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'Kalam was ready to appoint Sonia as PM in 2004'
April 20, 2008 21:25 IST
Ending speculation that has persisted for four years as to whether President A P J Abdul Kalam was unwilling to appoint Sonia Gandhi [Images] as Prime Minister, it is now being disclosed that he had a letter of appointment ready for her.
Giving first insights to what transpired at Rashtrapati Bhavan [Images] during that period, P M Nair, secretary to Kalam, says the President was advised to sign the letter, shake hands with Gandhi and congratulate her. Kalam was also told to ask Gandhi when she would like to be sworn in.
Four days after the general election threw up a mixed result with no single party having a majority, the President asked, "What do we do"?
Nair, in his book The Kalam Effect: My years with the President, excerpts of which were made available to PTI, said the President was advised that he should satisfy himself that there is a party or a coalition of parties which can form a stable government and then invite the leader of that party or the coalition of parties to form the government.
"So, what do I do, he asked, noting that he cannot wait indefinitely".
On the advice of his aides, the President sent a letter on May 17, 2004, inviting Gandhi to Rashtrapati Bhavan the same day.
Kalam was told that Gandhi would come with letters of support from different parties. "You do not have to read all of those. Just leaf through them and ring the bell," Nair suggested to the President, saying he would be in the adjacent ADC's room with the letter appointing Gandhi as Prime Minister.
"Please sign it, shake hands with her and congratulate her. You should also ask when she would like to be sworn in," Nair advised Kalam.
Nair says that contrary to the rumour doing the rounds then, there was no suggestion at all from Kalam to Sonia not to become Prime Minister.
With the issue of Gandhi's foreign origin being raked up, there were speculative reports in the media that the President had advised the Congress chief against occupying the key post.
The Kalam-Gandhi meetings were brief and courteous, the only purpose being to hand over the letter appointing Gandhi as Prime Minister, recalls Nair.
Gandhi's meeting with Kalam was fixed for 12.15 pm on May 18. Gandhi arrived with Manmohan Singh [Images]. "I waited in the ADC's room, alert for the bell, armed with the letter (yet to be signed) from the President appointing her the Prime Minister of India.
Kalam then told Nair, "You told me she would come with letters of support, but she came just for discussions. She said she would come again tomorrow with the letters of support from other parties".
The President, recalls Nair, said he had told Gandhi, "Why wait till tomorrow? I am available any time this afternoon or this evening. You please come as soon as you are ready with the papers. My papers are ready for you".
The message came that Gandhi would meet the President at 8.15 p.m. the next day.
Precisely at 8.15 p.m., Gandhi drove in along with Singh. "I waited in the anteroom. The moments ticked by. The bell rang, and I went in."
"The President told me that he had been informed that Manmohan Singh would be the leader of the Congress party. The letter said he was nominated as the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party and as the prime ministerial candidate of the party. Letters of support from other parties were also there," Nair wrote.
Nair then went back to change the letter since Singh was being appointed Prime Minister. Singh stood by in all humility and thanked Gandhi. The President congratulated the Prime Minister-to-be.
As word spread, rumour mills worked overtime. It was said that the President refused to swear in Gandhi as Prime Minister. Some said Kalam advised her not to stake a claim. Some scribes made Kalam a hero saying he did not blot the nation's pride by appointing her as Prime Minister.
Gandhi's citizenship was the issue for them. The Supreme Court had already decided on it. Even so, many representations used to come to the President on this subject. "For us in Rashtrapati Bhavan, it had already become a non-issue," Nair noted.
Kalam was aghast at what the media wrote. Rashtrapati Bhavan then issued a cryptic note saying that the newspaper reports were not true.
The issue came up for conjecture on plenty of occasions, particularly when the possibility of a second term for Kalam was being talked about, says Nair.