The Telegraph
Sunday , August 3 , 2014
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Rahul reservations not the full story: Mani

New Delhi, Aug. 2: Natwar Singh’s revelations have created a stir in the Congress. Senior leaders privately claim that Natwar, expelled from the party in 2005 over the Paul Volcker report, was set for a comeback in early 2013 but was blocked by Team Rahul on the ground that his son Jagat could cause it embarrassment.

Jagat, a former Indian Youth Congress general secretary and now a BJP MLA from Rajasthan, has earned notoriety in Congress circles because of his style of functioning and flamboyant lifestyle.

The party high command is dismissive of Natwar’s claims in his autobiography, One Life is not Enough, but Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist Mani Shankar Aiyar today endorsed key observations made by the former external affairs minister.

Speaking on the Headlines Today news channel, Aiyar said he was aware Rahul Gandhi had reservations about Sonia Gandhi taking over as Prime Minister after the May 2004 poll victory. “There is more to it than just that,” Aiyar said.

Aiyar, now a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha, said Natwar was right about saying that former Congressman Shankar Dayal Sharma was Sonia’s first choice to head the Congress after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in May 1991.

“Shankar Dayal had himself told me that he turned down the offer on grounds of his advanced age and health,” he said.

Aiyar, however, disagreed with Natwar that top government files were shown to Sonia as head of the UPA between 2004 and 2014. “Natwar was himself a minister till December 2005. Did he show any file to her?” Aiyar asked.

Aiyar recently profiled Natwar for a news magazine, describing his senior in the Indian Foreign Service as “a Friend and Gentleman”.

Writing for Outlook, Aiyar could not resist recalling an old joke about him and Natwar at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi.

“I had been invited by the Informal Discussion Group, a venerable Stephanian institution going back at least half a century, to my own days in the college.

“Unusually, I was taken to the principal’s office, a dreaded spot because undergraduates were only ever summoned there to be rusticated, and confronted with a visitors’ book to sign.

“The syndrome of my late adolescence having overtaken me in these solemn surroundings that I was entering for the first time ever, I found myself, for once, failing for words.

“Therefore, in a desperate quest for inspiration, I started turning the pages back and came upon Natwar having signed it with a flourish:

Name: K. Natwar Singh

Designation: Minister of State for External Affairs

Remarks: ‘I am what I am because of St Stephen’s’.

“I asked for a pencil and scribbled under it: ‘Why blame the College?’”

Aiyar is not alone in having a sneaking admiration for Natwar. Most of the old guard and family retainers like M.L. Fotedar have chosen to remain mum.

A handful of Congressmen point at several writings of Natwar in 2011 and 2012 that had complimentary references to Sonia despite his fallout with her in December 2005.

Natwar’s 2013 book, Walking With Lions — Tales From A Diplomatic Past, narrates a story relating to Sonia in Russia on June 14, 2005, in the chapter titled “In Russia with Sonia Gandhi and President Putin”.

“We (Sonia and Natwar) left for Vladimir town in the afternoon by helicopter. I was at a loss why Sonia Gandhi was visiting an obscure medieval town.

“Soon we arrived at an unkempt courtyard, the main building had been a church now converted into a museum. Inside we came to an octagonal room. One of the walls were stuck with paper slips.

“Sonia was much interested in these. She reads Russian and obviously was looking for something. ‘Natwar, my father was a prisoner of war here during the World War II. He (Stefano Maino) escaped, walking all the way to Italy’.

“She was deeply moved. This was for her a very special moment, I listened. Any comment would have been banal and inappropriate.”

A section of Congress leaders wonder why Natwar, a year and half later, went on to describe Sonia as Machiavellian, ambitious, scheming, prima donna, authoritarian, stern and un-Indian.