Natwar Fires Salvo At The Family
When a loyalist of 41 years from Indira Gandhi to her daughter-in-law, distinguished diplomat-turned-politician, K. Natwar Singh, fell out with Sonia Gandhi after being her closest advisor, he became her nemesis. His revelations about her persona and politics have angered her loyalists who have charged him with betrayal. He dismisses the charge calling them chamchas who had to do chamchagiri. But Sonia herself is livid and has said she would now write her biography and tell the whole truth. Looks like it would be a rejoinder to Natwar Singh’s exposures about her.
Once she comes out with her autobiography we will be able to judge who betrayed whom. True, his autobiography One Life is not Enough has ripped off the cover of secrecy over the role of the Italian-origin Sonia Gandhi’s personality in Indian politics and burst her halo of greatness and the belief that she dedicated her life in the service of the nation. He shows the real Gandhis having a ravenous appetite for power, a regal haughty attitude and one who never bother about laws and Constitution. Not a very appetising portrayal.
Gandhis have been denuded of their pretensions of being friends of the poor and of having dedicated their lives for the service to the country. The Sonia Gandhi chapter has a surfeit of disclosures extremely damaging to her. No wonder she came to Singh to plead that the book may not be published. According to Natwar Singh, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra called him to tell him that she wanted to meet him. He told her to come the following day—May 7.
He says that extremely well-dressed Priyanka came and then within a few minutes Sonia arrived without any prior information. She came, embraced him, he claims, and said sorry. The two wanted that he drop the publication of material on her. He did not relent.
They were, according to speculations, especially anxious that Rahul’s request to her not to become Prime Minister after the 2004 win, be spiked. He has written, “The Gandhi family, however, was a house divided. Rahul was vehemently opposed to his mother becoming prime minister, fearing that she would lose her life, like his grandmother and father.
“Matters reached a climax after Rahul said that he was prepared to take any possible step to prevent his mother from taking up the prime ministership. Rahul is a strong-willed person, this was no ordinary threat. He gave Sonia twenty-four hours to decide. Manmohan Singh, Suman Dubey, Priyanka and I were present at that moment.”
He has added: “Sonia was visibly agitated. As a mother, it was impossible for her to ignore Rahul. He had his way. That was the reason for her not becoming Prime Minister.”
So it was not her inner voice, as she said, that told her to make the supreme sacrifice. This repudiation of political euphemism must have embarrassed her. He later joked with Sonia saying that only two people in history had refused the Crown. When she asked who was the other he said, “Julius Caesar.” So both were Italians. How sad! His portrait of Sonia shows her as authoritarian, who brooked no opposition—in effect the absolute ruler, sans responsibility with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reduced to a puppet—Natwar Singh calls him spineless, a description which would stick to him.
His opinion about Sonia too is not flattering. “Obsessively secretive and suspicious, she evokes awe, not admiration.”
He adds, “Her remarkable life reminds of the Greek tragedy enacted on a vast Indian stage. She is every biographer’s dream….But in their (those who wrote his biography) book substance and style are absent, as are analysis and understanding.”
His own observation has a lot to think about.“From the day she set her foot on the Indian soil she has been treated like Royalty; she has behaved like a prima donna. “Over the years she has evolved from being a diffident, nervous, shy woman to an ambitious, authoritarian and stern leader. Her displeasure strikes fear in Congressmen……She is never blamed or criticized for failures and defeats of the party. ‘Soniaji can do no wrong’ chant the battalion of cacophonous sycophants.”
Then he hits out to further destroy her image irreparably.” …Beneath all that posturing an ordinary and insecure person emerges. Her capriciousness is lauded. A finetuned personality cult is promoted. Politics has coarsened her.”
He comments: “Under her dissent is smothered, free discussions fenced in! Silence is used as a weapon and every subtle gesture is a message, an icy stare a warning”. Her silence or coldness could cause nervous breakdown to the toughest. P.V. Narasimha Rao, as Prime Minister could not meet her (she did not ever like him) and he confessed to Natwar Singh that it was affecting his health. The Sonia followers have been shouting themselves hoarse accusing Natwar Singh of betrayal. Has he betrayed her? His observations have certainly besmirched her. History is sure to cite these comments, ruining image of a clean, demi-god persona.
