Congress president Sonia Gandhi was stopped by her son, Rahul, from becoming prime minister in 2004 because he was scared she too would fall victim to political assassinations that had earlier ravaged the Nehru-Gandhi family, former foreign minister K Natwar Singh revealed on Wednesday.
After winning a surprise election victory in 2004, Sonia faced stiff opposition from several senior party leaders, including Sharad Pawar and PA Sangma who cited her Italian antecedents to stop her becoming prime minister.
Read: Natwar’s book confirms Baru’s thesis
She then passed up the chance to take the top job, saying her “inner voice” prevented her, but many saw the decision as a face-saving move to quell dissent in the party. She then chose Manmohan Singh for the post.
Natwar, whose tell-all autobiography ‘One Life Is Not Enough’ is due out August 1, also told Headlines Today news television that Sonia had access to important government files that were carried to her by Pulok Chatterjee, an officer in the prime minister’s office.
The revelations are likely to embarrass Sonia, whose “sacrifice” of the post of prime minister has often since been upheld by her party as a rare example of political propriety and an act of selflessness. In the past, the Congress has also denied she perused government files.
Read: The insider who later turned a ‘betrayer’
They also offer a window into the mind of Rahul, exposing his vulnerabilities as a person battered by personal tragedies that may have triggered a possible ambivalence towards power. Many had accused him of showing signs of reluctance in wanting to lead the party’s campaign in the April-May elections.
Natwar said Rahul told her mother he would take every step to stop her and gave her a 24-hour deadline to decline the offer to become prime minister.
Mixing the power of a royalty and the tragic glamour of the Kennedys, the Nehru-Gandhi family gave India three prime ministers, including Indira Gandhi and grandson, Rajiv, both of who were assassinated.
Rahul was 14 when he lost his grandmother, Indira, in 1984 and seven years his father, Rajiv, was blown up by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber during an election rally in southern India.
“He didn't want her to be killed like his father. I give full marks to Rahul as a son,” Natwar said, adding that thereafter Sonia made up the excuse of “inner voice” for public consumption.
Natwar said Sonia and her daughter Priyanka called on him at his house on May 7 this year to plead that he not reveal in his book the true reason behind Sonia’s decision to forego the post of prime minister.
Read: ‘Sonia more powerful than Nehru, Indira’
Natwar was foreign minister in the first UPA government that won power in 2004. He was forced to resign under a cloud of scandal in 2005 after a UN inquiry named him as a beneficiary in illegal payoffs relating to an Iraqi oil-for-food programme. Thereafter, he went into political wilderness.
He also revealed that Sonia’s first choice to be Congress president, and therefore PM, after Rajiv Gandhi’s death in 1991 was Shankar Dayal Sharma, then Vice President. But Sharma turned down the offer on account of his old age.
Natwar said Sonia had complete grip over the Congress, more than what Nehru or Indira had, and was the last word in the party.
What does Natwar's tell-all book say
ON CONG LEADERSHIP
Sonia Gandhi’s first choice to be Congress president and therefore PM after Rajiv Gandhi’s death in 1991 was Shankar Dayal Sharma, then vice-President. Only after Sharma refused did she think of PV Narasimha Rao.
ON RAO, SONIA EQUATION
Natwar Singh reveals details of clandestine meetings at Mohd. Younis’s home when Narasimha Rao as PM appeared without security to seek Younis’s help in improving relations with Sonia.
ON ALLY ANGER
Lalu Prasad was very angry when he heard Manmohan Singh would be the prime minister rather than Sonia. Paswan was also upset. It took a big effort to bring both men on board.
ON INTERFERENCE IN GOVT
Sonia Gandhi used to receive government files when UPA was in power …Pulok Chatterjee would carry these files to Sonia Gandhi.