Former Union Minister M.J. Akbar on Wednesday recorded his statement before a court here in support of his allegations levelled in a criminal defamation complaint against senior journalist Priya Ramani.Recording his statement before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal, Mr. Akbar said that he had suffered “damage due to the scurrilous and false charges levelled by Ms. Ramani”.“Indeed there was an immediate damage because of the scurrilous nature of these concocted and false allegations. I was attacked in my personal capacity about alleged and fabricated non-events allegedly done two decades ago,” he said in his statement.“I chose in that environment to seek justice in my personal capacity without the appurtenance of office. This is why I offered my resignation as Minister of State, Government of India. My reputation has been tarnished in the eyes of general public and those who are near and dear and known to me,” he said. Mr. Akbar had resigned from the Union Council of Ministers on October 17.Later, on conclusion of Mr. Akbar’s statement, the court posted the matter on November 12 for recording statements of other witnesses cited by him in his complaint.Taking cognisance of the complaint on October 18, the Additional CMM had summoned Mr. Akbar for recording his statement.The former editor had sought Ms. Ramani’s prosecution for allegedly defaming him by accusing him of sexual misconduct with journalists who worked with him in different media houses over the years. Mr. Akbar in his complaint cited an open letter by Ms. Ramani published in Vogue magazine last October and her tweets as defamatory.The complaint stated that “the accused herself, while putting forward defamatory statements relating to incidents which allegedly occurred 20 years ago, simultaneously admits that the complainant has not done anything to her”.(With PTI inputs)
‘Natwar, before you hear it from someone else, let me tell you that Rajiv is getting married,’ Indira Gandhi said to me one day in late 1967.’Who is the lucky girl?’ I enquired. ‘She is an Italian. They met at Cambridge.’ ‘When is the marriage?’ ‘In February,’ Mrs Gandhi announced.,’Natwar, before you hear it from someone else, let me tell you that Rajiv is getting married,’ Indira Gandhi said to me one day in late 1967.’Who is the lucky girl?’ I enquired. ‘She is an Italian. They met at Cambridge.’ ‘When is the marriage?’ ‘In February,’ Mrs Gandhi announced. This was news indeed. Rajiv was the most eligible bachelor in the country; handsome, and with an immensely engaging personality. Sonia, two years younger, was not only marrying a member of the most well-known political family in the country, she was marrying into an institution, the Nehru-Gandhis. There had been many outrageous rumours about Rajiv earlier, which were silenced only after the news of Rajiv’s marriage to Edvige Antonia Albina Maino broke.The wedding took place on 25 February 1968. The day after, Mrs Gandhi held a reception for Rajiv and Sonia in Hyderabad House. All eyes were on the bride. I remember how nervous she was. From Turin to New Delhi was quite a leap. The daughter of a staunchly Roman Catholic family, she found herself in a totally alien environment. The cultural shock would have been unnerving. She had no friends in India, no knowledge and understanding of Indian languages, culture, customs, mores, heritage, history and religion. All that mattered was her love for Rajiv and his love for her. She once told me that there had never been any other man in her life. Both she and Rajiv would have defied the world to get married. They made a striking couple-the handsome Rajiv and Sonia, with her debonair civility.advertisementSonia’s life can be divided into four phases. The first phase was an era of matrimonial bliss, love, enjoyment and apprenticeship under a world-famous mother-in-law. Sonia walked demurely in the light of fortune. That ended on 31 October 1984, the day Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Sonia and (Indira’s personal secretary) R.K. Dhawan took her bullet ridden bleeding body to All India Institute of Medical Sciences. The second phase lasted a short seven years. The Congress Working Committee passed a resolution electing Rajiv to succeed his mother. Sonia fought like a tigress to prevent him from becoming Prime Minister-she feared that he, too, would be killed. But Rajiv had a duty to perform; personal considerations were irrelevant. Sonia’s carefree days had ended. She became the First Lady, accompanying her husband on his official visits the world over.No longer could Rajiv and Sonia see life from afar; they were the centre of the turbulent drama of politics. Sonia at the time appeared aloof, but was deeply involved. In the earlier days, she was ill at ease with strangers and said little. One seldom witnessed her having an animated conversation with any Head of State.This phase was too good to last. Implacable fate felled Rajiv Gandhi. On 21 May 1991, the scenery collapsed when Rajiv was killed at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu. The spring went out of Sonia’s life.’Shankar