Natwar hasn’t been fair to Sonia
Having known Natwar Singh for over three decades and covering the Congress party as a journalist for almost the same period, I can vouch what he has written in his autobiography—One Life is not Enough—is absolutely correct and there is no exaggeration. The Congress, unfortunately, never defends its leaders, except the top one, when they run into trouble and leaves them to fend for themselves. So was the case with P V Narasimha Rao and, Natwar Singh was no exception when he got embroiled in Oil-for-Food scandal. The then AICC general secretary, Ambika Soni, had been quoting as saying ‘as far as individuals (reference was to Natwar) were concerned, they were competent to defend themselves’.
Even after so many years, in spite of Volcker Committee probe, nothing has come out against the former External Affairs Minister. Government also constituted the Justice R S Pathak Inquiry Committee to look into allegations against Natwar Singh and the Congress party. In his conclusions Justice Pathak totally exonerated the Congress party. ‘About me’ says Natwar in his book, observations of Justice Pathak were: ‘There is no material to show that Natwar Singh derived any financial and other benefits from the contracts’. Despite this, he says, ‘My son and I were charge-sheeted by the Enforcement Directorate of the Finance Ministry’. Whether, true or not, Natwar wrote, ‘Justice Pathak once confided to me that he has been under extreme pressure’. Justice Pathak is no more to vouch for Natwar’s claim. Natwar says: ‘I had spent my whole life in the foreign service and in politics and I knew that such a statement (Soni’s statement) would not have been issued without the approval of the Congress President. I should have been, at least, given the benefit of doubt by Sonia Gandhi.’
Is it correct for politicians and retired bureaucrats to write their memoirs and disclose secrets to which they were privy? Perhaps not. Even if they write they should not refer to government matters and policies in which they were involved. P V Narasimha Rao had to resort to fiction –The Insider – and even then he stopped the circulation of the book just after Manmohan Singh became PM. Arjun Singh published his memoirs posthumously but they were suitably abridged to minimise damage to Nehru Gandhi family.
As Manmohan Singh has been privy to practically everything —in the government as well as in the party but he has been reported as saying that he will never write his memoirs or disclose official secrets. ‘All that will go to grave with me’, he has said. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad wrote his memoirs—India Wins Freedom—but put an embargo: to be published after so many years of his death. Why do politicians, so eager to hit headlines, or retired bureaucrats, anxious to remain in news, do the unethical act of writing what they should not?
Natwar Singh may have been wronged but was it correct on his part to disclose private conversation like Sonia and Priyanka’s visit to his Jor Bagh residence to ask him not to publish his autobiography or, at least, delete developments that led to Sonia’s decision not to accept the Prime Minister’s post and instead made Manmohan Singh the PM? Was it an act of vengeance for having been abandoned?
Whatever may have been Natwar’s motive but he disclosed what was hitherto unknown that Sonia did not give up Prime Minister’s post for what has been made out as an act of renunciation. It was pressure from her son, Rahul, who feared if her mother becomes PM, she too may be killed like his grandmother, Indira Gandhi and father, Rajiv Gandhi. According to Natwar, Rahul gave her mother 24 hours to change her mind, a threat that worked. That was the reason for her not to become the Prime Minister.
Natwar claims that he has been very close to Sonia Gandhi and Nehru-Gandhi family. So much so that she told him things that she hadn’t told even Priyanka and Rahul. Indira Gandhi told him first about Rajiv’s marriage to Sonia as far back as 1967. ‘Who is the lucky girl? Natwar enquired. ‘She is an Italian. They met at Cambridge,’ Mrs Gandi replied. There was time when Natwar visited 10, Janpath daily and always present when a foreign dignitary called on her.
Why was then Natwar Singh so venomous, calling her ‘arrogant, capricious, Machiavellian, and a prima donna’ and describes her behavior as ‘vicious’ and ‘venomous’. She emerges as someone with strong likes and dislikes, who never forgets a mistake or forgives a betrayal, he says. Natwar’s unwarranted attack on Sonia is not fair, particularly when he is said to be so close to her and claims to be a Nehruiite, who spent 31 years in the Foreign Service and 24 years in the Congress. He also claims to have had many sessions with her working on speeches, travelled with her to foreign destinations, and even ran sensitive errands for her, such as working on Congress leaders to accept her PM choice, Manmohan Singh.
Howsoever critical Natwar may be of Sonia Gandhi but the fact remains that her biggest contribution has been to keep the Congress united. Recall the scenario when the Tiwari Congress was formed, both Natwar Singh and Arjun Singh, along with senior leaders, had joined it. The fag end of Sitaram Kesri’s tenure as the Congress President saw the party virtually driven to the verge of split.
Had Sonia Gandhi not been persuaded to take over from Kesri, the Congress would certainly have been divided. Single biggest contribution of Sonia Gandhi has been to keep the Congress united and rule for 10 years. This fact is also accepted by Natwar.
Another little know disclosure is about Sonia’s dislike for Narasimha Rao. Rao was not comfortable for his estranged relations with the Congress President. He once asked Natwar to meet him at his residence 5, Race Course Road. ‘He seemed uncharacteristically agitated and restless’ and told Natwar ‘Her attitude towards me is affecting my health. If she wants me to go, she only has to say so. I have done my best to meet all her desires and requirements promptly. You worked closely with her and must know and should know why Sonia is so hostile to me’. Evidently, Rao wanted Natwar to help.
On the whole Natwar Singh’s biography is a well-written document and reveals many hitherto unknown facts. Students of history will be greatly benefitted if they read it.