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Clinton spoke strongly to Rao, Bush was curt with Rajiv: Natwar Singh’s book

In memoirs, Natwar Singh describes how one US President made a PM ‘change his mind’ on n-tests.

Written by Ritu Sarin | New Delhi |
Updated: July 31, 2014 9:40:56 am

Natwar Singh’s book One Life is Not Enough (published by Rupa) includes startling accounts of foreign policy matters, one of these describing how nuclear tests in Pokharan were called off in 1995 after US officials confronted then PM P V Narasimha Rao. This was after “American satellites picked up the activities around Pokharan”. Subsequently, Natwar writes, the satellite images were brought to India by the American ambassador (who is not named in the book) and shown to the prime minister. “President Clinton also spoke to him in strong terms, and P V changed his mind,” he writes.

This is followed by an analysis of Rao’s tenure and the strained relationship between him and Sonia Gandhi when there was no communication between 7 Race Course Road and 10 Janpath. “Our concerted effort to remove P V did not succeed because he was far cleverer than us… the attempt was to weaken the hands of Narasimha Rao.”

In another account, Natwar describes how in 1986, when he was minister of state for external affairs, he had asked PM Rajiv Gandhi to sack Arun Singh, MoS for defence. According to the book, the Army had planned extensive military exercises on the Indo-Pak border, and Rajiv held a meeting where he said that the US and Soviet envoys had reported there was nothing to suggest that the Pakistan Army had assumed offensive positions. Arun Singh, Natwar writes, questioned the efficiency of US and Soviet satellites. According to the book, Rajiv later asked defence minister N D Tiwari and Natwar what he should do with Arun Singh. Natwar writes that Tiwari was silent and that he (Natwar) told Rajiv to sack the minister.

Natwar also writes that the Chandra Shekhar Government, which had been supported by the Rajiv-led Congress, fell in 1991 due to the serious differences that emerged between the prime minister and Rajiv on the issue of American military aircraft being allowed to be refuelled in Mumbai and Chennai on their way to the Gulf. According to Natwar, Rajiv described what Chandra Shekhar did as “mollycoddling of the Americans”. He writes that Rajiv at this stage even tried to speak to then President George Bush but his calls were not responded to.

Eventually, he writes, President Bush sent a curt oral reply to Rajiv in response to a letter he had written on February 7 that year. The reply, quoted in the book, has the US President telling Rajiv Gandhi: “I am also concerned that you have opposed India’s decision to refuel our military flights to the Gulf. These flights are very important, and we hope that they can soon be resumed. Your use of them as a political issue can only damage a bilateral relationship you did so much to build up…”

The book contains a lengthy narrative on the signing of the Indo-US deal and significantly, Natwar has described how Sonia Gandhi herself was skeptical about the political fallout of the agreement. Natwar recalls that on his return to New Delhi from Washington, Sonia was “far from approving” about the developments.

“Natwar, how could you of all people agree to this?” Sonia Gandhi had reportedly asked him, adding, “You know there is an undercurrent in the country regarding America’s policy.” It was almost six months later, Natwar notes, that Sonia changed her mind and supported the move.

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