Dayal Sharma said he was too ill to be PM’After the funeral, there was intense political activity. The aspirants to the post of Congress President included Arjun Singh, N.D. Tiwari, Sharad Pawar and Madhavrao Scindia. Sonia Gandhi herself refused to be the President when it was suggested to her. I told her that the time had come for her to indicate her preference for the role; whoever she chose would naturally become PM. For so momentous a decision, I suggested she ask P.N. Haksar for advice. Meanwhile, she consulted several people, including M.L. Fotedar.The next day, she asked me to bring Haksar to 10 Janpath. Haksar’s advice was to offer the post to Vice President Shankar Dayal Sharma. He suggested that Aruna Asaf Ali and I should sound out the VP. Aruna Asaf Ali’s standing in the country was very high. She had played a heroic role during the Quit India Movement in 1942. She knew Shankar Dayal Sharma well. I had also seen much of Shankar Dayalji for decades. I had first met him when he was Chief Minister of Bhopal. A common link between us was Cambridge University.Aruna Asaf Ali conveyed Sonia’s message to the VP. He gave us a patient hearing. He said he was touched and honoured by Soniaji’s placing so much trust in him. What followed staggered Arunaji and me. The VP continued, ‘The prime ministership of India is a full-time job. My age and health would not let me to do justice to the most important office in the country. Kindly convey to Soniaji the reasons for my inability to take on so awesome a responsibility.’advertisementAfter hearing of the VP’s refusal, I asked Sonia to once again send for P.N. Haksar, who advised her to call P.V. Narasimha Rao.PV Narasimha Rao’Sonia wasn’t too fond of Narasimha Rao’Phase three lasted from 1991 to 1998. Sonia lived in seclusion, keeping the memory of Rajiv alive. Attempts to persuade her to join politics were rejected. The most public appeal to her was at an AICC meeting in Talkatora Gardens. When Sonia entered, everyone stood up and a deafening chant began- ‘Sonia, Sonia’-imploring her to sit on the dais. The clapping did not die down for ten minutes. One member of the Working Committee walked over to request her to step on the dais. Sonia, in no uncertain terms, told him that she would leave if the demonstration was not stopped.During that time, Sonia established the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and published two handsome volumes on Rajiv, which kept her busy for the better part of three years. She also succeeded Rajiv as chairperson of the Nehru Memorial Fund and the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust and organised six international conferences in Delhi, to which we invited eminent scholars, artists and politicians. I suggested that Sonia hold similar conferences in different parts of the country. In each city, the response of the media, the intelligentsia and the universities was heartwarming. Sonia was naturally the main attraction. The more she kept away from the media, the more it pursued her. At the conferences, she only read her speech and let me run the events.Sonia had made P.V. Narasimha Rao Prime Minister. But she wasn’t very fond of him. I, too, had fallen out with him and joined the Tiwari Congress, but we later made up. I suggested that he (Rao) contact Mohammad Yunus, who was constantly in touch with Sonia. Yunus had been an intimate friend of the Nehru family for decades. He was (freedom fighter) Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s nephew. A few days later, P.V. arrived at Yunus’s house after 9 p.m. without any fanfare or police escort. It was a clandestine rendezvous at which I was also present. That P.V. agreed to such a meeting was in itself a clear indication of how keen he was for a patch-up with Sonia. But it did not happen. It is possible that Yunus’s intervention irked Sonia.Sonia Gandhi’Sonia’s speech sessions were agonising’The fourth phase of Sonia’s life began on 14 March 1998, when she formally took over as Congress President at a specially called meeting of the AICC at Siri Fort, New Delhi. She was neither a communicator nor an orator; both indispensable skills for any frontline politician. Preparing her maiden speech took several agonising hours.She arrived at Siri Fort accompanied by Priyanka, then sent for me and asked me to sit next to her. Jairam Ramesh too was sent for, to fine-tune the speech. But Sonia successfully crossed the first hurdle in spite of her nervousness. I remember how each of Sonia’s speeches was an exercise that would take six to eight hours. Sometimes, these agonising ‘speech sessions’ lasted till midnight. There were occasions when she and I would be alone, working on them. She would read the speech aloud, I would time it. It would then be translated into Hindi. The Hindi version would then be transliterated into English and printed out in bold letters. This situation did not last long.advertisementHer English is near perfect; Hindi is the problem-she cannot speak the language without a written script in front of her. To my suggestion to her that she learn by heart a chaupai or