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The betrayal of India

Print edition : Jan 17, 2003 T+T-

PMO Diary-I: Prelude to the Emergency by B.N. Tandon; Konark; pages 567, Rs.800.

ON October 4, 1969 the author was appointed a Joint Secretary in Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's Secretariat. That year the Congress split in the wake of the presidential election in which she reneged on the party candidate, N. Sanjiva Reddy, whose nomination paper she had signed, and secured the election of V.V. Giri as President. Tandon left the Secretariat seven years later, in 1976. His senior colleagues were P.N. Haksar, Secretary to the Prime Minister (1967-71) and Principal Secretary (1971-73), and P.N. Dhar her Adviser (1970-71) and Secretary (1971-77). H.Y. Sharada Prasad was Information Adviser (1966-77).

The country's political climate deteriorated steeply as Indira Gandhi began her bid, first, for maintaining control over the party and, next, for total power. The civil service, the judiciary and the press were attacked. B.K. Nehru said in a press interview: "It started in 1969... the great fillip came after the split and in an effort to have a populist image, Mrs. Gandhi, as advised by P.N. Haksar, went on the (concept of a) committed bureaucracy, committed judiciary" (Sunday Mail, April 5, 1992).

We have not recovered from those blows to this day. None of our institutions the judiciary, civil service and Parliament is what it was before 1969. The Congress was reduced to her praetorian guard. Federalism became a sham. Corruption mounted. But throughout history, the success of dictators was made possible by two factors, the initial help of collaborators and particularly of aides of talent, the von Papens of Hitler. Indira Gandhi had her von Papens. Haksar was the foremost among them.

The second factor is the psyche of the people. The Versailles Treaty had wounded German pride. This, combined with economic chaos and political instability, made Hitler's appeal irresistible. India won independence from British rule in 1947, but Dr. B.R. Ambedkar warned the Constituent Assembly on November 4, 1948 as he moved for the consideration of the Draft Constitution: "Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realise that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic." As the Assembly completed its tasks, he warned on November 25, 1949: "Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship."

Acharya Kripalani was well aware of these failings when he wrote to Nani Palkhiwala on June 19, 1975, prophetically a week before Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency: "She appears to be in a desperate mood. If that mood continues she may decide to go the Mujib way in Bangladesh... This may appear to you an imaginary fear, but these days anything can happen. If she decides to go the Mujib way, poor and ignorant as our people are, there may be no resistance" (Kripalani; The Nightmare and After; Popular Prakashan; 1980; page 2).

Tandon's Diary must be read, not for the tittle-tattle about transient personalities, but for a glimpse of the hideous state of affairs at the apex of power. He provides it unwittingly and despite himself. The Introduction traces the deterioration, which had begun much before the Emergency. In 1972, Jayaprakash Narayan launched his movement for accountability and electoral reforms. By 1974 he as well as the Opposition were set on a collision course with the Prime Minister.

The rot had set in deep and begun already to stink to high heavens. Tandon writes: "When the climate for work was changing in this manner, in September 1974 a letter came from the Home Ministry regarding my deputation. My term at the Prime Minister's Secretariat was coming to an end and the Home Ministry wanted to know what should be the further arrangements in this regard. Dhar showed me the letter and asked me what I would like. I told him that if he and the Prime Minister (I took the two names in precisely that order) wanted that I should continue in the Secretariat I had no objection and that I would continue to work with total commitment." He adds: "So I was to continue in the Prime Minister's Secretariat but I could realise that the atmosphere was changing, which would lead to more difficulties... In the course of five years I had come to understand the personality and temperament of the Prime Minister. I knew that the Prime Minister could not overcome her ego; she would not wish to see a diminishing self-created image. Power was a necessary part of it, which she would not relinquish easily" (page xxxv).

