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“It is not right in God’s sight to obey men rather than God.”

Indira Gandhi foresees Priyanka as her political legatee

New Delhi: Indira Gandhi had a premonition about her death just days before she was assassinated and confided to her close associate ML Fotedar that she saw the possibility of Priyanka Gandhi emerging as her political legatee over time — a suggestion that did not seem to go down well with Sonia Gandhi.

Revealing the dramatic circumstances of Indira's last days, Fotedar said she had visited Kashmir in late October 1984, drawn by a fondness of the change of season scenery and a desire to visit a Hindu and a Muslim shrine that the late leader reposed particular faith in. She was assassinated in Delhi on October 31, 1984.

The old time Gandhi loyalist's recollections are due to be made public soon in the form of a book 'Chinar Leaves' that will be released on October 30 in the Capital. Fotedar seems to support former minister Natwar Singh's claim that family pressure rather than an "inner voice" was the reason for Sonia declining the prime minister's post in 2004.

“She saw a sign at the Hindu shrine that made her feel that her life was coming to an end. On the way back to the rest house in a car, she said as much. Then, in a thoughtful mood, she said Priyanka might be cut out for politics... that she might be successful and be in power for a long time," Fotedar said.

The “sign” Indira saw and which she interpreted to mean impending death was a shriveled tree at the Hindu shrine. Fotedar said he too read a similar portent. “I think she realized that I had noticed it too and reached similar conclusions. She revealed her mind on the way to the rest house,” Fotedar said.

Much later, Fotedar wrote a detailed letter to Sonia putting down Indira's thoughts on Priyanka after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 during campaigning for the Lok Sabha election. Apparently, the contents of the letter were not well received. “I did write to Sonia describing whatever transpired on that visit to Kashmir,” Fotedar said.

In another interesting claim, Fotedar said the late Madhavrao Scindia lobbied former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh against supporting the Congress's claim to forming a government in 1999 after the Vajpayee government lost a confidence motion by one vote. Scindia, according to Fotedar, was miffed at the possibility of Sonia nominating Manmohan Singh as the prime minister and worked to prevent such an eventuality.

While Fotedar's account has the Manmohan Singh angle, the accounts of the period have Sonia as having made the claim to have the support of 272 MPs to the then President KR Narayanan.

Fotedar’s revelations indicate a cooling of relations between him and Sonia as he wryly recalled the late Congress leader Sitaram Kesri warning him that he will get nothing from the current Congress president. “Yes, that happened. We used to talk very freely. It was my job to tell him that he had to make way for Sonia. He was upset and said I would get nothing for all my troubles,” Fotedar said.

Kesri's prophesy seems to have come true to a large extent as Fotedar was passed over for even a Rajya Sabha membership while other members of the Congress (T) - the splinter formed by Sonia loyalists to oppose PV Narasimha Rao - like Arjun Singh, ND Tiwari and Sheila Dikshit, did much better.

Fotedar recalled that he felt Rajiv Gandhi's rift with his cousin Arun Nehru was handled badly and suggests that Sonia and Satish Sharma had a role in Nehru's ouster. “I did tell Rajiv that the episode could rebound on him as Arun Nehru would seek revenge. That is what happened when the Bofors story surfaced,” he said.

The veteran also said that after the VP Singh government fell in 1990, the then President R Venkataraman was dead opposed to swearing in Rajiv Gandhi as prime minister, preferring Pranab Mukherjee instead. Rajiv was taken aback by Venkataraman's vehemence.

The senior Congress leader could never get along with Narasimha Rao and this spills out in his claim that he had warned the then prime minister about the possibility of RSS conspiring to demolish the Babri Masjid. (With inputs from agencies)