two of Tulsidas’s or Kabir’s dohas and use them in her speeches, she threw her hands up. ‘I go blank even with a written text. You want me to say something extempore? Forget it.’Many senior Congressmen sent suggestions and drafts for her speeches; seldom were these used. Jairam Ramesh became a regular presence at the marathon ‘speech sessions’. Being a wizard with the computer, he was useful. He is good company. His brain is razor sharp but his wit occasionally got him into trouble. At times I was the target of his wit. Sonia used to enjoy my discomfiture.By now I was meeting Sonia frequently. I reminded her that her family had an international constituency which had been neglected since Rajiv’s death. She must revive it. She asked how I would achieve this. I told her that with the assistance of my erstwhile colleagues in the Ministry of External Affairs, I would ensure that visiting Foreign Ministers and Prime Ministers called on her. After all, as head of the Congress Party, she was the de facto Leader of Opposition.I sounded out my friend Brajesh Mishra on this. He was not dismissive, but made no commitment. After some months, the MEA began to include a call on the Congress President in the programme of visiting ministers and Prime Ministers.To begin with, Sonia did not look forward to these meetings. ‘What do I say to them?’ she would ask. My advice was, ‘Listen. You will gather much information.’ I used to be present at most of the meetings between 1999 and 2005, arriving at 10 Janpath a few minutes before the visiting dignitary.Initially, Sonia would turn towards me with embarrassing regularity. This did not go unnoticed. I asked her to try not to do so. As time went by, the media’s interest in Sonia’s exchanges with these visitors increased.Sonia used to worry a lot about the security of her grandchildren, as well as Priyanka’s safety. I promised to speak to Brajesh Mishra and did sound him out later. He promised to do the needful discreetly, as Sonia had wished. My growing proximity to Sonia could not go unnoticed. I was at 10 Janpath almost every day. I was seen as one of her closest confidants and some ‘well-wishers’ pumped me, saying, ‘You are the best troubleshooter she has.’ My reply was: ‘Nonsense.’The political discussions between Sonia and I were exclusive, serious and to the point. Our informal chat sessions, though, were a delight. On returning from one of my trips abroad, ‘I missed you,’ were her opening words. Sonia was becoming less diffident in public, but still had a long way to go. Even in the Working Committee meetings, she was taut, and spoke very little.’Sonia got Kaunda to move out of Lalit Suri’s hotel’On 15 August 1997, during the occasion of fifty years of India’s independence, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust organised an international conference to which former Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda, was invited. In previous years, all participants had been put up in Lalit Suri’s hotel on Barakhamba Road.For the 1997 conference, Sonia decided that all invitees would stay in The Oberoi Hotel. Kaunda arrived a day late and, like in previous years, he drove from the airport to Suri’s hotel. I informed Sonia of his arrival, and that he was staying at Lalit’s hotel. She was incensed and asked me to meet Kaunda and request him to shift to The Oberoi. It was a manifestly unreasonable demand. I had known Kaunda for many years but my errand was a painful one. When I told him about this, he said he had settled down and, after a long flight, needed rest. I conveyed Kaunda’s message.That should have ended the matter; it did not. Arrogance took over. She asked me to go back to Kaunda and ask him to shift to The Oberoi. I attempted to dissuade her but she did not relent. I told her she was being irrational. Kaunda was one of Africa’s most admired and respected leaders. He was twenty-two years older than Sonia.Indira Gandhi and Rajiv would never have behaved in such an insensitive manner. On hearing her second message, Kaunda said that this would put him in an embarrassing position. ‘What do I tell Suri?’ he asked. Kaunda could observe my discomfiture. I told him there had been a falling out. Kaunda agreed to shift after apologising to Suri. Sonia was deliberately capricious. It was unbecoming of her. The Kaunda incident left a bad taste in the mouth.’No other Congressman would have survived the 272 MPs gaffe’In 1998, Sonia decided that the time had come for her to be in the Lok Sabha. She was elected with a huge majority from Amethi, the family borough. She naturally became President of the Congress Parliamentary Party. However, in the Lok Sabha, she did not speak even once in her first term. After becoming Congress President, Sonia made two mistakes.I was confined to bed with viral fever when I received a call from Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the level-headed secretary to President K.R. Narayanan. He asked me to meet Sonia to request her to support Jyoti Basu as Prime Minister of a secular government. It was a sensible suggestion. I went to 10 Janpath to convey this to