BY RATTAN MALL
IN 2004, then-Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who headed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, decided to hold an early election apparently in view of the good performance of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2003 assembly elections in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
That proved to be a disastrous move and the Indian National Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi, became the single largest party and, along with many minor parties, it formed the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The UPA garnered the support of the leftist parties from the outside and formed a government under Dr. Manmohan Singh.
Now The VOICE has learned that Vajpayee was also apparently influenced by then-prime minister Jean Chretien to hold an early election, former federal minister Herb Dhaliwal revealed to me on Monday. Dhaliwal had just returned from a trip to India where he met with Manmohan Singh.
Dhaliwal told me that during Chretien’s 2003 visit to India (when he opened a consulate general office in Chandigarh), Vajpayee, Chretien, Dhaliwal (who was the federal natural resources minister at the time) and Inder Kumar Gujral (former prime minister of India) had a casual meeting.
Chretien had been briefed that Vajpayee had been thinking of holding an election but was not sure whether he should have an early election or wait.
Dhaliwal said: “So Chretien said to Vajpayee, ‘Prime Minister, have an early election. I have been in politics for 40 years and it’s not good to wait. You have an early election, you will win another mandate.’”
He added: “So you know what happened – Vajpayee went for an early election and he lost. So I phoned up Chretien and I said, ‘Listen, there’s a guy in India and he’s very upset with you.’ And he said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Don’t you remember that you told him to go for an early election and with you being in politics so many years, he took your advice and he lost the election?’ Chretien had left politics by then. And he said, ‘That’s okay as long as the new guy’s happy with us that we helped him become prime minister!’”
Dhaliwal told me: “So I used to kid Manmohan Singh – ‘You know Chretien takes some credit for you becoming prime minister because he told Vajpayee to go for an early election which he lost and you won and then became prime minister.’ We had a good laugh about it.”
DHALIWAL, who was accompanied by well-know Vancouver businessman Michael Olak, said that they had an excellent discussion on Indian politics and world affairs for an hour and a half with Manmohan Singh.
Dhaliwal, who had first met with Manmohan Singh when he was India’s finance minister, was the first foreign dignitary to meet him when he became the Indian prime minister in 2004. He had been sent by then-prime minister Paul Martin to meet with Manmohan Singh and invite him to visit Canada. Dhaliwal had earlier resigned as minister was just an MP.
Dhaliwal told me: “He only obviously met me because I was a friend, because prime ministers don’t meet MPs of other countries.”
He recalled: “When I went with Chretien one time when he finance minister on a trade mission and I went over and said I want you to meet our prime minister, I had to literally grab him by the arm and drag him over – he’s such a shy man – to come over and meet him.”
Dhaliwal told me that in his discussions with Manmohan Singh this time, “I encouraged him to continue to engage in international issues, that he should still have an impact even though he’s no longer prime minister and then also, I said, ‘Well you should also write a book to clear up a lot of issues that people are (interested about). There’s lots of questions about your administration – who was running it? What power did you have? What were things that you couldn’t do?’ I said it is important from history’s point of view.”
Manmohan Singh’s reaction?
Dhaliwal said: “He said he’d consider; no commitment. He’s a real gentleman, wonderful human being. I think the rough and tumble of Indian politics probably did not suit him because … he’s so quiet and unassuming and speaks slowly and quietly.”
Dhaliwal added: “And the one thing I asked was why as an honest person that was incorruptible, he didn’t do more on corruption in India.”
Well, it appears that Manmohan Singh has taken Dhaliwal’s advice, as on Thursday, Manmohan Singh’s first interview since he left office was telecast on India Today TV on Wednesday.
As IANS reported: “[Then-Indian President] A.P.J. Abdul Kalam backed the nuclear deal India inked with the United States in 2005 and it is a “total canard” that the then president (Kalam) was reluctant to appoint Sonia Gandhi as the prime minister, former prime minister Manmohan Singh has said.”