I have seen an array of foreign secretaries (FS) during my career as a diplomat, some talented, some mediocre, and some undeserving, says Pawan an ICS-turned politician But as a personality, there was perhaps none as colourful and competent as Jyotindra Nath ‘Mani’ Dikshit. What set him apart was his imitable sense of humour and his expansive personality. Short, rotund, but agile, he was FS from 1991 to 1994, and later security advisor in Manmohan Singh’s government (2004-05). He died in 2005 of a heart attack when he was only 68.
Pawan Verma says “I was present in Delhi for half of his tenure as FS. Once when I entered his room, I found him in the act of removing his trousers. I was aghast. With a deadpan expression, he said that certain officer he was annoyed with was to shortly come, and he was getting ready to bugger him! All this was for theatrical effect, for, although he was a hard taskmaster, he respected his colleagues.
Mani loved dramatic gestures. When a letter came from Rashtrapati Bhavan, requesting Pawan’s service as press secretary, “requesting my services as press secretary for President R. Venkataraman”, he summoned Pawan to his office. “Read this letter”, he said, adding, “But I can’t relieve you. I need you here”.
I told him to inform the President’s office accordingly. “Look at my forehead,” he said, asking if a common Hindi expletive was written on it, I did not know how to react. Then he continued, “Mahamahim Rashrapatiji has asked for you, and I should say No? We all serve under his pleasure. Now get your Bandgala suits out and prepare to go.”
“I continued to work as press secretary to the President Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma. Whenever a former dignitary called on him, one of the three secretaries of the Ministry of External Affairs was required to be present. Apart from Mani as FS, the other two were Krishnan Srinivasan and Salman Haider.
If Mani was to call on the President, he will ask me; Aaj bade miyan ke mood kaisa hai? (How is the mood of the big boss today). After meeting Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, Mani would disclose, the President had the habit of asking his secretary concerned from MEA, “Kaisa raha, kuch galat toh nahin kaha hai? (How did it go? I hope I didn’t say something wrong).
The other secretaries would mumble a reply: “Not at all sir. It went very well”, and beat a hasty retreat. Not Mani Dixit. He would settle back in his chair ready for a bravura performance. “Sir, you were brilliant. The clarity with which you made your points was amazing.” The President will beam with pleasure, Mani would continue to wax eloquently about the acumen the President had shown.
Once at the Republic Day reception by the President, Mani arrived not with wife but his late brother’s widow (whom he later married). “Seeing the look of my surprise on my face”, says Pawan, Mani said: “What is the matter? The card said Mrs Dixit. She is also Mrs Dixit. (IPA Service)