Saturday, November 05, 2005

Natwar Singh and the Oil For Food Scam

The international media has highlighted the Independent Inquiry Committee Report led by Paul Volcker, former head of the U.S. Federal Reserve, on corruption related to the United Nations Oil for Food Program in Iraq. The report named several "non-contractual beneficiaries" that included India's ruling Congress Party and its Minister of External Affairs, Mr. Natwar Singh. The charges are serious. Australia, Russia, South Africa and Switzerland had promptly launched commissions of inquiry to investigate the alleged financial indiscretion of companies and individuals domiciled in their countries. India will need to do likewise. The Government of India has called for the UN to fully disclose the materials upon which the Volcker report had based its conclusions. This is a fair request but not sufficient. Natwar Singh will need to step down until such time that his name is cleared.

A lot is at stake here. While Natwar Singh is innocent until proven guilty, he holds high office and is therefore held to higher standards than ordinary citizens. Accountability and national security are of essence here. The integrity of Indian foreign policy might well have been undermined by Saddam's "dirty money". As an opposition legislator and shadow foreign minister, Natwar had played a key role in the parliamentary resolution in New Delhi in 2003 that condemned the U.S. invasion of Iraq. With the benefit of hindsight, one now wonders whether Natwar Singh had India's best interests in mind or whether he had been bought over. As a possible recipient of Saddam's illicit largess, he might have compromised national interests and might have allowed himself to be used as a lobbyist for Iraq irrespective of whether this was in India's interest or not. Natwar Singh represents India on the world stage and if media reports stand true, might have once derived financial benefits from a foreign dictator. A person indicted in a United Nations report can not uphold India's interests in the international arena with credibility. India aspires to be a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. This entails certain obligations. The least the Government can do is to transfer him out of his job until the issue is clarified.

Natwar Singh represents the politics of international appeasement. Media reports in 2004 suggested that he had pushed for India to accede to the Chinese annexation of Aksai Chin in 1957 in return for China's recognition that Arunachal Pradesh belonged to India. He denied the reports in the face of strident BJP criticism. In August, 2005, Natwar Singh had opposed western efforts to mobilize international opinion against Iran's nuclear program. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear technology, is not in India's interest given the links between Iran and international terrorism. In October, 2005, Natwar failed to take action against Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism in Kashmir. He instead went beyond the call of duty to initiate efforts to open the line of control in Kashmir to international relief efforts despite the escalation of terrorism with the Kashmir earthquake and to organize an unprecedented US$ 25 million relief package for Pakistan. Unconfirmed reports in 2004 had it that Natwar Singh had argued that India accept the line of control in Kashmir as the legal international border in exchange for a peace accord with Pakistan. The reported deal had allegedly entailed India moving its troops back a few miles in Kargil. While the Manmohan Singh administration denied the reports, the possibility that policy-makers might compromise national interest in return for financial benefit is indeed worrying.

Natwar had earlier vigorously opposed the invasion of Iraq which I had assumed was on principle. I now have my doubts. I question his judgement and financial probity. The least the Government can do is to remove him from his position until the investigation is completed. India, a country of 1.25 million square miles, a population of 1,100 million and with one of the largest economies in the world, can not be represented on the world stage by an outdated ideologue whose policies now stand under the shadow of possible financial misdemeanor.


doubtinggaurav said...


Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.
George Bernard Shaw


Anonymous said...

I support this blogs view on Iraq policy. Natwar even sympathises with fall of soviet union. His view are anchronic . I dont know how foreign ministers get chosen?
He is trying to Hogwash by using patriotism as the motive. My friend this guy has serious flaw in his ideology and He may not be the Best man at the table.

Primary Red said...

This blogger has strongly supported the Iraq war and has written public op-eds condemning India's pre-war reluctance to support the war.

Thus, while the alleged sins of Natwar Singh are serious, it is important to note that the Iraq policy was developed by the BJP (who was then the ruling party), the appeasement of Pakistan began with Mr. Vajpayee's decision to pull away our massed troops, and so also the concession on Tibet came under BJP.

The only time India has really stood up and fought was 1971 -- under Congress.

So, lets condemn the alleged sins of Natwar Singh, but its important to note that many of the same sins are -- sadly -- conventional wisdom across party lines in India.

Best regards.

indianpatriot said...