her. On entering her study-cum-conference room, I saw that Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh and M.L. Fotedar were with her. After I said my piece, I found all three of them were opposed to Jyoti Basu- and Sonia was tending towards their point of view-whereas I felt that Jyoti Basu would be an improvement on his two predecessors. The problem was finally solved by his party as the politburo of the CPM did not permit him to seek prime ministership. They later regretted this blunder.The second misjudgement occurred in the last week of April 1999. Hectic political activity was taking place as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the leader of the National Democratic Alliance, was unable to form a government. The Congress, with the support of other opposition parties, staked its claim to form the government. Sonia met President Narayanan at the behest of Arjun Singh and others, telling him that she had the support of 272 MPs. Narayanan gave her two days to prove her majority.Mulayam Singh Yadav, who had earlier offered support, pulled the rug out from under the Congress’s feet by doing an about turn. The Lok Sabha was dissolved on 26 April 1999. Sonia was more than embarrassed. She was a novice at the time, yet to discover that politics was a blood sport. Any other Congress leader would have been shown the door for such a gaffe.’Vajpayee gave Sonia security in New York instantly’Between 2000 and 2003, Sonia travelled to the US, where she met dignitaries such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She also visited Oxford and Hong Kong. I accompanied her on these trips. She was a different person abroad, relaxed, amusing, less demanding and more considerate.In New York, there occurred an incident worth recounting. Sonia and her delegation-Manmohan Singh, Murli Deora, Jairam Ramesh and I-stayed in the Carlyle Hotel, where we arrived late in the evening. To my horror, I discovered that the New York authorities had not provided any security for Sonia. Anyone could walk into her suite. Sonia made light of it, but I immediately telephoned Prime Minister Vajpayee. It was nearly midnight in Delhi. The large-hearted Vajpayee said he would get back to me. Half an hour later, Lalit Mansingh, our Ambassador in Washington, was on the line. He said that the PM had just called him and asked him to ensure immediately that Sonia Gandhi was given a security detail. He was as good as his word.’Politics has coarsened Sonia’Sonia’s public image is not flattering. To an extent, she has herself to blame for it. She never lets her guard down, never gives away what is in her mind.Obsessively secretive and suspicious, she evokes awe, not admiration. Her remarkable life reminds one of a Greek tragedy enacted on a vast Indian stage. She is every biographer’s dream. And while several have taken a shot at telling her tale, their efforts have been found lacking. In their books, substance and style are absent, as are analysis and understanding.From the day she set foot on Indian soil she has been treated like royalty; she has behaved like a prima donna. Over the years she evolved from being a diffident, nervous, shy woman to an ambitious, authoritarian and stern leader. Her displeasure strikes fear among Congressmen. No one has been Congress President for fifteen years. Her hold on the Congress Party is total; firmer and more durable than even that of Jawaharlal Nehru. Under her, dissent is smothered, free discussion fenced in. Silence is used as a weapon and every subtle gesture is a message, an icy stare a warning. Even opposition parties handle her with kid gloves (this is now rapidly changing). She is never blamed or criticised for failures and dfeats of the party. ‘Soniaji can do no wrong,’ chant the battalions of cacophonous sycophants. From her privileged perch, she reigns and rules.Favours are granted piecemeal, lese-majeste is given short shrift. Beneath all that posturing an ordinary and insecure person emerges. Her capriciousness is lauded. A fine-tuned personality cult is promoted. Politics has coarsened her.Rahul and Sonia GandhiIn the PM’s shadowIn the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the NDA lost and the Congress, along with several other parties, formed the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to stake claim to the majority and form the government. Everyone expected Sonia Gandhi to become the Prime Minister. When the anticipated announcement was not made, rumours started doing the rounds and television channels started announcing that Sonia was not becoming Prime Minister.A meeting of the Congress leaders was called. If my memory serves me right, those present were Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, Shivraj Patil, Ghulam Nabi Azad, M.L. Fotedar and I. None except Manmohan and I knew why the meeting was called. She softly announced that she had asked Manmohan Singh to become Prime Minister. Manmohan’s immediate response was, ‘Madam, I do not have the mandate.’No one spoke. I was asked to speak. I told Manmohan that the person who had the mandate was passing it on to