When the Rajiv Gandhi government was considering overruling Supreme Court’s verdict in Shah Bano case, then Union minister Margaret Alva had advised the PM not to succumb to pressure from Muslim clergies. “Get divorced and come to me. I will tell you where to go,” he had shot back.
In her autobiography, Courage and Commitment, that will soon hit stands, Alva notes the government bringing a law to nullify the judgment marked Congress’s “slide”. Speaking to The Indian Express, Alva says Congress “expected him (Rajiv) to take a stand,” but “he gave in”.
The book comes at a time when Alva, with decades of experience in Parliament and having served as governors of states like Rajasthan and Uttarakhand, is in a panel to enhance Congress prospects in Karnataka. It details her experiences with Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, P V Narasimha Rao and Sonia Gandhi. It also has a letter she wrote to Sonia when she forced her to resign as AICC general secretary in 2008 after she alleged that tickets for Karnataka elections were being sold.
Commenting on recent revelations that Rao kept tabs on senior leaders, including Sonia, Alva said: “It came as a revelation…I worked so closely with him. That’s why probably he didn’t give me a cabinet rank…I don’t think anybody suspected him.”
She, however, said she was hurt at the way Congress treated Rao. The book notes that his body was not allowed to be placed in AICC headquarters. “He was a Congress president. He should have got his due in his death.”
She said Rao and Sonia shared “a bit of a cold relationship”. “He was unnerved by… her aloofness. She didn’t, in her early days, communicate too much and Rao didn’t know what was on her mind…”
Her book mentions an incident when the Rao government appealed against Delhi High Court’s decision to quash complaints in Bofors case. “What does the Prime Minister want to do? Send me to jail?” Sonia had asked Alva.
The book quotes Sonia as saying, “What has the Congress government done for me? This house was allotted to me by the Chandra Shekhar government”.
This episode suggests that such insecurities perhaps prompted Sonia to enter politics.
While the book notes how then Congress president Sitaram Kesri denied ticket to sitting PM Rao in 1996 Lok Sabha polls, Alva denied it was at Sonia’s behest. “That was the crudeness of Kesriji….”
The book notes an incident when Sheila Dikshit, as a first-time MP, requested Alva to let her return from Shillong in a flight with PM Rajiv owing to “urgent personal work”. “…next thing we heard was that she had been appointed MoS in the PMO,” it says.
Asked what possibly transpired during the flight, Alva replied: “It was a mystery to everybody.”
On Congress naming Dikshit as its UP CM candidate, Alva said: “She must be having something special about her…Sheilaji has special rapport with Gandhi family.”
The book also notes “assassination of Rajiv Gandhi remains steeped in mystery”.
About the present Congress decline, she said “It’s very unfair to say it is going down because of him (Rahul)… Do you think the state leaders are doing very well?”