There was a national consensus in opposing the Iraq war in India which events are prooving to be correct. For most Indians(After British colonialism and exploitation of India's wealth by British Colonists) Iraq war looked like Neo-Colonism(Exploitation of Iraq oil wealth) than new democratization by Neo-Conservaties. However Natwar's taking bribes for himself and congress party are events seperate from that. It is acceptance of foreign bribe on an important foreign policy issue. I disagree with Primary Red that even when BJP was trying to improve relations with US they always took care of Indian national interests. Operation Parakram would have gone ahead and possibly splitting of Pakistan into 3 or 4 countries would have happenned had not
Americans leaked Indian war plans to preempt their ill advised Iraqi invasion while maintaining friendship with Wahabi Soudi Arabia.

Pankaj said...


Natwar is a gandhi family toady of long standing. I do not think that Madam Gandhi would sacrifice a loyal servant of the family. Natwar is therefore knows well that survival for him means to "brazen it out for a few months". After that, as all things in India, things will go back to being normal.

Anonymous said...


I would like to take the post of Primary Red one step further. It was the government of Vajpayee that
"permitted" IC-814 to go Kandhar and succumbed to the demands of the hijackers for the release of
Maulana Masood Azhar, and two others in exchange for the safe release of hostages on board that flight. And to rub salt into Indian wounds, the then Indian
Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, accompanied the hostages to Kandahar. This incident is an ignominy that Vajpayee and his BJP can never live down, and will
be a blot on India's pride for years and years to come.

That said, the Volcker committee was constituted in April 2004, by United Nations Secretary-General
Kofi Annan. Therefore, the legitimacy of the committee or of its findings cannot be questioned.
The documentation is extensive and it is difficult to refute the evidence compiled by Volcker.
Moreover, the parties involved were given an opportunity to respond to the charges.

Natwar Singh was not the only person from India who was involved. The Indian Congress Party was named as a non-contractual beneficiary, so was
Reliance Petroleum Limited (Trust the Ambani brothers to be involved in this scam. Their sole
currency is money), and the Indian Oil Corporation. They then sold their right to Masefield AG
( in the case of the Congress and Natwar Singh and to Alcon Petroleum Limited (cannot find its website) in the case of Reliance.

It is unfortunate that India has a Foreign Minister who is bought and paid for by a foreign government and whose de facto leader is an Italian. Furthermore, Anil Ambani is a Member of Parliament representing the Congress Party. What a morass. Sections of the Congress party, Natwar included, can not be allowed to sell the country like this.

Anonymous said...

Ps: I forgot to add. India's choice is between the BJP (Kargil, IC 814, Narendra Modi, George Fernandes and his corruption in the MoD); the Congress Party (Natwar Singh bought and paid for by a foreign government, a de-facto leader who is not of Indian origin, Anil Ambani its MP and its servile lack of vision when it comes to Pakistan); the Communist Parties (clueless about the global economy and who idolize tyrants like Saddam Hussein); Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife. What a mess! I long for the days of clarity in foreign policy that Indira represented

indianpatriot said...

Hi Jaffna,
I agree with your assertion that releasing Terrorists in Kandhar under Taleban control in 1999 was one of the worst incidents of capitulation by Indian Government. However the precedent was set by Mufti Syed (Until recently CM of J&K and home minister of India in 1989) by releasing terrorists in exchange of release of his daugher and was the reason for start of insurgency which is continuing still for 15 years. However you have to give credit to BJP for conducting Pokhran II and handling diplomacy in a skillfull manner with Americans afterwords. The talk in washington of cap, roll back and eliminating Indian arsenal has come down to giving India Civilian nuclear aid with Bush Manmohan agreement(which I donot support). I would be happier if India gets the same preferential treatment as existing 5 nuclear powers as an emerging world power.

indianpatriot said...

Hi Anonymous,
It was during Indira Gandhis time India's security was most compromised when India almost became a client state of Soviet Union as revealed by Mitrokin archives.(I however regard her victory in 1971 Bangladesh war opposing both US and China and taking the whole world as one of the finest moments in Indias post independence history).
Regarding your complaint against Modi he was voted most popular CM by India Today survey and validated by the most spectacular victory he achieved facing both congress and people in his own party. Regarding post Godhra riots, he is innocent until proven guilty. Also it was not the first time that Gujarat had riots. In 1969 and 1985 Gujarat had equally horrible riots under secular congress govt. I take criticism from Human rights group with a pinch of salt since he is trying to put evangelicals like Pat Robertson out of business in Gujarat just the way Chavez(I am not supporter or opponent)did in Venzuela.
George Fernandez is one of the most popular Indian politicians eventhough hailing from Karnataka and belonging to Catholic community he has won elections in Maharashtra, Bihar(Caste conscious state) for nearly 40 years now. The judicial commission in present UPA govt was on the verge of giving him clean chit for Kargil Coffin scam but sabotaged by people like Sonia Gandhi on personal animosity grounds. Give him credit for claiming China as enemy number 1 and saying India should look for threats in Indian occean region from nuclear vessels (read US) and Pokhran II was necessary.

