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Indira: Swamy disbelieved 1974 nuclear test

Last updated on: November 19, 2018 11:31 IST

On her 101st birth anniversary, November 19, four letters that reveal a different side to arguably India's toughest prime minister.

Indira Gandhi and K Natwar Singh, then a member of the Indian Foreign Service, shared an unusual epistolary relationship.

Prime minister and diplomat corresponded in a manner that would be heresy in the current political dispensation.

On her 101st birth anniversary, November 19, four letters that reveal a different side to arguably India's toughest prime minister.

Production: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

 

Please click on the envelope to reveal the letter

  Close letter #1
 

Kunwar Natwar Singh

Prime Minister's House

New Delhi

29 May 1974

Prime Minister's House

New Delhi

29 May 1974

Dear Natwar,

I find two letters from you dated 7 March and 16 May in my 'To reply' file.

I do not know if anybody else has acknowledged them in the meantime.

IMAGE: Kunwar Natwar Singh: Member of the Indian Foreign Service, politician, Cabinet minister, writer.

Thank you for sending me the Illich book.

I have not got round to reading it or even the interview which you sent later.

IMAGE: Then prime minister Indira Gandhi at a press conference at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi, July 12, 1972. Photograph: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

They are both going up to Mashobra with me on the 1st.

I was greatly impressed when I met him and we got on rather well.

Sharada Prasad (Worked with Indira Gandhi from 1964 to 1977 and 1980 to 1984, well-known Kannada author) had already got the Tools of Conviviality for me.

Our own blast has been successful and according to our scientists remarkably clean since the samples tested have been found to be inactive showing that there has been no radio activity.

However, the blast from other countries is pretty strong as you must have seen in press reports and one does not know what fall-out there will be!

May I send you birthday greetings even though they are 13 days late?

What do you mean by feeling and looking 43? It is a nice age as you will discover when you are older and you should, I hope, have more wisdom and equilibrium.

With good wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Indira Gandhi

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Kunwar Natwar Singh

Prime Minister's House

New Delhi

Jammu

14 April 1975

Prime Minister's House

New Delhi

Jammu

14 April 1975

Dear Natwar,

Your letter of the 10th arrived only yesterday and I have just read it in the plane on the flight to Jammu.

IMAGE: Then prime minister Indira Gandhi addresses a press conference at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi, October 15, 1983. Photograph: PANA India

I have not been to Jammu for a long time and since this particular visit was decided upon, new and complex problems have arisen on the political scene.

IMAGE: Sheikh Abdullah with Jawaharlal Nehru in this 1948 photograph.

Knowing the Sheikh's (Sheikh Abdullah, chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir several times. Spent several years in prison between 1953 and 1968) autocratic nature, I had envisaged such a situation, though not so soon.

Now we can only try to set it right and hope for the best.

In the meantime, we have given in to a part of Morarji's (Morarji Desai, chief minister of Maharashtra and central finance minister; deputy prime minister under Indira Gandhi; and prime minister, 1977 to 1979) demand -- about the Gujarat elections.

It seemed such a silly point for which to fast or for us to hold out, since the difference in dates was only three months.

However, our difficulties are acute and varied enough without having a dead Morarji haunting the scene.

One has learnt to expect all kinds of unethical action from our Opposition, but I must admit that I was deeply shocked at the manner in which some of them including those in the Cong(O) (the Congress-Organisation, the party opposed to Indira Gandhi's Congress-Ruling) seemed to view the prospect claiming that his disappearance from the scene would clear the way for Opposition unity.

I am glad you have reminded me about Dame Sybil Thorndike (Dame Sybil Thorndike, one of the greatest British theatre personalities of the twentieth century).

Some time ago I had proposed that some way should be found to honour women around the world who have shown sympathy towards India.

I do not know whether the ministry has moved in the matter.

The prospect of seeing a play is indeed tempting, but I do not know whether it will be possible to stop over in London.

