Reminiscences of K. Natwar Singh – Diplomat and Politician

Brig. (retd.) Suresh C. Sharma, a familiar name to our readers, gives an overview of K. Natwar Singh’s “One Life Is Not Enough – An Autobiography” published in 2014.  This write-up is a brief summary of the book (though we have categorized it under “Book Reviews” section).  A review (by Prof. P. M. Kamath) of the book was published in Freedom First of April 2015. 

Natwar Singh narrates his experiences as a diplomat and politician in his autobiography One Life Is Not Enough.

Congress Party Stint

He came under the spell of Nehru when he met him as an IFS probationer. He served as a diplomat under Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and resigned in 1984 to join politics. He became Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs [MEA] under Rajiv Gandhi and continued to help Sonia Gandhi after Rajiv’s assassination. He accompanied her at various visits to foreign countries and was a favourite of the ‘dynasty’ till his name figured in the Volcker Report as beneficiary in the “Oil for Food” programme in Iraq. The Volcker Report mentioned the Congress Party as a beneficiary.  Justice Pathak Commission exonerated the Congress and commented that there was no evidence of material gains by Natwar Singh. The Congress Party spokesperson and Dr. Manmohan Singh put the entire blame on Natwar Singh who resigned from the Party and the Cabinet.  Natwar Singh believes that Sonia Gandhi did so in order to save the Congress. It is possible that she may have done this in order to save the real culprits.

The loyalist, having been let down, became a strong critic of the Congress, Dr. Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. Natwar Singh comments that Dr. Manmohan Singh never forgets a slight, but his expression does not show it. The latter had no foreign policy. Whenever he planned a visit to Pakistan, some anti-India incident took place leading to its cancellation. After one of the meetings with him, Nawaz Sharif remarked that it is useless talking to him and that he rather wait and speak to the next Prime Minister.

On learning about Natwar Singh writing a book, Sonia Gandhi called on him and her gushing greeting bewildered him. It was so out of her character to do so after eighteen and a half years. Swallowing her pride she had come to her closest friend.

On Pakistan

While working in the PMO’s office, Natwar Singh recommended benign neglect of Pakistan, for nothing bothered Pakistan more than indifference. However, his advice was ignored.  As Ambassador in Pakistan, he resolutely stood his ground. The late Zia-ul-Haq told him “Kunwar Saheb, Kashmir is in our blood.” Natwar Singh responded “It is in our bone marrow.” During his tenure in Pakistan, he realized the futility of trying to address the Pakistani people. The people always supported their country’s foreign policy. He took active part in the negotiations for the Indo-US nuclear deal.

On Sri Lanka

Natwar Singh narrates the events that lead to the tragedy in Sri Lanka. In the SAARC summit held in Bangalore in November 1986, the then President of Sri Lanka, J. R. Jayewardene broke the unwritten rule of not raising any bilateral issues and criticized India’s support to the Tamil militants. Rajiv Gandhi instructed Natwar Singh and P. Chidambaram to meet M. G. Ramachandran, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu who considered Jaffna an extension of his state and provided financial and military aid to the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). LTTE Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran was staying with him. President Jayewardene learnt about this and demanded that Prabhakaran be handed over to them. Having achieved success in negotiating accords in Assam and Punjab, Rajiv Gandhi felt confident of Accord with Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka also blamed RAW for hijacking their aircraft in which sixteen persons died and some forty injured.

Sri Lankan forces cordoned off Jaffna in May 1987 and stopped supplies of essential commodities. Food sent by India in ships was interrupted by Sri Lanka navy. India air-dropped supplies on 22 July 1987 which enraged the Sri Lanka Government.  They intensified their campaign and Prabhakaran sought peace through N. Ram, editor, The Hindu. Prabhakaran demanded devolution, merger of Eastern and Northern areas and recognition of Tamil language at par with Sinhalese. A draft agreement was prepared by a team led by Natwar Singh. No military officer was included in the team. Prabhakaran was put up at Ashoka Hotel, New Delhi and pressurized by M. G. Ramachandran to agree after a promise of monetary compensation. Only one instalment had been paid. No further payments were made as, within three months, LTTE was at war with the Indian Army.  Rajiv got irritated when Natwar Singh suggested to take Prabhakaran’s agreement in writing.  The only person who had reservations about the agreement was P. V. Narasimha Rao.

