New Delhi, Nov. 7: Natwar Singh owes his portfolio-less position in the cabinet to Sonia Gandhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had wanted the external affairs minister to stand down pending completion of the inquiry into the oil scandal, but could not get his way entirely.
With Natwar staying on in the cabinet, the signal comes out that Manmohan Singh and Sonia were not of the same opinion on what should be done with him.
But it is also true that the leadership thought Natwar would resign if made minister without portfolio. Not only did he not oblige, he also attended a meeting of the cabinet subcommittee on sports in his new avatar.
For the past three days, pressure had been mounting on the Congress president to take a decision on Natwar in the light of the strong opinion of the Prime Minister and senior colleagues that he should step down.
At the Sunday morning meeting of half-a-dozen senior ministers and party leaders at the Prime Minister’s house, some also expressed anger at Natwar’s not-so-subtle allegation that some Congress colleagues were trying to oust him.
If Sonia had consented to the idea of persuading Natwar to quit voluntarily, he didn’t oblige its proponents. Soon after yesterday’s meeting, the Prime Minister spent almost 90 minutes with Natwar.
He was told about the judicial inquiry and the George Fernandes precedence of quitting the government during such a probe. But an unmoved Natwar came out to announce he would continue in the government until he was asked by the Prime Minister and Sonia to step down.
He stood firm even as the government formally announced the judicial inquiry.
Party leaders wondered how thereafter the Prime Minister succeeded in securing Sonia’s agreement to strip Natwar of his portfolio.
The Prime Minister, who called Natwar to his residence in the evening, conveyed the decision to remove him from external affairs.
Natwar had planned to meet Sonia before visiting Manmohan Singh. That plan, however, did not materialise.
Still, he has reaped benefits from his long association with the family. In the dark days after Rajiv Gandhi’s death when P.V. Narasimha Rao was in power, Natwar was among the handful who had stayed by Sonia’s side.