Date: 8/19/2004


The Asin Age: August 17, 2004 Kalam and Sonia: What transpired on May 18?

Many readers have been asking why a person who has renounced the Prime Ministerís post would greedily seek back door ministerial power. It definitely defies logic. But here the question is whether Sonia Gandhi renounced power or the President refused to give her the job.

The BJP behaved in a condemnable manner in trying to deny Sonia Gandhi the Prime Ministerís post. She is after all our daughter-in-law. In traditional families, daughters-in-law become the daughters of the home she marries in. An Indian woman shaves her head and wears a white sari only when her husband dies, not when a daughter-in-law seeks an equal right. So it is difficult to pardon Sushma Swaraj.

After Verdict-2004 declared the NDA to be the loser and Sonia Gandhiís alliance the winner, the Congress was naturally jubilant. On May 13, naturally shocked at destinyís doings and at the way the BJP had undone itself, Vajpayee was in no mood to talk to anyone. At that time, according to highly placed sources, he received a phone call from Sonia Gandhi. She asked for his blessings and his advice. Vajpayee gave her his blessings and the advice that she should not try to become Prime Minister.

Was this advice based on incriminating information that he had received as Prime Minister? There are things that only a Prime Minister knows, state secrets. He gets privileged information. Or was he apprehending that the country would be torn apart if a foreign born had taken up the reins of governance?

But his advice was ignored.

On May 17, the television channels electrified the polity by speculating that Sonia Gandhi might refuse the Prime Ministerís job. Alarmed, Congress MPs invaded the 10 Janpath lawns. Sonia Gandhi asked the allies to decide categorically whether they had any objection to her becoming the Prime Minister, else her MPs would elect another Congress leader for the Prime Ministerís post. The overwhelming support that she had of the Congress MPs, left the allies without any option but to support her. So Manmohan Singh announced that Sonia Gandhi has received the Presidentís letter inviting her to a discussion and that she would meet him the next day, May 18.

On the morning of May 18, she consulted a Telugu astrologer from Medak, Andhra Pradesh, to select an auspicious time for her swearing-in. He advised that Amavasya was ending at 9 am on May 19, and thereafter it was okay. However, she should wait until Prathama, one day after Amavasya. He even advised her not to meet the President until Amavasya ended. He said she should meet the President after 9 am on May 19 and be sworn in as Prime Minister on May 20. The astrologerís advice was partially taken. The swearing-in date was to be as advised by the astrologer, but she met the President on May 18, during Amavasya.

Such meetings are generally over quickly with the President handing over a letter of invitation to form the government, after some pleasantries. Sources say that the President arrived but after the pleasantries, he did not give her any letter but spoke on three issues. Apparently, he was embarrassed that the media had given out May 19 to be the swearing-in date when he had not till then invited her to form the government.

Obviously, it was the Congress party that had briefed the media on the date.

He was given the letters of support. But it was still unclear who all were joining the government. So the President apparently wanted the reasons for those not joining, in writing and gave her a folder with six queries and said that legal advice had been sought from experts on constitutional law and they were still unsure about her taking up the Prime Ministerís job and that if she could help.

According to sources, either of the two could have happened.

Scenario 1: Sonia Gandhi said she would get back to the President the next day. She returned home and consulted the noted jurist Fali Nariman, her family and Jyoti Basu.

Scenario 2: She was told, that if she staked a claim to be Prime Minister, then there was no option but to seek constitutional advice from the Supreme Court and government formation would have to wait until that advice came. She told him that she would get back to him the next day. She reached home, and talked to her family, Nariman and Basu.

A monthís wait, until the Supreme Court gave its advice, would have inflamed nationwide passions with violent demonstrations for and against Sonia Gandhi. So while on technicalities she was eligible to be the Prime Minister, a political party leading the nation must consider peopleís feelings of not wanting to be led by a foreign born. So this led to India being told that Sonia Gandhi has refused the Prime Ministerís post.

Since then there have been endless speculations. There is no point in the Rashtrapati Bhavan issuing denials for each story published by the media. The readers want to know the truth and journalists dig for information and come up with sources who provide that information.

But more importantly, suppose President Kalam had valid grounds for not inviting Sonia Gandhi to form the government, has he recorded all that in a file to guide future Presidents? Suppose, he has not. Kalamís successor will surely be chosen by Sonia Gandhi. A Sonia hand-picked President, without any qualms, would swear her in as Prime Minister. So President Kalam must either tell Parliament or address the nation or file the information. As to what actually transpired in that chat with the Congress president on May 18.

Until then, columnists have every right to ferret out information from sources.