He had been offered graceful exit. He chose to continue, instead, and decided to write a Diary to expose his boss: "The decision to write this Diary was a result of this state of mind. I knew that after a certain period when government correspondence and documents, etc., are made public all the decisions which were being taken and whatever was happening in those days would become known to every one... In fact it (the record) may not be available anywhere. Therefore I decided that it would be better to highlight this aspect in my Diary." (emphasis added, throughout). It was written for publication. The first entry was of November 1, 1974.

The question inescapably arises why did he elect to serve her? Only weeks later on December 30, 1974, he wrote: "The P.M. is only concerned with her power and rule. Such persons tend rapidly towards fascism." The awareness could not have dawned on him since September 1974.

Having embarked on this mission, the diarist began "to collect the statements and interviews of various leaders". Indira's wild charges, after her return to power in January 1980 "in a way pushed me to study these Emergency abuses matters in detail... So I started writing my Diary again" from February 10, 1983 until December 13, 1983. Did he embellish what was written already? "The importance of writing this Diary a second time or adding some footnotes thereafter is clear. The information obtained later has provided proof for the Diary entries, and lessened their incompleteness... I used to see myself that the Diary (1974-76) had not talked about the Emergency in full and thereafter I had collected so much material, which would not be easily available elsewhere. Therefore I thought, why should I not write more on this subject... " (page xlvii).

We are told that in eight-nine years this Diary was written in two parts. "When I stopped writing the Diary on July 24, 1976 on leaving the Prime Minister's Secretariat I had not made up my mind as to what I would do later but I had certainly decided that if it was to be published it would not be done for at least 25 years." Friends learnt of the project. Some read it. This volume, which is the first section of the first part, contains the background to the declaration of the Emergency and its approval by Parliament (November 1, 1974 to August 15, 1975). The second section would be the Diary from August 16, 1975 to July 24, 1976. The second part of the Diary (February 10, 1980 to December 13, 1983) will follow these two volumes.

If Tandon's credibility is not enhanced by the manner in which, admittedly, the Diary came to be written, one's respect for him is diminished by rancorous references to others and extravagant claims for himself. That is by reading the Diary alone. On November 22, 2002, however, R.K. Dhawan published Tandon's letter to him, which demolishes his credibility (The Hindustan Times, November 23, 2002 for a photostat of the letter).

Dhawan alleged that Tandon was sacked from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) because of suspected links with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). Given his scant credibility, one should ask for proof. But Tandon's letter of June 8, 1982, to Dhawan has not been denied by its writer. In the book Tandon claims: "After coming back to power her vengeful nature became so strong that she decided that not only will I not get a promotion at the Centre, the Uttar Pradesh government was also unofficially and orally instructed not to give me even the due promotion. (Her anger with me was for deposing before the Maruti Commission, though my deposition was merely to confirm her orders on the files. According to her I should have refused to testify.) As a result... I applied for voluntary retirement... '' in 1983.

Why does this truthful diarist omit to mention that he had, in 1982, sought to be reinstated in the service of "the fascist" through the good offices of the very Dhawan whom he rightly decries in the diary? The letter asked to be given "an opportunity" to "clear the misunderstandings that have grown about me" an oral hearing; adding "my purpose in writing this letter is to plead for making greater and better use of my services and I may give my most genuine, sincere and respectful assurance to P.M. that my conduct and performance will not give her any occasion to find me wanting in any respect. Judge me, if necessary, to begin with even on any unimportant and inconsequential assignment." Indira Gandhi saw it and initialled it.

How, then, should any serious student of politics view Tandon's testimony? Neither uncritical acceptance nor total rejection would be correct. His bare word will not do. Each account must be considered on its own merits its intrinsic probabilities, in the light of the existing material in corroboration or refutation. There is no reason to disbelieve for instance, his detailed account of Indira's attempts to influence the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Gurdial Singh Dhillon. He submitted and was rewarded with a ministership.