The most explosive revelation is about Pulok Chatterjee, Principal Secretary to Dr Singh, but known to be Sonia’s faithful. According to Singh, he used to take important files to her. It is presumed that all major decisions and appointments of senior bureaucrats were taken on the ‘advice’ of Sonia. “….it was widely that Sonia discreetly monitored the functioning of the most important ministries in the government, displaying a Machiavellian side to her character.”
This means India was administered by an unelected single person in violation of the Indian Constitution.
The media adviser to Dr Singh, Sanjay Baru too has written in his book The Accidental Prime Minister that files used to be seen by Sonia Gandhi. A former Secretary, Government of India, told me that he personally knew that files did go to her. This is a criminal offence. FIR can be filed. For it entailed breach of Oath of Secrecy and violates the Constitution. All important decisions are to be taken by the Cabinet, not by an individual. Even Singh admits there was a Sonia mole in his ministry and used to carry tales to her, despite the fact that he was her very close adviser and a bond of trust was there.
The Book Is More Than Just Sonia Chronicle
One Life is not Enough is not just about Sonia Gandhi. In fact it is a highly informative and instructive compilation of epochal events in foreign affairs and politics by an author who was either part of the happenings or had the front seat to observe what was going on. The book needs to be read from page one to the last. By the end the reader will know most of what one as an Indian should be aware of. There are some very interesting anecdotes—how the minister of defence Arjun Singh and the Chief of Army Staff Gen Sundarji risked a war with Pakistan. What follows is illuminating: how even in high places the powerful intrigue to have their name etched in history.
He was fortunate to get all the strategic postings that helped his phenomenal rise, and made him highly sought officer—Beijing, Washington, London, Pakistan et al. He had a fairly long (three-year) stint in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, as an aide to Indira Gandhi. She was impressed by his loyalty to Nehru and that wore his ‘ideals’ on his sleeve. His ability as a word-meister convinced leaders that he was a scholar of some stature. He shared with Mrs Gandhi a deep-rooted Anglophilia that the Nehru family possessed, “bordering on Gunga Din behaviour as in the case of JLN,” said a commentator. The photos in the book show him with world leaders and that would make most in the IFS envy him and rue that they did not have his luck or reach. His stints in Mao-Tse Tung’s China, at the UN, and in London during the Emergency give us glimpses of the most important phases of our life time. We learn of the demise of the USSR, the decline of the Congress and the testing times for Rajiv during Bofors controversy. How he struggled during the Emergency when he was Dy. High Commissioner to assuage the people.
He excels while chronicling the high drama that preceded the anointment of Manmohan as prime minister in 2004. It is graphically recounted. While Manmohan, the author recalls, himself protested that he was not the one who won the thumping mandate, for the other senior Congress leaders, the choice was a “bitter pill to swallow”.
There was also a bitter backlash from the UPA’s alliance partners, with some of whom Congress leaders had to plead to accept Sonia’s decision. Natwar describes how Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan, for instance, were “furious” and how Lalu gave them a “tounge-lashing’’ in chaste Bihari. (VD)
“I Have Written For My Own Conscience, Not In Revenge”
K Natwar Singh explains to Vijay Dutt why he wrote the book, One Life is not Enough. Excerpts:
Why the title One Life is not Enough?
We thought of many titles, Just Passing By, Double Life Autobiography but then settled for One Life is not Enough.
I suppose the lively, colourful and globe-trotting life you had is not enough.
I think so (Laughs).
Do you feel you have avenged the humiliation following the food for oil scam which must have had the sanction of Sonia Gandhi?
I have written my autobiography and stated facts. I did not begin it in 2011 with the objective of any revenge. You must have noticed the chapter on Sonia is one of the shortest. My objective in writing was to sum up my life and give to the reader a glimpse of things and happenings most do not have the opportunity to experience.
But Anand Sharma, Salman Khurshid and many others accuse of betrayal. Manmohan Singh said private conversations should not have been used for personal gains.
They are all chamchas. They can only do chamcagiri. Manmohan Singh never stood up for his colleagues, he has no spine.
When you were close to her, did you not notice elements of ruthlessness in her.
No. But the real character and nature of a person is only known at times of crisis or test of friendship.
Do you think you have cleared your name for posterity?
I am not bothered about posterity. I am responsible for my own own conscience. I am answerable to myself only.
What about Sonia? What about her reputation?
It is inconsequential.
She has said she would write her own biography and then the truth would be known.