him. He had no choice but to head the UPA government.Sonia choosing Manmohan as Prime Minister did not go down well with the senior Congress leaders. Most members of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) were senior to him. This was a bitter pill to swallow. The members were also resentful of having been kept in the dark.The Manmohan Singh government was sworn in on 22 May. I took my oath as External Affairs Minister. In the evening, I met Manmohan Singh. He had fought hard for me to get the MEA and, till the last moment, the American lobby had allegedly tried to derail my appointment. Manmohan was apprehensive and mentioned how powerful the Americans were and that perhaps they could go to any extent to destabilise certain countries, including India.I appreciated Manmohan cautioning me but reminded him that our foreign policy was made in New Delhi, not in Washington, D.C. While I would do my best to further strengthen IndoUS relations, bowing before them was out of the question.Natwar Singh’Manmohan Singh didn’t make the nuclear deal happen’Winston Churchill, when summing up Lord Curzon’s life, wrote ‘The morning was gold, the afternoon was silver, the evening lead.’ Dr Manmohan Singh’s tenure as Prime Minister could be similarly described.He forgets no slight but is an expert at camouflaging his emotions. In a press conference on 3 January 2014, he flagged the nuclear deal as his greatest achievement. For almost a decade, I have not said anything on it or my role in it. Let me make amends now.Condoleezza Rice, who was the Secretary of State in the administration of President George Bush, has written about the deal in her autobiography, No Higher Honour: A Memoir of My Years in Washington. I start by quoting some lines from it: ‘I met the day before my Indian counterpart Natwar Singh in his suite at the Willard Hotel. Frankly, there was so much buzz around the State Department that we wanted to work in a location away from the press and where the atmosphere was more informal.Natwar was adamant.He wanted the deal, but the Prime Minister wasn’t sure if he could sell it in New Delhi. I was a bit surprised, perhaps having misread Natwar’s determination as an indicator that he had the authority to speak for his government.’After our meeting, Condoleezza had called the President, telling him that Manmohan Singh couldn’t make the deal happen. Condoleezza pleaded with me to arrange a meeting and I finally managed to do so.The Secretary of State arrived for breakfast the next day. She had brought the revised text of the agreement for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s approval. I, too, was present. When Manmohan had reservations about one or two points in the text, I asked Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and Anil Kakodkar to come up with a fresh text including the points raised by the Prime Minister.With the new text, she left for the White House to show the draft to the President. It was already past 9.30 a.m. and the George Bush-Manmohan Singh meeting had been scheduled for 9. I arrived before the Prime Minister and sat next to Condoleezza. We finally got a go-ahead on the negotiations.On my return to Delhi, I saw Sonia Gandhi, who was far from approving. ‘Natwar, how could you of all people agree to this?’ she asked. ‘You know there is an undercurrent in the country regarding America’s policy.’ Yet six months later, she changed her mind. The Nuclear Bill came up before the Lok Sabha in 2008. It was passed with a very small majority. On the nuclear deal the Parliament, the scientific community and the country, all were divided. Incidentally, what has become of the much tom-tommed nuclear deal?The Volcker shockIn 1996, the (UN) Security Council established the Oil-for-Food Programme to help the people of Iraq. Under this, the government of Iraq could sell oil under the supervision of the UN and buy food and medical supplies for its people in return. These transactions had to be routed through the UN.On 20 March 2003, US forces invaded Iraq looking for ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Saddam Hussein was ousted and the sixty-billion-dollar Oil-for-Food Programme came to an abrupt end. Documents then surfaced revealing discrepancies in the functioning of the programme. It was found that surcharges or bribes were being added to the oil price, which were being pocketed by Saddam Hussein.The Volcker Committee, then called the Independent Inquiry Committee, was set up by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan some years later to investigate the allegations. It was chaired by Paul Volcker, former chairman of the United States Federal Reserve. The principal allegations which Volcker had to examine were related to the activities of Annan and his son, Kojo. The committee took eighteen months to finish the report and submitted it on 27 October 2005.In its enclosures, the Volcker Report listed the names of companies and individuals who had profited from the Oil-for-Food Programme.’Sonia should have given me the benefit of doubt’On 26 October 2005, I visited Moscow to hold bilateral