Glimpses of the past

Print edition : June 20, 2003

H.V.R. IYENGAR was among the exceptional members of the Indian Civil Service (ICS). The tribe as a whole was not an inspiring lot. His daughter, Indira Patel has produced an attractive memorial volume for his centenary, which fell in 2002. The book is lavishly illustrated. More important, it carries a number of articles that H.V.R. Iyengar wrote after his retirement in 1962. Several deal with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel and throw new light on their relationship - its ups and downs and on the critical stage it reached a few days before Gandhiji's assassination. The differences became so acute that Nehru seriously considered resigning as Prime Minister. The crisis was caused by HVR (as he was popularly known), who was deputed by Nehru to visit Ajmer to inquire into some mishap there. Sardar Patel took strong exception to this. HVR was then Secretary to the Constituent Assembly and also working with the Prime Minister. But Ajmer was the responsibility of Sardar Patel. The correspondence between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister has been published but it is now good to have Iyengar's version, which I have not seen earlier. He concludes that Sardar Patel was right and that he should have been kept informed by Iyengar.

Writing about Gandhiji's assassination, Iyengar mentions his conversation with Nehru two days later. The Cabinet had met and decided that a Gazette Extraordinary paying tribute to Gandhiji be issued. Nehru asked: "Who is going to prepare the draft?" Everyone suggested that the Prime Minister should do it since no one else could write better. Nehru said he could not do it. Coming out of the meeting, he said to Iyengar: "HVR, I can't do it, I really can't. How can I say in cold print what I think about him. I have now and then told you what he has meant to me. Today I feel numb and speechless. You had better let me have a draft."

Iyengar writes:

And I prepared a draft - the best I could do but a rather sorry affair altogether because after he played with it, it became transformed. But I had never seen him so humble about a draft. "Don't you think it might be better to put it in this way?" he would ask, he, a master craftsman, of one who was no more than a pedestrian workman. Something deep inside him, some vital faith, some overpowering sense of attachment, seemed to have given place momentarily to utter emptiness. And as I watched him toil with the draft, I went on recollecting the occasions when he had talked about Gandhiji.

THINGS are moving at a breathtaking speed on the India-Pakistan front. Each day, both sides announce new moves. The government gave its agreement in one day to the appointment of the new High Commissioner of Pakistan to India. Diplomacy should never be overzealous. There is something unnatural and unhealthy about dramatic turnarounds when devilishly complex issues are involved. The India-Pakistan past is littered with the debris of failed attempts to find a solution to this problem. We must hasten slowly and weigh the pros and cons.

The Prime Minister has made his hand of friendship offer a very personal matter. This is unfortunate. What is even more reprehensible is his making different statements every other day. While in Germany, he declared that if his third attempt to find a solution failed, he would resign. This is amazing. India-Pakistan relations are no one's private enterprise. The Prime Minister making such an extraordinary statement on German soil appears strange. If he wants to resign, that is up to him and if he wants to stake his political future on his initiative, that is his problem. But to link his personal preference to a public issue of the highest importance is something I find very difficult to accept.

There was another statement in Germany in which he said that in order to find a solution to the Kashmir problem, "compromises" will have to be made. What kind of compromises? Who has authorised him to make compromises? Such momentous decisions should not be announced on foreign soil. The Prime Minister must make such pronouncements in Parliament or in a meeting of leaders of political parties. Surely he is aware of the unanimous resolution passed by Parliament in 1994 declaring that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India. Unless this resolution is rescinded by Parliament, I do not think a Prime Minister, heading a coalition government, can make any compromises. It is inevitable that his off-the-cuff observations will figure prominently in both Houses of Parliament.

This is not to suggest that we should not take a fresh look at the Jammu and Kashmir situation or try to find a solution within the framework of the Simla Agreement. Everyone is aware that 56 years is a long long time and that the present unhappy situation is detrimental to all concerned. But for any fundamental change in our policy on Kashmir, not only Parliament but the country will have to be taken into confidence.

Before a summit meeting takes place, it would be necessary for us to be clear in our minds about one major factor. Zafarullah Khan Jamali is not an executive Prime Minister while Vajpayee is. Jamali is not answerable to the National Assembly of Pakistan but to General Musharraf. The Prime Minister of India is answerable to Parliament. Jamali can be dismissed by Musharraf. The Indian Prime Minister must lose a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha to be removed. It might, therefore, be appropriate to somehow make this clear. Vajpayee should talk to Musharraf. I had raised this question in the Rajya Sabha and said that it would have been better if Musharraf, and not Prime Minister Jamali, had telephoned Vajpayee. I mean no disrespect to Jamali but political reality cannot and should not be ignored.

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