Kalam books rumour-mongers

Autobiographies that aren’t self-commendatory help chronicle history better. That’s the least top leaders and constitutional functionaries can do to empower public opinion or disabuse it of motivated propaganda.

L K Advani has done his biography while being in active in public life. Not a good idea. Atal Bihari Vajpayee hasn’t left anything for posterity. That’s still worse.

So APJ Abdul Kalam compares better. His account of his presidency has touched a few raw nerves both in the Congress and the BJP. But that happens when protagonists are alive and in a veritable competition to give their side of stories that could be contradictory.

The ensuing debate helps people decide for themselves as to which side they stand. What makes Kalam’s book more valuable is its contemporaneous touch. He was President when Gujarat saw unprecedented communal violence, the UPA assumed power with Manmohan Singh as Sonia Gandhi’s choice as PM and the withdrawal of support by the Left to the UPA over the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Then there were the Supreme Court’s adverse remarks on the dissolution of the Bihar Assembly after the 2005 polls, prompting Kalam’s offer to resign. He stayed put he says in the book on the request of the PM who felt the resignation could jeopardize the UPA regime. Regardless of one’s predilections, all this makes for fascinating reading.

One only hopes the PM and the Congress president would also at an appropriate time publish their biographies, self-written or authorized, to enlighten people on events of the period.

Kalam says he couldn’t have refused to swear-in Sonia as PM if she had staked claim. That she didn’t and put forth Singh’s name is a presidential “disclosure” that flies in the face of propaganda by her political rivals. The ‘myth’ propagated since 2002 was that she gave up the high office at Kalam’s behest on the foreign origin question.

That Sonia’s origin never came up for discussion at her meeting with the President is explicit in the May 19, 2004 Rashtrapati Bhawan communiqué. Kalam’s book settles the debate by providing further details — such as the letter inviting Sonia to form the government being redone to invite Singh.

My own take on the developments of the time is that Sonia understood her limitations and never wanted the office for herself. She got elected as leader of the Congress parliamentary party and the UPA alliance only to pre-empt insinuations that she wasn’t acceptable as Premier to her party and allies. That accomplished, she approached Kalam to propose Singh’s name.

It’s difficult to say whether BJP leader Sushma Swaraj’s threat to get her head shaved and launch Quit India Movement II influenced Sonia’s decision or helped strengthen her resolve not to be PM. For that we’ll have to await word from the Congress president.

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