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.



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