The problem with Natwar Singh’s memoir – One Life is Not Enough – is that it feels a bit like a storm in a tea cup. On every issue the former minister tries to rake up, he comes across as either self justificatory and unconvincing, or vague, or worse still - delusionary.
The only real bombshell of a revelation that he has been able to make is about Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra visiting his residence this May, to try and convince him not to publish the book. The visit proved to be better publicity for the book than any other for had they known the damage the book would do would be so limited, the mother-daughter duo wouldn’t have taken the bother. The open-ended question here is more about whether there was something else they feared he would reveal!
The other interesting bit worth a mention is about how Natwar Singh sought publicity by mentioning Congress’ Digvijay Singh`s chance encounter with him at the Oberoi Hotel where the latter had queried about the book when Natwar and his brother-in-law Amarinder were having lunch.
Congress’ Amritsar MP Amarinder Singh, on his part, has been quick to rebut the claim saying the incident took place when he was dining with his sister Heminder Kaur and not Natwar Singh, with whom he has not been on talking terms for the last seven years! One really doesn’t know who is speaking the truth here, but if Amarinder is then one really wonders about the authenticity of the other claims in Natwar’s book.
What also confounds is how Natwar was all hunky-dory about Sonia till the time he was in her good books and her confidante, and how she suddenly turns coarsened, authoritarian and Machiavellian, the moment she shuts the door on him.
Nevertheless, coming to the revelations, there is the assumedly very earth shattering revelation that Natwar attempts to make about Rahul Gandhi serving an ultimatum to Sonia Gandhi. The young scion, Singh alleges, had given his mother 24 hours to make up her mind against becoming the Prime Minister in 2004, else...
“Else what” is the first question he is vague about - he tries to stretch his imagination in subsequent interviews trying to convolute a life threat, but is honest enough to admit he really doesn’t know.
While one wonders how grave a threat might have impeded Sonia Gandhi, there is no doubt that there would have been a plethora of reasons that went into her taking the decision that she did. Even if it was Rahul’s threat, so what? Everyone always knew it wasn’t really the inner voice that was guiding Sonia Gandhi to turn into a sacrificing ascetic, it never is for most politicians.
On the main issue of Paul Volcker report and Natwar’s eventual fall from grace, there are plenty of questions unanswered. What in the world were Natwar’s son Jagat and friend Andaleeb Sehgal doing in Iraq? And why was Natwar Singh’s official position used to make introductions? Eventually, we found out from the Enforcement Directorate that crores were indeed transferred into Jagat’s account. Obviously, Sonia Gandhi should have been fuming. One would be surprised that he was first only stripped of his portfolio and not kicked out of the Cabinet.
Even if Natwar Singh’s slate was clean, why indeed did he not return to India and seek an appointment with Sonia Gandhi and give her an explanation on `oil-for-food` payments to non-contractual beneficiaries. To say that he was hurt for being left to the dogs by Ambika Soni’s remarks on individuals needing to defend themselves, only exposes his false sense of honour. How could he have ever expected Madam Sonia to call him to get a clarification than him seeking an appointment! That’s too much hubris and an unconvincing explanation.
Why also has he not revealed that Andaleeb’s sister Somaya married Jagat after the mysterious death of his first wife Natasha Singh? Andaleeb is Jagat’s brother-in-law and not just a friend as he would have us believe.
The petty bit in the book is Natwar’s treatment of Dr Manmohan Singh and his claim of being the man behind the Indo-US nuke deal. However mute and remote controlled Manmohan Singh might have come across, no one can take away from him the fact that the former PM was responsible for pushing the Indo-US nuke deal and that if there was this one occasion when he did stick his neck out, it was this.
If I remember correctly, a lot of people were extremely sceptical about Natwar Singh becoming the external affairs minister in 2004 and didn’t deem his NAM ideologies suitable for the modern age. In fact, there was a sigh of relief when he exited, as he was believed to be damaging India’s relationship with the US in the era of a unipolar world.
The funniest though is the bit I refer to as delusionary – how else can one justify a grown up man, well educated and widely experienced, well past his middle age to be convinced on his being the centre of the universe of Congress’ monarch. He mentions with some warmth the charm offensive of Sonia - her giggling, blushing, putting her hand on her mouth and exchanging jokes on chits of paper with him during diplomatic dinners. Somewhere, Natwar Singh deluded himself into believing that his place was indispensible by the side of Mrs G. That he was her mentor, guide and Man Friday forever.
How thoroughly wrong could he have been! People of Sonia’s stature are the modern royalty, undoubtedly. And in their court are several Natwars trying to catch the Queen’s eye. Sonia would be expected to trust none and use and discard any courtier she pleases, as per her whim or need.
Natwar Singh would have known this had he borrowed a page from his own chronicle. Somewhere in the book he mentions how he tried to get Sonia to quote Kabir’s dohas (couplets) and chopais (cantons) from the Ramayana while delivering speeches. Had he studied these scriptures well enough, he would have found the Ram Charit Manas holding the mirror to reality. And he wouldn’t have been as furious or hurt at the treatment meted out to him.
Shastra suchintita puni puni dekhiya, bhoop susavit bas nahi lekhia.
- (Aranya Kand – Ch 37)
(The sacred lore, however thoroughly studied, must be reviewed over and over again; a king, however well served, should never be depended upon/considered in one’s control.)