As Governor of Gujarat, H.C. Sarin, I.C.S. (Indian Civil Service) was used "to persuade Hitendra Desai to join the Congress" (page 59; December 2, 1974). Rings true. On March 21, 1975, Tandon recorded: "Sarin also mentioned in passing that he had only one objective in Gujarat to ensure a Congress victory in the election. It is very wrong of him to participate in politics in this fashion. But it is not entirely his fault; the atmosphere that has been created in the country is encouraging such behaviour" (page 248). But on November 5, 1974, our holy civil servant noted: "I am aware of the P.M.'s difficulties. I had met the Congress President, Dev Kant Barooah, about a week ago." They discussed Bihar. "I thought it appropriate that the PM should be informed of this" (pages 6-7).

G. Parthasarathy was asked by the Prime Minister to persuade the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Member of Parliament Jyotirmoy Bosu to "stop raising questions about Maruti". G.P. raised no questions about this task. Bosu, a man of integrity, refused to flinch (pages 22-3).

We get revealing and credible disclosures about certain episodes. Indira Gandhi "smiled and said that the main responsibility for the dissolution of the Kerala Assembly (in 1959) had been hers." She admitted that it was not "correct" to do so. What was overlooked was her remark on July 25, 1959: "The Constitution is for the people, not the people for the Constitution. And if the Constitution stands in the way of meeting the people's grievances in Kerala, it should be changed" (The Statesman, July 27, 1959). A person who can speak thus as Congress president, can hardly be expected to behave better as P.M.

The genesis of the Shah Bano case lay in her volte-face on Sections 125 and 127 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (maintenance of neglected wife and children). A deputation of Muslim leaders led by Sheikh Abdullah sought exemption of Muslims; on August 17, 1983, Liberal Muslims opposed this. She preferred the former. "Political self-interest prevailed over liberalism and reform" (page 25).

On the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord in February 1975, Tandon's comments are correct. On November 27, 1974, as the basics were settled, he wrote: "Sheikh will not get anything substantial but the form will be such that he will be able to explain the benefits of the agreement to his supporters" (page 49). On February 24, 1975, he wrote: "The government has not made any concessions and it has managed to get Sheikh Abdullah's cooperation" (page 211).

Shortly thereafter, Jammu and Kashmir Governor, L.K. Jha, told Tandon about "a vexatious problem". It was a grave omission. "An important document has been left out of the set of papers relating to the Kashmir agreement that were placed on the table of the House. G.P. and Beg had also discussed through correspondence the modalities of the appointment of the Governor and the future of the all-India services in the State. Nothing could be agreed upon expect that the issues would be discussed later. In the picture that has emerged before the public, these do not appear to be controversial matters. So Sheikh Abdullah wants to make the correspondence public. But if this is done, it will create difficulties for the government."

The diarist's understanding is poor. True, Abdullah gave up "the demand for plebiscite" but he had not "accepted fully the merger of J&K into India" (page 212). On the contrary, he swore by Article 370. Yet it is this accord which Ghulam Nabi Azad, I.K. Gujral and others want to impose on Kashmir even now. P.N. Dhar confirms that "Balakrishnan, the Additional Secretary in the Home Ministry, has also played a very important role" (page158). It consisted in giving palpably wrong "legal advice" (vide the writer's article `Article 370: Law and Politics', Frontline; September 29, 2000 and his book Citizen's Rights, Judges and State Accountability; Oxford University Press; page 383-384). The accord led to defections from the Sheikh-supported Plebiscite Front. The People's League was born on October 31, 1974, as news of the parleys trickled in. The foundations of militancy were laid (vide the writer's article `Contours of Militancy'; Frontline, October 13, 2000). The pact of 1975 is now an obscene irrelevance.

Tandon is not to be disbelieved when he asserts that under R.N. Kao, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) conducted "domestic surveillance. I have seen several unsigned reports submitted by them". Worse, "RAW funds were used for party purposes" (December 21, 1974, page108).

