K Natwar Singh tells Ritu Sarin why he thinks there was no impropriety in his revelations about Sonia Gandhi, and asks how he could be expected to respect a PM who did not resign after Rahul Gandhi “tore up” the ordinance on convicted MPs.
Your original manuscript is understood to have been 600-700 pages, which was brought down to 400-odd. What was edited out and why?
No major omissions were made to remove facts, but only to reduce the number of pages. The dilemma of every autobiographer is what to leave out so that the reader does not get fed up. But yes, there are many things on the Nehru-Gandhi family that I did not write because of issues of propriety.
But there is criticism already that you have revealed personal conversations with Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh, which is an act of impropriety…
Sonia Gandhi is a historic public figure. And a public figure does not have a private life. If you read books by Henry Kissinger, John Kennedy and at home by Mani Dixit and even Sanjaya Baru, they are full of personal conversations between important people in government. But I have not written this book with any vengeance, malice or bitterness; otherwise I would go down in my own esteem. In the ultimate analysis, I am answerable to myself.
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You wrote the preface and the epilogue at the very end and made the book more newsy. In the epilogue you mention your meeting with the then BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi immediately after describing how Sonia Gandhi’s “achievement” was to reduce the Congress party to a “rump”. What signal are you sending?
It is not a question of sending a signal. I have written that when I met him on February 4 (2014), I talked about what is wrong with our foreign policy. Now USA is bending over backwards over Modi, making all sorts of overtures and circling around him. This was certainly not the case in the Manmohan Singh years as I have described. President Obama did not have India anywhere on his horizon. And where is the much-touted Indo-US nuclear deal now? Manmohan Singh forced himself on the Americans last September, and when the draft of the ordinance was torn up by Rahul Gandhi in Delhi, he didn’t resign. How can you expect me to respect him as a prime minister?
What is your impression of the early days of the Modi government?
Well, I must say he outwitted everybody else in the election campaign, and he is very good orator. And why should people think I met him because I want something from Modi? What can he give me at the age of 83?
As far as misgivings are concerned, I do have reservations about the manner in which he is deciding on appointments of secretaries to ministers. Then there was the issue of appointment of his own principal secretary. I was taken aback when Sushma Swaraj was not taken along by the Prime Minister to Brazil, and equally surprised why the Prime Minister has yet not picked a diplomatic adviser. The NSA cannot take all the burden and, as I have written, I had even advised Dr Manmohan Singh against the appointment of an NSA. Besides all this, what I am most anxious about is the fact that there is not a strong opposition to the government now. The weakening of the Congress is not good for the country.
Did you tell Sonia Gandhi about your meeting with Modi when she called on you on May 6 as you have revealed in the preface?
In fact, I did, but that was more out of making conversation. I was surprised that Priyanka and Sonia Gandhi came. A month before that, Suman Dubey had visited me and talked about the progress of my book. Then Priyanka telephoned me. Since she arrived first and asked me if I was going to write about the prime ministership issue, I frankly told her yes, and that no one can make me edit it. Once Sonia arrived, I noticed she looked a bit tense, and when I mentioned the difficult years I had been put through, she replied, “I didn’t know about all this.” I told her this could not be the case since Manmohan Singh would never do anything without her approval. Once they left, I didn’t tell anyone about the visit and the Gandhis too would not, since they know how tough I can be.