SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF INDIA SHRI K.R. NARAYANAN AT A FUNCTION IN MEMORY OF SHRI P. N. HAKSAR (SPEECH 07-Jan-1999)
New Delhi, 7th January, 1999
Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan,
Shri Sharada Prasad,
Shri Natwar Singh,
Shri N.N. Vohra,
Dear Anamika and friends,
This is a very sombre and poignant occasion for me in this hall in which his voice is still alive and reverberating. It is difficult to think of any intellectual or socio-political gathering in India without him, and for me particularly it is a very moving and poignant occasion.
He was almost a guru for me. I met him first in London when I was the First Secretary and he was Counsellor in the High Commission. Unfortunately, he stayed there only for three months after I arrived in London. But those three months of close association left a lasting imprint on my mind. When after two and a half years I came back to Delhi, he was Joint Secretary (Administration) in the Ministry of External Affairs and I was Deputy Secretary (Administration) under him. I think neither Shri P.N. Haksar nor I liked that job particularly. But both of us carried on heroically and did our duty to the best of our ability. One of the charming memories I have is of his inviting us occasionally to his house in Diplomatic Enclave for lunch and taste dishes which he cooked himself. He was very proud of his culinary expertise.
While in London I used to hear stories of his earlier days, as a student in London and I recall one story which was told to me. One day, he was having his shoes polished by a shoe-shine boy and who asked him, `How is the British rule in India? Are you enjoying it?` He replied, `My dear boy, the British rule in India has added another piece of bread for you.` And the boy answered, `I have never thought that way until now.` His ability to convey telling truth to the most ordinary people was such an extraordinary quality with him. He was an immense scholar, a renaissance figure of modern times, well-versed in the classics, Sanskrit, Persian, Urdu, English and French and in subjects like law, sociology, politics, economics doctrines like Marxism, Socialism and a deep knowledge of the Marxist and capitalist classics. He was thus a tremendous renaissance scholar, who encompassed in himself vast knowledge in an agreeable manner. His capacity to digest all these, reconcile different doctrines and different subjects not to speak of science and technology also, gave him a broad sweep of understanding of the world, of the past, of the present and insightful glimpses into the future. From the depth of the past to the corridors of the present, to the uncertainties of the future, he combined harmoniously various elements in life and became a sage of Indian thought, politics and society. His immense knowledge had a very pungently contemporary meaning and relevance. He was one who was rooted in the present and in the now if I may say so and brought into the present all the perspectives of the past and the visions of the future. Therefore, I respect him, almost adore him as a complete man, a complete scholar, a completely dedicated son of India.
His great contributions in politics and administration are well known. Shri Sharada Prasad mentioned about his contributions at the Shimla Conference and how he remarked after the Conference that until we have an agreement with China also, he would not be satisfied. Many people, probably the larger public, did not know that he had a very important role with regard to China also. Before Rajiv Gandhi`s visit to China which marked some sort of a breakthrough with that country, Mr. Haksar was sent as an unpublicised envoy to prepare the ground. The success of the Rajiv Gandhi mission to China was largely due to the advice that Haksar brought back from his visit to him. With his acute sense of history, he looked at India`s problems fundamentally and in the long term. In the best sense of the word, he was a fundamentalist.
I recall his using this word when I was sitting with him in his office one day, when Prime Minister Mrs. Gandhi telephoned him. He was giving some advice over the telephone, and he started by saying, `I am a fundamentalist`. A fundamentalist was to him someone who looks at the problems from the fundamental point of view. His supreme self-confidence and his deep faith in the future of India was the most remarkable thing that emerged from a meeting with him, even a casual conversation with him. He had a lot of criticism about current affairs, current personalities and their policies. But I have never observed him or heard him say anything that is distantly malicious about a personality or his policies. He had a deep understanding of the people and a capacity to forgive even when he was opposed to what they were doing. During the last three or four years he was very close to us. While I was at Maulana Azad Road, he used to come often and even in Rashtrapati Bhavan during the last six or seven months, he came two or three times. It was an educative, elevating, inspiring experience to talk to him. Scintillating ideas continuously overflowed during the conversation, spiced with enlightening, most educative and enthralling observations. We miss him today, but his spirit, his ideas are very much alive with us. Recently, he told one of the people who interviewed him to go on writing, expressing ideas as you cannot have a social revolution before you have an intellectual revolution. It is this power of ideas that Haksar believed in and I believe that the power of his ideas will animate not only those of us who have had the good fortune to be near to him, but also the larger public of India. I pay my respectful tribute to this great personality one of the most wonderful human beings, one of the most compassionate individuals, one of the creative minds that we have been blessed with during this generation.
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Bureau, Government of India.