In July 2008, the Samajwadi Party (SP) famously changed its stand on the Indo-US nuclear deal — easing pressure on the then Manmohan Singh government — after a meeting with former President A P J Abdul Kalam. The SP justified the change of heart, saying Kalam had told them that the deal was in India’s interest.
In his first interview after demitting office last year, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday that he had asked Amar Singh, then in the SP, to meet Kalam as he knew that SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav had great respect for the former President.
In an interview to Karan Thapar on India Today channel, Singh said: “At various stages of negotiations (on the nuclear deal), I used to brief him (Kalam), and I was very happy when he endorsed what we were doing.” Kalam demitted office in 2007.
Singh described his relationship with Kalam as a “great friendship”, saying he saw him as a “great friend, advisor and a philosopher”. “He (Kalam) recognised the problems that I had in managing a difficult coalition government,” he said.
“Of course, when I faced a vote of no-confidence in Parliament (July 2008), he was no longer the President. But even then he played a very important role in helping the deal go forward. That time, there was a problem with regard to the voting pattern…how will it go. The prospects of the government winning the vote of confidence were being questioned. And I was discussing these matters with Amar Singhji (and) also with Mulayam Singhji. And with great difficulty we managed to persuade them to (take a) re-look at their objections,” said Singh.
“It occurred to me that Mulayam Singhji had great regard and respect for Dr Kalam. So I suggested then to Amar Singhji (that) maybe if you don’t believe my word, you might like to hear Abdul Kalam. And they went to see Abdul Kalam and he told them that this deal is in national interest, and that means the Samajwadi Party was on board and we won the vote of confidence,” said Singh.
Singh said while there was opposition to the deal from “within the scientific community”, the “fact that Dr Kalam was on board was a great source of encouragement.”
Rejecting reports that Kalam had reservations about making Congress president Sonia Gandhi Prime Minister in 2004, Singh said: “This is a canard which is being spread. There is no truth in that. Kalam never questioned who will be the person he will swear in… That was the privilege given under our Constitution to the party or to the person who claims majority support… It is a canard… that he had hesitation in swearing in Mrs Gandhi. That issue was never discussed in my presence.” He also dismissed reports that Kalam had sought to see Sonia’s passport.
Asked about Kalam’s revelation in his book, Turning Points, that he had wanted to resign in October 2005 after the Supreme Court struck down the Centre’s decision to dissolve the Bihar assembly and that Singh had then pleaded with him that his resignation may lead to the fall of the UPA government, the former PM said: “He was in Moscow at that time. I rang him and we had a very good conversation. He expressed some of his doubts but ultimately you know what happened.”
On whether they considered giving Kalam a second term as President, Singh said: “Those matters are the preserve of political parties. Various options were considered and ultimately it was decided by the UPA that Pratibha Patil should be invited to be the candidate on behalf of the UPA.”
“My overall recollection of my dealings with President Kalam is that those were the happiest moments I spent in his company,” said Singh.
He said history would remember Kalam as a “great President, a great nation builder and a person who did a lot to promote the cause of self reliance in defence technologies.”