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Issue No.: 574 | April 2015


K. Natwar Singh
ONE LIFE IS NOT ENOUGH: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY by K. Natwar Singh  Rupa Publishing, New Delhi  2014  pp.423  Rs. 500

Reviewed by P. M. Kamath, formerly Professor of Politics, University of Bombay and currently Hon. Director, VPM’s Centre for International Studies and Adjunct Professor, Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal University, Manipa
Natwar Singh, former diplomat and Congress politician was close to Nehru-Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma Gandhi) clan in diplomacy as well as politics. He had met Nehru as a probationer in Indian Foreign Service (IFS) in April 1953. He says Nehru had asked him, "Does China pose a danger to us?” He had then answered like a true diplomat in the making: "Yes and no;” because, in his own words, as he told Nehru, China, "our next-door neighbour is our best friend and worst enemy.”

Nehru must have been impressed and expressed his honest opinion, when he replied: "Mujhe Chanakya neeti sikha rahe ho”. But Natwar Singh thinks Nehru might have said so "half in jest” to his "audacious reply.” His reply immensely proved his abilities to handle diplomacy as well as politics! He is the first Rajasthani to join the Indian Foreign Service. Diplomacy became his career to train him eventually to enter politics.

After national and international study tours, he joined the Ministry of External Affairs in September 1954. An important diplomatic assignment he worked for was as a liaison officer interacting with Chou En-lai during his crucial visits to India during his talks with Pandit Nehru in the 1960s that ultimately ended in the border war in October 1962.

That demonstrated that politics was writ large in the mind of this trained diplomat because in both fields success and failures – more failures than successes – are inevitable. Thus, he was ready to plunge into politics after 31 years of serving Nehru and Indira Gandhi. He resigned from diplomatic career in 1984 and joined politics under Rajiv Gandhi to serve him and after him continued to serve his widow, Sonia Gandhi.

Natwar Singh was then Minister of State for External Affairs in the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet. Gandhi’s decision in July 1987 to intervene militarily in Sri Lanka to help that country in resolving the ethnic crisis faced by President J. R. Jayewardene government was a disaster. The decision was taken in great haste by the Prime Minister (PM). Ostensibly because Jayewardene told Rajiv during his visit to Colombo that in the absence of immediate Indian intervention, he feared a coup. Singh says, "I told the PM to take a decision on so grave a matter only after consulting his senior Cabinet colleagues on his return to Delhi”. Rajiv Gandhi told him to his utter surprise, "…he had already given orders for the immediate dispatch of Indian troops by air to Colombo”.
I would also like in this brief review to focus on his version on the Civil Nuclear Deal (CND) offered by President George W. Bush and signed by him, now as external affairs minister and Manmohan Singh as the PM during their visit to Washington, DC in July 2005. As far as the CND is concerned Natwar Singh rightly says that it "was the logical, though somewhat unexpected, culmination of the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP)” signed in January 2004 by Atal Behari Vajpayee during the NDA’s tenure and President Bush. The NSSP was to enable bilateral cooperation in fields of nuclear energy, space, technology transfer and defence. India agreed to follow Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) regulations on sensitive nuclear materials transfers to other countries. India also agreed to abide by the Missile Technology Control Regime.

In the American media several arguments have been advanced to explain the reasons why the US which had effectively denied any US aid in nuclear arena after Mrs. Gandhi had conducted the first ever Indian nuclear test in 1974 signed the agreement. Of these, Singh highlights the China factor as the most important.

Despite the fact that Manmohan Singh, former PM, considered India’s CND with the US as his best achievement, a Congressman, turned a critic of his Party after he was expelled, K. Natwar Singh, writes that Manmohan Singh "didn’t have” a foreign policy. Foreign policy "was run from Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).” Natwar Singh was Foreign Minister from 2004 to 2005. He ought to know it better. Yet, whether it is made from PMO or from Ministry of External Affairs, it becomes PM’s foreign policy!

There is media speculation that Natwar Singh might join the BJP. The BJP in its manifesto has proposed its intentions to "Review and update” India’s nuclear doctrine. The print media has already carried a few articles on the topic. The problem with these articles seems to be their failure to understand clearly that No First Use (NFU) of nuclear weapons is not the Nuclear Doctrine in its entirety.Probably Natwar Singh could become an advisor to PM Modi on the CND as well as on NFU. That could make a complete circle or circus from secularism to communalism!





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Pakistan’s Quest for Nationhood

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