Rajiv Gandhi, accompanied by Narasimha Rao, Natwar Singh and a large number of MPs from Tamil Nadu went to Colombo on 29 July 1987 and signed the India-Sri Lanka Accord at 3.00 p.m.  They had to fly by helicopter from the airport as the road had been blocked by Sri Lankans protesting against the Accord. Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister and Defence Minister did not attend the signing ceremony and the reception that followed. Jayewardene and Rajiv were engaged in a serious discussion during the reception after which Rajiv told Natwar Singh that Jayewardene had requested for immediate support of the Indian Army to ensure peace and added that he had already ordered the Army. Rajiv had taken this important decision without consulting his Cabinet Ministers or the military commanders. The next day (30 July 1987) Rajiv was attacked by a Lankan guard during the naval Guard of Honour.  It was an expression of simmering discontent by Sri Lankans.

The Indian Peace Keeping Force [IPKF] arrived in Sri Lanka in August 1987 without a clear brief of their mission, intelligence and information of terrain in Jaffna. Everyone was trying to control the IPKF operations. Soon the Indian Army was at war with the LTTE. The COAS (Chief of Army Staff) General K. Sunderji had hoped to take care of the LTTE in two weeks. J. N. Dixit, who was the main adviser to Rajiv blamed others for having been misguided about the political, military and intelligence factors. K. C. Verma, Director, RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) was conducting talks with Jayewardene without the knowledge of the Ministries of Defence and External Affairs. Jayewardene remarked sarcastically to Dixit “How many policies does the Government of India have regarding the Sri Lanka situation?” When Lt. Gen. Depinder Singh, the Army Commander suggested to the COAS to seek clarification from the government on some issue, he commented “Woh sunta nahin hai.” [They do not listen.]

The story of payment to LTTE by the Government of India was leaked by an Indian journalist. It was timed to block a new peace initiative by RAW. The leak was traced to Dixit.  Monetary payment to the LTTE was to help the LTTE to change over from violence to a peaceful life. In 1988, Jayewardene stepped down and Ranasinghe Premdasa took over as President of Sri Lanka. He dismantled the policy of Accord. In India, Rajiv lost the elections in 1989 and V. P. Singh recalled the IPKF who were received with black flags at Chennai.

Sri Lanka erected a monument in 2008 to honour the 1155 Indian soldiers who made their supreme sacrifice. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh did not visit the inauguration of the monument. The IPKF martyrs had laid down their lives, not in the defence of their motherland, but due to misguided policies of the Congress Government which chose to ignore the IPKF.



Bihar Elections – An inexpert analysis : Firoze Hirjikaka

The most significant deduction drawn from the recently concluded Bihar election is that it is not won by the JDU-RJD-Congress combine (Grand Alliance or GA), but it is lost by an overconfident and arrogant BJP.

The Bihar elections turned out to be – to selectively quote Shakespeare – “a tale full of sound and fury”, although the result signified a great deal. The election was touted in the media as a Battle of the Giants; media headlines screamed “photo finish” and “down to the wire”; news anchors almost wet themselves in their excitement; exit polls variously predicted a victory of Modi’s gang (NDA) or of Nitish Kumar’s coalition (GA). One thing they all agreed on was that it would be a close contest. They all wound up with egg on their collective faces.

In the end, it turned out to be a David versus Goliath tussle. Mighty Modi was laid low by a Kumar (of questionable DNA). He left the field licking his wounds and, no doubt, pondering on where to lay the blame – anywhere, but on himself, to be sure. For the first time in recent memory, Amit Shah looked less smug; although he managed to drum up a smile as he presented a bouquet to the Big Boss. In fact, bouquets were the order of the day as Modi arrived for the BJP Parliamentary Board meeting the day after the results. One would have got the impression that the Ministers were felicitating a conquering hero instead of…well, you know. But of course, in the BJP parivar, only victories are credited to the Great Leader. Defeats occur because his lieutenants let him down. In any case, any despondency Modi might have felt will soon be obliterated in a few days, when 60,000 adoring Non-Resident Indians welcome him with shouts of “Modi! Modi!” at Wembley Stadium in London. Adulation is the stuff of life to him.  (The article was written before Modi’s London visit.)

