Sonia Gandhi was angry with prime minister PV Narasimha Rao in 1992 when his government decided to appeal against the Delhi high court’s decision to quash a police complaint in the Bofors gun case, says senior party leader Margaret Alva.
“What does the Prime Minister want to do? Send me to jail?” snapped Sonia, who is now the Congress president, when Alva met her. Alva met Sonia to clarify that she, in her capacity as the minister for personnel, was in charge of the CBI but she had no role in the government decision as instructions had gone directly through the Prime Minister’s Office.
“What has the Congress government done for me? This house was allotted to me by the Chandra Shekhar government. I am not seeking any favours for myself and my children from him,” Sonia told the minister who was trying to broker peace between Rao and Sonia.
“She was really angry,” says Alva in her autobiography, Courage & Commitment, published by Rupa Publications.
“She (Sonia) seemed unable to trust him (Rao), not least because of his proximity to (godman) Chandraswami, who was being investigated for his role in Rajivji’s assassination. The Prime Minister, on his part, had always been unnerved by her aloofness. But after the Babri Masjid episode, the undercurrent of coldness and suspicion increased…She was doubly upset with him (after the government’s appeal in Bofors case),” says Alva, a senior Congress leader who had been stripped of party posts in 2008 after she alleged that party tickets were sold in Karnataka elections. The Congress denied a ticket to Alva’s son for contesting elections, but she was later rehabilitated as a Governor.
When Alva conveyed Sonia’s response to Rao, he snapped at her: “What does she (Sonia) want from me? I cannot close the Bofors case, which is before the courts. It will go on.”
Alva blames Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s decision to impose Emergency in 1975 on “her trusted team”, claiming Indira was a “committed democrat” who had been driven by circumstances. She says Indira’s advisors were humiliated by her son Sanjay who held a meeting with party MPs to “draft a new Constitution responsive to the needs of a changing polity”.
“At first, we suspected that she did not oppose Sanjay simply because she couldn’t--as she had confessed to close advisors. Yet, as days passed, we began to believe that Sanjay had his mother’s support for all that he did. It began to dawn on us that Sanjay was being used as the sounding board.”
After visiting Turkman Gate in Delhi, where Sanjay Gandhi had ordered a demolition drive to promote beautification, Alva went to apprise Indira of the plight of the residents. Indira gave her a cold response: “Some hard decisions have to be taken sometimes. Otherwise, nothing can change, right?”
Alva was opposed to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s move to bring a legislation to nullify the Supreme Court ruling in the Shah Bano case which provided maintenance to divorced Muslim women.
“As Minister for Women, I pleaded with the Prime Minister to stand firm. But I began to sense a note of disquiet in his responses. I persisted. ‘Your grandfather had the courage to stand up to Hindu right-wing groups and bring in the Hindu Code Bill despite their opposition. Today everyone has accepted it. Please do not tarnish your image,’ I begged. Rajivji was upset. ‘Yes, my grandfather was a Hindu dealing with Hindu law. Here I am a Hindu dealing with Muslim law. Do you see the difference?’”
At a meeting with Rajig, Alva tried to reason with him again. “Light-heartedly, I asked, ‘Why this proposed amendment only for Muslim women? What about Christian women? We are also minorities. Who will provide for us?’ ‘Get divorced and come to me. I will tell you where to go!’ the Prime Minister shot back rather curtly. ‘Do you know that educated Muslim women like Najma Heptulla and Mohsina Kidwai are pleading for this law? Get me 50,000 Muslim women to oppose this move at Rajpath, like you did at Bangalore, and I will concede your demand.’”
Alva went to Sonia and pleaded with her to stop the move as it will destroy Rajiv’s image. “She agreed with me, but said, ‘I do not interfere with his official work.’ There the matter ended.”