In an upcoming book on former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, the author Vinay Sitapati has made some startling revelation about the distrust between him and the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi.
Sitapati, a lawyer and PhD candidate at Princeton University, whose book Half-Lion: How P V Narasimha Rao Transformed India is set to be released on 27 June, says that “on December 7, 1992, the day after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Rao posted an IB official at 10, Janpath, to check which Congressmen were tattling on him. The IB report even mentioned a conversation within the bungalow: “During the course of discussions with Sonia Gandhi, Arjun Singh, Digvijay Singh, A K Jogi, Salamatullah and Ahmed Patel… reportedly expressed their unhappiness with the handling of the situation (Babri demolition) including by the Prime Minister.”
Writing in The Indian Express, Sitapati said, ” This was not the first time Rao had used the IB to counter Sonia’s influence. While the PM was using his government to keep tabs on Sonia Gandhi, she was using the Congress party to keep tabs on him.
“Sonia had spent the first two years of Rao’s prime ministership grieving for her dead husband. But after 1992, Sonia began to cultivate Congressmen who opposed Rao. Arjun Singh,
N D Tiwari, K Natwar Singh and others routinely met Sonia to complain about the Prime Minister. ”
Many senior cabinet colleagues had held Rao responsible for the demolition of Babri Masjid. The then Minister of State for Home, Rajesh Pilot had said that Rao’s RSS leaning may have paved the way for the karsevaks to have a field day while bringing down the 16th century historic structure.
Soon after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991, Sonia had gone in seclusion and refused to take control of the party. Rao, relatively unknown to national politics, was asked to lead the minority government after 1991 elections.
Sitapati went on to write adding that although there was no direct evidence, she likely blessed the Congress splinter group led by N D Tiwari. A minister of the time says: “Sonia Gandhi knew even what was discussed in cabinet meetings. Many (cabinet members) would go and tell her.”
He further wrote, “In May 1995, his relationship with Sonia Gandhi in tatters, Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao asked the Intelligence Bureau (IB) a simple question. How many of his cabinet hopefuls were “pro-high command” (pro-Rao), how many were “pro-10 Janpath”?
“The IB, tasked with protecting the nation from domestic enemies, replied with a list of names. Written in columns next to the name were the person’s ‘state’, ‘caste’, ‘age’, ‘loyalty’, ‘comments’. For example, next to ‘M S Aiyar’ it was written ‘Tamil Nadu, Brahmin, 52, pro-10 Janpath, was critical of handling of Ayodhya issue by the PM. Took care of party interests in JPC on bank scam.’
“Next to ‘Margaret Alva’ it was ‘Karnataka, Christian, 53, pro-high command, political lightweight, could be dropped if adjusted suitably in organisation otherwise Christians of Karnataka may react adversely.’ The list ends with the names of leaders to be considered for ‘appointment to organisational posts.’ Topping the list was ‘Sharad Pawar… Maharashtra, Maratha, doubtful, a good organiser and influential leader. Could prove useful’.”
According to the author, these and other revelations have been culled from exclusive access to cartons of Rao’s private papers as well as interviews with over a 100 people.
Sitapati felt that where Rao failed in his management of Sonia Gandhi was after he resigned as Prime Minister.
Sonia returned to the party in 1998, and, according to the author, she (along with advisors such as Arjun Singh) was determined to erase Rao from the Congress pantheon.
“Rao was blamed for complicity in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, letting Union Carbide’s Warren Anderson escape after the Bhopal gas leak, and, above all, for conspiring to demolish the Babri Masjid,” writes Sitapati.
He says Rao’s son revealed that it was Sonia, who never wanted Rao to be cremated in Delhi even though his family had wished for his last rites to take place in the national capital, calling it his karm bhoomi.
He writes, “When Rao died in December 2004, his family wanted the body cremated in Delhi. But Sonia’s closest aides ensured that the body was moved to Hyderabad. The day after his death, Rao’s funeral procession left his Delhi house at 9, Motilal Nehru Marg for the airport to fly his body to Hyderabad. On the way, they stopped outside the Congress headquarters at 24, Akbar Road. The convention was that senior leaders, especially past presidents, would have their bodies taken inside, so that party workers could pay their respects. But Rao’s body was made to wait outside on the wintry pavement, while the gate remained locked. “Only one person could give that order (to open the gate),” a senior Congressman who was present remembers. ‘She did not give it’.”
Sitapati says that on the day Rao’s was cremated, the TV visuals showed he had been left abandoned, body half-burnt, while stray dogs pulled at the funeral pyre.