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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 46, October 31, 2009

Nikhilda: Some Nostalgic Reflections

Sunday 1 November 2009, by P.V. Narasimha Rao

On November 3, 2009 N.C. would have completed 96 years had he been alive. On the occasion of his ninetyseventh birthday we reproduce what a former PM and a veteran journalist (both of whom are no longer in our midst) wrote about him after he passed away on June 27, 1998.

Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao was to have released the book India-Pakistan: Themes Beyond Borders—Selections from Nikhil Chakravartty’s Writings (published by Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd.) at the meeting held in New Delhi on November 3, 2003 to mark N.C.’s ninetieth birth anniversary, but could not do so as he was indisposed. So he sent the following letter to the Mainstream editor and Secretary of the Nikhil Chakravartty Memorial Foundation, which was read out at the meeting.

My dear Sumit,

I am extremely sorry that I cannot join you at your function on the 3rd. Because of excruciating back pain, I have had to be admitted to the hospital just now. The treatment is simple: To lie on a flat bed, no one knows how long. There is no way I can move, except by moving along with my flat bed to the venue of the meeting. We are told that Lord Vishnu used to move along with his snake-bed, but I thought I would spare myself the responsibility of God-hood, after what all I have already gone through as a human.

A word, now, about Dada. Despite the difference of age and background, our association was long and for me, fruitful. There was hardly any topic that he did not discuss with me during our long association, wherever I was at a given time. He would just convince me by sheer earnestness—more potent than a hundred arguments and a thousand quotations.

Shri K.R. Narayanan, our former President, has written an excellent introuduction to the book and I don’t think it can be improved upon in any respect. I would therefore adopt it and say I entirely agree with it. My association with Dada, on the other hand, has several personal facets and I am tempted, right now, to briefly refer to them. After all, I think my age entitles me to mention a few reminiscences and also since I have not inflicted on the readers a regular autobiography. Political views apart, Dada looked upon me as a younger brother with different views—not all of which he found himself against. For instance, he knew me while I was Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and felt happy at what I was struggling to do in land reforms despite very heavy odds, about which he was fully informed. He wouldn’t disucss an issue at the theoretical level, because he knew that way we were sure to hit an ideological road block—or at least a bump. Instead, he concentrated on the implementation part, which was my forte and which I was doing tirelessly at the time. And without pontificating in any way, he would explain several angles in implementation lucidly to me, making me much wiser in that almost imperceptible process. He thus because my unannounced mentor and was of immense help to me, for which I was ever grateful to him.

A rather interesting idea often struck me in those days. I happened to be the General Secretary of the AICC for some time during the Emergency, towards which Dada’s attitude was more than well-known. But these circumstances had no adverse effect whatsoever on our mutually cordial relations. Especially after he began to leave the editorial page blank as a protest against censorship etc., our meetings, curiously, became even more frequent. Being in touch with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, I sometimes reported these conversations to her and marvelled at the keen and insisted interest on her part to know what N.C. had to say on any issue. So our discussions somehow tended to give expression to the suppressed editorials of Mainstream. Even to remember those occasions makes me nostalgic today.

As has been explained, the subject-matter of this book is Indo-Pak relations and I know for a fact that Dada felt strongly about bringing closer relations between the peoples of the two countries. That, over a period of time, would create its own dynamic and goad the governments to come closer. Whether the matter is that simple and feasible is beside the point: what needs to be noted is that admittedly, enough has not been done in this direction.

As some may remember (hopefully) some measures were taken in this direction during 1991-96. Free movement without visa was decided upon for some categories of citizens across the borders, such as legislators, academics, artists etc. And the crowning feature was the conclusion of the SAPTA at the SAARC summit at Shimla in 1995. In several such matters (particularly in economic cooperation) what was found unattainable bilaterally between India and Pakistan was achieved through the SAARC network. And when a large delegation of Pakistani legislators visited India under the leadership of the then Speaker Gauhar Ayub, Nikhilda insisted to express his satisfaction personally to me. The contents of this book are a treasure of information and I am sure serve as reference material for scholars and others interested.

In view of my inability to be present personally, I am submitting these words which, I believe, will be considered sufficient as coming from a Chief Guest in absentia. I wish the function all success and once again pay my homage to Nikhilda.


P.V. Narasimha Rao

(Mainstream, November 8, 2003)

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