‘Manmohan Singh did his best to keep Rahul Gandhi out’

In 2009, the Americans openly said they wanted Montek Singh Ahluwalia as finance minister instead of Pranab Mukherjee
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi

Former foreign minister, diplomat and raconteur par excellence Natwar Singh is enjoying the success of his runaway best-seller, yet again. The book that stirred a storm before its formal release was preceded by a controversial visit to Singh’s house by Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her daughter, Priyanka, ostensibly to dissuade him from revealing embarrassing details about the family. In an interview with Hardnews, Singh doesn’t hide his admiration for Prime Minister Narendra Modi 

Congress was always a dynastic party, and you were associated with it for a long time. What changed?

When the Volcker report came out, I was in Frankfurt. The Indian ambassador to the UN called me to say the report had mentioned Congress, me and some corporate houses as non-contractual beneficiaries. I received an email from the Congress spokesperson, stating that the party was clean and Natwar Singh could take care of himself. I knew this could not have been issued without Sonia’s approval. I was annoyed and appalled. She could have at least made a statement: that she knows Natwar Singh and he would not do any such thing. So when I came back, I didn’t go to see her at all. There were 150 countries named in Oil-for-Food, but nobody took any notice of it except Sonia Gandhi. Why? Because I defied her and she is not used to being defied. When my honour and integrity is concerned, I don’t make any compromises. 

Why do you think you were not adequately defended?

They told her, ‘Madam, he is so close to you, people will think you have taken the money’. Justice Pathak said, ‘there is no material to show that Natwar Singh derived any personal or financial benefit from this contract’. In spite of that, the media let loose with Manmohan Singh not standing up for his colleague. It was a very difficult time. If I were not a tough guy, I would have had a nervous breakdown. When ManmohanSinghji told me to go and see Soniaji, I refused. I said the blood of my ancestors flows in my veins. We fought the Mughals, we fought the British, and we are fighting you. 

Reports from the last two years state that Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh disagreed about many things. Do you agree?

UPA-I was excellent and there were no problems. But Manmohan Singh thought that the 2009 elections were won because of him. Now this is an illusion. He has been in the RajyaSabha since 1991 and that too from Assam. He might be saying whatever about Rahul, that he liked him, but he did his best to keep Rahul out. 

What went wrong for Congress in the last elections?

You see, these scams were happening regularly. The PM and Sonia Gandhi knew about it. Why did she not speak about it in public? ManmohanSinghji was defending his coal minister when the correct response was to sack him.  

What will cure Congress’ ailments?

They are in serious trouble. Their next test will be the Assembly elections. The general impression is that they won’t make it unless the BJP commits a blunder. Indian democracy needs a strong Congress party and it needs a strong Opposition for democracy to continue and flourish. Congress has been a natural ruling party for so many years. It’s very sad. 

You have said in an interview that the CIA exercises great influence in India?

Absolutely! Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj took up the snooping row with John Kerry, though I doubt it would come to anything. But the Wikileaks reports and Snowden’s revelations also prove this. Read KGB records and books by England’s MI-5: all this is a given. I have been saying that there are 130 diplomatic officers in the American embassy and one-fourth of them are CIA spies. Why don’t they respond? Because they can’t; they’re doing this all over the world. 

What’s one example of active CIA influence?

When I became foreign minister, Manmohan Singh told me there was pressure from Americans to not make me external affairs minister. Sonia Gandhi even asked me if I would take up another ministry. I said no; I had been her principal foreign affairs advisor for 10 years. She said there was pressure from Americans. In 2009, the Americans openly said they wanted Montek Singh Ahluwalia as finance minister instead of Pranab Mukherjee. Who are they to interfere in our affairs? And what are these spies doing here? Fooling around in the ministries, meeting all the secretaries and joint secretaries. 

What do you make of Modi’s foreign trips?

Earlier this year, I told him that his speeches in the last five–six months had not mentioned foreign policy at all. A PM, ultimately, is also a foreign minister. He said, ‘Tell me’. I said, ‘You should begin with your neighbours, who have been neglected. ManmohanSinghji had not gone to Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal or Sri Lanka. He went to Bangladesh in the ninth year of his tenure.’ I also told Modi that Jawaharlal Nehru’s framework for foreign policy has broad acceptance; even national consensus. It’s not static, because circumstances and situations change; you can move it around, but not change it totally. People think foreign policy and diplomacy are easy. They’re not. Foreign policy is what you do; diplomacy, how you do it. I told him, ‘You know India looks different, from Gandhinagar to Delhi, from Madras to Kolkata to Mumbai.
It’s the same with the world. One view of the world is Washington; second view: Peking; third view: London; fourth view: Moscow. One must deal with this dynamism.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: APRIL 2014