Pawar also blames senior Congress leader Arjun Singh for “orchestrating” his expulsion along with P A Sangma and Tariq Anwar from the party on the foreign origin issue. The trio went to form Nationalist Congress Party.
Pawar recalls in his book ‘On My Terms-From the Grassroot to the Corridors of Power’ how at a function in Mumbai a university girl had asked him “in a country of one billion people, why can’t the Congress find a leader of Indian origin?”
“The fact that the question was posed by a member of the younger generation indicated that issue had reached far and deep. This means the foreign origin issue (of Sonia Gandhi) would take centre stage in election,” the NCP chief says in the book.
The function in Mumbai, reminsces Pawar, took “some days” prior to the May 15, 1999 meeting of Congress Working Committee called by Gandhi in Delhi where “for no apparent reason’ the Congress President herself raised the subject of her foreign origin and asked party members to voice their opinion on the issue ‘candidly’.
According to Pawar, he told the CWC meeting that “the people of India will not forget that then Gandhi family has contributed a lot to this country….but it will be gross mistake to presume that the opposition will not campaign on the foreign origin issue.”
“Since Sonia Gandhi had initiated the discussion on the issue, she was expected to respond to the points raised by her members. However, for the reasons best known to her she chose to remain silent. The CWC meeting ended on that uneasy note.”
Pawar says he, Sangma and Anwar also drafted a four-page letter and proposed an amendment in the constitution so that offices of the President, Vice-President and Prime Minister could only be held by natural-born Indian citizens.
“Our move was in sharp contrast to the mass show of loyalty, which was on full display outside. Soon after our letter was received, the CWC met again to suspend us for six years. Even while a hysterical exhibition of loyalty and support to 10 Janpath continued for a full one week, a meeting of the AICC was called at Talkatora Stadium on May 25. It dutifully endorsed our suspension.
“We came to later that it was all pre-planned. Arjun Singh had orchestrated the entire episode,” Pawar says in the book.
The Maratha strongman said it was Sangma, who had first raised the objection to the ‘foreign origin’ issue, which was “unexpected for many as he was believed to be very close to Sonia Gandhi.”
“On May 15,1999, the Congress President called a meeting of the CWC. For no apparent reason, she suddenly pulled out a sheet of paper and read out aloud: ‘I was born outside India. If this becomes an issue in the campaign, how would it impact our party’s performance in the election?’ She requested CWC members to voice their opinion candidly.
“Arjun Singh was first to speak. ‘You may be foreigner by first but you became a domicile of the country after marriage. You did not leave the country even after your husband and mother-in-law was assassinated. Just as you embraced this country, the people of India also have accepted you as one of them. For them, you are the rashtra maataa. You alone deserve to lead the nation and the party’. Arjun Singh more or less set the tone of the speeches that followed. A K Anthony, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ambika Soni were all one to express their loyalty,” says Pawar in his book.
Quoting Sangma, Pawar goes on to say: “there is no doubt that Sonia Gandhi foreign origin will be made a big issue in the election. It will be foolish on our part to say there will no impact if we are criticised for choosing a foreigner to lead us when the party has so many able people. We shall have to devise a strategy to counter that criticism’.
“The entire CWC listened to him in rapt attention. A senior member tried to interject but Sangma silenced him immediately by retorting that it will be in everybody’s interest if he was allowed to speak without any interruption. When Tariq Anwar’s turn came he concurred with Sangma,” Pawar says.
After a few others, it was Pawar’s turn to speak.
“I said ‘the people of India will not forget that the Gandhi family has contributed a lot to this country. Secondly, a large number of people in the country support the Congress because they acknowledge with gratitude the supreme sacrifice made by Indiraji and Rajiv Gandhi. Therefore, we shall be able to counter effectively the opposition parties campaign against Sonia’sji’s foreign origin. In that sense, I agreed with what Sangma said.”
Pawar says their move to amend the Constitution “was in sharp contrast to the mass show of loyalty which was on full display outside. Soon after our letter was received, the CWC met again to suspend us for six years….a meeting of the AICC was called at Talkatora Stadium on May 25. It dutifully endorsed our suspension.
“We came to later that it was all pre-planned. Arjun Singh had orchestrated the entire episode,” Pawar says.