New Delhi: The frosty relationship between Sonia Gandhi and late Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao comes out in full view in Natwar Singh’s autobiography which says Gandhi was “never fond of” Rao who wondered why she was so “hostile” to him.
“Sonia had made P V Narasimha Rao Prime Minister. But she wasn’t very fond of him. I, too, had fallen out with him and joined the Tiwari Congress, but we later made up,” Singh recalls in his just-released book “One Life Is Not Enough” published by Rupa.
Rao had sought the services of Singh, then a close Gandhi family friend, in December 1994 to repair his relations with Gandhi.
“In December, 1994, when my relations with him (Rao) had been repaired, he asked me to see him at his house, 5 Race Course Road. He seemed uncharacteristically agitated and restless.
“He said, ‘I can take on Sonia Gandhi. But I do not want to do so. Some of her advisers have been filling her ears against me. I don’t take them seriously. Sonia’s case is different. Her attitude towards me is affecting my health. If she wants me to go, she only has to say so.
“I have done my best to meet all her desires and requirements promptly. You worked closely with her and must know and should know why Sonia is so hostile to me’,” Singh writes in his book.
Natwar Singh records, “An impression was created by one or two senior members of the CWC that she was not happy with the reform process and that Rao was ignoring her. Almost all the senior members of the Congress Party were aware of Gandhi giving him the cold shoulder.
“In the months to come, a stage was reached when communication between 7 RCR (PM’s residence) and 10 Janpath almost ceased,” he writes.
Rao told Singh that he went out of his way to be polite to her and the government did whatever she wished but she never even telephoned him.
He recalled how she turned down his offer of installing a RAX phone (dedicated telephones available only to ministers and top officials) at her residence so that she could speak directly to him after initially agreeing to the idea. “It was like a slap on my face,” Rao had told Natwar Singh.
Though Rao was keen on a patch-up with Gandhi, Singh says it did not happen.
Rao even roped in Mohammad Yunus, a trusted Gandhi aide, to smoothen his relation with Gandhi but it did not work.
Things had soured between them to the extent that when there was intelligence report of a likely attack on her by a Khalistani terror group in Kerala in September 1995, where she was to attend a conference, Rao did not speak to her directly and instead asked Singh to tell her to cancel her trip, Singh writes.
Gandhi still decided to go ahead with her trip and Rao flew commandos and the venue became a mini fortress.
What was really the reason behind Gandhi’s coldness to Rao has not been spelt out in the book but Singh says one of the things was that she was upset over the slow pace of trial of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers.
“P V’s reply was that he had sent P Chidambaram (Minister) to her with the necessary papers. He had also sent Home Minister S B Chavan to brief her… He said he had himself gone with the necessary files and explained to her the legal difficulties in hastening the trial. According to him, she had listened and said nothing,” Singh writes.
Singh, however, notes that the concerted efforts of Rao baiters within Congress did not succeed because “he was far cleverer than all of us”.
The former minister, who had joined the breakaway Congress faction formed by likes of perceived Gandhi loyalists N D Tiwari and Arjun Singh before patching up with Rao, describes Rao as a man of learning, a scholar and a thinker of the first order.
Though he adds that Rao was no saint and his private life was inclined towards “passion and sensuality”.
“He was astute, crafty and patient but also capable of radioactive sarcasm. He smiled without a smile,” Singh writes.