What went wrong for the BJP?

Primarily the immutable conviction among the Modi bhakts that as long as big man was around to address mass rallies and work the Modi magic, the party could not lose. (Delhi was an aberration, for after all, you could not expect those Capital snobs to empathize with a “humble chaiwallah”). What they and the Big Chief perhaps did not appreciate is that even the most impressive magic trick loses its charm if it is repeated ad nauseam. The rabble rousing oratory, elaborate hand gestures and sarcastic jabs at political opponents, that Modi had perfected into an art form became predictable and sad with repeated overuse. Moreover, after 18 months of grand promises, reality had begun to sink into the minds of the great unwashed Indian public. The “sabka saath, sabka vikas” mantra begins to sound a bit hollow when tur dal costs Rs.200 a kilo.

The Caste Card – Boon or Bane

Intentionally or by a fortuitous coincidence, the Nitish-Laloo duo hit Modi in his most vulnerable  spot – his ego. Modi’s early rallies were on the right track. He talked about development and jobs and imminent prosperity – and the crowds responded enthusiastically. But then Laloo took personal digs at him and he could not stomach that. He shed his statesman-like Prime Minister avatar and reverted to the street fighter he started out as. During the latter half of the election cycle, Modi was sounding more and more like a grassroots politician – complete with name calling and thinly disguised innuendos. He wore his membership of the Extremely Backward Class (EBC) as a badge of honour and attempted to cash in on it at every opportunity. In my opinion, the Prime Minister of an important country – particularly one who is trying to project himself as an international statesman to the world community – should not be lowering the dignity of his high office by exploiting his caste for perceived electoral gains. Even Amit Shah stated at an election rally that “BJP will pick up OBC, EBC issues better because PM is from that class.” Amitbhai, in fact, went one step further, by invoking dire consequences of a BJP defeat that, according to him, would cause celebratory fireworks to be burst in Pakistan. Significantly, “sabka saath, sabka vikas” mantra seemed to have been put into cold storage. On the one hand, PM Modi is attempting to portray India as a modern, progressive nation and inviting the international community to invest in the country. And then, he and his top deputy are shamelessly playing the caste card for the sake of votes. If Modi wants to project himself as a development oriented leader, he needs to discard the “humble chai-wallah” tag that helped to get him elected, but is no longer relevant. He is no longer a party leader, but the Prime Minister of the country and accordingly, he should hold himself above petty politics.

So there you have it. A Prime Minister who came to power on a platform of development and a promise – to paraphrase Donald Trump – “to make India great again”, squandered his political capital on an ill-conceived political strategy. He descended to the old school style of politics where the purpose is to defame and ridicule your opponents. Thus he called Laloo Prasad a shaitan  presiding over a jungle raj, took exception to Nitish Kumar’s DNA, brandished pieces of paper during his rallies to sneer at how venal and untrustworthy the leaders of the GA were; and, in the process, he lost the plot. He virtually handed over the election to Nitish and Laloo on a platter. To be fair, Modi should not take the entire blame for the poll debacle. His moronic ministers and inflammatory henchmen played their part by harping on beef bans and playing the Hindutva card to the hilt – thereby strengthening the perception that the BJP was heavily influenced by the extreme right wing Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS). To their credit, the Bihar electorate refused to be “cowed” down by the venomous rhetoric. It would be premature to state that the master strategist has lost his chutzpah, but it would serve him well to do some serious introspection.

What’s next for the BJP and its guiding light?

The near total rout of the BJP in the Bihar election has serious implications for PM Modi personally. For the past two years, Modi has been able to exert absolute control over his ministers and BJP leaders because he impressed upon them that whatever they may think about him and his policies, they absolutely need him to win elections. Now that the people of Bihar have busted that myth, Modi may face uncomfortable questions from his own party members. Some may even become emboldened to criticise him openly. In fact, BJP icons like L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi have publicly voiced their displeasure. Amit Shah, in particular, is likely to come under heavy fire. Many senior BJP leaders consider him to be an upstart who was made party president, mainly because of his close association with Modi during his years as the Gujarat CM. Now that his much vaunted organizational skills have yielded negative results, the knives will be out for him.

