A behind the scenes narrative of what went on in the PMO when the nuclear deal with the US was being negotiated has revealed that Manmohan Singh felt let down by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi when she appeared to have put the survival of the coalition ahead of the deal.
In his book The Accidental Prime Minister, PM’s former media adviser Sanjay Baru has recounted two meetings of October 2007 when Singh told his aides, “She has let me down” and that he was “deeply disappointed” after Sonia said in an interview that the survival of the government took precedence over the nuclear deal.
Baru says Singh made these remarks to the late strategic analyst K Subrahmanyam and the author’s father V P R Vithal. “‘She has let me down’, he said to both in the separate meetings he had with them, in a voice tinged more with sadness than anger,” the book reads.
Describing the internal opposition to the deal, Baru writes that some officials in the Department of Atomic Energy actively worked to slow down the talks in early 2007 in the hope that a victory by the Samajwadi Party — then a critic of the deal — in assembly elections would mean an end to the negotiations.
Baru also describes how the PM was taken aback by the manner in which the Left attacked the 123 agreement of August 2007, charging the government of becoming an ally of an imperialist power. According to the book, after hearing Karat address the press, the PM told Baru, “As long as I am Prime Minister, I will not allow these communists to dictate our foreign policy.”
Singh put his foot down on the nuclear deal and explained to Sonia that the party would have to find another PM if it ditched the deal and proceed with its alignment with the Left, the book says. “Sonia requested Dr Singh to sleep on the issue. When after meeting him the next morning she realised he was serious, she summoned Pranab Mukherjee.” Sonia then asked Montek Singh Ahluwalia among others to persuade the PM to withdraw his resignation, it says.
Baru says the nuclear deal was saved when Amar Singh, who was then with SP, offered his party’s support to the PM. Amar Singh, then in a Colorado hospital, passed on a message that he would like to have a word with the PM. The book says soon after the two spoke over the phone, reports appeared in the media that SP was rethinking its opposition to the deal. The support of former President Abdul Kalam for the deal also gave the party the necessary political backing.
Baru says the PM was “ashen faced, looked pale and ill, almost as if he would collapse or break down crying” when the cash-for-votes scandal broke out with MPs alleging they were being paid to support the deal. Baru says the only deal the government stuck with the SP was offering minsterial berths. “At no point in the negotiations with Yadav or any other political party had the PM authorised offering cash in exchange for votes,” he says.