When Rajiv Gandhi’s failure to contact Margaret Thatcher during London stopover ‘distressed’ her

A declassified document released by National Archives reveals that Downing Street was “puzzled” by a letter from Congress leader K Natwar Singh seeking to clear a “misunderstanding” about Gandhi’s brief stopover en route to India from Namibia.

india Updated: Aug 03, 2018 17:54 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Rajiv Gandhi,Margaret Thatcher,UK-India ties
Late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi with his wife, Sonia Gandhi, and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. (HT Photo)

Downing Street was sent into a tizzy when it was informed in July 1990 that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was “surprised and distressed” that then Congress party president Rajiv Gandhi did not contact her during his stopover in London in March that year.

A confidential document declassified and released by the National Archives reveals Downing Street and CD Powell, Thatcher’s private secretary, were “puzzled” by a letter from Congress leader K Natwar Singh, seeking to clear a “misunderstanding” about Gandhi’s brief stopover en route to India from Namibia.

Singh informed Thatcher that Gandhi wanted to speak to her but his efforts to reach her were unsuccessful. India’s then deputy high commissioner Salman Haider was informed by her office she was out of London and “not reachable”.

“I thought this very odd and asked the detective who was attached to Mr Gandhi, if he, on his network, could contact someone on your security staff so that Mr Gandhi could talk to you. His very polite answer was that he could not do so. That was that,” Singh wrote.

The letter Natwar Singh wrote to Margaret Thatcher to clarify the “misunderstanding”. (HT Photo)

Powell noted on Singh’s letter that he forwarded to Thatcher: “I am afraid we are puzzled by this. Did you express ‘surprise and distress’ as reported? We have no record of the telephone calls in question. (It was the day of the German seminar).”

Thatcher, who had close personal relations with Gandhi’s mother, former prime minister Indira Gandhi, responded to Powell in her handwriting: “Yes I wrote to the High Commissioner.” This suggested her letter to the then envoy Kuldip Nayar may not have gone through the usual official channels.

Singh informed Thatcher he and his aides had “more success” in reaching the then leader of opposition, Labour’s Neil Kinnock, who was in Dublin on the day, but called Gandhi minutes before the group left for the airport to board the flight to India.

“This letter needs no acknowledgement. I just wanted to put the record straight because Mr Gandhi and I hold you in high esteem,” Singh wrote.

First Published: Aug 03, 2018 14:46 IST