talks with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov. Before the meeting, I was informed that President Putin would himself be present at the afternoon session. My last meeting with him was to be on the afternoon of 28 October. The afternoon session concluded at 5 p.m. and, two hours later, I took a flight to Frankfurt, where I was to spend the night.The next day at 5 a.m., the Director of my office came rushing to say that the Permanent Representative of India at the United Nations, Nirupam Sen, wished to speak to me urgently. I asked Nirupam why he had woken me up so early in the morning. I was astounded when he told me that the Volcker Report had been presented to the UN Secretary General and it carried my name, that of the Congress Party and several corporate houses as non-contractual beneficiaries. According to the report the Congress had been in the oil business with Iraq since 1997. At around 6.30 a.m., I also received an email carrying a front-page report from The Hindu, which highlighted this fact. At no time did Volcker inform the Congress Party or me before including our names. He should have done so.This was truly a bolt from the blue. I had a very restless day. I sent a telegram to the PM telling him that I would explain my position as soon as I reached Delhi. Before I left, I was shown the statement of the Congress General Secretary Ambika Soni, in which she said-clearly referring to me-that ‘as far as individuals were concerned, they were competent to defend themselves’. I was outraged. I had spent my whole life in the foreign service and in politics and I knew that such a statement would not have been issued without the approval of the Congress President. My relations with the Gandhi-Nehru family had begun in July 1944; at least I should have been given the benefit of doubt by the party chief.I landed at Palam Airport at 10.30 p.m.. Next morning, I discovered that the PM was out of town. I did not contact Sonia because I was still very upset by the official statement of the party and I had expected her to send for me, bearing in mind that she was aware of what was going on and why. The media had already decided that I was guilty. This line had been fed to them by a group of senior Cabinet ministers. The messages from our Permanent Mission to the UN categorically stated that the names of several important personalities had been mentioned in the report as having benefited from the Oil-for-Food Programme including Heads of State and prominent politicians.The complete list provided to the Volcker Committee by the global policy forum had two names from India: Bhim Singh of the Panther Party from Kashmir and the Congress Party. A discussion on the report was held by the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the US House of Representatives on 9 February 2005. The list of 270 beneficiaries at the time did not include my name. At the meeting, as is documented, a Dr Nimrod Raphaeli of MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) presented the list. But in a list presented at a meeting on 9 March, my name was inserted.All the countries named, other than India, rejected the report. Within a day or two, a tsunami hit me. Aniel Mathrani, a junior functionary of the Congress and the Indian Ambassador to Croatia, gave an interview to India Today saying that the Congress Party and I had asked for vouchers for oil barrels to be allocated to me during a visit to Iraq in 2001. Mathrani had worked under me in the Foreign Affairs department of the All India Congress Committee. In his interview, he said, ‘Of course, he [Natwar Singh] knew all these things from the beginning but preferred to keep quiet.That Natwar and the Congress never knew is hogwash.”This is backseat driving with impunity’In January 2001, the Congress Party had sent a fraternal delegation to Baghdad on the invitation of the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, Tariq Aziz, whom I had known for a number of years. The delegation was led by me. Its other members were A.R. Antulay, former Chief Minister of Maharashtra; P. Shiv Shankar; Cabinet Minister Shri Eduardo Faleiro; and Aniel Mathrani, then Secretary of the Congress’s Foreign Affairs department. I had carried a letter from the Congress President for President Saddam Hussain, which I delivered to Tariq Aziz.My son, Jagat Singh, who was a General Secretary of the Youth Congress, had accompanied me on the trip because I needed assistance after my bypass surgery. As a Youth Congress member, he had also been officially invited to Iraq by Non-Aligned Students’ Youth Organization (NASYO) member Subodh Kant Sahay to attend the NASYO conference. Sahay, too, I think was with us on this flight.Andaleeb Sehgal, a friend of Jagat’s, and a businessman with Iraqi links, happened to be in Baghdad during our delegation’s stay. He was also apparently friendly with Robert Vadra. He regularly visited Baghdad. The Mathrani interview was taken up by the Opposition in Parliament, a growing number of Congress ministers, and the media. People who used to hang around me, asking me to put in a favourable