Incidentally, Modi is the most powerful PM India has had since Indira Gandhi. If he wanted to, he could have shut up his loud mouthed Ministers and Hindutva hotheads in no time. Hitherto, he chose not to do so, perhaps for perceived electoral gains in Bihar. That gambit has failed miserably. Perhaps Modi will now put those fanatics in their place after realising that they are dragging him and the BJP down.

The Future

In news just in, it seems Modi has got the message loud and clear. The PM has announced an increase in Foreign Direct Investment across several sectors. He has acceded to multi-national companies’ long standing wishes, such as FDI in single brand retail. Hopefully, Modi has finally realised that Hindutva politics does not have much resonance among a majority of the population. Much as Modi’s natural inclination may be to oblige his mentor, the RSS, he may realise that the government must distance itself from any talk about a Hindu Rashtra. If this is indeed the case, we may still see the India Modi promised during the Lok Sabha elections.

Mr. Firoze Hirjikaka is a retired civil engineer and a freelance writer.  E-mail:

AIRLOOMS – Random Recollections of an Ancient Aviator : By Cecil Parker

Airlooms Cover Cropped ReducedBOOK - Airlooms Back Cover

Sanbun Publishers, New Delhi; Year of publication:2014; Pages:192; Price:Rs.225

Reviewed by K. S. Nair, son and son-in-law of IAF officers; life-long student of the IAF’s history and author of several articles on the IAF.  His book “Ganesha’s Flyboys” tells the story of the IAF in the Congo in the 1960s.  E-mail:

The name Cecil V. Parker should immediately be recognizable to those who remember the 1971 war.  Air Vice-Marshal Cecil Vivian Parker, MVC, VM, is one of less than twenty Indian Air Force personnel since Independence who have received the Maha Vir Chakra, India’s second-highest gallantry decoration.  For 28 years, he was the only MVC recipient from his home state, until Major Padmapani Acharya (the role played by actor Nagarjuna Akkineni, in the film LOC Kargil) posthumously received the same decoration in 1999.

AVM Parker’s MVC was the mid-point of an IAF career with many distinctions.  He remained active after leaving the IAF, in the private sector and in teaching.   Gifted with an engaging writing style, he has written frequently, during and after his period of service.  His articles have appeared in services and aviation journals, general interest magazines, and in newspapers.  Airlooms, the whimsically-titled book under review is a collection of some sixty-odd of these pieces.

Airlooms is certainly not AVM Parker’s “memoirs” – though Indian aviation aficionados would have appreciated that.  The pieces making up this collection are mostly light recollections of escapades and situations from his life, sometimes harum-scarum, sometimes dramatic, but not necessarily of special historic or military significance.  Many are tributes to colleagues; most have a services flavour, but some are simple family stories, and a few are reflections on management or leadership challenges.  They are cheerful in tone, always enjoyable and, at times, thought-provoking.

The tone is sunny and self-deprecating; the humour is nothing so much as – this may be an odd word to use about a highly-decorated warrior, but it is appropriate – gentle.  The tenor throughout is fatherly, and understanding of human foible.  The armed forces career offers opportunities, indeed demands, to exercise courage, certainly.  But often it simply pitchforks a young officer into situations where he has to take some personal chastisement and, if he grows appropriately later, into situations where he has to dish some out.  AVM Parker’s stories demonstrate numerous lessons learnt; and when his turn came, passed on.

There is, characteristically, nothing in this collection on the exploits of derring-do that earned AVM Parker his decorations. There is, and I think this is significant, just one short wartime piece.  It recounts an unplanned attack on a train encountered in the wrong place.  Then-Wing Commander Parker realized, literally just as he rolled his formation into the attack, that the train was carrying civilian passengers.  As that realization struck, this gunnery trophy winner – closely followed in this, as in much else, by his well-trained formation – without any fuss, altered his aiming point just a little, expending his ammunition harmlessly over the target and into empty desert beyond.  I would like to think this little story says something important, about the ethos of the Indian armed forces.

