It may well be that the defining moment of Sonia Gandhi’s leadership of the Congress party – her refusal to accept the prime minister’s position after the UPA’s 2004 election victory – was not due to any moral ‘inner voice’, as she had claimed at the time, but rather a prosaic ultimatum by her son Rahul. An autobiography by estranged Gandhi family confidant Kunwar Natwar Singh has several revelations that will make uncomfortable reading for the previous UPA administration.
Natwar was a long-time loyalist of the Gandhi family and served as External Affairs minister before he was forced to step down in December 2005 after a United Nations probe named him and the Congress as “beneficiaries” of payoffs in an Iraqi oil-for-food programme.
Bitter over the way he was treated by Sonia, Natwar quit the Congress in 2008. His son Jagat Singh is now a BJP legislator in Rajasthan.
The biggest blow for the Gandhi family in Natwar’s autobiography ‘One Life is Not Enough’ is of course the claim that Rahul had given his mother a 24-hour ultimatum not to take the PM’s job because he didn’t want her to be assassinated like his father Rajiv and grandmother Indira were.
“He didn't want her to be killed like his father. I give full marks to Rahul as a son,” Natwar claimed, adding that Sonia subsequently made up the ‘inner voice’ excuse for public consumption.
This allegation goes to the very heart of Sonia’s image as one who had ‘sacrificed’ the PM’s position. This ‘sacrifice’ had ensured her far more goodwill and political clout since 2004 than she could have ever had as a prime minister running a coalition government. However, with this revelation her halo is now looking increasingly frayed.
In response, the Congress accused Natwar of making “allegations” and “distorting” facts “for shoring up the sale of a book”.
According to the Press Trust of India, party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said, “It is unfortunate that a person who rose to occupy a top post due to Congress and was made aware of many sensitive facts, misuses and distorts those facts after being removed and publishes baseless things”.
Meanwhile, Natwar claimed that Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi visited him on May 7 to persuade him to leave certain events out of his autobiography. The 83-year old is clearly relishing his moment in the sun as a way of getting back at the Gandhi family.
For the Congress, though, the most damaging revelation is that important files were first shown to Sonia, the Congress president, for approval before being shown to then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. This is an explosive claim and will feed into the rumours that had circulated during the UPA tenure that political control had always been in the Congress president’s hands, not the prime minister’s.
Frustrated with Natwar's allegations, Sonia hit back on Thursday, claiming that she would write her own book to reveal the “truth”.
In fact it has been raining revelatory books recently. Just prior to the general election in May, another UPA insider Sanjaya Baru published his telltale book ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ on his time as media advisor to Dr. Singh.
The defeat of the UPA and the failure of the Gandhi family to rally the Congress will no doubt lead to more insider’s books about the party’s 10 years in power. There are far too many former ministers around for that not to happen.