Tandon's ire is selective. The anguish of H.Y. Sharda Prasad is recorded. Not so, his enthusiastic efforts on her behalf. Madhav Godbole former Union Home Secretary, records in his memoirs "H. Y. Sharada Prasad, Information Adviser to the Prime Minister, wrote a letter on September 20, 1975 to my father-in-law, Professor S.V. Kogekar, among others, with a request to be a signatory to the letter, which was expected to be signed by a group of persons very select and compact not more than about twenty-five to thirty. He had specially added `Please notice that I am writing this to you in my personal and not official capacity.' But the address at the top was that of the Prime Minister's Office." (Unfinished Innings; Orient Longman; page 111).

On Haksar he delivers paeans of fulsome praise. He was "behind her success" from 1967-1972 (page xxi). A few pages later (page 30), he opines a propos the deterioration in relations between the Prime Minister and the Cabinet: "Much of the blame lies with the P.M. herself and her former Secretary, P.N. Haksar." Haksar despised the Ministers and expanded the PMO through sheer aggrandisement of power. French Prime Minister Pierre Mendes-France recorded in his memoirs how during a visit to New Delhi he found people cowering under Haksar. Indira Gandhi discarded him once her purpose was served and used the formidable apparatus of power he had created, RAW included, for her own ends. She turned against him. It has happened before in history.

One real service which Tandon undoubtedly renders is to bring out the absolute correctness of the judgment which Justice Jag Mohan Lal Sinha rendered in Indira Gandhi's case. One of the issues was whether she took the help of a Gazetted Officer, Yeshpal Kapoor. He had resigned from the government on January 25, 1971. The Prime Minister falsely claimed that it was on January 13. "Kapoor's resignation had actually been sent on January 25 but it was shown to have been received on the 13th or the 14th. Two officials of the P.M.'s Secretariat had been made to sign on the resignation letter only later. (N.K.) Seshan told me that the dark register pertaining to that period was destroyed today at (Jagpat) Dubey's (her attorney) instance. Dubey is worried that it might be summoned by the Court. Actually, according to the rules, that register should have been destroyed last year itself. In that sense, there has not been any wrongdoing. Dubey said that a judge who is a friend of Justice Jagmohan Sinha who is trying the case, is being used to influence him. It was then I recalled that one day Dubey had had a long discussion with that Judge about the case on trunk telephone from my house." (page 213).

Haksar, creditably refused to make a false noting on Kapoor's letter (page 46). What Tandon omits to mention, while mentioning Justice Sinha's judgment, is that Haksar testified falsely in court and was disbelieved by the Judge. He claimed to have accepted Kapoor's resignation orally on January 13, claiming "I have held charge of large and important offices both inside the country and abroad and this is a practice I have followed and that practice has never been questioned so far."

Justice Sinha observed: "Needless to say that Sri Haksar expressed his inability to mention any rule under which it was permissible to appoint people and to remove them by word of mouth. The statement appears to have been made only to fortify the plea set up by the respondent No. 1 (Indira) in the additional written statement regarding oral acceptance of the letter of resignation." No such plea was made in her original written statement. The plea was "an afterthought". Nor could Haksar recall any order in writing passed after his oral acceptance. His testimony on this point was disbelieved as, indeed, was Indira's and Yashpal's.

Only partisans would be surprised at this. That Haksar was ruthless and cynical was well known to those who watched him closely. Consider this. "The Chief Election Commissioner is T. Swaminathan. Earlier he was the Cabinet Secretary. He was very hopeful of becoming a Governor. Haksar tried his best for him but the P.M. didn't agree. I had always opposed this proposal even though Haksar didn't agree with me. Eventually, in Swaminathan's case and that of R.C. Dutt, the P.M. agreed with me. When the post of CEC fell vacant Haksar again pushed Swaminathan's case. He persuaded the P.M. by telling her that he could not think of anyone who would go along with her when the need arose."

