Kalam did not prevent Sonia from becoming PM in 2004

Written by: Sreekumar Narayan

The 11th President of India APJ Abdul Kalam was ready to swear in Congress chief Sonia Gandhi as the Prime Minister after the 2004 general elections but she proposed Manmohan Singh's name instead. In his soon to be published memoirs Turning Points: A Journey Through Challenges, Kalam has written about the 'surprising' development on the evening of May 18, 2004.

Sonia Kalam

"At the allotted time, 8.15 pm, Mrs Gandhi came to Rashtrapati Bhavan along with Dr Manmohan Singh. In this meeting after exchanging pleasantries, she showed me the letters of support from various parties. Thereupon, I said that is welcome. The Rashtrapati Bhavan is ready for the swearing-in ceremony at the time of your choice. That is when she told me that she would like to nominate Dr Manmohan Singh, who was the architect of economic reforms in 1991 and a trusted lieutenant of the Congress party with an impeccable image, as the Prime Minister. This was definitely a surprise to me and the Rashtrapati Bhavan Secretariat had to rework the letter appointing Dr Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister and inviting him to form the government at the earliest."

Kalam's version of events contradicts what Subramaniam Swamy has been saying about the matter. According to the latter, it was the former's reluctance to appoint Sonia as the PM that made her look at the Manmohan option. To buttress his point, Swamy cited the letter in which he had warned Kalam that the appointment of Sonia could be challenged in the courts because of the lack of clarity over whether she had renounced her Italian citizenship.

The former President acknowledges that "I had a number of emails and letters coming from individuals, organisations and parties that I should not allow Mrs Sonia Gandhi to become the Prime Minister of our country. I had passed on these mails and letters to various agencies in the government for their information without making any remarks. During this time, there were many political leaders who came to meet me to request me not to succumb to any pressure and appoint Mrs Gandhi as the Prime Minister, a request that would not have been constitutionally tenable."

Sushma Swaraj was among those who were strongly opposed to Sonia becoming the PM. If that happened, the BJP leader famously said that she would shave her head. Earlier Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar had raised the issue of Sonia's 'foreign origin'. Days after they were thrown out of the Congress for highlighting the same, the trio founded the NCP in May 1999.

Most likely nationalists like the aforementioned would have protested against Sonia getting the top job. However, the President is supposed to invite the leader of the single largest party or grouping in the Lok Sabha to form the government. Since the UPA had the requisite numbers back in 2004, Kalam could not have acted otherwise.

Even though his statement that "If she had made any claim for herself I would have had no option but to appoint her" is correct, it seems to be like an admission of sorts by Kalam and does not allow a definitive end to the debate over whether Sonia's much-vaunted 'renunciation' was involuntary or more pertinently guided by her "inner voice".

Perhaps the dramatis personae were all forced to take certain decisions by the circumstances at that time. Centuries ago Shakespeare had a character named Jaques mouth the immortal lines, "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages."

The British playwright meant to convey that nobody, however, mighty or powerful they may be, can change destiny. The fact is neither Kalam nor Swamy had anything to do with Manmohan Singh occupying 7 Race Course Road. It was his fate. The truth is as simple as that.

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