P.C. Alexander passes away

P.C. Alexander

P.C. Alexander  

He was Principal Secretary to Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi

Padinjarethalakal Cherian Alexander passed away on Wednesday morning at the Madras Medical Mission hospital in Chennai. He was 90.

In a remarkable career spanning six decades, P.C. Alexander was at different times Principal Secretary to two Prime Ministers, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, Indian High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, Governor of Tamil Nadu and, later, of Maharashtra, a United Nations civil servant and even a Rajya Sabha MP. The only job that eluded him was that of President of India in 2002, because the Congress opposed his nomination for the post by the then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government.

This last episode was clearly one that rankled with Alexander: indeed, the first, rather than the last, chapter in his memoirs: “Through the Corridors of Power: Insider's Story,” entitled “From Raj Bhavan to Rajya Sabha,” deals at length with that part of his life when he accused the Congress of spreading canards against him — inspired by K. Natwar Singh — apparently, for having accepted the Shiv Sena-BJP government's offer of a second term as Governor of Maharashtra. Simultaneously, he says the Congress ran a “whisper campaign” that if he became President in 2002, then it would make it difficult for Sonia Gandhi to become Prime Minister in 2004 — as they were both Christians.

The irony, of course, was that when Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980, she had handpicked him to become Principal Secretary and, in the process, he became her political adviser, conscience keeper and administrative trouble-shooter. After her assassination in 1984, Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded his mother, kept him on in the same post. But in 1985, he was forced to quit after a spy scandal, involving some officials of the Prime Minister's Office and the Rashtrapati Bhavan, led to the arrest of nearly a dozen persons, including some low-level functionaries attached to his office. But Rajiv Gandhi then appointed him as the Indian High Commissioner to the U.K.

Officers, who had worked with Mr. Alexander, a 1948 batch Kerala cadre IAS officer, recall him as an old-school civil servant who combined intelligence, competence, and exacting standards with ambition and an ability to extract the best out of every opportunity. He was trusted by Indira and Rajiv Gandhi; the Atal Behari Vajpayee's BJP-led government put his name up for President; and the Nationalist Congress Party's Sharad Pawar helped him become a Rajya Sabha MP from Maharashtra when he resigned as Governor in 2002 after his Presidential ambitions went awry. Indeed, Mr. Pawar, who had known him when he was Chief Minister, paying tribute to Mr. Alexander on Wednesday, described his death as a “personal loss” for him.

Born into an upper middle class family on March 20, 1921 in Kerala's Alapuzha district, he was the fifth of the eight children of Jacob Cherian and Mariamma. He was educated at the University of Travancore, now called University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram and Annamalai University, Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu.

On Saturday, August 13, his mortal remains will be taken back to Mavelikara for final public viewing at the spot where his ancestral home once stood. The funeral will be at the nearby St. Mary's Church, which he mentions nostalgically in his memoirs.

Mr. Alexander is survived by his wife Akkamma Alexander, sons Jawahar and Ashok and daughters Maria and Rajini. Of his children, Jawahar alone followed his father to join the the IAS in 1971, but quit later to join the Asian Development Bank.

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