M K K Nair’s The Autobiography of a Bureaucrat not only captures his personal life but also his work as an IAS officer in relation to India’s founding leaders such as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and many others. Revealing many details on the relationship between political leaders as well as major political decisions taken by them during the tumultuous times post Independence, the book seems to have activated social media, inviting comments and statements from both the Congress and BJP regarding the author’s writings on the Nehru-Patel relationship.
The autobiography was first serialised in Kalakaumudi Weekly, published by the Kerala Kaumudi group and edited by Jayachandran Nair. There are very few documented historical books on this period except for M K K Nair’s autobiography which was originally written in Malayalam. Amid this backdrop, the autobiography becomes a prominent and unbiased document.
Having closely worked with three eminent prime ministers during his tenure: Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi, the noted bureaucrat also interacted very closely with eminent personalities like Sardar Patel, T T Krishnamachari, V P Menon, V K Krishna Menon, C Rajagopalachari and K Kamaraj.
Although the author does not hide his admiration or respect for the country’s first prime minister, Nair provides a detailed account of the strained relations between Nehru and Patel. He writes that Nehru described Patel as a fundamentalist when as the country’s Home Minister, he had favoured military action to rein in the defiant ruler of Hyderabad after Independence. “During those times, the Nizam had sent one of his representatives to Pakistan and had also transferred a large amount to Pakistan, which was in his government’s account in London. During a Cabinet meeting held in that period, Patel had explained all these aspects and highlighted the necessity of deploying the army to put a stop to the Nizam’s reign of terror. Nehru, who always advocated peace, sobriety and international relations, was quite upset and blurted out to Patel, “You are a perfect fundamentalist. I will never be party to your plans.” An unmoved and composed Patel, collected his papers and left the room and after that he even started skipping Cabinet meetings and abstained from talking directly to Nehru.”
Elaborating on the issue of Hyderabad and the subsequent army action, Nair writes about his role in alerting Sardar Patel. “Once they got drunk, the Nawabs spilled the beans about the plans and scheme of things hatched by the British Secret Service and the Nizam for the post-Independence days. I used to alert Sardar Patel about these bits of information by post. After the exchange of a couple of letters, I was asked by the Sardar to meet him during my next trip to New Delhi. The Sardar was happy that all information I sent to him was found to be correct. He issued orders to his staff that I should not be kept waiting whenever I went to his residence. That relation continued till the passing away of the Sardar,” Nair writes in his autobiography.
In Chapter 20: In the company of a genius, the author further says, “The difference of opinion between Nehru and Patel explains Nehru’s personal animosity towards Patel. An incident that I heard of is illustrative of the personal grudge that Nehru, the great leader, displayed. The very day Patel died in Bombay, Nehru sent two notes, which, incidentally, were routed through V P Menon to the State Affairs Ministry: The first one was to surrender the Cadillac car used by Patel to the Foreign Affairs Ministry; and the second note was that, in case anyone wished to attend the funeral ceremony of Patel they should do so at their own expense. When he received the second note, V P Menon summoned all the concerned officers to his Ministry and, without disclosing the contents of note, collected the names of the officers, who wished to attend the function, and bought them two-way tickets to Bombay at his own personal expense. When Nehru heard of this, he was furious.”
The autobiography which was published after his demise also reveals the bureaucrat’s innate knowledge about Kathakali and his artistic bent of mind which he pursued through attending and encouraging many cultural activities and promoting this unique art form. He writes, “It was eight years since India attained Independence and Delhi had never seen a major Kathakali performance till then. Though some organisations had conducted a couple of performances, Delhites had never got a chance to see a major performance and had never realised the totality of this theatre. Therefore, I wished to introduce this art in Delhi, with all its splendour and magnificence. As one of the organisers of Kerala Club, I conducted one major Kathakali programme lasting three days. Prominent artistes like Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair and others came to Delhi to perform. This festival enabled diplomats, art lovers and prominent people to get a glimpse of this renowned art and appreciate the aesthetic elements in it. Prominent citizens like Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Dr B C Roy, V K Krishna Menon were present at the function. Everyone enjoyed the performance. Nehru himself presented awards to Krishnan Nair and others and posed for photos with these artistes and went back happy with the show.”
The book also has many interesting personal and professional accounts about C Rajgopalchari, Dr S Radhakrishnan, E M S Namboodiripad, Kamraj, Lord Mountbatten, P C Alexander, V P Menon, Krishna Menon, J R D Tata and many others. There are some interesting details on the development of iron and steel industry, international trade agreements, his days at Bandung, and the transition to an independent civil service. The book gives a deep insight into many hitherto unknown developments and issues during the turbulent period of the fifties and sixties.
The translator of this book who is his niece, Meena Das Narayan, a writer, filmmaker and publisher, has done an excellent job of bringing this volume to a wider audience. The foreword of the book has been written by Dr Subramanian Swamy while former Maharashtra governor Dr P C Alexander has written a note for the book.