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Commentary/Vir Sanghvi

Footnote to history

Rajiv Gandhi 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 seem obvious.

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 him.

Zail Singh 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.

Sanghvi Continued

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