Obituary: P. N. Haksar

P. N. HAKSAR was an intellectual powerhouse and one of India's most successful strategists who astutely established the political omnipotence of a weak prime minister, Indira Gandhi, through populist measures in the Sixties and early Seventies. He also served as ambassador to several countries and was one of India's few remaining Cold Warriors and die-hard socialists, instrumental in negotiating a timely military pact with the Soviet Union before the third war with neighbouring Pakistan in 1971, to counter any interference by its ally, the United States.

As principal secretary to Indira Gandhi and India's most powerful civil servant, Haksar played a major role in negotiating the 1972 Shimla Accord with Pakistan after the war that led to the breakaway East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh. His closeness to Gandhi made Haksar perhaps the only man privy to the secret negotiations concluded between her and the Pakistani prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto over the disputed northern province of Kashmir. It remains one of the world's most volatile flashpoints, where armed Muslim separatists have been waging a civil war for an Islamic homeland since 1989 that has claimed nearly 20,000 lives.

The secret deal that led to the Shimla Accord after Pakistan was defeated and with over 90,000 prisoners of war in Indian hands remains a mystery. When all negotiations between the two antagonists had broken down Gandhi and Bhutto decided to make one last attempt to break the impasse by meeting without aides. It is widely believed that only Haksar knew what transpired between the two that eventually led to the Shima Accord which also agreed to resolve the Kashmir dispute bilaterally. But he kept his counsel, revealing nothing despite severe provocation in recent years.

Haksar was best known for firmly establishing a tottering Indira Gandhi in office in the late 1960s after her Congress party won a bare majority in parliament and senior party leaders, known as the Syndicate considered her a gudia or doll. On advice from Haksar, whom she recalled from Vienna where he was ambassador, Gandhi acted swiftly, nationalising banks, abolishing royalty and introducing land reform policies, all measures geared to please the majority poor voters.

Then, after India had decisively defeated Pakistan in the 1971 war, Haksar persuaded Gandhi to call general elections a year early. Gandhi won a two-thirds parliamentary majority, decimating all her former party colleagues who had split the Congress after unsuccessfully conspiring to topple her.

Haksar's decline, however, began soon afterwards. Absolute power had clouded Gandhi's judgement and, believing she had mastered the art of political manipulation, she began to distance herself from Haksar. Gandhi's courtiers had also found a new mentor - her younger son Sanjay, a university dropout who believed in Fascism and mob rule as a means of political expression.

Jealous of Haksar's influence over his mother, Sanjay launched a successful campaign to oust the acerbic consigiliori that included plastering the walls of his house with slogans and publicly vilifying him. In 1973 Haksar was unceremoniously "dethroned" and appointed first vice- chairman of the planning commission and later chancellor of the newly founded Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Two years later Gandhi, facing indictment for electoral malpractice, declared an internal emergency at Sanjay's behest in which civil liberties were suspended, the press censored and people forcibly sterilised. After 19 months of authoritarian rule Gandhi was forced to call an election in which her Congress party was wiped out, forcing her into political oblivion. The belief at that time was that had Haksar been around events would not have taken such a drastic turn for Gandhi or India.

Born in Gujaranwala (now in Pakistan) into an upper-class Kashmiri Brahmin family in 1913, Haksar studied Sanskrit at home and took an MSc from Allahabad university in northern Uttar Pradesh state. He then went on to the London School of Economics before being called to the Bar from Lincoln's Inn in the early Forties. In London, Haksar was greatly influenced by socialism, a philosophy he adhered to in perpetuity.

On returning home he briefly practised law at Allahabad before joining the diplomatic service in 1947. He served as ambassador to Nigeria and Austria, then was appointed principal secretary by a politically beleaguered Indira Gandhi in 1967 and remained with her for six years. He also served as deputy high commissioner in London in the mid-1960s.

During his tenure with Gandhi Haksar enjoyed untrammelled power. It was said of him that he was "fortunate to have combined a capacity to think with the opportunity to act". Unlike his successors he used it constructively to try and resolve India's myriad problems in a practical, realistic and principled manner. He had nothing but contempt for the new breed of politicians and said as much publicly:

By the tonnes of flowers placed on Mahatma Gandhi's samadhi (mausoleum) every year on his birth anniversary, Indian politicians only bury the Mahatma's principals deeper and deeper.

Despite his sarcasm, biting wit and hugely abrasive and arrogant manner, P.N. Haksar was a kind and generous man who, even though nearly blind for many years, was amazingly well informed about local and international events and was constantly invited to speak at public functions. He also wrote several books including Premonitions (1979), One More Life (1990) and Reflections on our Times (1982).

Parmeshwar Narain Haksar, diplomat and political advisor: born Gujranwala, India 4 September 1913; Principal Secretary to Indira Gandhi 1967-73; Chief Negotiator, India-Pakistan-Bangladesh 1972-73; married Urmila Sapru (deceased; two daughters); died New Delhi 25 November 1998.

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvMartin Freeman’s casting is a stroke of genius

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival

film
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players