At a time when much is made of how the 1990s and 2000s have greatly improved life in India, AVM Parker’s stories are sometimes salutary corrective.  They convey a sense of an altogether more innocent period, a period when mid-seniority Indian armed forces officers, like most of the middle class in those days, had very little in cash and consumer goods.  Yet, they experienced a certain richness of life, in ways that seem to have been lost today.  Squadron Leaders and Wing Commanders, in the India of that time, could and did encounter Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Governors, and interact with them meaningfully.  They could invite such august personages to their messes, on the basis of a services connection and mutual respect, and see the invitation graciously accepted.  There seems to have been much less of the determined intermediation that would probably be interposed today, by a clucking bureaucracy.

The stories also convey the wonderful diversity of the armed forces, and indeed of India of the time.  This was a period before Bollywood and cable television imposed their current superficial uniformity on the middle class, and some of the rich social variety of that period is nicely captured.

The reminiscences covered in Airlooms span a few decades, during which the author went through a number of interesting roles in the IAF – some of which are only hazily visible as background in these stories.  The stories can all stand on their own, each by itself; but there does seem to have been some editing, to establish connections and cross-references between some of them.

This prompts one of my few criticisms of the book : I might have asked for a few lines of connecting narrative, between pieces, conveying a little more of the background and stage of the author’s progress in service – I believe this would only improve the book, for a wider audience.  I might also have asked for a different cover picture.  The current cover shows a stock image of the IAF’s Suryakirans aerobatic team.  An image of their immediate predecessors, the Thunderbolts, would have had a more direct connection to the author.  The Thunderbolts were formed out of a squadron that the author commanded, and flew the Hawker Hunter, the aircraft type with which he is most identified.

Photo Courtesy : IAF. Thunderbolts Aerobatic Team
Photo Courtesy : IAF. Thunderbolts Aerobatic Team

… But even as I write these thoughts, they seem churlish, among so much else there is to enjoy in this most agreeable book.  Definitely recommended, especially to those who remember the times!

The author is personally known to this reviewer.


NEXT POST : Bihar Elections – An inexpert analysis

Global Jihad and America – The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan : Taj Hashmi

BOOK - Global Jihad

Sage Publications (I) Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi; Year:2014; Pages:324; Price:Rs.995

Reviewed by Humera Ahmed, freelance writer and author of short stories. Currently, Managing Editor of an e-journal “”.  E-mail:

Taj Hashmi, the Assam born  Professor of Security Studies at the Austin Peay State University at Clarksville, Tennessee, is the author of the book.  Hashmi’s credentials in attempting the study are impressive.  He has vast experience in teaching  Islamic and Modern South Asian History and Cultural Anthropology in various universities – Bangladesh, Australia, Singapore, Canada and authoring several papers, essays and books on these subjects.  His book Women and Islam in Bangladesh is a best seller in Asian Studies.

So how does Mr. Hashmi explain this phenomenon of “Jihad” which seems to be spreading so menacingly and distressingly beyond Afghanistan and Iraq to Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, and God only knows, which other country will be in line next.  And what about the rise of Islamists in Egypt after the euphoric Arab Spring? And what does he consider the solution to this phenomenal clash between the Islamists and the West?  What does the book offer on the loaded concept of Global Jihad?  Is it another addition to the growing corpus of the ever-increasing literature on Global Jihad versus War on Terror or does it throw new light on this burning issue?

According to Hashmi, the book is an attempt to examine and understand the clash between the West and the Islamists in its proper perspective since literature churned out after 9/11 gives the impression that “Islamist terrorism is the biggest threat to Western civilizations”.  The Western policy-makers, influenced by the advice of such Islamophobes, take counter-terrorism measures such as preemptive strikes and unauthorized invasion of countries, exacerbating the problem. Unfortunately, the Muslim World, under the fanatical influence of anti-west clerics and Islamists, portrays the West as evil, programmed to destroy Islam and regain the lost colonies, and therefore, promotes the concept of global jihad against all perceived to be anti-Islam including the deviant Muslims.

