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Letters from past refresh memories

NewsLetters from past refresh memories

Excerpts from the letters published in K. Natwar Singh’s book Treasured Epistles brought out by Rupa:


‘Our PM is in the hands of two groups’

16 September 1965

My dear Natwar Singh,

There are fire-eaters in Delhi even in this decade who believe India is strong enough to govern border people by force of arms and maintain the Indian economy for grand plans besides normal administration. Our PM is in the hands of two groups—one guiding his foreign policy, another his internal policy. He himself is only concerned in winning the next elections for the Congress. It is a tragedy that 460 millions of people are placed under charge of people whose knowledge of diplomacy is disgracefully below requirements just when the world has shrunk into a single puzzle.

24 November 1966

I was so glad to read your letter of 22 November I shall indeed be very glad if you can get me the NYT review of your anthology.

I have not yet received the copy of the book from the publishers. Sea mail takes more time. I am not surprised you so much like the service under Smt Indira Gandhi. She is splendidly endowed with all the graces of a good civilized lady. She grew up under the example of her gracious father.

I can never forget the moving gesture of her affection when she came and received my daughter at the Delhi railway station (Mrs Devadas Gandhi), when I took her to Delhi from Bombay after she unexpectedly and cruelly lost her husband. Indira Gandhi whom I did not expect was at the station and led my daughter to the car like a sister. The touch was a consolation both to her and to me. This was August 1957, when I had already begun openly and severely to criticise Jawaharlalji.

Yours sincerely
(C. Rajagopalachari)

‘Maneka is a delightful and joyous girl’

13 October 1974

Dear Natwar,

Thank you for your attempts at keeping me abreast of what people are thinking in different parts of the world. Lately, I have tended to be more engrossed in the domestic scene, which is extremely unpleasant and full of dangerous portents for our democracy and for all the ideals for which India has stood and which she has espoused in international forums.

I have been collecting interesting books, but have done little reading these last few months. Sanjay is well, although still not allowed to climb stairs and gets rather easily tired. The marriage was quiet, but dignified and elegant. Maneka is a delightful girl, gay and joyous. You have Mr Wilson back with you. I wish he had more sense of humour.

4 January 1975

Thank you for sending me Peter Jay’s remarks. He also wrote to me. My comment on that letter: a bouquet from an unexpected quarter!

Malraux was pleased with his Indian visit and I was told by the French Ambassador that he was sorry to leave.

I have glanced at Tara’s review of Bhatia’s book. To me it seemed a rather pitiable self-portrait—so full of hatred and pettiness—of the reviewer.

PS: This top portion was dictated long ago but I thought I would add to it. Hence the delay. In the meantime your letter of the 27 December has come with Pam Cullen. I was sorry to hear about her father. What a time to have to leave England. Lord Louis is, as you know, incorrigible. He is friends with all the wrong sort of people and presumably believes what they tell him about me and about India. Krishna Menon had something to say about this just a few days before he died.

I am glad Prince Charles is breaking journey here but it will be difficult to do anything interesting in just one day as I suppose the protocol part cannot be entirely ignored.

We are all stunned by L.N. Mishra’s murder. As the National Herald rightly says, although L.N.M cannot be compared with Gandhiji in any way, there is no doubt that it was the atmosphere of hatred, calumny and violence, spread under the wings of JP that was responsible for this dastardly act.

As you may have seen from the newspapers, we have had a torrent of VVIPs and international conferences—the brightest star being Gina Lolobrigida who interviewed me. I believe she has also interviewed Wilson, Kissinger, McNamara and Fidel Castro, who had urged her to meet me.

14 April 1975

Your letter of the 10th arrived only yesterday and I have just read it in the plane on the flight to Jammu.

I have not been to Jammu for a long time and since this particular visit was decided upon, new and complex problems have arisen on the political scene. Knowing the Sheikh’s autocratic nature, I had envisaged such a situation, though not so soon. Now we can only try to set it right and hope for the best.

In the meantime, we have given in to a part of Morarji’s demand—about the Gujarat elections. It seemed such a silly point for which to fast or for us to hold out, since the difference in dates was only three months. However, our difficulties are acute and varied enough without having a dead Morarji haunting the scene. One has learnt to expect all kinds of unethical action from our Opposition but I must admit that I was deeply shocked at the manner in which some of them including those in the Cong(O) seemed to view the prospect claiming that his disappearance from the scene would clear the way for Opposition unity.

