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HindustanTimes Mon,15 Sep 2014
Getting back at the Gandhis: what Natwar can learn from Amitabh Bachchan
Sandipan Sharma, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, August 04, 2014
First Published: 14:57 IST(4/8/2014)
Last Updated: 17:06 IST(4/8/2014)

It is human nature to avenge betrayal by those who were once close friends, benefactors or obsequious lackeys. Some react immediately and others believe in the old dictum that revenge is a dish best served cold.

Forgive and forget is an ideal meant only for books and has very little place in real life, especially in politics, and only some like Amitabh Bachchan — more about it later — are tempted to practice it.

So Natwar Singh is justified in wearing his emotions on his kurta sleeves while narrating his account of his relations with the Gandhis and how they ended.

The dynasty is in decline and this is, thus, the peak season for ‘war of written word’.

Emboldened by Singh’s words and its impact, many may want to buy pens sharper than swords. One wonders if A Raja is planning a bestseller on his life and times in the Manmohan Singh cabinet next.

Since Sonia Gandhi too is a mere mortal and not totally immune to emotions like pain, hurt and revenge, it shouldn’t surprise anybody if she writes her own version of contemporary history in response to this betrayal by a ‘friend’ and many others who may be inspired to bare all in the future.

But going by the dignified silence the Gandhis have maintained over the decades, Sonia’s ‘tell-all’ autobiography is a distant dream for readers.

Whether she writes it or not, one thing is certain. The Gandhis alone can’t be blamed for Natwar Singh’s fate and his fall from grace in 2005. The former external affairs minister is himself to be blamed for bringing about his ruin.

When the food-for-oil scam broke, when Natwar Singh, his son Jagat and family friend Andleeb Sehgal were named as beneficiaries in Paul Volcker’s report — by an agency of the United Nations, no less — the Congress had no option but to drop the minister.

The report had revealed that Hamdan Exports, a company linked to Jagat and Sehgal, was getting paid by the Saddam regime for acting as intermediaries for illegally routing Iraqi funds meant for buying food through sale of oil coupons.

It was also alleged that Natwar Singh had personally lobbied for oil coupons for the company linked to his son.

This was 2005 and the Congress and Manmohan Singh government were largely seen as upright and honest.

But the implication that the Congress had indulged in international corruption to raise funds threatened to ruin the image of the Gandhis and the government. Natwar Singh's proximity to 10 Janpath indirectly implicated the Gandhis and many surmised that the foreign minister was just a conduit.

Till the time Natwar Singh himself implicates 10 Janpath, it would be difficult to dispel the argument — reiterated by his close aides such as diplomat Anil Matharani, and the Pathak panel that later probed the scam — that his family was directly involved in the scandal.

Did the Congress have any other option but to distance itself from the tainted family?

Some of the contents of the report were so damning that had the Congress president and the then prime minister not acted against Natwar Singh, history would have judged them as patrons of the tainted and protectors of the vile men in their coterie.

After he was dropped from the cabinet, Natwar Singh made many efforts to flex his muscles and harm the Congress. It is another story that such was his disconnect with people that his attempts at emerging as a leader of masses outside the Congress failed miserably.

In August 2006, he organised a ‘Swabhiman Rally’ at Jaipur’s Vidyadhar Nagar under the banner of the Jat Mahasabha — whose patron Rajaram Meel, a liquor contractor, was back then a trusted lieutenant of Vasundhara Raje — to polarise the Jats against the party.

Though Natwar Singh was restrained at this rally, some of the things his belligerent son said would have further widened the wedge between him and the party.

Jagat is now a BJP legislator from Rajasthan and the Singhs are known to be close to chief minister Raje.

Let us look at it this way, how did Natwar Singh repay the Gandhi family’s trust in him?

Though few emotions match the satisfaction that comes from revenge, perhaps Natwar Singh could have learnt from Bachchan, another Gandhi family friend who endured a similar journey but didn’t react in the same manner, in spite of his angry man image.

Like Natwar Singh, Bachchan and his family too were dragged into a scam that almost destroyed the film star’s life and ended his political career.

Like Natwar Singh, Bachchan too found himself in the cold after his relations with close friends Rajiv and Sonia soured.

But what did Bachchan do?

He first got his name cleared through courts, reclaimed lost honour and went on to become an enduring icon.

Till date, he has maintained a dignified silence on his family’s relations with the Gandhis, humbly calling them rajas who decide what is to be done with runks (commoners) like him.

Natwar Singh has avenged his ostracism from the inner circle of 10 Janpath. But would he have benefited more by following the Bachchan model?

Let the future decide.


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