Good politicians take their dirtiest secrets to the grave. However, veteran Congress leader Arjun Singh is still spilling secrets from beyond the grave. His retelling of conversations during the Babri Masjid demolition, Union Carbide’s release of Warren Anderson despite arresting him for his involvement in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and the pro-US tilt of the Congress make for juicy reading.
Excerpts of A Grain of Sand in the Ocean of Time, Singh’s autobiography that he was revising when he took ill and died in 2011, are appearing in the media and has already begun to raise a storm on various political incidents that he was involved in.
Singh, a Gandhi family confidante, former union minister, a former governor of Punjab and three time chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, was known to have information about many a secret that the Congress party would prefer kept under wraps. If initial excerpts are to be believed though, Singh has reserved most of his barbs, unsurprisingly, for PV Narasimha Rao, with whom he shared a rocky relationship.
While he has admitted ensuring that former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson was safely ferried out of Madhya Pradesh, despite being arrested for his involvement in the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, Singh has laid reportedly laid the blame squarely on Rao and not Rajiv Gandhi.
According to an Indian Express report, Singh, who was the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh at the time, met Gandhi who he says heard him out about Anderson’s arrest but made no comment. However, he has alleged that it was Rao who got Anderson out of jail:
I would like to make it clear that at no point of time did Rajiv talk to me about this matter or intercede on Anderson’s behalf. I came to know later that the union home secretary, RD Pradhan, upon the instructions of the union home minister, PV Narasimha Rao, had telephoned Brahma Swaroop to ensure Anderson’s release.
Pradhan, has incidentally, already denied making the call, pointing out that he wasn’t even home secretary at the time of the incident.
The Babri Masjid demolition is also squarely blamed on Rao’s inaction, by preventing Singh from visiting the site of the masjid for an accurate assessment and instead sending him to meet the then Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh.
NDTV published an excerpt of the book in which Singh has said that he told Rao on the imminent demolition of the Babri Masjid:
This news definitely shook him and he wanted to dispute my claim, but, on second thoughts, he kept quiet. In a somewhat agitated frame of mind, he started thinking aloud about the repercussions if the mosque were to be brought down. He then suddenly exclaimed that this would have ‘a very bad impact on the Congress Party’, which was stating the obvious. At that point, I could not contain myself and told him bluntly that ‘we have turned a blind eye’ to the machinations of the BJP and the other pro-Hindutva outfits.
And was Rao the original opponent to Sonia Gandhi‘s nomination as Congress president? According to Singh, it was the former prime minister who was the first vocal opponent to her nomination soon after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. While Natwar Singh says it was Sonia who decided to pick Rao for the post of Prime Minister, Arjun Singh paints a different picture.
According to a Telegraph report, when Singh suggested Sonia’s name he was witness to a rare outburst by Rao:
He (Rao) burst out in anger and virtually yelled out words to the effect whether it was essential that the Congress party should be treated like a train where the compartments have to be attached to an engine belonging to the Nehru-Gandhi family or were there other alternatives?
Rao wasn’t the only one opposed to Sonia Gandhi‘s nomination but whether Singh planned to publish his book in time to curry favour with the Gandhi family one last time is something we will now never know. What we can hope for though is a lot more detail and skeletons to tumble out of the closet on one of the most tumultuous phases of the Congress party. As long as they’ve not been edited out.