Natwar Singh’s memoirs will add to the discomfiture of former prime minister Manmohan Singh. Natwar has said in his autobiography that Singh had almost abandoned the negotiations for the India-US nuclear deal in Washington in 2005 because he “could not sell the nuclear deal in Delhi”.
The former external affairs minister has described how at a crucial point in the negotiations, Singh even refused to meet then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who then requested Natwar to try and achieve a breakthrough.
“After our meeting, Condoleezza had called the President (George Bush) telling him Manmohan Singh couldn’t make the deal happen. She wanted to meet Manmohan but he refused to see her. She then called me and asked me why he was being recalcitrant. I told her I had done my best to convince him but he said he wouldn’t be able to sell the nuclear deal in Delhi…,” Natwar has written in his book, One Life is Not Enough.
It was during a breakfast meeting between the Indian PM and the US Secretary of State that the revised text of the deal was amended yet again to incorporate Singh’s “reservations”, and finally taken to President Bush. And, Natwar writes, “we finally got a go-ahead on the negotiations”.
Curiously, while Natwar Singh portrays himself as being a major proponent of the India-US nuclear deal, earlier in the narrative he describes how Sonia Gandhi had told him she was under “great pressure” from various quarters, including the Americans, not to appoint him as external affairs minister.
Manmohan Singh, Natwar recalls, also “fought hard” to get him into the MEA and, until the last moment, “the American lobby had allegedly tried to derail my appointment… Manmohan mentioned how powerful the Americans were and that perhaps they could go to any extent to destabilize certain countries, including India.”
While declaring that it was difficult to give a pronouncement on Manmohan Singh’s foreign policy, since “he didn’t have one”, Natwar Singh writes that as prime minister Singh “leaned backwards” to accommodate the US, even when they displayed indifference. “India did not utter a word against the US’s spying over a large number of countries, including India… as long as Manmohan Singh was in office, it seemed that India was almost absent from US President Barack Obama’s foreign policy radar…,” he says in the book.
Natwar Singh has also dwelled at length on the Volcker report, his being implicated in the oil-for-food scandal, and subsequently being asked to step down as external affairs minister. He discloses that in September 2004 (prior to the release of the probe report), Manmohan Singh met Paul Volcker. “I too was surprised why he needed to spend so much time with the man…,” Natwar Singh writes.
Former finance minister P Chidambaram too has come in the line of Natwar’s fire. According to Natwar, Chidambaram, as finance minister, had asked him to visit the headquarters of the Enforcement Directorate “as the Government wished to close the case in two weeks”. That was in February 2006, he says.
Later, in another passage, Natwar returns to the humiliation he faced at the hands of agencies like the ED and Income-Tax, and how his phones were tapped and his family was put under surveillance. “He (Chidambaram) had actually told me that my case would be closed in a couple of weeks. The couple of weeks have extended to eight-and-a-half years. Who gave the orders is anyone’s guess…”