Congress chief Sonia Gandhi did not let Sharad Pawar become prime minister in 1991 as he had an “independent mind” and his election to the post would “not be good for the first family”, the NCP chief has claimed in a new book.
He also writes that all Gandhis, including Indira, Rajiv and Sonia, considered Congress their “family fiefdom”.
Pawar, who parted ways with the Congress in 1999 after opposing Sonia’s projection as PM candidate because of her foreign origin, writes that she brought back P V Narasimha Rao from retirement to become the PM, even though Pawar had a legitimate claim to the post as he had won the party maximum number of seats in Maharashtra.
His book, titled Life on My Terms — From the Grassroots to the Corridors of Power, was formally released Thursday — which also happened to be his 75th birthday — at a function attended by political bigwigs including Sonia, the Prime Minister, the President and the Vice-President.
“Self styled loyalists of 10 Janpath started saying in private conversations that Sharad Pawar’s election as prime minister would harm the First Family’s interest in view of his young age. ‘Woh lambi race ka ghoda hoga (He will hold the reins for a very long time),’ they argued. Among them who played a clever trick were M L Fotedar, R K Dhawan, Arjun Singh and V George,” he writes.
According to Pawar, they convinced Sonia that it would be safer for her to back Rao because “he was old and not in a good shape”. “Arjun Singh himself aspired to become prime minister and hoped to succeed Rao soon. Anyway, once Sonia Gandhi had bought the coterie’s ‘bring Rao’ argument in 1991, the tide turned against me,” writes Pawar.
Pawar narrates how P C Alexander later brokered peace and convinced him to become Defence Minister in Rao’s government. “He knew and I knew that I had been a strong contender but the Gandhi family was not about to let someone with an independent mind get to the prime minister’s post,” he writes.
Narrating the developments during the merger of Congress (S) and Congress (I) in 1986, Pawar writes that Rajiv Gandhi did not even mention his name in his speech: “I attribute this to the Gandhi family’s mindset. Whether Indiraji, Rajiv or Soniaji, all Gandhis consider the Congress as their family fiefdom.”
In another reference to the family, Pawar writes, “Both Indiraji and Rajiv shared another tendency: jumping to conclusions in a jiffy. Without ascertaining facts they believed what they were told.”
Pawar also writes that despite his differences with Sonia, he had a comfortable alliance with her party in the past 10 years and she never interfered in his ministerial job.
Pawar writes that former PM Manmohan Singh had a soft spot for him as he always stood by him on policy issues even if it meant differing with 10 Janpath. “Others in the Union cabinet cowered in fear of the First Family: what if the dynasty came to know of their support to the prime minister? I never had such fears,” writes Pawar.
On his days in the Congress, Pawar enumerates a number of instances when, as Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, he was undermined by Sonia in her capacity as Congress president during 1996-97.
He describes as “shocking” an amendment to the Congress Parliamentary Party constitution in the early 1990s “solely” to make her the CPP leader, without being elected to Parliament.
On his equation with Sonia, Pawar writes, “When she and I decided something, she would do exactly opposite. If I selected P C Chacko to open a debate on the party’s behalf, she would replace him just because he was supposed to be close to me.”
Pawar also describes in detail how his relationship with Rajiv was hit after Chandra Shekhar took over as PM in 1990. Pawar claimed that a lunch that Chandra Shekhar, a close family friend, had with him immediately after becoming PM did not go down well with Rajiv.
Pawar also gave advice to Rahul Gandhi. “Rahul, who is widely, and, unsurprisingly, expected to be the next head of the Congress party, is still young and should be given more time to prove his credentials. Although he was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2004, he has started to take an active interest in party affairs only since early 2014 or so,” he writes.