With good wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Indira Gandhi

Shri K Natwar Singh,

Deputy High Commissioner,

India House,

Aldwych,

London W C 2.

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Kunwar Natwar Singh

Prime Minister's House

New Delhi

Personal/Confidential

9 February 1976

Prime Minister's House

New Delhi

Personal/Confidential

9 February 1976

Photograph: PTI

Dear Natwar,

I found your letter of the 2nd awaiting me on my return from Bharatpur.

We all enjoyed the trip especially as Salim Ali (Salim Ali, India's greatest ornithologist) was there and accompanied us to the sanctuary.

Fortunately, I had insisted that no one else should go with us.

I would have preferred to see the Dig palaces also on our own, rather than with a large gathering tagging on.

A children's dance performance had also been arranged and took time which could have been used for sight-seeing.

Your brother was introduced to me very briefly, just as I was going off to the public meeting.

He should have met Rajiv while I was away.

But perhaps he was shy and Rajiv did not know about him.

I am not surprised that Subramanian Swamy is being welcomed in England.

His sort would be! In India he has no influence whatsoever even in his own party.

He has not been a success in Parliament and there are often sniggers when he gets up.

He seems to have a complex of some kind and is aggressive in a defensive way if you know what I mean.

He is a strong advocate of the Atom Bomb.

He has had a long-standing quarrel with our Atomic Scientists -- with Vikram Sarabhai and now Sethna (Dr Homi Sethna, nuclear scientist).

His main criticism was that we were quite incapable of serious work with Atomic Energy!

After our experiment in Pokhran, his first reaction was that news was probably not true.

British opinion does count, but if it insists on being completely cut off from the realities of the situation, there is little we can do about it except to try to educate the Indians living abroad.

Only about a hundred people were arrested in the whole of Tamil Nadu and only a few of those were political.

All the important leaders are out.

Even we were astonished at the good reaction all over the state.

I hope looking after the children is giving new dimension to your personality!

With good wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Indira Gandhi

Shri K Natwar Singh,

Deputy High Commissioner,

India House,

Aldwych,

London W C 2.

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  Close Letter #4
 

Kunwar Natwar Singh

Prime Minister's House

New Delhi

9 June 1980

Prime Minister's House

New Delhi

9 June 1980

Dear Natwar,

Your letter of the 4th.

Just when you are talking about the working of the democratic process in a coherent way, Badshah Khan (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Frontier Gandhi) is busy giving statements from a Srinagar hospital that there is no democracy in India and compares us in a vague sort of way to Pakistan!

Can you believe it? All this keeps one from getting a swollen head.

IMAGE: Jawaharlal Nehru with Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.

We have won the elections, but the going was pretty tough and many of the seats either won or lost, were neck-to-neck.

The real difficulties now begin.

The people's expectations are high, but the situation both political or economic, is an extremely complex one.

I cannot help being an optimist and I have no doubt that if only our legislators and the people as a whole have the patience and forbearance to climb the steep and stony path for the next few months, we can get over the hump and arrive at a place from which progress is possible once again.

However, politics is at a low ebb.

All those who shouted so much about democracy have no compunctions now in saying as Charan Singh (Charan Singh, chief minister, Uttar Pradesh; deputy prime minister and prime minister between 1977 and 1980) has, that 'Parliament is irrelevant', or the Jan Sangh encouraging anti-national elements in the North-East.

The Opposition parties are making frantic efforts, egged on by Bahuguna (Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, chief minister, UP, Union minister), to unite.

What for? Only to have agitations and violence or to encourage defections.

I am glad you are enjoying Islamabad.

Yours sincerely,

Indira Gandhi

Shri Natwar Singh,

High Commissioner of India,

Islamabad.

  Close letter #4
 

Excerpted from Treasured Epistles by K Natwar Singh, with the kind permission of the publishers, Rupa Publications.

 

 

K Natwar Singh