It is hard going for Mother Teresa. But I figured that it was better for me to support a really worthwhile candidate, even if the chance of success is slim.

I am glad you have reminded me about Dame Sybil Thorndike. Some time ago I had proposed that some way should be found to honour women around the world who have shown sympathy towards India. I do know whether the Ministry has moved in the matter.
The prospect of seeing a play is indeed tempting but I do not know whether it will be possible to stop over in London.

9 February 1976

I found your letter of the 2nd awaiting me on my return from Bharatpur. We all enjoyed the trip especially as Salim Ali was there and accompanied us to the sanctuary. Fortunately, I insisted that no one else should go with us. I would have preferred to see the Dig palaces also on our own, rather than with a large gathering tagging on. A children’s dance performance had also been arranged and took time which could have been used for sight-seeing.

Your brother was introduced to me very briefly, just as I was going off to the public meeting. He should have met Rajiv while I was away. But perhaps he was shy and Rajiv did not know about him.

Regarding the wall—the first step is to build along areas adjacent to villages. After that we will think about its extension. I am not surprised that Subramaniam Swamy is being welcomed in England. His sort would be! In India he has no influence whatsoever even in his own Party. He has not been a success in Parliament and there are often sniggers when he gets up. He seems to have a complex of some kind and is aggressive in a defensive way if you know what I mean. He is a strong advocate of the Atom Bomb. He has had a long-standing quarrel with our Atomic Scientists—with Vikram Sarabhai and now Sethna. His main criticism was that we were quite incapable of serious work with Atomic Energy! After our experiment in Pokhran, his first reaction was that news was probably not true.

British opinion does count but if it insists on being completely cut off from the realities of the situation, there is little we can do about it except to try to educate the Indians living abroad.

Only about a hundred people were arrested in the whole of Tamil Nadu and only a few of those were political. All the important leaders are out. Even we were astonished at the good reaction all over the State.

9 June 1980

Just when you are talking about the working of the democratic process in a coherent way, Badshah Khan is busy giving statements from a Srinagar Hospital that there is no democracy in India and compares us in a vague sort of way to Pakistan! Can you believe it? All this keeps one from getting a swollen head.

We have won the elections but the going was pretty tough and many of the seats either won or lost, were neck-to-neck.

The real difficulties now begin. The people’s expectations are high but the situation both political or economic, is an extremely complex one. I cannot help being an optimist and I have no doubt that if only our legislators and the people as a whole have the patience and forbearance to climb the steep and stony path for the next few months, we can get over the hump and arrive at a place from which progress is possible once again.

However, politics is at a low ebb. All those who shouted so much about democracy have no compunctions now in saying as Charan Singh has, that ‘Parliament is irrelevant’, or the Jan Sangh encouraging anti-national elements in the North-East. The Opposition parties are making frantic efforts, egged on by Bahuguna, to unite. What for? Only to have agitations and violence or to encourage defections.

Yours sincerely

(Indira Gandhi)

‘I am somewhat of a persona non grata’

21 January 1964

My dear Natwar,

I read the write up of the Forster book with pride and pleasure. I have also read the book and think you have done a good job… Your letter of the 12th reached me today on my return from Bangalore. I was glad to have the clippings.

Ever since I came home from the US, I have been worried sick about the PM’s health. He looked so ill I could hardly bear to look at him. It was obvious he was heading for a breakdown and was driving himself mercilessly in spite of it. He was alone in the house due to Indu’s absence and though he was accompanied by a doctor on his tour this poor little man was so junior, he literally trembles every time he had to approach PM. There was no question of advice or assistance.

The day PM and Indira left for Bhuvaneshwar I could have wept. He got up at 5.00 am after a late night & left at 6.45 am going straight on from Bhuvaneshwar by helicopter—a rattling broken down affair to some other place for a perfectly silly engagement. After that there were meetings of the AICC. Next morning he couldn’t get up. The doctor calls this a Spasm-momentarily for a few hours he was not able to use his left foot and hand but by the night this righted itself. His blood pressure was terrifically high and he had to be put to bed. Fortunately, good doctors were instantly available. The journey back to Delhi did not tire him unduly and he is now looked after by a panel of doctors. There are resident nurses and a masseur. I was in Delhi for four days and was glad to find that visitors were not allowed except for two minutes and only about two a day. The press reports on this are not correct. I think the people themselves told waiting pressmen that they had spent half an hour with the P.M. to show their importance! What a world.

