal ?

Prem Chowdhry
Prem Chowdhry

It is only recently that I began to see the significance of my fatherís writing in the current context ó a context in which there is almost a cyclic recurrence, in a worse form, of the socio-political problems assailing our country, and the relevance of his basic premises that itís the "unscrupulous politicians", "bent upon remaining in power" and a "committed and corrupt bureaucracy" that have failed the country and its Constitution and not the other way around. A part of the colonial bureaucracy himself, he strongly advocated a reform of the civil services, especially the insulating of the bureaucracy from politics. He deplored its steady politicisation and corruption. His analytical observations also cover the working of the judiciary and the controversial judicial activism, leading to a headlong confrontation between the executive/legislature and judiciary; the election process; the changing nature of the Indian electorate; the demand for smaller states and the politics behind it; as also the importance of higher education in India, and the problems faced by it. I am certain that the readers would benefit from reading his views on these problems.

This volume focuses on turbulent phases in your father's life as well as his changing professions. Did these patterns leave some impact on you?

My introduction certainly revolves around my fatherís life and changing times, both turbulent and relatively peaceful. The volume, however, focuses on his writings, which highlight his multifaceted personality ó that of a bureaucrat, an educationist, a political scientist, a historian, a constitutional expert, and a politician. In fact, he was able to offer brilliant analytical insights because of the expertise he gathered from his changing professions, which helped him make what he was ó a keen participant observer, both colonial and contemporary ó with an enormous flair with his pen.

Hardwari Lal advocated the reform of the bureaucracy










Hardwari Lal advocated the reform
of the bureaucracy

In his foreword to this book, Khushwant Singh writes that he was "most impressed" by Hardwari Lal because he came across as a true nationalist and also a bright student. Tell us more about your father.

Khushwant Singh also thought of him as ĎPrime Minister materialí. I think my fatherís life and career shows the upward mobility of a common man through quality education in a changing society. An individual, born of totally illiterate parents from a rural background, he was able to overcome the obvious handicaps through his intelligence and sheer hard work.

Your father wrote several books but not his autobiography. Why?

He had once mentioned that he would write his autobiography, but he never did. I think he could have done it in 1991, when he retired from active politics, but the last six years of his life were given to understanding and analysing the socio-political problems in public life that he never got the chance to write his biography. Also, death came suddenly without warning, when he was literally on his feet. That may have cut short his plans to write, but one can only speculate.

How much of your father's passion for academics has been
inherited by you?

Quite a lot. But in reality, there were very few professions that a female could choose at the time I was growing up. Unlike these times, which offer a huge number of options to women, even unorthodox ones, then it was academics or medical which were the socially acceptable fields for women. Left to myself, I may have chosen to go into fine arts ó but that was out of question at that time, with my fatherís marked preference for higher education.

I am a historian who has adopted an inter-disciplinary approach for understanding both colonial and contemporary society and written extensively on issues of political economy, gender, caste, culture and society.