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September 11, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/K Natwar Singh

'This chap was writing poems. Why doesn't he write some now on the Kargil martyrs?'

'There are political compulsions, but we would like to go at it alone'

When the Congress wins a majority, who will become the prime minister?

Natwar Singh The elected Congress members of the Lok Sabha will meet to elect a leader.

Has it already been decided that Sonia Gandhi will become the prime minister?

If the elected members so decide, she will be the PM.

Would you agree with that decision?

Yes, certainly.

What about her lack of experience? To what extent does that count?

We have seen what Vajpayee's experience has done to this country. He has been the most disastrous prime minister in the last 52 years. He is administratively incompetent, he cannot control his colleagues and friends. Even in Kargil we know what has happened.

He was buying sugar when our soldiers were dying. The bunkers were occupied lost October when he landed in Lahore. For 27 years, the Simla Agreement kept peace, but Indira Gandhi did not lower her guard. This chap was writing poems. Why doesn't he write some now on the Kargil martyrs?

You believe Kargil was totally mismanaged?

Absolutely. These 500 people should never have died.

Coming back to the prime ministerial issue, there has been a subtle projection of Manmohan Singh as prime minister.

No, again this is something that has to be decided by the Congress Parliamentary Party.

Why was no effort made to stop Sharad Pawar from leaving the party?

Well, Sharad Pawar himself chose to leave the party.

Was there any effort made to talk to him?

Before their letter reached Sonia Gandhi, it was lying in the office of India Today. It reached Advani and Vajpayee before it reached Sonia Gandhi.

Do you think he has made a mistake?


Sharad Pawar...

Well, in the next three weeks, we will know. I don't think he has made any national impact. He may have made some impact in Maharashtra, but outside Maharashtra I don't think he has made any impact at all.

What about the future of the Congress in West Bengal? What do you think is going to happen there?

I think we have to work very hard. Our organisation is weak in West Bengal.

Do you expect Mamta Banerjee to come back into the party?

Well, if she so desires, the party shall certainly consider it. She has something of a mass base.

What is Sonia Gandhi's style of functioning within the party? Does she consult...

Yes, she does.

How would you rate her as a politician?

She is doing exceptionally well.

Is she happy in politics?

You don't go into politics to be happy.

Is she satisfied with what she is doing?

Oh, I should think so. We all think so.

How did you draw up the list of candidates this time? There was a lot of unhappiness in Rajasthan over the allocation of seats.

No, not really. There was no unhappiness, no major crisis. That is happening in the BJP. What is happening in our party is much less than what is happening in the BJP. I mean, half the BJP is not working here you know, in Bharatpur. I don't know whether you have noticed it or not. No BJP leader is going with the candidate.

Day before yesterday (September 7th), Rajesh Pilot had come to campaign for your son in Bharatpur. What kind of impact has he had?

He has made a great impact. He gave a very fine speech in support of my son. The BJP was claiming that he would not come. They were banking on it. I think he has certainly made a difference of at least 50,000 votes.

Isn't it true that you and Rajesh Pilot have very strong political differences?

We used to, but not now. No, not in the last five years.

Could you tell me how the candidates list was decided this time?

As usual. There is a standing committee, which consists of the PCC president, the chief minister, the CLP leader, then you have the general secretary of the All India Congress Committee, you have an observer; they prepare a preliminary list and present it to the working committee.

What do you think of Maneka Gandhi introducing her son...

She is welcome to. It is a free country.

Do you think the Congress is getting even more mired in dynasty politics?

You must understand, this is a very funny thing. Motilal Nehru was elected to the legislative assembly of 1920. Jawaharlal Nehru was elected by the people. Indira Gandhi was elected by the people. Sanjay Gandhi was elected by the people. Rajeev Gandhi was elected by the people. Now how is it a dynasty, please? They are elected, people want to elect them. They are not being imposed at gunpoint.

What is the difference between the style of functioning of Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi?

I think she is .... in many ways they are very similar.

Could you elaborate on that?

Oh, the whole of India, the whole world has had a glimpse of her now.

Not how she is within the Congress.

That is not true. That is simply not true.

But could you elaborate a little bit about her?

Well, she is charming, friendly, well-informed, a very good listener, has her own point of view. She doesn't seek publicity. She is a fine person, but now she is a public figure.

Is she easily accessible?

Yes, I think so. I don't know who is saying that she is not. She meets hundreds of people every day.

Photograph: Jewella C Miranda

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