I was surprised that she spoke out Normally she keeps silent. She must be very agitated to speak up. I hope she does write. I would welcome it.
Do you see any future for Gandhis.
No, it is all over for them.
That means it is end of the Dynasty.
Natwar Singh’s closeness to her was ‘unique’. “My growing proximity to Sonia could not go unnoticed. I was at 10, Janpath, almost every day (after she became Congress President). I was seen as one of the closest confidants …some well-wishers pumped me saying, ‘You are the best trouble-shooter she has.”
Then the Oil-For-Food scam broke out. In the Volcker Commission to inquire into the scam his close aide implicated him. Its report led to his losing the Cabinet berth. Then hounded by Income-Tax and Enforcement Directorate sleuths he relinquished his Rajya Sabha seat and resigned from the Congress.
Natwar’s grudge is that Sonia never met him so that he could give his explanation. Her behaviour with him during that period was “vicious and venomous”, he says. He has devoted a chapter to Volcker calling it the Volcker Conspiracy and put his side of the story. His exposure of the intrigue and pressures on the Pathak Committee to exonerate Congress is detailed. Then doubts are raised about the real intent of the Congress. Virendra Dayal former undersecretary of the UN was selected by the Indian government as special envoy to liaise with the Volcker Committee and collect all papers relating to Indians named in the report. He returned with heaps of documents.
But despite best and persistent demand and RTI, Natwar Singh was denied his right to see the documents relating to him. Justice Pathak who was inquiring the involvement of Indians was never shown the papers Dayal brought. Why such denial, possibly because that would have exonerated Natwar Singh. If all this is true, and it seems so, the hurt in Natwar Singh is natural. He had earned every right to expose Sonia.
This break in their closeness and the bitterness following it is the cause of the plethora of criticism of the book that has followed, the basic question being that why he took so long to write the book. Has it been released when the government has changed? Sonia is weak and wounded, she can’t do much harm to Natwar Singh. Both Anand Sharma and Salman Khurshid, powerful ministers in the out-going government accused Natwar Singh of betrayal. Many suspect that he has tried to avenge his ouster from the cabinet. But the fact is that he would not be human if he did not nurse deep grouse against Sonia, even if he does not admit it. The hurt would be ingrained in his psyche even if he has suppressed it emotionally.
The hurt in him would linger. One presumes that there was an element of hurt at the humiliation he felt when sacked from the Cabinet and his writing would reflect it. But he has been a very restrained writer. He has blended his positive observations with the criticism of Sonia. Not that has helped prevent burning of bridge between him and Sonia. The summing up of Sonia’s personality and politics is done by one whose loyalty to the Gandhi Family from Indira Gandhi to Sonia, 41 years in all, was the most well-known secret. And that has prompted Sonia loyalists to question his veracity and charge him with betrayal. But that has also given credibility to his observations.
This betrayal charge against him, indeed, raises the question who betrayed, Sonia or Natwar. The facts known to us exonerate Natwar. He has written his autobiography, which he had every right to do. Do Sonia’s followers want anyone who fell out with her to be banned from writing his autobiography?
He is no doubt a silent fighter and a survivor.”In adversity I am no quitter.” He says at the end of the book.”Politics is a blood sport where there are no friends at the top. The harassment, the innuendoes, and the character assassination ceased only a year ago. I was isolated and slandered. …..But we all have strong nerves and a sense of humour (This Mani Shanker Aiyer has affirmed in an article on Singh in Outlook). Being gritty we survived.”
But in the Epilogue he takes another verbal swipe at Sonia.
“The hounding and harassment continue. But Sonia Gandhi can neither run nor hide.”
If he has been unfair and lied about her, Sonia has the option to write her own biography and refute Natwar Singh’s revelations and observations and more importantly answer his questioning of her persona and use and misuse of power for a decade. She has a battery of ghost writers available to her. They would write grartis for her. One must also note that it is not only Natwar Singh’s book that has deprived her of the assiduously built aura around her but 750 million voters also rejected her. No wonder her party leaders, except those who have no political moorings sans her, have been praising Singh’s ‘bravado’ in private while shouting against him in public.
History can be very harsh. Unless one is Winston Churchill who with cockiness said: “History would be kind to me. For I will be writing it.” Natwar Singh has done exactly that and done it with much finesse.
By Vijay Dutt