Suspended Congress leader K Natwar Singh’s attempt to rake up the issue of party president Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin is clearly an indication that he is fully reconciled to the fact of his political future within the party fold being over. He realises that the only way he can prolong it is by joining hands with the Opposition parties. In fact, Singh’s remarks to a TV channel, in response to Sonia Gandhi saying that she felt betrayed by the former Union Minister’s actions, also had a threatening dimension. He hinted that he was privy to a lot of party secrets and would bring them out into the public domain in the not-so-distant future.
It is obvious that Singh spoke about Sonia’s foreign origin in order to provoke the party into expelling him from its primary membership. Since he knows how his party colleagues would react to such a remark against Sonia, he was hoping to be shown the door immediately, thereby leaving him free to choose his future course of action. Expulsion from the party will mean that he can retain his Rajya Sabha seat and use his membership to embarrass the Congress during crucial debates, especially those concerning foreign policy.
But he does not realise that the Congress leadership can see through his plans and will, in all probability, want to keep him under suspension within the party. This way, he will have to abide by the party whip in Parliament and may not get an opportunity to participate in major debates. This ploy was used when the nuclear deal was being discussed in Parliament during its monsoon session, when Singh’s attempts to speak were thwarted by the party. In case he defies the whip, he will lose his membership of the House and may have to get himself re-elected on some other party’s ticket. But this will depend on whether his new friends will actually accommodate him in the Rajya Sabha at all, given that he may not find it easy to win a Lok Sabha election from Rajasthan unless he is a candidate of either the Congress or the BJP.
Singh’s reference to Sonia’s foreign origin was also an attempt to revive an issue that had been satisfactorily settled during the last two Lok Sabha polls. The Congress President’s acceptance by the political class and the masses has become a thing of the past. Sharad Pawar, Tariq Anwar and PA Sangma had first raised the issue at a Congress Working Committee meeting, for which they were expelled. But now, they are very much part of a coalition headed by Sonia Gandhi as the UPA Chairperson and Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister.
Even the BJP has refrained from referring to the subject since it knows that it is a dead issue. Obviously, Singh was deliberately trying to fish in troubled waters in order to invite expulsion. Raising the issue in an oblique manner, he said, “Betrayed is a strong word and, according to Indian culture, such words are not used for a person older than her by 15 years. Only those born on Indian soil will understand the country’s ethos and culture.” The co-relation that he sought to derive between age and betrayal was, in fact, extremely surprising since it does not actually exist. Betrayal has nothing to do with age and history, mythology and literature have enough evidence of this. It has nothing to do with Indian culture either, and the former foreign minister must know it all too well.
And while talking about age, it was Singh who, some years ago at an AICC session at Talkatora Stadium, had regaled the delegates by pointing out how older leaders in India wanted to hold on to their chairs, when, in the rest of the world, younger leaders were taking over. He had then indicated that when the time came, he at least would like to make way for younger leaders. Obviously, he has not adhered to his own rule. Like so many others before him, Singh became a minister who, by creating the perception of his proximity to the Congress President, tried to bully some of his colleagues. And now, even after being suspended, he wants to prolong his political life, something that he has a right to do only if he does not preach things to the contrary. It is, after all, part of Indian culture that one does not bite the hand that feeds (helps) and that one keeps quiet in the face of any provocation, real or imaginary, by a proven benefactor.
The former minister does not realise that while he has been trying to raise unnecessary issues and is threatening to expose the party that gave him everything, including an identity after his stint with the foreign service was over, he is also embarrassing relatives who are still part of the party. For instance, in a few months, his brother-in-law and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh will be leading the Congress in a tight contest with the Akalis. Singh’s words against the Congress may thus provide ammunition to the Opposition. It may help some of the parties in UP and other places but it may put Amarinder Singh on the backfoot in Punjab. But then, it seems that Singh thinks only of himself and his son.
Singh must realise that fading away with grace will help redeem his image till the case against him is settled one way or the other. He should not join the list of those, like Najma Heptullah and K Karunakaran, who milked the Congress and when they did not have their way, left the party screaming and kicking. Between us.