The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Slaps greet Natwar salute

New Delhi, Aug. 10: On Tuesday night, Natwar Singh was thundering about writing to the Guinness Book of Records about the Prime Minister “who has not won even a municipal election”.

By Thursday evening, it was time to rewrite the record books: Natwar was saluting the same Prime Minister sitting two seats away in the front row of the Rajya Sabha.

Manmohan Singh returned the greeting — the solitary gesture of warmth the silver-maned, suspended Congress leader received on a bad-hair day he is unlikely to forget soon.

Blow after blow rained on the former foreign minister, who launched a diatribe against Manmohan after the Pathak report on the oil-for-food scam led to his suspension from the Congress.

The most stinging one was delivered by the Congress establishment itself.

Natwar sought an appointment with the Prime Minister to express regret but has been told by Congress managers that since his attack was launched in public, amends should also be made in public. No appointment was given till late this evening, though Natwar wanted to meet Manmohan at 1.30 pm.

All Natwar, once a member of the core group that ran the country, could do was make eye contact with the Prime Minister in the House.

The first setback came in the House. Rajya Sabha chairperson Bhairon Singh Shekhawat rejected the privilege notice Natwar had filed against the Prime Minister over the Pathak report leak.

A privilege notice is pending against the BJP’s Jaswant Singh, too, but over the PMO “mole”.

Second, a personal statement Natwar had submitted to the Rajya Sabha secretariat, reportedly detailing his views on the Pathak report, was still to be cleared.

Third, his new friend from the Samajwadi Party, Amar Singh, told him he should not have made the “unfortunate” comments about the Prime Minister, who Natwar had described as “weak”. Apparently, Amar’s party was expecting an attack on Sonia Gandhi, not the Prime Minister.

Between Rajya Sabha adjournments, parliamentary affairs minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and a colleague spoke to Natwar. Das Munshi is believed to have told a “sad” Natwar that had he accepted one of the five calls the minister made to him on Sunday, “matters could have taken a different turn”.

Natwar was “advised” not to be present when the House re-assembled at 2 pm. The ruling coalition had an idea that the privilege motion would be turned down and it feared an outburst from him.

But, as advised, Natwar did not turn up.

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