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Beware a courtier scorned: But does Natwar tell all?

Kanchan GuptaPoliticians who wield power, or have tasted power, are prone to extreme hubris. They tend to forget that courtiers, if spurned and scorned, can turn into tattlers who have no qualms about violating the Eleventh Commandmant — that thou shall not kiss and tell.

Hence it is not surprising that Natwar Singh should have said nasty things about Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul in his just published book One Life is Not Enough — An Autobiography. They should have known better than to unceremoniously throw out a long-time Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty retainer from Sonia Gandhi’s Durbar.

Friend turned foe? It is not surprising that Natwar Singh should have said nasty things about Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul in his just published book. They should have known better than to unceremoniously throw out a long-time Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty retainer from Sonia Gandhi’s Durbar Pic/AFP
Friend turned foe? It is not surprising that Natwar Singh should have said nasty things about Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul in his just published book. They should have known better than to unceremoniously throw out a long-time Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty retainer from Sonia Gandhi’s Durbar Pic/AFP

Ever since the doors of 10 Janpath were firmly shut on Natwar Singh’s face after the unflattering findings of the UN inquiry into Saddam Hussein’s ‘Oil-for-Food’ scam from which his son was accused of having benefited, the loyalist-turned-rebel had been smarting. In Lutyens’ Delhi, those who fall from grace not only lose face but also the perks that come attached with prestige. Neither is easy to surrender.

And what better way to get even than to write a tell-all book? Sanjay Baru, a personal friend of Manmohan Singh who was abandoned by the former prime minister to keep his party bosses in good humour, wrote a scathing book, The Accidental Prime Minister. Published halfway through the 2014 election campaign, it savaged what remained of the tattered image of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.

Publishers have an uncanny knack of timing the release of a new book to coincide with current popular interest. EL James, we can presume, was hustled into writing two sequels to 50 Shades of Grey before the hype and hoopla over the most talked about (and read) cult fiction of this century began to flag.

That Baru’s book would coincide with the peaking of the campaign was a foregone conclusion. Releasing it after May 16 would have made little sense; doing so in the dying days of Sonia Raj would have made none. Nobody wants to read about people who have been rendered into footnotes of history.

Natwar Singh’s book, of course, could not have been published earlier. Courtiers, even after they have been sent out in sackcloth and ashes, shamed and disowned, do not give up hope easily. Hope, as the cliché goes, springs eternally among those who populate Lutyens’ Delhi.

What if the Congress were to retain power and Sonia Gandhi were to remain powerful? Those who were once sent to the dog house are known to have been welcomed into the drawing room again. President Pranab Mukherjee is a living example.

Hence Natwar Singh waited for the election results. Once he was sure Sonia Gandhi didn’t command enough numbers to even qualify as Leader of the Opposition, he quickly wrote an epilogue and hustled his publisher into putting out the book. It pays to play safe.

And how! A man who was all but forgotten and become irrelevant for Delhi’s conceited media stars is now sought after like a rock star. Every news channel is rushing to interview him. Newspapers are tripping over each other to print titbits from the book. A faded, jaded durbari is back in the news.

Understandably, Sonia Gandhi is not happy. Nobody likes to be called “authoritarian” and “capricious” to “Machiavellian” and “secretive”, especially not those who have come to believe they are above criticism and accountability. Various stories are doing the rounds in Delhi as to how she and Priyanka tried to sweet talk Natwar Singh into holding back the book and excising the uncharitable details.

But such stories are the stuff that lures morning walkers to Lodhi Garden. They also become newsroom lore, courtesy editors who flaunt ‘insider knowledge’. We shall leave it at that.

Meanwhile, Sonia Gandhi has promised a book that will tell her part of the story and reveal the ‘truth’, as she put it to journalists in Parliament’s Central Hall. Till such time her version of the ‘truth’ is in the public domain, we must hold comment.

For the moment, it would be wise to plod through Natwar Singh’s book. As the person who was the first to spot the mention of “INC” as a beneficiary of Saddam Hussein’s scam — that’s another story to be told another day — I am eager to find out who actually got the money and what happened to it. I shall return with my findings next Saturday.

The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta

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