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Stand by for a tell-all by one who tells little
- Will she, won’t she? Natwar plays muse to Sonia

July 31: An assassination compelled her to take the political baton that she — “like a tigress” — had once asked her husband to shun.

An alleged hatchet job by an estranged and bitter loyalist is now prompting Sonia Gandhi to consider picking up the pen — or the keyboard — to tell her side of the story.

“I will write my own book and then everyone will know the truth,” Sonia told NDTV in response to a question in the Parliament corridor.

Asked if she was joking, she said: “The only way the truth will come out is if I write. I am serious about this.”

The questions came against the backdrop of Natwar Singh’s autobiography. The former foreign minister, speaking days before the book release, has claimed the decisive reason why Sonia turned down the Prime Minister’s job in 2004 was her son’s fear that she might be assassinated if she took up the post. So far, Sonia’s “inner voice” was held responsible for the sacrifice.

Asked whether she was hurt, Sonia said: “I can’t be hurt; I have seen my mother-in-law riddled by bullets, my husband dead. I am far from getting hurt with these things. Let them continue to do this.... They can continue to do this if they so please.”

However tantalising a tell-all from one of the most enigmatic politicians in the world may sound, some Congress leaders were reading between the lines to figure out if Sonia was reviving her retirement plans.

Politicians take up writing assignments usually when they hang up their boots — or when they are about to relaunch their career, as Hillary Clinton has done by penning memoirs that many see as the first shot in the battle for the next US President. An undeclared wish not to be “misjudged by history” also acts as a catalyst.

But other Congress leaders said Sonia was merely renewing a wish she had spoken of earlier, which might help divert attention for a brief while from the uncharitable references by Natwar who was compelled to leave the UPA government in the wake of the Iraq oil-for-food scandal.

Whether a future tell-all is in the making or not, Sonia is not a novice in publishing. Attributed to Sonia, a pictorial tribute to Rajiv Gandhi features some crisp anecdotes. She has also edited books titled Freedom’s Daughter: Letters Between Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru 1922-39 and Two Alone, Two Together: Letters Between Indira Gandhi & Jawaharlal Nehru 1940-64.

Not just Sonia, Manmohan Singh has also joined issue with Natwar, perhaps unwittingly helping with the book’s “marketing” — the term used by the former Prime Minister to describe the claims.

“This is their way of trying to market their product,” Manmohan said.

Asked whether he thought his former media adviser Sanjaya Baru too had employed the same marketing tactic, he said: “Yes.”

Baru, whose book The Accidental Prime Minister was released during the general election, claimed Manmohan had allowed his authority to be undermined by Sonia.

To the question whether he thought it was fair for insiders to reveal certain kinds of information, Manmohan said: “What revelations? Private conversation should not be made public for capital gains.”

Like Baru, Natwar too has claimed that official files were sent to Sonia for approval. Manmohan said: “I repeat that this is not true.”

While the two senior leaders’ decision to comment on the subject reflects the depth of unease in the party, many in the Congress alleged this was just the first chapter in a BJP plot to target the Nehru-Gandhis. “They know their rule cannot be sustained without damaging the credibility of the family, and they used Natwar to fire the first shot,” a party general secretary said.

Congress leaders believe the idea is to undermine Sonia’s biggest political asset -— her “sacrifice” — and portray Rahul as gutless.

But some party leaders feel the decision by Sonia and daughter Priyanka to call on Natwar a few days ago was a blunder as it lent some credibility to his claims. Natwar has claimed they wanted the information withheld.

Digvijaya Singh, Ambika Soni, Anand Sharma, Ajay Maken and Abhishek Singhvi were some of those who entered the ring to counter Natwar, once closer to the family than any of them.

Natwar quit as foreign minister after the UN’s Volcker report named him and son Jagat as beneficiaries of alleged corruption in the oil-for-food programme for Iraq.

Digvijaya accused Natwar of trying to promote his son’s political career. “His son is a BJP MLA…. It is possible that he is saying all this to create a platform for his son.”

Lost in the din was an explanation that told the tale of a family caught up in extraordinary events. “If Rahul as a son was worried about his mother, what is so unnatural about it? Rahul was not the party’s vice-president then, he was not giving any political advice,” said Soni.