Anonymous said...

Indian patriot:

Thanks for the feedback. But what did Pokhran 2 achieve? What was the strategic vision? What was the goal? Does it stand the test of time? Pokhran 1 announced the arrival of India on the world nuclear stage. It sent an unmistakable message to China: "Do not mess with India". Pokhran
1 was followed by the indigenous development of a nuclear delivery system. Indira's clarity of vision
propelled India forward. Vajpayee and the BJP are just about big talk. India's Parliament was desecrated and Dec 16th is another day that will live on in infamy in India's history. And what did the BJP government do? Nothing: they just massed troops on the border. It is unfortunate that India has a choice of leaders who can be bought by foreign governments like Natwar Singh, or those who allow India's Foreign Minister accompany terrorists to Kandhar and who flinch at exercising India's military might to protect India's Parliament and destroy the Jihadists. Sad but true.

Jaffna said...

I think that the opinions expressed here are a bit too pessimistic. I agree that Jaswant Singh, as Foreign Minister of the BJP Government, failed in the Kandahar hijacking episode. The BJP was also caught napping in Kargil in 1999. And it resorted to gimmicks when it massed Indian troops along the border with Pakistan after the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament only to withdraw them. It might have had the UP polls in mind rather than India's defence. That is an inexcusable politicization of defence policy.

This said, the BJP did have its foreign policy achievements. The nuclear tests in 1997 reinforced the earlier message of 1974 that India had the prerogative to exercise the nuclear option given the Chinese-sponsored proliferation of nuclear weapons in India's immediate neighborhood. India then followed up with developing a strategic doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons. It continued to test its missile technology. The United States strengthened its ties with India only after Pokhran-2.

While George Fernandez neglected operations and maintenance in the armed forces, which explain the frequent and unparalleled crashes of fighter planes under his tenure, he articulated a firm position vis-a-vis China that called a spade a spade. Credit is due to him in that regard although the then opposition legislator, Natwar Singh, opposed Fernandez on these grounds. Natwar was an unabashed sino-phile.

The BJP administration emphasized relations with the newly independent Central Asian Republics. Commercial and military agreements were signed. It had a policy towards Burma, one aspect of which entailed a highway between Shillong and Bangkok to open up India's north east to the world of regional free trade and commerce. The BJP took effective steps to neutralize what were until then Chinese plans to establish naval bases on the Burmese coast. It lobbied generals in the Burmese junta jettisoning India's traditional support for the democratic opposition in the process. Links between Israel and India were strengthened even further with defence procurement and exchange of intelligence. The BJP administration effectively de-internationalized the peace process in Sri Lanka by supporting the Presidential "coup" in that country against her cabinet in late 2003. Each of these steps needs to be seen as part of a broader strategy i.e. that India had a strategic interest in the area between Aden and Singapore given the impact on its security.

Many of these policies have now been continued by the Manhohan Singh administration, testifying to their essential worth. There is a continuity in Indian foreign policy today. This, unfortunately, includes the lack of resolve vis-a vis Pakistan.

My point, however, is that the foreign policy brains in India today is not Natwar Singh. The Prime Minister's office has a better grasp of international relations and what needs to be done. Natwar is a hackneyed ideologue whose claim to fame is his connection with the Gandhi dynasty. That is not a sufficient a criteria to lead foreign affairs in New Delhi.

libertarian said...

Natwar's going down! Waiting for the knockout.

Anonymous said...

A lot of India's policy vis-a-vis Pakistan is screwed beacuse its either a) peaceniks or b) people from erstwhile undivided India
who dream of utopia/bhaichara and formulate there policies in that fashion.

It was very apparent when the so-called hawk, Mr. Advani did nothing of the kind he promised vis-a-vis terrorists - hot pursuit, targetted strikes on terror camps etc.,

I dont think Indira Gandhi's regime was any better than most other regimes in foreign policy. She staked the whole of Kashmir on the words of a man who initiated a war on India.

India's policy vis-a-vis Pakistan has invariably been muddled. And very short-termish

PS: Anil Ambani is from the Samajwadi Party. He's almost a blood-brother to SP's Gen Sec'y. Amar Singh.


Blog Archive