The announcement of KC Pant’s death has come as a shock to many of us who worked with him.
I came to know Pantji personally from the mid-1980s when he was Defence Minister. We engaged in discussions on defence matters. When he was appointed Chairman of the Tenth Finance Commission, India, in 1992, he asked me to join the Commission as Adviser on Defence Expenditure and specifically tasked me to deconstruct defence budgets of the previous 30 years with a view to ascertaining just what military capabilities were obtained for the vast amount of monies spent on the armed forces. It was tough getting any files/documents, all of them classified, from the MOD then run by NN Vohra, the Defence Secretary, and interminable correspondence ensued. Until I created a bit of shindig and, perhaps, with deference to Pantji, these documents were finally sent to me for my perusal and use in the study. But before I received these documents, I had already completed a provisional draft of my report, based entirely on public sources. It confirmed my suspicion that MOD had very little that really required classification. Pantji was taken aback by many of my conclusions backed as they were by empirical data and publicly-known facts and trends. He said as Defence Minister he was unaware of many things that I had highlighted. In any case, Pantji, despite my remonstrances, next did something controversial. Saying that because the Finance Commission had undertaken an analysis of the defence budget for the very first time in its existence and that as a former Defence Minister he was mindful of MOD sensitivities, he forwarded my draft to MOD — which is not a done thing, because like every other Ministry in the Central govt that approached the Commission for a larger slice of the pie, MOD too was a supplicant, and I didn’t see why it should be treated differently from the other ministries. But Pantji, of course, prevailed. I then pleaded with him to at least ensure that my report, because the draft was based on publicly-available information, be made a public document, alongwith the basic Finance Commission report. May be, with Mr Vohra’s prodding, my report was classified instead. This is a pity because the public would have benefitted from knowing just how the taxpayers’ money is spent and with what outcomes.
This report was the first in-depth analysis of defence expenditures of its kind, and the first by an ‘outsider’. Pantji’s confidence in me was a reward in itself. All the more significant because he was so mainstream, such a politically cautious and careful gentleman, who deliberated deeply, consulted widely, before coming to conclusions. The political high-point of his career came early, at the 1967 Durgapur session of the Congress Party where he led the charge for India’s nuclear weaponization. He battled vainly, it turned out to the detriment of the country, against the disarmament ideologues, such as Morarji Desai, who raised the ghost of the pacifist Mahatma, to quell the pro-bomb campaign. Think where India would have been had it tested even by 1970 – a bonafide member of the nuclear weapons club, tracing an entirely different trajectory than the onerous one it actually did.
No doubt impressed by Pantji’s hard strategic mindset coupled with his imperturbable and affable nature, and by his political lineage (Govind Ballabh Pant) and connections across the political spectrum the US State Department in the late Sixties and early Seventies marked him out as a future Indian Prime Minister. As an old Washington hand once told me, the only slight problem was with his last name (as the Americans pronouned it) – PANT!! More seriously, there was the dynastic principle that went against him in the Congress Party. He will be mourned and much missed. Pantji, Rest In Peace.