To prove the exception, he provides the example of P.N. Haksar, the secretary to Indira Gandhi, who played a key role in the nationalisation of banks, the abolition of privy purses, the Bangladesh war, etc.
Ramesh reveals that Haksar, who quit in opposition to Sanjay Gandhi setting up the Maruti car factory, was approached by then home secretary Govind Narain, if he would accept the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honour for his services.
Haksar wrote this letter to Narain:
You spoke to me over the RAX yesterday morning and asked me with a rare sense of delicacy, if I would accept the Award of Padma Vibhushan for the Republic Day of 1973. You said that was PM’s desire that I should do so. You were good enough to give me some time to think it over. And this I have done. May I, first of all, say that the very thought that I should be given an award is by itself a great reward for whatever services I may have rendered as a public servant. I am grateful for this to the PM. However, I have a difficulty in accepting the award. All these years, I have often said to myself that one should work so that one can live with oneself without regret. This gave me a measure of inner tranquillity and even courage. Accepting an award for work done somehow causes an inexplicable discomfort to me. I hope I will not be misunderstood. I repeat I am grateful for the thought that my services should be recognised. For me this is enough. I would beg you not to press me to accept the award itself. I shall be grateful if you will kindly convey to PM my deep and abiding gratitude for the privilege I had to serve under her.
Ramesh further reveals that before he was offered the Padma Vibhushan, Haksar had also advised Indira Gandhi to turn down the Bharat Ratna, an offer the then President V.V. Giri had made for her role in the Bangladesh war.
Since his ascension to power, many have compared Narendra Modi to Indira Gandhi, especially for his authoritarian ways. But the difference between them seems to be people like P.N. Haksar, who could say no to the prime minister.
And tell her what she doesn’t want to hear.
As Modi surrounds himself with babus and mantis who apply the ‘makhan’ on every side of the bread and tell him at every moment that he is the greatest thing since sliced bread, somebody like Haksar is a man he will sorely miss when things slip out of control, as they will, if they aren’t already.
Photograph: courtesy DNA