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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Makhan Lal Fotedar passes away: A back room czar left with no room

Fotedar, a political advisor to Indira Gandhi and a staunch Gandhi family loyalist, died on Thursday at the age of 85.

india Updated: Sep 28, 2017 23:24 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Congress leader Makhan Lal Fotedar passed away in Gurugram on Thursday.
Congress leader Makhan Lal Fotedar passed away in Gurugram on Thursday.(PTI File Photo)

In the Congress circles, Makhan Lal Fotedar owed his importance to two things: his crafty political sense and his unflinching loyalty and proximity to the Gandhi family.

He receded into the background in the post Indira and Rajiv Gandhi era, falling essentially to internal power machinations and generational shift. Though sidelined and disenchanted in his twilight years, he never switched parties. He died a Congressman at his Gurugram home.

The politically adroit Pandit from Kashmir was brought to politics by Jawaharlal Nehru in the early 1950s. But he acquired real clout as Indira Gandhi’s political aide. The power he then wielded was no less — and was a counterfoil in fact — to that of the then PM’s other confidant, R K Dhawan.

Insiders recall that Fotedar was a witness to the will of Indira Gandhi who was assassinated in 1984. He also enjoyed Rajiv Gandhi’s confidence first as his political secretary and later a cabinet colleague. He resigned from P V Narasimha Rao’s cabinet after the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid and formed Congress (Tiwari) with other veteran party colleagues including N D Tiwari and Arjun Singh.

A member of the powerful Congress Working Committee — the party’s highest decision-making body — for a long time, Fotedar was a permanent invitee to the CWC even at the time of his death. He represented the Pahalgam seat in the JK assembly from 1967 to 1977 and later served two terms as member of the Rajya Sabha.

In recent years, he was widely seen as a silent dissident in the context of his 2015 book “Chinar Leaves” in which he controversially claimed that Indira foresaw Priyanka as her political heir. The assertion that ran counter to Rahul’s projection reportedly did not go down well with Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Fotedar’s book also backed the view that family pressure and not the call of conscience caused Sonia to decline the prime minister’s post in 2004.

Before putting it down in the book, Fotedar wrote a letter to Sonia after Rajiv’s 1991 assassination, sharing Indira’s thoughts on Priyanka. At another point, he quoted Sitaram Kesri-- whom he claimed to have persuaded to make way for Sonia as party chief in 1998-- telling him that he will be ignored by the new party dispensation.

It is history now that in subsequent years Fotedar was systematically marginalized. Other Congress (T) architects who opposed Narasimha Rao remained in the high commands good books, be it Arjun Singh, Tiwari or Sheila Dikshit.

First Published: Sep 28, 2017 23:23 IST