Natwar Singh: When some foreign service officers were ready to protest against then PM Rajiv Gandhi and Natwar Singh stepped in

A group of foreign service officers were up in arms against the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi for his shock announcement in 1987 that foreign secretary A P Venkateswaran would be replaced and diplomat-turned-politician K Natwar Singh had to step in to placate the angry diplomats. This incident was narrated by Singh, who was a minister of state then, at the launch of the book ‘An Unfinished Journey’ – a memoir of late ambassador Yogesh M Tiwari, on Tuesday.

Singh recalled that answering a question from a Pakistani diplomat, Rajiv Gandhi had said at a presser, “You will be talking to a new foreign secretary soon”, with Venkateswaran in the audience.

Singh said he was the MoS and he soon caught the first flight and went straight to Rajiv Gandhi and questioned him over the issue.

“Rajiv said ‘I did not know he (Venkateswaran) was seated there’, and I said ‘you cannot do that even if he was not there’. Yogesh Tiwari collected his friends to protest what the prime minister had done. I got to know and I sent for him, I told him, do you think this is foreign service trade union? You will not do it,” Singh said.

“I went to Rajiv and said I have stopped it but there is strong feeling in the ministry. He said ‘what should I do’, and I said don’t do anything,” said Singh who was also a senior foreign service officer before joining politics.

Singh also narrated how then retired home secretary L P Singh had published an article on the episode and how he stopped him from publishing a second one criticising Rajiv Gandhi for the move.

Singh, however, pointed out that Venkateswaran had been “flippant” on various occasions in the presence of Rajiv Gandhi.

“Once he announced during the SAARC summit in 1986 that Rajiv would visit Pakistan, when the PM said there was no such thing and when I asked him, Venkateswaran said, ‘I thought he would go so I said it’,” Singh said.

Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor also recounted the incident from the book at the event and said Tiwari had called foreign service officers in the wake of the Venkateswaran episode and Natwar Singh was also invited to attend and he did.

“Natwar sahab said why are you doing this as you would be sent off to Mongolia for doing this kind of a thing and a young diplomat stood up and said ‘sir there is only one Mongolia and so many of us,” Tharoor narrated.

“Indeed Ambasador Tiwari had got these people together to criticise the prime minister and he goes on to record that there were no adverse consequences as a result of his actions and he praises the graciousness of the PM for not having reacted and respected them for having stood with one of their own,” Tharoor said.

Former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and former UN Under Secretary General Vijay Nambiar also spoke on this occasion.

They lauded Tiwari’s intellectual capabilities, forthright approach and the ability to influence fellow diplomats from other countries.

Tiwari’s two outstanding achievements were the promotion and implementation of the look east policy as well as managing the criticism at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna as the ambassador in the wake of the fallout from Pokhran II, they said.

His diplomacy ensured that no adverse resolution was passed against the nuclear test.

Tiwari’s wife Uma Tiwari and his son Anurag Tiwari also recounted the qualities and contribution of the late diplomat.

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