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Natwar ko gussa kyon aata hain?

By Virendra Kapoor
November 15, 2005 17:18 IST
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Adversity brings out the best -- and worst -- in man.

In the case of Kunwar Natwar Singh, he simply crumbled.

Short of using four-letter words against his real or perceived enemies, he said and did everything that reflected his loss of nerve following the revelation about his alleged role in the scam.

Because of his haughty attitude, he could hardly count on anyone in the higher echelons of the Congress party to back him.

Therefore, instead of trying to enlist their support, he turned to leaders of the CPI, CPI-M, DMK, LJP, RJD and other minor allies of the Congress, who readily provided lip sympathy to his cause, seeing percentage in earning his gratitude.

After holding out for more than a week, when he was finally forced to move out, Natwar gave free rein to his anger.

And, for a self-avowed man of culture with an excellent academic background, he lashed out in unprintable terms against his foes in the Congress whom he suspected of doing him in.

Incensed that Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee had advised Sonia Gandhi against his continuation, he referred to him derisively.

Likewise, others on his hit list -- especially party general secretary Ambika Soni and ministers Hansraj Bhardwaj and Kapil Sibal -- came in for lampooning. He felt that Soni, who did not have the courage to fight an election to the Lok Sabha, were poisoning Sonia Gandhi's mind.

Egged on by his family, especially his wife (who hails from the Patiala royal family) and son Jagat, Natwar dug in his heels.

However, when the prime minister made it plain that there was no way to quell the storm without shifting him out, Sonia gave in.

And Natwar was left to his own devices, mustering a rent-a-crowd rally of supporters to thunder that 'Jats would desert the Congress party' unless he was given back the ministry of external affairs.

The many wheels of wheeler-dealers

It is in the very nature of such scams that, when they start probing suspects, their tentacles lead to unheard of sources.

The Enforcement Directorate investigation into Andaleeb Sehgal of Hamdan Export has thrown up the names of a businessman who has always been close to a couple of UP politicians.

Also suspect is the role of a Congress leader who travelled to Iraq a couple of times in the company of an Indian middleman operating from Dubai.

During Sehgal's interrogation, the ED unearthed taped conversations between him and a Dubai-based dealer. Before the latter could be nabbed, he had sought protection of his lawyer who is closely associated with the Congress party.

Last heard, the lawyer was pulling strings to ensure his client did not land in the ED's hands.

For, if he does, the roles of many politicians seeking to exploit the Saddam Hussain regime could come out into the open.

What Brajesh Mishra knew

In early 2004 a West Asian daily newspaper first revealed the Indian connection in the oil-for-food programme.

An Indian embassy in the region duly informed South Block about Natwar Singh's alleged involvement. The Congress party, however, did not figure in the said newspaper report.

Then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's all-powerful principal secretary Brajesh Mishra had the opportunity to embarrass Natwar Singh and the Congress, but chose to keep a lid on the sensational disclosures.

Like Vajpayee, Mishra too had no incentive to go after wrongdoing by the Opposition.

There was probably another reason for Mishra not to investigate the charges.

If Natwar is friendly with anyone in the NDA, it is Mishra. The former Indian Foreign Service officers have stayed friends despite Natwar's no-holds-barred attacks against Jaswant Singh.

Suing the UN, Congress style

The Congress put its foot in its mouth when it threatened to sue the United Nations.

When Paul Volcker and others mocked at the threat, pointing out that the world body could not be sued, least of all by a member nation, there were many silly faces in the party, each trying to blame the other for having first mooted the idea.

It seems Congress General Secretary Ambika Soni merely briefed the media about that unlikely response, while the brainwave apparently came from Abhishek Singhvi.

Singhvi -- on the panel of Congress spokespersons and had once hailed Rahul Gandhi as a 'born leader' -- suggested sending a legal notice to the UN even though lawyer-ministers P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal later pointed out that this was untenable. Law Minister H R Bhardwaj is said to have kept his counsel when the suggestion was first voiced.

On learning about the Congress' well-considered course of action, even the MEA, then still under Natwar Singh, clarified that the option was just not available.

Insider out soon?

The buzz in the capital's publishing circles is that the much-awaited second volume of P V Narasimha Rao's semi-autobiographical novel will be out in the next few days.

And that the late prime minister -- whose first novel The Insider was released some years ago -- has squarely blamed Rajiv Gandhi for the controversial shilanyas in Ayodhya that caused the alienation of Muslims from the Congress party.

If Rao's first novel -- which was billed as an 'explosive tale about Indian politics' by its publishers -- is anything to go by, the second offering might disappoint those looking for inside stuff from the world of Congress politics.

It was not in the nature of the taciturn Rao to call a spade a spade. He always hedged his moves and words -- in real life, as well as in print.

Neither fair nor impartial

Now, if you are among those who rely only on English language television channels for your news, you would believe that of all the 130-odd companies said to have engaged in business activities with Saddam Hussain's Iraq, the Tatas and a few other corporates were the worst offenders.

One television channel pointedly omits the name of an industrial group that appears among the list of errant companies.

Whether the cause for the tilted editorial policy is the fact that the industrial house in question has long hands, while the staid and generally straightforward Parsi business house has no stomach for such things, is hard to tell. But if you read your newspapers well, you cannot help notice the attempt at in-house censorship.

Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh

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Virendra Kapoor