New Delhi: The lion may well be in winter, but he still roars and growls. Diplomat, politician, litterateur, globetrotter and above all raconteur, Kunwar Natwar Singh has always been a man of all seasons. Celebrating his 90th birthday, the Bharatpur-born Jat leader retains his singular twinkle in his eye, as he sallies forth in a verbal marathon with us.
Clad in his trademark white Kurta pajama and blue waistcoat, the dapper Singh displayed his pithy sense of humor and savior faire in the two hour conversation. Straight off the bat, he spoke about his persona being an amalgam of “Rajasthaniyat, Hindustaniyat and Insaniyat, Jis mein koi takrav nahin hai”. Describing himself as a “conceited so and so who can’t suffer fools”, he says he is not so mildly arrogant, but equally fearless.
Horrified at the vile and obnoxious vilification of Jawaharlal Nehru, Singh who served in different capacities in offices of Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and even Manmohan Singh says, “This revision is a disgrace, I am aware of the mistakes he made vis-a-vis Kashmir or China, but then who didn’t make mistakes at that time?
“FDR (Roosevelt), Stalin, Churchill, Mao, you name it, everyone had his flaws. Nehru was the maker of modern India. Ek sui nahin banti thi is desh mein, us Aadmi ne steel plants, medical institutes, space organisations, IITs, sab kuch banake diya, look at what all he did for this country; he was a world figure, an intellectual giant. His books are still read for their amazing content. Zindagi ke dus saal angrezon ki jail mein bitaye. It is a travesty that pygmies are criticising him. He is the greatest Indian after Asoka.”
He launched a fusillade thereafter — “The BJP and Mr Modi have appropriated Sardar Patel, he was Deputy PM under Nehru. Yes, they too had their differences, but both were big enough to transcend them for the greater good of a unified India. They realised that India was bigger than both of them.
“Sardar banned the RSS after Gandhiji’s assassination in February, 1948 saying that all their speeches were full of communal poison, as a result of which the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhiji.
“By denigrating Nehru, you cannot take away his pivotal role in the freedom movement. Did Advani, Atalji, Hedgewar or Golwalkar spend 10 years in British jails. Nehru and Sardar did.
“In 1957, Vajpayee became an MP and he was a brilliant speaker and extremely critical of Nehru, but in his obit speech, the same man cried at Nehru’s death.”
Natwar Singh is a man who suffered at the hands of the dynasty. He resigned as India’s Foreign Minister in Manmohan’s cabinet in October, 2005 after the controversial Volcker Report on the oil for food programme. The Pathak Commission report thereafter charged him of misusing official powers by introducing his relative Andaleeb Sehgal to Saddam Hussein’s Oil Minister Amir Rashid Muhammad Al-Ubaydi.
He turned rebel and his son Jagat fought the Rajasthan Assembly election on a BJP ticket in 2013. Earlier he was a Congress MLA from Laxmangarh from 2003-2008.
That same man in the winter of his outstanding career says, “Nehru and Patel had serious differences over China, Sardar wrote a letter on November 7, 1950, castigating Nehru for what he thought was wrong with his China policy. Five weeks later, Sardar died.”
“Of course over time, these differences became acute, but I must point out that on January 30, 1948 at Birla House, Gandhiji sent for Patel and spoke to him extensively before heading out later for his prayer meeting where Godse shot him ending an era in world affairs. By then Sardar had left. When news broke that Gandhiji had been killed, both Sardar and Nehru rushed to Birla House and in anguish embraced each other. We don’t know what transpired in the meeting between Gandhiji and Sardar, but obviously the former had convinced the latter to work amicably with Nehru. Letters were exchanged between the two where both argued vehemently that they should bury their differences and work in synchronicity,” Singh says.
Natwar Singh does not take prisoners when he says that both were titans and not second raters, the good of the nation always at the core of their being, even the differences emerged out of this reality.
He says, “Tell me why would these well heeled people jump into the cauldron of the nationalistic freedom movement? Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Jinnah were all Anglophiles, all Barristers at law from England.
Why did Nehru and Patel become chelas of Gandhiji, what was the magnetism that attracted people to him? Think of Gandhiji’s team — he was like Pied Piper — Motilal Nehru, C.R. Das, Rajendra Prasad, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Sardar, Nehru, C. Rajagopalachari, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose — men of eloquence and intellect, all of them great leaders in their own right.
(To be concluded)