word on their behalf to Sonia Gandhi, suddenly viciously turned against me. It was all too obvious that the campaign had been wellorchestrated against me by the powers that be. Nowhere was it mentioned that the Volcker Report had named the Congress Party as one of the non-contractual beneficiaries too. However, there were people all over the country who wrote and spoke in my favour- former PM Chandra Shekhar was among them.At a press conference, Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani asked whether I was being made a scapegoat. Regardless of the relentless slander, I did not wilt.I had a long meeting with Manmohan Singh on 8 November. It was not a pleasant meeting and I was so agitated that I spoke in a tone which he must have found offensive. It had been decided by the Congress President and the Prime Minster that I should, in view of this controversy, give up the External Affairs portfolio and take up the post of minister without portfolio. A team of accomplished intriguers holding high posts in government and the party had decided to target me. Nothing happens in the Congress without the knowledge and the nod of Sonia Gandhi.This is power without responsibility and backseat driving with impunity. I soon found myself completely isolated and the trial by the media put more pressure on me and my family. On 6 December, I resigned from the Cabinet.On 7 November 2005, Virendra Dayal, former Undersecretary-general of the UN, was appointed by the Indian government as Special Envoy to liaise with the Volcker Committee. On 24 November, Dayal came back with thousands of documents which he submitted to the Enforcement Directorate (ED). The government constituted the Justice R.S. Pathak Inquiry Committee under the Commission of Inquiry Act to look into the allegations on 11 November 2005. However, after looking at the way in which it was constituted, it became apparent that the proceedings were likely to be one-sided.’Why did the UPA hide Virendra Dayal’s documents?’I had known Justice Pathak for a long time. I also knew his father, G.S. Pathak, when I was serving in Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s Secretariat. Soon after his retirement in 1987, G.S. Pathak had approached me to support his candidature as a judge of the International Court of Justice at The Hague. I was then Minister of State for External Affairs. The Ministry of External Affairs had worked very hard to get him selected.I had submitted my affidavit to the committee in a sealed envelope on 24 March 2006. Yet portions from it were quoted in newspapers in early April. I wrote to Justice Pathak about the leak, but did not receive any reply.On 31 May 2006, I was asked to present myself before the Pathak Inquiry Committee. Apart from Justice Pathak, there were senior legal consultants present to assist him, each one handpicked by the concerned ministries. Within five minutes it became clear that the committee was extremely biased. They had been instructed to absolve the Congress of all charges.Justice Pathak formally handed his report to the PM on 7 August 2006. In his conclusions, he totally exonerated the Congress Party. About me, he said, ‘There is no material to show that Natwar Singh derived any financial or other personal benefit from the contracts. Regardless of this, my son and I were chargesheeted by the ED of the Finance Ministry. Justice Pathak once confided in me that he had been under extreme pressure.In February 2006 I met P. Chidambaram at my friend and Rajya Sabha member Shobhana Bhartia’s house. She is the daughter of the late K.K. Birla. Chidambaram asked me if I had any objections to visiting the office of the ED, as the government wished to close the case in two weeks. I agreed. He assured me that no publicity would be given to my visits to ED.I had two meetings with the ED. The news of both meetings appeared in the media the very next day. I telephoned the Finance Minister about my ED meeting appearing in the media. His answer was, ‘Natwar, we are a democracy.’ My son was also called twice, although his name did not even appear in the Volcker report. His passport was impounded and he was chargesheeted.I got to know that the documents obtained by Virendra Dayal were never shown to the Pathak Committee. When I asked Justice Pathak about the whereabouts of the Virendra Dayal documents, his reply was, ‘What can I say, that is a long story.’ Till this day, their contents are a mystery.Why was the UPA government reluctant to reveal the content of these documents? The conclusion is obvious: there are uncomfortable truths in them that they are trying to hide. At a largely attended meeting in Jaipur on 26 February 2008, on the occasion of the centenary of Maharaja Suraj Mal, I resigned from the Congress Party and the Rajya Sabha. Volcker confessed to a reporter from Los Angeles Times that his report had the potential to expose the UN and remove Annan from his post, but when it came to the moment, he said, ‘I felt uncomfortable.’According to the report, hours before the publication of the Volcker Report, the Secretary General and his lawyer asked Volcker to ‘change the language about the business dealings of Kojo Annan’. The ED has still not concluded my case, which has been hanging for almost seven years. The ED has only given one hearing to my lawyer in all these years. There are still some apparently cooked-up income tax cases against us. The media crucifixion continued till 2010. But there are many who believe in my innocence.’Newspapers turned down my articles for fear of Sonia’ My expulsion from the Congress Party was conveyed to me in a twoline note at 2 a.m. on a freezing winter night. A special meeting of the Congress Working Committee was held that evening for this. Manmohan Singh was in Moscow at the time; he was contacted and gave his consent.The late Arjun Singh told me that at a core group meeting, then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram had told Sonia that mine was an open-and-shut case and that I would be sent to jail. At another meeting, a decision was taken to establish the Pathak Inquiry Authority. I was told that the Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj was in Lucknow; he was called back late at night in a special plane. He was opposed to this decision as the ‘case’ against me was not sustainable.The Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate filed cases against me and my son, whose name did not even appear in the Volcker Report. His passport was impounded. Newspapers began turning down my articles. One Hindi newspaper editor frankly confessed that he could not publish my articles because, ‘Soniaji would get angry.’ Portions of what I said before the Pathak Authority and the ED were leaked to the media. Manmohan Singh or any other Cabinet minister would not have touched me without Sonia’s approval.The Congress tried to make me a ‘non-person’, but did not succeed. Those who used to hang around me for political favours-appointment of governors, Cabinet and party posts- now turned their faces away on seeing me. In private, they sympathised with me, in public, I was denounced, I could go on and on. But I hold no grudges. If I did that I would go down in my esteem. What Sonia Gandhi has achieved is to reduce the Congress, one of the greatest political parties of the world, to a rump of forty-four members in the Lok Sabha. No Indian could have behaved this way against me.Post scriptAs I was finishing this book I had a surprise visit from Sonia Gandhi and her charming daughter, on 7 May 2014. It was an extraordinary encounter. Even bizarre. They were apprehensive about my autobiography touching raw nerves.On Sunday, 6 May Priyanka called me to ask if she could meet me. I agreed and asked her to my house. Attractive and with an engaging personality, she shares her mother’s sartorial elegance. Unlike her mother and brother, she is a natural communicator; the exactness of her expression is an asset. She is, as far as I know, free from the chattering fidgetiness so common among ladies of south Delhi. On that hot day, she came in what I may call feminine mufti. We talked about Amethi and Raebareli. About her kids. They were growing very fast.Initially she was a bit subdued, even hesitant, but she soon came to the point. Her mother had sent her to meet me. She recalled the interview I had given. Would I be writing about the events that took place in May 2004 before the swearing-in of the UPA government? I said I intended to. No one could edit my book. I would not skirt the truth, nor would I hit below the belt. Certain proprieties cannot be ignored. Just then Sonia walked in. ‘What a surprise?’ I said. Her overtly friendly and gushing greeting bewildered me. It was so out of character. It was a giveaway. Swallowing her pride, she came to her ‘closest’ friend to surrender her quiver. It took her eight-and-a-half years to do so.
Bengaluru, May 24 (PTI) Health foods company Jiyo Natural has acquired city-basedfood delivery company Sangeetha Aahar.With the acquisition of Sangeetha Aahar, “Jiyo Natural will grow its revenue run rate by around 30 per cent based on conversion of some of the existing customers of Sangeetha Aahar to the healthy menus that Jiyo Natural is known for,” thecompany said in a release today.Besides the growth in revenue, Jiyo Natural will increase its capacity and be in a position to prepare anddeliver around 6,000 meals in a day, it added.Founded in 2014, Jiyo Natural claims to provide nutritionally balanced chemical free meals to consumers. The company received funding by Indian Angel Network last year.”With the acquisition of Sangeetha Aahar, we have significantly enhanced ourcapacity of production and manpower and will be in a positionto take care of the increasing demand for healthy food being delivered to working population,” Jiyo Natural MD, Jayas Damodaran said.After the acquisition, “we will be delivering around 2,700 meals a day and aim to reach close to 4,000 in three months,” he added.Jiyo Natural said it also plans to introduceready-to-cook personalised meals from the next quarter.Sangeetha Aahar has been in the business of delivering food to corporate customers for over four years now. PTI KSU RA VS SBT MR