Downing Street was sent into a tizzy when it was informed in July 1990 that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was “surprised and distressed” over then Congress president Rajiv Gandhi not contacting her during his stopover in London in March.
A confidential document declassified and released by National Archives reveals that Downing Street and CD Powell, Thatcher’s private secretary, were “puzzled” by a letter from Congress leader K Natwar Singh seeking to clear a “misunderstanding” about Gandhi’s brief stopover en route to India from Namibia.
Singh informed Thatcher that Gandhi wanted to speak to her, but his efforts to reach her were unsuccessful. India’s deputy high commissioner Salman Haider was informed by her office that she was out of London and “not reachable”.
“I thought this very odd and asked the detective who was attached to Mr Gandhi, if he, on his network, could contact someone on your security staff so that Mr Gandhi could talk to you. His very polite answer was that he could not do so. That was that,” Singh wrote.
The letter Natwar Singh wrote to Margaret Thatcher to clarify the “misunderstanding”.
Powell noted on Singh’s letter he forwarded to Thatcher: “I am afraid we are puzzled by this. Did you express ‘surprise and distress’ as reported? We have no record of the telephone calls in question. (It was the day of the German seminar)”.
Thatcher, who had close personal relations with Gandhi’s mother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, responded to Powell in her handwriting: “Yes I wrote to the High Commissioner”, suggesting that her letter to then envoy Kuldip Nayar may not have gone through the usual official channels.
Singh informed Thatcher that he and his aides had “more success” in reaching the then leader of the opposition, Labour’s Neil Kinnock, who was in Dublin on the day, but called Gandhi minutes before the group left for the airport to board the flight to India.
“This letter needs no acknowledgement. I just wanted to put the record straight because Mr Gandhi and I hold you in high esteem,” Singh wrote.
First Published: Aug 03, 2018 14:46 IST