Thursday, August 21, 2003

Sonia-Atal: Exclusive tape transcripts

After the two-day no-confidence motion debate in the Lok Sabha, there is a widespread feeling that India’s Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee treats Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi with disdain and tries to run her down all the time instead of answering her questions.

Being an investigative journalist, I can tell you he doesn’t. Forget about Lok Sabha, even outside the political arena, the two share a camaraderie and concern earlier unheard of.

I can say that because investigative journalists like me have the privilege of access to secret government documents. I can also tell you that there’s nothing like a secret government document in Lutyen’s Delhi. By the way, I am not supposed to reveal this fact that New Delhi was actually designed by some guy called Lutyen.

Now that you know this, I will not hide from you the latest taped conversation between the Prime Minister Vajpayee and Opposition leader Gandhi over dinner at a restaurant. You can ask the restaurant manager, Mr Joshi, who is always there when the two top leaders arrive.

My dear reader, this transcript comes exclusively for you to prove that the two in fact have a conversation. Anager Since this is a secret tape, I request you to not reveal this to more than 37 people.

VAJPAYEE: Hi, hello. How are you?

GANDHI: I am fine, Misterrr Prrrime Ministerrr.

VAJPAYEE: I am fine! What does that mean? I first came to this restaurant in 1957. I haven’t seen anyone speak like that.

GANDHI: Forrrget it. Let’s orrrderrr something first.

VAJPAYEE: What kind of language is that? Manager Mahoday, we can order something second, third, fourth, fifth. Why order first? Why is this hurry? Will the food disappear from the kitchen? This is absolutely unacceptable behaviour.

GANDHI: Why do you take everrrything so perrrsonally?

VAJPAYEE: Matlab kya hai iska? What do you want to say? I am a person of my own. I am because you are not. I am not because of you. You mean India’s Prime Minister is taking things personally. India does not take things personally. India has its culture, it’s civilisation is old, please respect that. Nobody has the right to criticise India like that. India’s not cheap. You must not forget that.

GANDHI: Please Misterrr. I do not think you are hungry. Can we just finish dinner and talk?

VAJPAYEE: Why me, Manager Mahoday. In 1977, when I became foreign minister for the first time, I was hungry. What’s my crime if I am hungry today? Indira Gandhi was hungry, Rajeev Gandhi tried to be hungry. Hunger has been a policy for a long time. And in Parliament, we have been united on at least one thing: Foreign Policy. Now this is setting a wrong tradition. We’ll have differences over pasta and naashta, but let’s not have debate over our foreign policy. It’s India’s foreign policy. Not mine, not hers. Thank you.

My recorder was right but I couldn’t record a thing. In fact, Restaurant Manager Joshi said that whatever was happening will not go on record. Sorry for that. But I still got you some right.

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