While examining the clash between the Islamists and the Islamophobists, Hashmi has critiqued the following issues : whether post-colonial terror and anarchy are legacies of European Colonial rule; whether terrorism is/was an existential threat to America or any Western Nation; is Islam a religion of peace, and therefore, not responsible for the terror outfits spawning in many Muslim countries; has globalization created an uneven playing field between the western and the Muslim nations and, consequently, resulted in a surge of Islamic militancy; whether the West–Islamist clash is due to the Military–Industrial Complex and the Israel lobby in America; is America an empire and is its imperialistic behaviour the biggest threat to world peace; and, whether the Islamists are playing second fiddle to Russia, China and other old contenders in the conflict of hegemony between America and others .

Each of these issues takes the shape of a chapter followed by pages of Notes and References.  In the introductory chapter itself the author cum scholar cum professor summarizes each chapter and explains each issue, thus providing a glimpse of the discussions emerging in each chapter.

The first chapter explains the difference between Islam – the religion, as emanating from the Quran and Islamism, which is a political ideology emanating from the various interpreters such as the Salafis and Wahabis.  The author explains how a religion, which inspired and sustained a unique civilization and dominated many parts of the world for over a millennium, declined like many others due to complacency, neglect of science and technology, internal feuds – sectarian, tribal or racial, and through foreign invasions.  Today, most of the Muslim nations created by arbitrarily drawing lines by the colonists, ignoring traditional, ethnic, tribal and cultural affinities, positioning a Zionist, aggressive Israel in a Palestinian dominated territory, have made them acutely aware of their backwardness and subjugation by an advanced, techno-savvy west and the community feels threatened and humiliated.  To emphasize this, Hashmi quotes Lindner : “Humiliation is the strongest force that creates rift and breaks down relationships among people ….. Men such as Osama bin Laden would never have followers if there were no victims of humiliation in many parts of the world….”

And therefore, terrorism is a weapon “of the weak”, the disempowered and exploited people who cannot otherwise  overpower strong and powerful states.  In the case of the Muslims, they tend to take recourse through Islamists, invoking a “Utopian” past, as the present secular leadership which is perceived as corrupt, autocratic and pro-west has failed them.

Ironically, Islamism, as manifested through the Taliban, was welcomed by the West against Russia.  It is only in the post Cold War period, and the aftermath of 9/11 that the Islamist have been identified with terror.  But not all Islamist, only those who are not conducive or favourable to the West.  Thus Iran – anti-West and anti-Israel – poses the greatest threat, while Saudi Arabia, whose antipathy towards Iran, a Shia nation – ideologically against the Salafi and Wahabi Sunnis dominant in  Saudi Arabia and Egypt – is a staunch ally.  Global Jihadism, therefore, has acquired a different context – it is no longer  just anti-West and anti-Israel, it has become a sectarian and ideological strife between the different sects and interpreters of Islam.  More Muslims, than non-Muslims, are killing Muslims whom they term as deviant.  The proxy war between the Wahabi/Salafis and the Shias and other sects of Islam has spilled over into Pakistan, Iraq and Syria in gigantic proportions. The Palestinian problem, which commenced in 1948 and is the primeval cause of the conflict between the Muslims and the West, continues to fester while the Palestinians are bombed and terrorized by Israel; and America continues to destabilize and remove governments hostile to it, or allows its allies to fund Terror and then declare a War on Terror especially in resource rich or strategically located countries.

By the time we reach the concluding chapter, the reader is aware of the causes of Global Jihad and the summarization that it has no existential ramification for America or the West.  For them, the threat is a myth, but for different sects of the Muslims, it is very much a reality and will continue as long as America continues to be dominated by the Israel lobby and the Military-Industrial Complex which needs war and sale of weapons, and till the Palestinian problem is resolved.

Taj Hashmi’s book offers no solution to the 100-year strife, but it is an erudite study and a positive addition to the body of literature which counters the Islamophobia propaganda and makes an attempt to create a better understanding between the West and the Muslims.


From FF Digital Team:  The reader has had a good dose on the subject of “Terrorism” with the above book review and prior to that, the article by Dr. B. Ramesh Babu on “Failure of Terror Talks” between India and Pakistan – sort of a never-ending matter between the two warring neighbours.  To lighten up a bit, our next post will also be the review of a book, a random recollections of an ancient aviator, entitled “Airlooms” by Air Vice Marshall Cecil Parker.

Do keep the conversation going by commenting on the posts.  HAPPY DIWALI CELEBRATIONS!