By M.V. Kamath
PMO Diary?1: Prelude to the Emergency; B.N. Tandon; Konark Publishers Pvt Ltd; 507 pp; Rs 300.00
CIVIL servants in India, especially those who carry the prestigious three initials, IAS, after their names, are usually a discreet lot; either they do not maintain diaries and if they do, they are most reluctant to publish them, lest they are damned as ultra-loyalists, or even worse, disloyalists. Discretion, under the circumstances, comes natural to them which is fine, except that it is the future historian who will feel deprived of basic information. Happily Bishan Narain Tandon is made of different stuff. He joined the Civil Service in 1951, did a stint in Uttar Pradesh but his most important assignment was a long (seven years) service as Joint Secretary in the Prime Minister'sOffice during the fateful years, 1969-76, assigned mainly to handle political affairs. He maintained a diary on a day-to-day basis, commenting on the issues that came his way, the personalities involved in them and of how they came to be settled. In the process, he unconsciously provides the reader with insights into how policies are formulated at the highest level and at whose instigation or support.
We see politicians of all hues in their true colours and a few of them are clean or pretty. We notice the sycophancy and the boot-licking indulged in by petty politicians, but importantly what these entries reveal is the true character of the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, no less. The role of the Prime Minister'ssecretariat, according to Tandon, is to assist the Prime Minister in every possible way. The presumption is that those who man the secretariat are men of wisdom, knowledge and substance, with their feet (and, one supposes, their ears) on the ground. As Tandon describes the role, it ?consists of initiating new policies, reviewing the work of different ministries, keeping an eye on Centre-state relations, providing different points of views on the proposals received from different ministries? and generally acting as the eyes and ears of the Prime Minister. A daunting job at any time. At the centre of all the work was one figure: the Prime Minister. And throughout the pages of this remarkably frank book, Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister, comes through in a poor, almost sinister, light. Sample Tandon comments:
* She was shy, diffident and ill at ease in sitting through detailed arguments. She was unable to take part in discussions that involved complex issues. Nor did she find it easy to converse with officials who did not come in her contact often.
* Indira Gandhi used to send her ministers and senior officials to Sanjay for orders. Those officials who did not obey the coterie in the PM'shouse found that they were being investigated by the CBI, police, the income-tax authorities, etc.
* Her pride would not allow her to accept that moral values had a place in public life.
* It is one of her (Smt. Gandhi?s) faults that she is ever ready to believe the worst and seldom tries to ascertain the truth in a straightforward manner.
* The PM does not lay much store by the Constitution. She is willing to amend the Constitution at the drop of a hat and whenever she faces a constitutional hurdle, she is quick to say that the Constitution should be amended.
* …the PM was collecting information about Jajivan Ram… She had asked for a note on the subject and it has been given to her. The idea is to use the information to bully Jagjivan Ram when the need arises. This is perfectly consistent with her style because she constantly worries about her senior ministers and keeps up secret activity against them.
* It is in her nature to insult those with whom she is displeased… Whenever she wants someone, she joins him and whenever she wants, she discards him. She has reasons for everything she does… she is not averse to any alliance if it helps her to win… For public consumption she has always maintained that she is opposed to narrow communal parties, but this is not the reality.
* If an official refuses to help Maruti, the CBI is asked to inquire into his honesty and integrity… In the PM'sthinking, every possible means is justified, if it helps in remaining in power.
* She has never had any faith in these values. She is a firm believer in the principle that all is permissible in politics. Whenever she has to act in an unprincipled manner, she says without batting an eyelid that the situation is abnormal and that it would be inappropriate to act on general principles.
In this revealing book, Indira Gandhi comes through as a female Chanakya, totally devoid of principles and equally totally interested in safeguarding her personal interests, even if they were detrimental to the country at large. Obviously she had little time for courtesy. At one point Tandon writes: ?The absence of civility and courtesy, with which Pandit Nehru interacted with his opponents, is being acutely felt now.?
In the course of his duties, Tandon understandably had to react with a wide range of politicians, officials and ministers and he quotes them liberally. He thus quotes N.K. Seshan, who was private secretary to Indira Gandhi, as saying that the most unfortunate thing about the PM was that she had acquired a highly exaggerated view of her power and influence and had come to believe that whatever she did was right. Seshan endorsed Jayaprakash Narayan'sview that the PM herself was encouraging corruption, and her personal approach would put even Nixon to shame. She firmly believed that Governors and government officials should help her even in political matters and forget ?legal niceties?.
Tandon refers to several incidents of blatant terrorisation of the press that even now makes one'shair stand on end. How on earth the man survived for seven long years as joint secretary in the PMO remains a wonder! Either he did not have the courage to ask for a transfer or he enjoyed the power he exercised in howsoever limited a manner. One explanation to Indira Gandhi'scharacter and behaviour was given by her Press Advisor, H.Y. Sharada Prasad. According to him these were shaped by the long periods of loneliness she suffered as a child and teenager. Sharada Prasad himself is quoted profusely on several occasions. Apparently he did not have a happy time with the PM either. When she was in a bad mood, she would start screa-ming at the slightest provocation.
This is a most revealing book. The diaries end in 1975. Another book providing fresh insights into Indian politics after August 1975 is promised. That should be even more entertaining and revealing, considering that they deal with the Emergency period. To Tandon one can only offer thanks.
(Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd., A-149 Main Vikas Marg, Shakarpur, Delhi-110 0092.)