Comment on Sonia: Manmohan skips Nayar's book release

Kuldip Nayar’s last book “On Leaders and Icons: From Jinnah to Modi” released by Rajeev Nayar, Kuldip Nayar's younger son (L), Navtej Singh Sarna (2L), JDU leader Pavan K. Varma (3L), Union Minister of State with Independent Charge in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri (C), Congress leader Kapil Sibal (2R) and journalist Rajdeep Sardesai (R) at Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi, India, on Friday, February 8, 2019

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh on Friday declined to attend a function to release the last book of late journalist Kuldip Nayar, objecting to an "embarrassing" reference about files being sent to Sonia Gandhi that was "not true".

Singh declining to attend the event was made public by Nayar's son Rajeev at the event where he read out the letter from the former PM to his mother Bharti on February 1 explaining his inability to release the book 'On Leaders and Icons from Jinnah to Modi'.

In his letter, Singh said he had gone through the chapter dealing with him where he found a reference that "during my Prime Ministership, government files will go to Sonia Gandhi's house".

"This statement is not true and Kuldip did not check with me about its truth. In this background, I would find it embarrassing to attend the book release function on February 8. I hope you will be kind enough to forgive me for this lapse," Rajeev quoted Singh as saying in the letter.

In the book that he completed on August 4 last year 19 days before his death, Nayar wrote, "...For nearly ten years he remained as Prime Minister because he was convenient front man for Sonia and her dynasty. Government files would go to Sonia Gandhi's house at 10 Janpath where Ahmed Patel, a bright Muslim leader, guided her in day-to-day government affairs," Nayar wrote.

Rajeev read the portion which Singh found "not true" and said, "so that is what my father is and that is what he has written."

Singh's absence at the event witnessed senior Congress MP Kapil Sibal defending the former Prime Minister while Union Minister Hardeep Puri found fault with him saying the former Prime Minister did not invite Nayar during his tenure to his house fearing the displeasure of Sonia.

Referring to Nayar's assertions about files being sent to Sonia's residence, Sibal said he was a minister in the UPA government and the Prime Minister's Office or 10-Janpath "never called" him for any file. "It only shows that sometimes you (journalists) get information that may not be accurate," he said adding that it tells a lot about Modi that he never met Nayar.

Puri, who was part of a panel discussion in which Sibal was not present, countered Sibal's assertion and said that it was Modi government which honoured Nayar with Padma Vibhushan last month.

The Union Minister went on to quote Nayar to say that Singh did not invite him to his house when he was Prime Minister for ten years and he might not want to offend Sonia even narrowly. "My case is that if you define democracy in parochial terms as emanating only from one family, then I am afraid this is not a discussion which you can have seriously," he said.

Addressing the function through video conferencing from New York where he is undergoing treatment, senior Union Minister Arun Jaitley described Nayar as the best reporter India has produced. "He had strong views. He always carried polite persuasive arguments. He never compromised," Jaitley said.

In the book, Nayar wrote that Singh had once remarked that the journalist deserved 'Bharat Ratna', the country's highest civilian award, and in another occassion he had remarked that he was "proud" to be the president of an organisation where he was a member.

"However, the same Manmohan Singh did not invite me even for a cup of tea during his ten-year tenure as Prime Minister. I was a leading journalist and had headed more than one newspaper. Probably, he did not want to risk the annoyance of Sonia Gandhi who knew I had relentlessly criticised her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi," he wrote.

Nayar was of the view that Sonia selected Singh as he had "no power base" and "would depend on her" as well as he was her "stalking horse".

In criticism of Sonia, Nayar went on to say that she had "her own ideas of governance" but they were "not of the magnitude that India needed" and Singh was there to give them "sanctity and authority".

"He was a nominee prime minister but he was adept in disposing of files, bureaucrat as he was for several years. Sonia Gandhi was particular to push him ahead of her on all public occasions. But it was quite a spectacle to watch on TV how unhappy he looked to occupy the chair ahead of Sonia Gandhi, his benefactor," he wrote.

On Singh's travel abroad as Prime Minister, Nayar went on to write, "inevitably, it was his wife rather than Sonia who was by his side, so small wonder that he looked happier when abroad than in India."

However, Nayar wrote that none doubts Singh's personal honesty and his strong point remains his humility.

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