New Delhi: Sharad Pawar, who was shown the door by Congress for raising the matter of foreign origin of party chief Sonia Gandhi in 1999, says the issue had "reached far and deep" at that time.
Pawar also blames senior Congress leader Arjun Singh for "orchestrating" his expulsion along with P A Sangma and Tariq Anwar from the party on the foreign origin issue. The trio went to form Nationalist Congress Party.
Pawar recalls in his book 'On My Terms-From the Grassroot to the Corridors of Power' how at a function in Mumbai a university girl had asked him "in a country of one billion people, why can't the Congress find a leader of Indian origin?"
"The fact that the question was posed by a member of the younger generation indicated that issue had reached far and deep. This means the foreign origin issue (of Sonia Gandhi) would take centre stage in election," the NCP chief says in the book.
The function in Mumbai, reminsces Pawar, took "some days" prior to the May 15, 1999 meeting of Congress Working Committee called by Gandhi in Delhi where "for no apparent reason' the Congress President herself raised the subject of her foreign origin and asked party members to voice their opinion on the issue 'candidly'.
According to Pawar, he told the CWC meeting that "the people of India will not forget that then Gandhi family has contributed a lot to this country....but it will be gross mistake to presume that the opposition will not campaign on the foreign origin issue."
"Since Sonia Gandhi had initiated the discussion on the issue, she was expected to respond to the points raised by her members. However, for the reasons best known to her she chose to remain silent. The CWC meeting ended on that uneasy note."
Pawar says he, Sangma and Anwar also drafted a four-page letter and proposed an amendment in the constitution so that offices of the President, Vice-President and Prime Minister could only be held by natural-born Indian citizens.
"Our move was in sharp contrast to the mass show of loyalty, which was on full display outside. Soon after our letter was received, the CWC met again to suspend us for six years. Even while a hysterical exhibition of loyalty and support to 10 Janpath continued for a full one week, a meeting of the AICC was called at Talkatora Stadium on May 25. It dutifully endorsed our suspension.
"We came to later that it was all pre-planned. Arjun Singh had orchestrated the entire episode," Pawar says in the book. The Maratha strongman said it was Sangma, who had first raised the objection to the 'foreign origin' issue, which was "unexpected for many as he was believed to be very close to Sonia Gandhi."