Her aide Seshan asked Haksar, "Sahib, why do you want to give this post to such a person? Haksar said after a few moments of thought, "Do you know how much we benefited when Sen-Varma held the post? I can't think of anyone other than Swaminathan who will help the P.M. if the need arises. I know what sort of man he is but sometimes it is necessary to make such appointments." (page 394). Everyone had a price and a use.

Sen-Varma was one of the most partisan CECs as his Report on the 1971 Lok Sabha polls reveals. "Haksar said that he made a sort of promise to Sen-Varma that on finishing his term as CEC, he will be found some other assignment. Haksar tried very hard to have him made a Governor but I had opposed this." The Prime Minister agreed with Tandon. Haksar got him appointed as member of the Law Commission. It would be well worth the while of any student to record and analyse how that body has been used to reward pliant judges.

One is not concerned with Tandon's claims for himself but with Haksar's conduct. "I have the deepest respect for him", this bureaucrat writes, regardless of Haksar's ways. There is one bit of information, which this writer read with surprise and relief. At page xlvii in his Introduction, Tandon records his meeting with Haksar on December 9, 1989 when Siddharth Shankar Ray's wife Maya, also a lawyer, walked in. "I am mentioning this meeting in the Diary for a totally different reason. There is an indication in various places in the Diary that the judges of the Supreme Court had been approached from Indira Gandhi's side in her case. Today Haksar himself told Maya Ray this. He said: "Maya this was not really necessary. Indira Gandhi had herself disposed of the case against her through amendments to the Constitution, etc. But I was forced to go to every judge. The importance of writing this Diary a second time or adding some footnotes thereafter is clear. The information obtained later has provided proof for the Diary entries, and lessened their incompleteness."

I was surprised that it emerged in print, relieved that what Haksar had said to me in private was now on record. He had a couple of years earlier said exactly the same thing to this writer adding except one judge, whom he named. The writer was in a bind. It was said in confidence. I fully reciprocated Haksar's affection, extended despite my known differences of view. But the disclosure was of historical significance. I decided recently to reveal it to two persons, a close associate of Haksar and a trusted colleague at the bar. Now, it is in print.

Justice P. Jagan Mohan Reddy has recorded how "the Government was aware of what each one of us was going to decide quite some time before judgments were pronounced in the Keshavananda Bharati case on April 26, 1973 (We have a Republic. Can we keep it? Sri Venkateswara University; page 100). Justice P. K. Goswami said in a judgment that Acting President B.D. Jatti met Chief Justice M.H. Beg and mentioned "this pending matter". He recorded his "cold shudder" at Beg's disclosure. (State of Rajasthan vs. Union of India (1977) 3 SCC 592 at 671). Jatti signed with great reluctance the Proclamations imposing President's Rule in several Congress-ruled States in April 1977. His curiosity about the case was unconcealed.

A time came when a Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice P.N. Bhagwati, wrote a fulsome letter of congratulations to Indira on her return to power. The court's judgment in the habeas corpus case, inflicted a grave wound on its credibility.

Haksar told this writer: "I cannot forgive Indira Gandhi." He did not explain, nor did one ask what precisely it was for which he withheld his forgiveness. It was surely not for her amassment of power. He had assisted her in this handsomely. Without his help and that of several such, she could not have gone as far as she did. If he had any regrets about his own role he never expressed them.

To please his boss, Haksar stooped so low as to try to suborn Judges of the Supreme Court, Chief Election Commissioners, and even give false evidence in court. None of this saved him. Indira Gandhi turned against him. P.N. Dhar, another person of talent who served her devotedly against his better judgment, also came under her suspicion. Tandon's book is a good corrective to the laboured defence of the Emergency in Dhar's memoirs. It speaks for our times that Haksar's ways did not earn him the censure of Tandon or Dhar or for that matter, the circles in which he moved. If the public record be what it is, what must have been the depths of Haksar's "accomplishments" in the dark on her behalf !

Reflect on why a man of qualities did what he did and you realise how right Ambedkar was. The damage inflicted was colossal. It is yet to be repaired.