Footnote to history
I mentioned (to Rajiv Gandhi) about a write-up in the Sunday magazine by a journalist, Vir Sanghvi, who had commented on the remarks allegedly made by me to the president of Yugoslavia that he should make efforts to bring India and China closer to each other.
He also wrote about my alleged suggestion to the president of Bangladesh that he should appoint the Opposition leader, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, as prime minister of that country.
I told PM that I was aware that he had asked Vir Sanghvi to publish
this article and to quote a friend of PM as source of this information.
-- Giani Zail Singh in Memoirs
I suppose I ought to be flattered that a story in Sunday in January
1987 was enough to cause a slight altercation between the prime
minister and the President of India. Clearly, Giani Zail Singh
thought that the article was important enough to warrant a mention
in his posthumously-published Memoirs where both Arun Shourie
and I are singled out as the two journalists whose work contributed
to the famous Rajiv-Zail rift.
But for those of you who have not read the Giani's autobiography
-- and it is the sort of book that you will not pick up once you
have put it down -- I ought to give you the background.
In the spring of 1987, Zail Singh came close to dismissing the
prime minister of India on charges of corruption. He did not go
through with it because even those elements in the Opposition
who were entirely inimical to Rajiv (V P Singh, Arun Nehru, etc)
refused to back such a course of action. And S Varadan, then
secretary to the President, made it clear that the bureaucracy
would not let Zail Singh get away with it.
The Giani always publicly denied that he had intended to sack Rajiv
but gave Sunday an interview a few months after he stepped down
claiming that he had been offered Rs 400 million to stand for a second
term. When this claim set off a storm, he told others that Chandra
Swami had offered him the money.
The swami denied this but, in retrospect, certain things now
One, Zail Singh was peeved by Rajiv Gandhi's behaviour towards
him -- his Memoirs are full of instances of 'insulting behaviour'.
Moreover, he wanted to be kept informed of what went on in Punjab.
Rajiv would tell him nothing.
Two, he wanted a second term which Rajiv was determined to deny
Three, he then began consorting with all kinds of dodgy characters
(such as Chandra Swami) who claimed to possess details about Bofors
and other deals. He put it about that he would use these details
to dismiss Rajiv.
Four, the threat was intended to force the prime minister to give
him a second term.
And five, when Rajiv refused to yield, he very nearly went ahead
and sacked him -- but for Varadan and the Opposition.
Of course, you won't find all this in Zail Singh's tedious, self-serving
memoirs in which he portrays himself as a harmless old man who
was only concerned with upholding constitutional traditions.
But you will find tantalising references to rifts such as the
one caused by the Sunday story.