P.C. Alexander: One who couldn’t be India’s president (Obituary)

August 10th, 2011 - 7:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Aug 10 (IANS) P.C. Alexander, who died in Chennai Wednesday, was a trusted and an all powerful aide of prime minister Indira Gandhi who turned bitter after he lost the race for India’s presidency.

A civil servant discovered by Indira Gandhi after her return to power in 1980, Alexander may be best remembered for the favour his views found when she was prime minister in her second stint until her 1984 assassination.

A soft spoken man, Alexander quickly came to be regarded as a Gandhi family loyalist.

He did serve her son and successor Rajiv Gandhi too. But that association ended quickly, leading to governorship in Tamil Nadu and then Maharashtra.

It was he who, as an informal advisor to P.V. Narasimha Rao, persuaded Manmohan Singh to accept the post of finance minister in 1991, leading to an era of economic reforms that changed India’s face and future.

Alexander and economics were no strangers.

He held a doctorate from Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu before he joined the civil service. He held several important posts in the central government. He was the commerce secretary.

It was while he was with the UN International Trade Centre in Geneva that Indira Gandhi asked him to be her principal secretary in 1980.

Alexander was born in Mavelikara, Kerala, in 1921. In his student days, he was an outstanding debator, foreshadowing his powers of persuasion.

As president of the Travancore State Students Union, his understanding of politics began early.

Alexander said of his success in roping in a reluctant Manmohan Singh: “I just did my job of a messenger as I had known Singh during my career.” Yet many feel he had a say in the matter.

Alexander became the governor of Tamil Nadu in 1988, and held the post till 1990. He was the Maharashtra governor from 1993 to 2002.

Even when he was at the Raj Bhavan in Mumbai, many suspected that Rao consulted him before finanlizing who should be inducted in his ministry or demoting or promoting his ministers.

Alexander’s biggest disappointment came when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance first suggested he would be their choice for presidency in 2002 before they rooted for A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

The man was disgusted.

Alexander’s comment last year that Rajiv Gandhi had prior knowledge that Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson would leave India after the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984 triggered a controversy.

He became an independent member of the Rajya Sabha with the support of Shiv Sena in 2002.

Thus, a career which began as a favourite of the Congress ended on an anti-Congress note.

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