Thursday, October 29, 2009

A wounded tiger that is dying now in the underground of the civilization

Outlook has published a bit of B.G. Verghese's forthcoming book: “The Making of Modern India

  • I was amazed to find how little preparation had commenced. There was a lack of clarity on key policy issues and little coordination. It was every frog in his own well. Even on devaluation, I was concerned at the very close circuit of insiders that excluded such key players as the Congress president, Kamaraj, the commerce minister, Manubhai Shah, and the commerce secretary. In the loop were L.K. Jha, Asoka Mehta, Subramaniam, minister of state for foreign affairs Dinesh Singh, finance minister Sachin Chaudhuri, economic advisor I.G. Patel and Pitamber Pant of the Perspective Planning Division of the Planning Commission. Even Sushital Bannerjee, joint secretary to the PM and a key aide, was kept in the dark. K.N. Raj, who later founded the Centre for Development Studies in Trivandrum, was among the two or three outsiders consulted. The date and quantum of devaluation merited confidentiality in order to avoid speculation. But for the rest, it was difficult to understand the paranoia about secrecy, keeping out critical policymakers and key players whose responsibility it would be to carry the reform through politically and implement it purposefully.
  • Before my departure, at one infructuous late night conference, the PM rose around midnight and said she was going to bed. Before leaving she turned and said, “George, you have heard us all. Now go write the speech.” I was dumbfounded!
  • LBJ, a giant of a man, was most solicitous of his guest and walked her down from the White House to Blair House where she was staying. He also gatecrashed into the Indian embassy where B.K. Nehru was entertaining the PM and her delegation to dinner. As one wag put it, it took the Indian prime minister to visit Washington to reveal the gentleman in LBJ! The other quip that did the rounds was that the visit provided the first occasion for a US president to address a visiting head of government as ‘Honey’! At LBJ’s banquet, Isaac Stern, the violinist, gave a virtuoso performance, after which the dancing began. LBJ gallantly approached Mrs G and asked for a dance, which she demurely declined, saying, “Oh! What would my people think!”
  • The separation of the Lok Sabha polls from the general elections to the state assemblies was seen as a wily stratagem to dilute opposition to devaluation. A few hours later, Seshan, private secretary to the PM, called to say that the broadcast was off! Still later, LK was on the line asking me to prepare a broadcast on devaluation. Y.B. Chavan, defence minister, was for it. The Fund and Bank were being formally notified of an announcement within the next 48 hours. Kamaraj had said no to Operation Phoenix as he believed it would cost the Congress the elections. Mrs G was worried and felt Kamaraj wanted to be prime minister. President S. Radhakrishnan asked him about his alleged ambition, to be told that language (his inability to speak either Hindi or English) precluded his becoming prime minister.
  • The cabinet met on Sunday, June 5, 1966. Doubts and cautions were expressed and there was some expected waffling, but the final decision favoured devaluation. Manubhai Shah, commerce minister, was particularly unhappy. He had been kept in the dark though his ministry would feel the brunt of the decision. Kamaraj was informed immediately thereafter. He was adamant in opposition and called it a “sellout”. On Subramaniam describing him as “a wounded tiger”, LK’s comment was, “Well, in the circumstances, you know the rules of shikar (shoot to kill).”

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