NEW DELHI, India : The former president, Mr. Zail Singh, has said that he appointed Mr. Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister in 1984 to avert a “split” in the Congress (I) at that critical juncture,
Revealing the circumstances which made him choose Mr. Rajiv Gandhi as successor to Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the former president said: “I concluded that it was my prerogative to appoint anyone to the high office.”
He made the disclosure in an interview with Onlooker magazine.
On October 31, 1984, when Mr. Zail Singh was on a state visit to North Yemen, he received a call from the then foreign secretary, Mr. K. Rasgotra, stating that Mrs. Gandhi had been shot at and seriously injured.
“I immediately asked our ambassador (in Sana, capital of North Yemen) for a copy of the Indian Constitution and carefully studied the provisions relating to the appointment of the Prime Minister,” Mr. Zail Singh said.
He said that had he appointed one of “the three gentlemen” Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao and Mr, P.C. Sethi there was “every possibility of a split in the Congress party, which would not be in the interest of the country at that critical juncture and there was no other party to replace the Congress.”
A second reason, Mr. Zail Singh said, was “I wanted to repay a part of my debt to the Nehru Gandhi dynasty. I was after all a protégé of Pan and Mrs. Gandhi had appointed me first as Union Home Minister and then nominated me to the highest office in the land.
“Lastly, I thought Rajiv had a modern mind, a clean public image and pleasant personality and was moreover, known all over the country and abroad; I thought he would steer the nation through the crisis it was facing.
Replying to question on the appointment of Mr. Gulzari Lal Nanda as acting prime minister on two occasions, Mr.Zail Singh said Mr. Nanda was a full-fledged prime minister as he had been named number two in the Cabinet.
Of course, he had to make way for Lal Bahadur Shastri in the first instance and Mrs. Gandhi in the second, he added.
Mr.Zail Singh said the reason for this was simple: he could not muster majority support in the Congress party. “Secondly, Nandaji was sworn in as prime minister because he was both de facto and de jure the number two man in the Government in an established order or precedence,” Mr. Singh pointed out.
“Under Indiraji, neither Pranab Kumar Mukherjee nor Narasimha Roa or Prakash Chand Sethi had been designated as such. Mukherjee was the leader of the Rajya Sabha and generally presided over meetings in Mrs. Gandhi’s absence.
“Narasimha Rao was the leader of the Lok Sabha and Sethi had the longest stint as Cabinet minister. But none of them had been designated number two in order of precedence in the Government, so the choice was wide,”Mr.Zail Singh said.
On the antiSikh riots, which broke out after Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination, Mr. Zail Singh said he had been told that some stray incidents of violence had taken place in the Capital.
“I was never informed either by the Rajiv government or the Intelligence Bureau of the nature and gravity of these riots which had engulfed Delhi and some other cities of North India.
“But news started coming in driblets with some friends ringing me up and asking for help. When I contacted Rajiv, he asked me not to worry, saying there were minor incidents and that the situation would be brought under control. Soon after this, my telephone went dead.