Pompous is a word that pops up naturally while writing about Natwar Singh, a lifelong insider to India’s political elite who has occasionally described himself as “an intellectual.” At 83, Singh, a former diplomat, a current scholar, a minor historian, elite insider, disillusioned outsider and, until a few years ago, a confidant of the Gandhi family in India, has written his autobiography titled ‘One Life is Not Enough’.
As the name of the autobiography illustrates, Singh has always regarded himself as someone whose worth has not been fully understood and enjoyed by India. I have no quarrel with people who spend their life in excessive self-regard. It is everybody’s natural right. The first clue of that excessive self-regard is that he retains the letter K before his name. It is a short for Kunwar or prince. I am not entirely sure about his royal lineage, such as it is. I know I am being unnecessarily snidely.
The point is in his autobiography he describes Congress Party president and his once close friend Sonia Gandhi as “authoritarian”, “capricious”, “Machiavellian” and “secretive”. The Machiavellian reference is supposed to be amusing because Sonia Gandhi is of Italian origin. He also challenges the notion that Gandhi chose not to become India’s prime minister in 2004 under promptings of her “inner voice” despite the fact that her party had won a mandate under her leadership and the position was hers for the taking. At the time, it was suggested that in choosing not to become prime minister and anointing Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi had demonstrated the powerfully Indian tradition of renunciation—sacrifice before self sort of non-sense.
Now Singh, who was privy to the inner workings of the party and the Gandhi family, says she gave up not out a sense of renunciation but because her son Rahul strongly dissuaded her out of fear for her life. The Gandhis have gone through family tragedies in the assassinations of first of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 and then former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Singh’s disclosure would suggest that what was essentially a personal fear was spun as the grandly noble act of renunciation. As revelations go, this is rather lame. So it was not renunciation but fear that prompted her to withdraw. Big deal. It might help a rapidly fading sideline figure of India’s contemporary history sell a few extra copies of his autobiography. That’s about it.
In the same book, Singh also reportedly reveals, going by the media reports, how Sonia Gandhi was in complete control of the Manmohan Singh government throughout its two terms. Again as revelations go, this one too is minor and has been known for a long time. Other than having the virtue of being confirmed by an insider, this means nothing. It will create a political flash the size of what a couple of fireflies do during the early summer days. It is a strong critique of the leadership of a party that Singh was associated for so long. However, the point is that he remained there until he was practically pushed out. It is debatable whether Singh would have made such disclosures had Sonia Gandhi continued to seek his counsels.
Eventually, such books make no difference although Sonia Gandhi has said she would write her own book to counter Singh’s assertions and accusations. Again, big deal. It means nothing other than two politicians slugging it out. It is a sideshow.