The problem now is going to be how to restrain Bhai. You know his sense of responsibility and the way in which he wants to take everybody’s mistakes on himself—this obviously, must stop. He is required for a long time and must be made to understand it.

The Indian doctor is not firm and also sometimes frightened to annoy a big person. Indira is swayed in all sorts of directions and gives in. I do not quite know who is to take care of this precious life. As you know I am somewhat of a persona non grata. One can but pray.

Delhi is a seething hive of intrigue. I sometimes wonder whether we are more prone to intrigue than others or if we are just more crude at the game. Even today we do not understand the vital need to work for the common good. Personal interests are the motivating force behind many ‘leaders’.

I feel so helpless having to watch things happening which could be averted or better canalized—but for some unknown reason a door has been closed on me. Oh well—one must not complain. I certainly have had a good innings.

The Kashmir and Calcutta troubles must have made sad reading abroad.

Both were the results of actions by Pak supporters. This however does not lessen our responsibility. Only one good thing emerged from the holocaust that was the way in which both Hindus and Muslims joined together to attack the Bakshi regime.

It is to be hoped the government will take a firm stand in Kashmir now. This morning’s papers say Bhutto is again raising the issue in the UN.

In Bombay there is a storm over prohibition. Our Chief Minister has been courageous enough to ask for a gradual withdrawal and Morarji Bhai is behaving as if it were a matter of the highest morality and is challenging all and sundry to give him power and see what he can do. Do keep in touch with me.

PS: My sister says she is going to the States in a few weeks. I don’t know why. Rajan leaves for her lecture tour on the 28th and will be away until April. Indira is going for the world fair.

The question of my Africa tour is hanging in the balance pending the appointment or otherwise of a foreign minister.

23 June 1964

Thank you for sharing our sorrow. The tears of his beloved India and indeed the world have been ample evidence of his place in the hearts of his fellow-men.

You are so right when you say he was the most beautiful man in the world. Every action, every thought was beautiful and one cannot but be thankful that he died as he wished, in harness and in peace. In death the radiance and serenity of his face were quite extraordinary. We have much to live up to but I dare to believe the seeds he planted will bear fruit.

24 January 1966

So the world’s largest democracy has chosen a woman to lead! Indu’s election has made history-I hope and pray she may be given the wisdom. At present the nation is jubilant but when the first excitement wears off the usual criticism and fault finding will begin. It is then that she must be tolerant and have safe counsel.

The air is thick with rumour about the new cabinet and the names will be known to you long before you receive this letter. I do not know who Indu’s confidants are, except of course, Uma Shankar Dikshit who has been Eminance Grise for many years. But whoever advises I hope for the sake of the country the advice is just and sound.

We are facing a crisis of great magnitude, not only matters like food, Tashkent, etc., but the physiological crisis which has us in its grips and needs the full hand and far seeing vision of a real leader.

26th. I was interrupted and now the new Government is in power. A definitely rightwing government and one over which the establishment will have some control. I hope Indu gets cooperation and support.

The manner in which the world has hailed the election has been most heart warming.

This is the stranger letter—do forgive me. I am now in Bombay helping Tara to move into her flat. I shall return in time for parliament. Write when opportunity offers.


(Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit)

‘My friendship with Nehru remains as ever’

11 November 1978

My dear Natwar,

Many congratulations on the success of your article on Rajaji. It was very kind of you to have talked to President Kaunda and I hope you will let me know what follow-up action he finally decides to take.

I invited Indira Gandhi to come down to Broadlands for lunch or dinner, like she used to in the old days with her father. I also offered to have her for tea or drinks at my little house in London.

There are only two official events in her honour, dinners on the 13th and 16th November. In both cases I have a genuine previous engagement as I was asked very late.

My personal friendship with all the Nehru family remains as ever, regardless of what she may have done during the Emergency. I am so glad your mother-in-law, the Rajmata of Patiala, has been elected to Parliament. She will be a great addition to it.

Yours ever
(Mountbatten of Burma)



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